Holy card 00 - I am still a long way off

After a long investigation, we are presenting you with one of Thérèse’s “Biblical holy cards”, unpublished, that was found in the belongings of a priest who left his personal papers to the Carmel of Lisieux. He was the nephew and the godson of a Carmelite from Lisieux who entered in 1916. She took care of Marie of the Sacred Heart and Céline until their deaths.
recto                                                                                                         verso

image TH 00

It is probably a copy, by Céline, even though the handwriting could be mistaken for Thérèse’s but the capital J’s of Thérèse and her lower case f’s are different. Thérèse usually draws her J with a square top, but we have to say that in her Biblical holy card n°5, the one with the angel holding Melanie in his arms shows a J similar to the ones up here. When Therese writes quickly, a letter for example, she drags the ends of words to the right but not in a text that is well calibrated like this one. Notice in the left column the marks of the pencil lead under the text, as in holy card n°1 or on certain pages of the album made for Mother Marie de Gonzague.

However, we know that Céline copied and recopied a part of Biblical holy cards made by her little sister in her style very characteristic of summer 1896: see holy cards n°1, n°2, n°5 and n°8. Each time Céline straightened up her own handwriting slanted toward the right to imitate Thérèse’s. Let's note finally that Thérèse has selected a copy of the two holy cards commemorating the feast days of spring 1896 - probably some leftover of the two sisters concerned: the holy card for the profession of Céline (sr Geneviève) on February 24, 1896, and  the holy card for the clothing of Marie Guérin (sr Marie of the Eucharist) on March 17, 1896.





Luke XV / Psalm 124


 I am still a long way off but my father saw me…he will run to his son, embrace him and kiss him. Yes, my soul like a bird will escape from the fowler’s snare; the snare will be broken and I will escape.


Under my steps the grass is crushed, the flower in my hands wilts…Jesus, I want to run in your prairie; there my steps will leave no trace. Jesus, you are the Lamb that I love. You are enough for me, oh supreme good! In you I have all; earth and heaven even. The flower that I pick, oh my King, it is you!

Therese copies here her own Poem 18 (st. 33 and 36).



Happy moment, oh ineffable happiness! When I hear the sweet sound of your voice…when I see the divine ray from your from your adorable Face for the first time! You know well that my only suffering is your love Sacred Heart of Jesus! If my soul sighs for your beautiful heaven it is to love you… to love you more and more.........

Therese copies here her Poem 33 (st. 3 and 4).


 When the Lord released my soul from captivity, I thought I was dreaming…my mouth was filled with laughter and my tongue sang for joy. Then it was said among the nations: the Lord has done great things for this child.-Yes, the Lord has done great things for me; how happy I was!   (Psalm 126)


 Commentary by Claude Langlois for this unpublished holy card

Why a long commentary on an unknown holy card that Thérèse made for the feast (June 12th, 1896) of her older sister and godmother, Marie of the Sacred Heart, Carmelite with her in Lisieux? For several reasons, each in their own way will better enlighten us on Thérèse and her history.

First of all because with the beginning of the 19th century we have entered into a culture of plentiful holy cards, thanks mainly to manners of mechanical reproduction that began at the beginning of the century with lithography; print runs could easily reach tens of thousands of copies. This is not yet the cinema or video. But it was easy to distribute caricatures, paintings, current events…and holy cards. The latter were quickly exchanged between women for all occasions…and the practice was found in Carmel. Parisian holy card printers, like the engraver Lataille and the publisher Boumard met the public’s taste and produced series that seem soppy to us but were very appealing.

Because as well at the other end, this holy card made in the 19th century takes on a relative value that is very symbolic when Thérèse is known as a saint in the next century. We can reconstruct her later development, with Celine making a copy right away. She parted with it after 1916 in favor of a younger sister in Carmel (her nurse), so that she might have something in turn of Thérèse. And the Carmelite later gave the said holy card to a nephew priest who, when he died in 2007, gave his papers to Carmel…with the holy card. A path that can appear out of the ordinary, but which reflects a frequent movement of Theresian relics.

Because this style of holy card representing in an allegorical manner the warm contact of the believer with Jesus in the Eucharist, had already known a previous movement among those close to Carmel. Marie de Gonzague, then prioress, had offered this holy card to Pauline Martin when she made known her desire to enter Carmel in 1882. Then, one or two years later she gave the same present to Thérèse to prepare her to make her first communion in May 1884 - see here. And Thérèse herself, that the holy card pleased right away, offered it to her sister Marie with a short text on the back - see here.

Because in a more singular way, this holy card is part of a series of the "Biblical holy cards" that Thérèse has made, very probably in 1896. She chose well known evangelical themes (nativity, adoration of the shepherds, the Holy Family, Mary Magdalene at the foot of the cross) and a dramatic episode from the life of Joan of Arc (Joan in prison). Based on pictures from different origins (holy cards, painting or a photo from Céline), Thérèse experimented with different ways of illustrating the pictures with texts chosen by her by borrowing from the Bible (scripture, psalms) but also in resorting to her own poetry. These unfinished models of holy cards give us the proof that in 1896 Thérèse was looking for familiar media to make known her new spiritual perspectives. (Reference to these holy cards on Carmel’s site).

Finally, because this recovered holy card is very moving. Of course Thérèse proceeded here as she did for previous holy cards by mixing Biblical references, verses of psalms and excerpts of her poems, notably two stanzas of a new poem that was destined for her sister for her feast (references to these). Thus she meant to give a new spiritual sense to a holy card which pleased her so much. But she wasn’t content to express her sentiments with her poems; she also uses the words of psalms and above all the parable of the prodigal child to hlep herself understand how she considered a death she felt was imminent. She did this especially by putting herself in the place of the prodigal child at the moment when he sees his father coming in front of him. We might believe we are reading a script for camera movement: “I am still far away but my father sees me…he is moved and running toward me embraces me and kisses me…” Then she cites verse 7 of Psalm 124 (according to the Vulgate) to give a meaning to that hoped for encounter: “Yes, my soul like a bird escaped from the fowler’s snare; the snare was broken and I escaped.”


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