LT-193 bis holy card for Fr. Roulland

The story of the discovery:

Raiders of the lost holy card


O divine Blood of Jesus, water our mission, make the elect spring forth.

August 20, 1896

Therese of the Child Jesus

 Rediscovery of Thérèse’s holy card after its publication

in 1935 : 80 years in a cupboard...

In August 1896, Thérèse painted a holy card for Fr. Roulland, a missionary from the Foreign Missions of Paris that Marie de Gonzague entrusted to her in secret. Thérèse met him in July just after his ordination before he set off for China. The holy card is dated August 20, 1896 and incredibly, it accompanied letter 193 to Roulland.

Thérèse really hid herself to make it, unbeknownst to other sisters who worked with painting, even Mother Agnès. She would testify in the Apostolic Process: "When the Reverend Father Roulland of the Foreign Missions was given to her as a spiritual brother by Mother Marie de Gonzague, she was expressly forbidden to tell me. She was given the task of painting a holy card on parchment, always unknown to me, for this spiritual brother; but to do that she needed my paintbrushes, my paints and the burnisher. She pushed the delicacy of obedience to hiding herself in the library to paint that holy card and to keep the required secret she was compelled to come in my absence to come and get the tools she needed (PA folio 480)."

Father Roulland returned to France in June 1909 to direct the seminary of Foreign Missions, always keeping the holy card with him. It would be returned to the Carmel of Lisieux after June 12th, 1934, date of his entrance into Life. But as a sign of gratitude for the work of the missionaries the Carmelites decided to offer it to the Foreign Missions of Paris after having it framed----see the photo opposite.


image-LT-193bis cadre

For illustration   

Thérèse copied a monstrance base painted by Mother Agnès which she knew very well; as sacristan she had the chance to handle this object which was used as a base for the monstrance during exposition of the Blessed Sacrament.

  Thabor-agnes de jesus



Under the divine blood flowing onto the earth, she wrote “Su-Tchuen oriental”, as we can make out in the zoom of the original holy card. Thérèse had pinned a map of Su-Tchuen in her painting room.

Su tchuen

A promised holy card for an unusual story

A colleague of Roulland at the Foreign Missions of Paris, Bishop Louis-Gabriel-Xavier Jantzen who was ordained in September 1909, had seen this holy card. It so happened that he was named the apostolic vicar of Chungking in 1926, in the same mission of Su-Tchuen where Fr. Roulland was.

carte-Jantzen lt

When Bishop Jantzen learned that this famous holy card was offered to the Foreign Mission of Paris, he said to himself that this precious manuscript should return to China…He dared to make the request to the Carmelites of the holy card for China in 1934. The sisters agreed to give back the precious holy card. But before that, before the world of color photography, they made a facsimile of the holy card on parchment (like the original one was) that can be admired here on the right. It is the work of Céline or more probably Mother Agnès who was an excellent illuminator.


image-LT-193bis facsimile

Click here to download this fac-simile.

It would be given to another colleague of the Foreign Missions of Paris, on duty like him at Chungking, Father J. Perriot-Comte, who came to get it in Carmel and carry it to China. Msgr. Jantzen babbled his thanks in a letter of March 9th, 1935. Adhering to the request of the Carmelites he had a reliquary made that he had placed in the entrance of his church at Kiang Pee, opposite from the city of Chung-king at Su-Tchuen. See that church here. The inauguration ceremony took place on June 10th, 1935, Pentecost Monday, presided over by Msgr. Jantzen. Thérèse’s holy card attached to the four corners by red silk thread rested upon a blue satin backing. To the right and left, two parchment bands embroidered with gold thread tell the history of the holy card in Chinese. Above the holy card we see Carmel’s coat of arms framed by an arabesque and fastened with gold thread. At the bottom, roses surround the episcopal seal. The embroidery was done by a young Chinese carmelite, Sr. Marie-Xavier. The reliquary (below) was made by the Carmelites of Tchoung-King. In a frame sculpted out of precious wood (45 cm.) designed by Mother Elizabeth, whose translation of her autobiography started all our search.  The church would be taken over during the upheaval in China and probably destroyed.

image LT193bis sous-reliquaire


Thérèse was inspired by an invocation of Sr Marie of Saint Pierre which reads like this:

"O precious milk of Mary ! O divine blood of Jesus!

water our earth; make the elect spring forth."


Thérèse skipped the first part of the invocation, changed "earth" to "mission", and she as well modified the less extensive "the elect" to "elect". The citation is found on p. 341 of a book by Fr. Janvier: Vie de la Soeur Saint-Pierre, Carmélite de Tours écrite par elle-même, mise en ordre et completée à l’aide de ses lettres et des Annales de son Monastère par M l’abbé Janvier. Tours: Oratoire de la sainte-Face, Tours: Monastère du Carmel, Paris: Libr. Larcher, 1881. XIX + 461 p.

 * * *

Let us note, writes Claude Langlois in an unpublished commentary, the importance of this document for the history of Theresian piety. We really see the prominence of this holy card regarded as a relic. It comes close to the way the Carmelites before the process presented a carefully framed version of the Act of offering to distinguished guests from Lisieux. But this holy card casts a greater light on Thérèse. Its secret manufacture, according to Mother Agnès, confirms the request of Marie de Gonzague that the sisters not know of the exchanged letters. Roulland was then, for the community, the Prioress’s missionary.

The manufacture of the real “synthesized holy card” shows Thérèse’s state of mind at the time when Roulland is going to set off from Marseille for China. The blood that flows from the heart crowned with thorns evokes the vision that founded Thérèse’s apostolic vocation after her Christmas “conversion.” The illuminated words are equally as significant. Note in the passage the offhand way of Thérèse, borrowing an invocation whose provenance comes from a devotion to the lactation of Jesus, widespread still in the Carmelite milieu, a devotion she dismisses to go right to the essential. The formula used by Thérèse, in resonance with many things (for example the allusion to Tertullian, the blood of the martyrs is a seed of Christians) is understood above all by the manner in which Thérèse understands the apostolic union that unites her to the future missionary. For her, this union is in keeping first of all with her participation in the priesthood of Roulland, which she expresses by the date that she assigns to the origin of this union, the day of Roulland’s ordination, June 28th (taken from the principal dates of his life).In the letter of July 30th which accompanies this holy card, Thérèse goes one more step in calling Roulland “my brother”, sign of apostolic fraternity which now unites them for all eternity (LT 193). And it is in this context that she dares to write “our mission” while remembering the division of roles between the Carmelite, sworn to prayer and suffering, and the missionary who labors in the field.


Enigma of Dating

In dating Therese often falls, within the symbolic, C. Langlois teels us, specifically for the sense she provides events. They are not dates in the usual sense, like dating a letter. This applies to the manuscript B, a few days later. Thérèse has probably noted August 2, 1896 in anticipation of the boarding day of Roulland for " our mission ", as she had dated the beginning of his apostolic union the day of the ordination of his brother, 28 June. It’s a way to capture the important events of this brother.
It is also possible that the date has been changed, probably with the addition of a 0, but why, by whom? Perhaps Roulland has touched down in China on August 20, but when he describes his arrival to Marie de Gonzague on Sept. 24, 1896 or to Therese on Sept. 25-26, he does not mention a date.

The mystery remains.

Read here this fascinating discovery:

raiders of the lost holy card