From sr Genevieve (Celine) to sr Francoise-Therese (Leonie) - August 16, 1905

From sr Genevieve (Celine) to sr Francoise-Therese (Leonie) - August 16, 1905


+ Jesus J.M .J.T. 16th August 1905

Beloved little sister,

Although I’m a bit slow in replying to your kind letter, my heart wasn’t slow to respond, and you know this. Oh, if only you knew how much pleasure your letter brought me! It went straight to my heart. It is so affectionate. And the little bouquet of charming flowers brought back memories and proved that my Léonie still loved me as much as she used to. I don’t doubt that you do, it’s true, but on this poor earth, we sometimes need to be given sweet little reminders.

Beloved little sister, what can I talk about other than my work? Although, I think it will interest you, because I’m going to talk about my Holy Face painting. I say “my” but it’s also yours since you love it so much. Marie of the Sacred Heart has no doubt told you that, at the publisher’s demand, I’ve been doing another version of it, this time in paint. It’s not in colour but in tones of grey, to make sure that the effect of the shades is preserved and the resemblance intact. Léonie, you might be a bit surprised, because it is a little different from the other one, not in expression but in interpretation. I mean, with the other one, my aim was to reproduce the Face of Our Lord as it should be, without disfiguring it too much. For example, I replaced the swelling on the cheek with a cut, and I didn’t reproduce the swelling on the nose, etc.

This time, I’ve done the opposite. I’ve forced myself to scrupulously copy what I see. And I’ve seen so much! Only in heaven will you know what I’ve felt upon copying Jesus’ features. But before setting to work, I obtained some new documents, books and engravings. Our Mother didn’t refuse me anything. For example, she requested for a life-sized copy of the Face of Our Lord that was painted after the original (the Holy Shroud). This picture helped me enormously. I’ve also unintentionally been in touch (as a result of my many requests for documents) with some of France’s greatest writers (those who have written about the Holy Shroud). It’s an interesting story. Mr Arthur Loth even sent me a large rotogravure of the Divine Face that was painted after the Holy Shroud by one of the great painters of our time. As you can see, others have had the same idea as me. But I’m not jealous of them. I’m very timidly following in their footsteps, and even if I’m not presenting my piece as a work of art, I’m presenting it as a work of the heart. It’s a work of a spouse of Jesus; more than that, it’s a work of my Mother Mary, as she has been my painting master and my inspirer for a long time, and I never set to work without invoking her. I even say naïve prayers to her often. I place my brushes in the hand of her statue, and I take my canvases to her. Also, every night, I would lean the painting of the Holy Face against her for a while, so that she could work on it herself. I think I finished it definitively on the anniversary of our Mother’s entrance to heaven, so you see, it wasn’t long ago. When I can, I’ll photograph it and if I don’t see any retouching to do, I’ll send you the first print.

But coming back to the Holy Face and the beauties I’ve discovered within it, I must tell you that I’ve copied everything scrupulously. His right cheek is swollen, as is the whole of the right side of His nose, which is broken in the middle, with two trickles of blood running down it. The right eye is bruised. Despite all these wounds, the divine Face is still beautiful; it’s of unparalleled beauty. It is almost incomprehensible. We don’t understand it at all. Our Mother was struck by it, and Marie was very moved when she looked at my little painting. Still, you’ll decide for yourself. But I wanted to give you these details so that you understand the changes you might notice. I assure you, I really felt that I was receiving spiritual help, and what was remarkable was that, every time I wanted to be a bit creative instead of blindly copying, I made mistakes and was always obliged to look back to the truth. For example, everyone advised me not to make his nose swollen, but I was obliged to correct it.

19th August

Darling little sister, I was forced to interrupt my letter for Matins and then for the night, but here I am again. As I don’t have time to reread what I wrote, I don’t quite know what I was saying, so forgive my letter’s incoherence and the almost illegible scribble; look instead at my willingness to write you a very long letter.

Now that my Holy Face is, I hope, just about finished, I’m going to begin a new painting of Thérèse. I hope this one is going to be the last. The subject matter will be the same as for the oval on the vestment, which I’ve already told you about (Thérèse presenting the Bl. Virgin with a scroll that reads, “I want to spend my heaven” etc.).

Yet I undertake all these artworks for God alone, and do them covertly and in my own time. If I was doing them for creatures, I would be wasting my time. Believe it or not, our beloved and kind Uncle deeply hurt our feelings over the last painting of Thérèse in death. He criticised everything, even the flowers, which I thought weren’t open to criticism [crossed-out line]. We were dismayed, and I made up my mind to hide the painting and never look at it again. Even though she was very hurt, our Mother showed a photo of it to a few people, several of whom were very artistic. It met with widespread enthusiasm, and so we took the pictures out of their boxes and already we don’t have enough to meet demand. It is selling so well that we’ll be obliged to have it printed in smaller formats. This unhoped-for success seems to be heaven’s reply, proving that at least God is pleased with my humble efforts.  

Whatever you do, don’t tell Uncle. We’re never going to mention my paintings to him again. You know, “No one is a prophet in his own land.” For instance, he couldn’t stand the first Holy Face, the one you like so much, and yet the admiration it received in your monastery and in many other places prompted us to bring it out into the open and show it to publishers. In short, without this encouragement, the one I’ve just finished would never have seen the light of day, and my view is that God wills for all His children to see His sweet Face.

In short, you can see I’m being sorely tried. What comforts me is the thought that God’s work is being done anyway, and bringing Him glory.

My affectionate respects to your Mothers. Your anniversaries are always faithfully celebrated by your little sisters.

P.S. from Sr Marie of the Sacred Heart

Sr Marie of the Sacred Heart sends her Léonie lots of kisses.

P.S. from Mother Agnes of Jesus

I’m thinking of you, my darling little sister, and every day I’m with you at Jesus’ side.

Your little sister and mother.

Sr Agnes of Jesus u.c.n.