THE DEVOTION TO THE HOLY FACE OF OUR LORD
From “M. Dupont and the Devotion to the Holy Face” (1885)
In the interior of the Carmel at Tours, an event was taking place at this time of a most elevated kind in the mystical order; an event which is intimately connected with the life of M. Dupont, and which, by occupying thenceforth the largest portion of his thoughts, was destined specially to make of him, in an ostensible and lasting manner, the apostle of reparation and of expiatory associations. We allude to the divine communications made to the Sister Saint-Pierre, relative to the devotion to the Holy Face.
There had been living during three years in the Carmel at Tours a young sister who had come from Brittany and who seemed to have been attracted to Tours by the special protection of St-Martin. She was a poor workwoman from Rennes, very little favoured with natural gifts, but privileged by God and filled with the gifts of His grace. From the time of her entrance into the convent, she received the name of Marie de Saint-Pierre. The serenity of her disposition and the amiability she showed towards the sisters were only equalled by the fervour of her piety and the candour of her soul. God had designs in regard to her which were very quickly manifested. The communications with which she was favoured, had at first for their object the reparation of blasphemies and the establishment of a confraternity for that purpose. M. Dupont was immediately made acquainted with it and he took upon himself to publish, with the approbation of Mgr. Morlot, Archbishop of Tours, a pamphlet entitled: “Association of prayers to make reparation for blasphemy and the profanation of Sundays and Holidays.” He added to it, also with the approbation of the archbishop a “Little office of the most holy Name of God,” composed by himself. It was, the commencement of the great work of reparation which sister Saint-Pierre had received a mission to establish. By dint of repeated entreaties, the humble sister obtained the erection of the confraternity which she had so earnestly desired and which immediately afterwards (30 July 1847) received the approbation of the Holy Father, Pius IX. The litanies of the Holy Face, composed by her, had already been approved by cardinal Morlot, and M. Dupont had constituted himself its zealous propagator, never ceasing to recite them himself in private and to recommend them to others as being most beautiful invocations to the adorable Face of Jesus.
The fact which had, more than anything else, struck the pious layman in the successive revelations made to the Carmelite Sister, was the means of reparation which our Lord had suggested to his servant, by indicating to her the devotion to His sorrowful Face. The love of our Lord and the idea of reparation which was so dear to him, being thus brought prominently forward, he interested himself very greatly in these kinds of communications and gathered together the smallest details with avidity. The Sister, being put under obedience, wrote down, as well as she could, from time to time, all that was revealed to her from, on high. It was thus that, on the 11th of November 1845, she wrote: “Our Lord transported my spirit to the road which leads to Calvary and represented to me in a very life-like manner the pious office rendered Him by Saint Veronica, who, with her veil, wiped His most sacred Face, which was all covered with spittings, with dust, with sweat and with blood. Then, the Divine Saviour made me hear impious men by their blasphemies renewing, at the present moment, the outrages inflicted at that time on His Holy Face; and I understood that all these blasphemies which the wicked hurled against the Divinity they could not reach, fell like the spit of the Jеwѕ upon the sorrowful Face of our Lord, who made Himself a victim for sinners.”
“Then I was made to understand that our Lord said that, by applying ourselves to the exercise of reparation for blasphemies, we render Him the same service that the pious Veronica rendered Him and that He looks upon those who render it with the same complacent eyes with which He looked at this holy woman during His passion.”
These ideas, developed and enlightened by a series of revelations during several years, made a strong impression on M. Dupont's mind. He immediately perceived how very practical and opportune was the devotion to the Holy Face, when looked at from this point of view. Doubtless the Divine Face has, in all ages, had its friends and worshippers; but the novel feature, and the one so wonderfully appropriate to the necessities of the present time, consisted in making it the exterior and visible sign of the works of reparation, of which the world, and especially France, have such great need. It was this which enchanted the soul of the servant of God. He singularly enjoyed the following words: “In proportion to the care you take to restore my Face, disfigured by blasphemies, I will take care of yours which has been disfigured by sin. I will imprint my image upon it and I will make it as beautiful as when it was washed in the waters of baptism.”
“There are men on earth who have the power of restoring the body, but it is only I who can be called the restorer of souls to the image of God. This, then, is the grace which I promise to grant to whosoever will apply himself to render to my adorable Face the honour and the adoration which it merits, with the intention of making reparation by this homage for the opprobrium which it receives from blasphemies.” — “And our Lord,” the sister continued, “showed me, in the apostle Saint Peter, an example of the virtue of the Holy Face in regard to that faithless apostle who by Its means became penitent; Jesus looked upon Peter and Peter wept bitterly. This adorable Face is, as it were, the seat of the Divinity which has the virtue of impressing upon the souls which apply themselves to It, the image of God.”
M. Dupont had frequent conversations on these serious and mystic subjects with the Reverend Mother Marie de l'Incarnation, the prioress of the Carmelites, a distinguished woman, endowed with superior intelligence, who, from the beginning, had initiated him into the marvels of grace which were manifesting themselves in the interior of her Convent. These two beautiful and holy souls, having very early understood one another, often spoke together of what had respect to the service of God and lent each other the mutual succour of prayers and labours.
Sister Saint-Pierre died on the 8th of July 1848. Her mission, she said, was over. M. Dupont continued it himself, never ceasing to venerate her memory and to propagate her ideas and her desire for reparation. A circumstance very simple in itself was about to give realisation to these pious sentiments and to make of them a practical and daily devotion.
The end of the carnival of 1851 had nearly arrived. Mother Marie de l'Incarnation had presented to M. Dupont an engraving of the Holy Face, which came from Rome and had been sent with several others to her, by the Prioress of the Benedictines at Arras, who was also an ardent zelatrice of reparation. This sacred picture was a copy of the veil of Saint Veronica and had a certificate affixed to it, attesting that it was a faithful reproduction of the inestimable relic at the Vatican, which it had touched. M. Dupont had it placed in an ebony frame and hung up in his saloon in a place where it could be prominently seen. When reflecting upon what he could do in order to honour the precious picture, the idea occurred to him of keeping a lamp, night and day, lighted before it. He also thought that a lamp burning “in full day-light” according to his expression, would attract the observation of the most indifferent amongst his visitors, would induce them to ask questions and would thereby afford him an opportunity of speaking of our Lord, of His Holy Face and of the necessity of making reparation to It. As a simple layman, occupying a free and independent position, he believed himself to be on that account chosen by God to propagate and to popularise, amongst people living in the world, an idea which our Lord has revealed to a holy Nun in the silence and behind the iron bars of the cloister. He therefore resolved to become, as he humbly expressed it, “the servant of sister Saint-Pierre and the bearer of her idea.” Several occurrences, which he regarded as miraculous, helped to confirm him in his determination.
The picture of the Holy Face was placed in his oratory on Monday in Holy Week of the year 1851. The lamp was lighted on the Wednesday, a day chosen especially by him because, being the one on which our Lord had been sold by Judas, it thus seemed to him of all others to be the most suitable for an especial reparation. The pious worshipper of the Holy Face was occupying himself with these thoughts when, on Good Friday, at the hour of noon, the agent of a wine merchant called upon him to ask him to purchase some wines. Eluding, as quickly as possible, this unimportant question, M. Dupont showed him the lamp and the Holy Face and spoke to him in so impressive a manner, that the agent, who had entered the room in, at any rate, a spirit of indifference, left it taking with him a little of the water of La Salette and went the same evening to confession; he lived afterwards as an exemplary Christian. The next day being Holy Saturday, a lady from Richelieu came to consult M. Dupont about some business affairs. Being busy just then, he invited her to pray to the Holy Face, till he was ready to listen to her. The lady whose eyes were affected by some disease or other asked to be cured; the servant of God united his prayers with hers and, at that very moment, her eyes were entirely cured. On Easter Tuesday, a young man who lived in the town came to M. Dupont's house to execute a commission with which he had been charged; he had something the matter with one of his legs and limped along with great difficulty. M. Dupont persuaded him to anoint the diseased leg with some oil from the lamp and at the same time pray to the Holy Face; the young man immediately felt that he was cured and began to walk about the garden with the greatest ease. The tidings were quickly spread; other sick persons came to M. Dupont and the majority of them were either cured or relieved.
In this way was established the pilgrimage to the Holy Face of which the renown very soon spread to all parts of the world. The crowds of pilgrims and of visitors became so great, that the servant of God considered himself to be obliged to remain constantly on the spot and not to leave it, even for a single day. His house had, in fact, become an oratory of the Holy Face and the centre of daily and almost uninterrupted prayers. People came there from all countries and the accounts of what took place in it resounded far and wide. The number of cures which were effected, the graces of all kinds which were obtained, are incalculable and will always remain unknown. It does not belong to our province to pronounce upon the miraculous character of each one of these extraordinary facts. Ecclesiastical authority is alone competent to decide such matters. We may, however, say that the kind and number of testimonials and of documents left by the sick and infirm, the “ex-voto” of the pilgrims, the letters of thanks for graces received and sent from all parts, the authentic certificates of Doctors and others whose characters are beyond suspicion, do not allow a doubt to remain, but that the prayers, offered every day in M. Dupont's oratory, have been frequently recompensed by the most remarkable favours.
We will now recount a few of them in detail, which will serve as examples. The case of Doctor Noyer, a celebrated physician at Paris, deserves to be mentioned first. The sick man arrived at M. Dupont's house with a letter of introduction from one of his friends. The servant of God opens the letter in his presence and begins to read it aloud. When he reaches a certain paragraph, he pauses. He had been told in the letter that the person who would present it to him had so serious a disease that he could not live more than three weeks longer; and it was a doctor who had given this opinion. Seeing his hesitation, Doctor Noyer said to him: “Do not be afraid of continuing, I know what you have been told about me — that I am a lost man!” — “It is true,” said M. Dupont, “but have you faith?” — “Yes, certainly, I have.” — “Well, let us pray together.” — Doctor Noyer, condemned by his colleagues at Paris, had a complaint of the lungs which had reached a very advanced stage, at least as regarded one of the lungs. He was on his way to Pau in order to breathe a milder air. M. Dupont and he began to pray; then, he anointed his chest with the oil. The sick man, full of confidence, wished to drink a few drops of the oil. Having done so, he was at that very moment completely cured. Arrived at Pau, he continued his intercourse with his benefactor and recommended his patients to him. During the remainder of his life, he never failed to come to Tours every year on a pilgrimage of thanksgiving and he was here not long ago.
One of the railway officials noticed, on a certain occasion, a lady arriving at the station, carrying in her arms a child of seven years of age who was ill and unable to walk. She asked for M. Dupont's address. The railway servants and the station master were so accustomed to questions of the kind and, moreover, showed so much kindness to the pilgrims. who were going to M. Dupont's house, that they often anticipated their enquiries and in case of need willingly accompanied them thither. It was what was done on this occasion. The porter, not content with simply answering the lady's question, said he would himself show her the way and help her to carry the child. Arrived at their destination, they knelt down to pray before the Holy Face. M. Dupont then examined the child, and asked why he had “no shoes.” The reason was only too visible; his feet were deformed and swollen: “It is because he cannot wear them,” said his mother. — “Go,” said M. Dupont, “and buy him some at the shoemaker's in such a street and at such a number.” The mother obeyed and left the house. Meantime the servant of God anointed the little boy. The shoes were bought and, on the mother returning with them, the child was able to put them on without the least difficulty — he was cured, — according to the testimony given by the porter who was an eyewitness of what had occurred.
A young child, belonging to Tours, about seven years old and attacked with disease of the mesenteric glands, was, during three consecutive months, a prey to the most poignant sufferings; he could not eat anything; he was incapable of standing upright. His father, a man full of faith, seeing the uselessness of all the remedies which had been tried, took him one day to M. Dupont. After the first prayer and the first anointing with the holy oil, the sick child was able to stand. After the second, he began to walk; the third restored him to vigour and agility, and the appetite of which he had been deprived during six months came back. He ran with all his might, without feeling any pain; he rushed into the garden, where the hunger, which attacked him and the frolicsomeness natural to his age, impelled him, according to his own confession, to steal three beautiful cherries, which were high enough on the tree for him not to have had the temptation, had he still been suffering from his previous infirmity, to have even lifted his hand towards them. On his return to the drawing-room, he ate with the greatest enjoyment a piece of bread which M. Dupont gave him, and from that time never again suffered from the cruel malady with which he had been afflicted. The child grew up; he has become a priest in this diocese; and it is he himself who publishes this fact in order to render homage to the memory of the servant of God.
Passing along the rue Saint-Etienne, at Tours, a traveller suddenly observed a number of persons assembled before the door of a house. He asked what had attracted them thither and was told that it was “to see a gentleman who worked miracles.” On hearing this, he felt a wish to enter the house himself and satisfy his curiosity. It was M. Dupont's house. On seeing him in the room, M. Dupont bowed courteously to him. “To what motive, Sir, am I to attribute your visit?” he asked. The traveller ingenuously told him what had happened to him and what he had heard. “Yes, Sir,” replied M. Dupont, “miracles take place here, thanks to God's goodness, and they are worked every day.” Perceiving his visitor's astonishment, he added: “It is not more difficult, Sir, for a Christian to obtain them than it is to go and buy a quart of peas at the green-grocer's in the street...; nothing more is required than to ask for them and, if you like, you shall be a witness of it; here is a woman who has almost entirely lost her sight; we will go and pray for her and I hope that she will soon be able to see.”
The traveller knelt down with all who were present and began to pray, although twelve years had passed over since he had ever performed a single religious act. The woman's eyes were anointed. At first, she declared herself unable to read a single word in a book which was put into her hands; soon, however, being anointed several times with the oil of the Holy Face, she began to distinguish the persons by whom she was surrounded; finally, she recovered her sight and began to read in the book which had already been given to her. Touched by what he had seen and particularly struck by M. Dupont's words, the traveller felt that he could no longer remain in the state he was, as regarded his conscience and his God. He went in search of a priest that he might make his confession; it was the beginning of a complete conversion, from which he never went back.
An English lady tells us the following anecdote. M. Peter Ewing, a student at Downside College in England, was attacked by a complaint of the eyes which obliged him to suspend his studies and he went to Tours with his family. Nothing exteriorly indicated that he had anything the matter with his sight. He went to M. Dupont's house. As soon as that gentleman saw him, he approached him and without any preamble said: “Sir, you will recover the sight of which you have come in search.” The young man became as white as a sheet; so startled he was at hearing a thing revealed to him, of which he had spoken to no one. He was, in fact, cured and returned to Downside to pursue his studies.
We could cite a multitude of facts of the same kind and perhaps even more striking still. One of the circumstances which is not amongst the least extraordinary is the deposit of sticks and of crutches which the infirm and the lame who were cured, left before the Holy Face and which increased every day. They may be seen tied together in bundles in a little closet which opened out of the drawing-room and which has since been called “the chamber of miracles,” a kind of museum unique in its character, offering to the eye different objects which it is impossible to look at without the deepest interest and the most profound emotion. They are, to the pilgrim and the visitor, as so many irrefragable testimonies, attesting the miraculous virtue of which this holy place is the seat. They are to be seen of all kinds and of every form, from the common staff and the simple stick up to the pair of crutches artistically stuffed and perfectly appropriated to the needs of poor suffering humanity; the greater proportion bear the visible traces of painful exercise and of long use. This strange and curious collection has been formed little by little by means of a series of cures which have been operated and of graces which have been obtained. A considerable portion of them may be seen arranged round the altar and bearing the names of those who placed them there and who could easily recognise them.
In addition to the crowd of visitors who betook themselves to M. Dupont's house, must be numbered the persons who had recourse to him by letter and to whom, at their request, he sent supplies of oil of the Holy Face in little bottles which he himself took the trouble of tying and sealing up and which, for the most part, he sent accompanied by a letter. The number of these bottles thus forwarded is estimated to be nearly two millions; which may serve to give some idea of the vast correspondence that this devout worshipper of the Holy Face kept up with all parts of the world.
We can still picture to ourself our holy friend, seated at his desk, or kneeling beside his chimneypiece, his eyes and face turned towards the august picture; he prays or receives those who present themselves to him, he writes down their requests or thanksgivings; he sends off his letters or the oil he has been asked for. The affluence of pilgrims and sick persons is such sometimes, that the little court in front of his house, and the neighbourhood of his dwelling which abuts upon the rue Saint-Etienne, is filled with people, with travelling bags, with vehicles of every description. All the sick are not cured and, amongst them, several who have obtained a cure, relapse into their former malady. But in regard to both the one and the other description of persons, a much greater and more precious grace is nearly always the fruit of their interview with the man of God. They leave him, edified, and with a remembrance of him which, on many occasions, does them good; they confess and declare it themselves.
It was in the midst of this crowd of visitors and pilgrims that M. Dupont, without desiring it and without making any parade of it, became a preacher and an apostle. “Why,” he said to certain visitors, “why do you address yourselves personally to me? God alone can cure you. Have faith and pray.” — Then, touching upon the practical question, he would go on to ask them: “Do you say your morning and night prayers? Do you go to confession?” — With the supernatural tact and the quick intelligence which characterised him, he appropriated his questions and his advice to the character and the quality of his visitors. Who can tell the good which resulted from these interviews and from his animated words? How many were the sinners who were converted! How many unbelievers and even protestants brought back! How many souls enlightened and consoled!
Crowds of people succeeded each other in this way for the lapse of twenty years. During the French Prussian war the affluence diminished. After that time visitors had almost entirely ceased, with the exception of a few solitary cases. M. Dupont did not appear to be either astonished or pained. “God permits it to be so,” he said, “because, if great numbers of people were still to resort hither, I should not have strength to receive them.” — Besides, the object was attained and that, to a degree beyond his utmost hopes. Under the influence of Sister Saint-Pierre and thanks to her prayers, the worship of the Holy Face, which was not new in the Church, but only adapted to the needs of the moment by means of a new application, had been, in a peculiar manner, popularised and, as it were, renewed amongst the faithful of the present day. How many Christians, how many pious families, ecclesiastics of all ranks, nuns and Religious of every order now profess and practise, in honour of the Holy Face of our Lord, a devotion of which they had no idea formerly! How many fervent prayers, homages and acts of reparation have been the consequence! And, as regards the future, who can foresee and calculate, from the point of view of reparation, the happy consequences of the exceptional mission which for so long a time M. Dupont exercised so holily in our midst!