Lisieux pilgrimage shows the way
By MARIAN CURD
THE warm October air of the Normandy countryside was heavy with the aroma of cider apples when nearly 80 pilgrims flying from England, landed at sophisticated Deauville, went on to Lisieux for St. Teresa's feastday, and then went back to England—all in one day.
Extraordinary? Not really. This is an idea, now pioneered with great success by Fr. Gabriel Slater of the Assumptionist Fathers. It could, in the future, develop into a completely new organisation of "day-trip" schedules to foreign shrines. Two planes left Gatwick airport Saturday morning with every seat taken. Pilgrims had travelled far, even from Yorkshire and over the border from Scotland. By 11.15 a.m. we were at Mass in the Chapel of the Carmel at Lisieux where St. Teresa spent the last nine years of her life.
Masses of feast-day roses, lilies, ferns and electric candles decorated the altar in honour of the Saint who, were she still living. would be only 86.
St. Teresa's tomb. glass-sided, heavily decorated and guarded by bars only a little less heavy than the grille of Carmel itself, was visited by a steady stream of pilgrims—many of whom would have loved to take away those rose petals lying thick upon the marble floor.
On a hill behind the houses, high above the modern shopping streets (two-thirds of Lisieux was destroyed in the last War) we found the memorial basilica to Teresa the Strong, Teresa the officially designated Patroness of the Missions.
Thirty-six years ago Teresa was beatified. Two years later, in 1925, she was canonised. A mere five years after that the foundation stone was laid for a basilica that was to be larger than Sacre Coeur in Paris—though slightly resembling it. The crypt, now covered with mosaic, was open in 1932. In 1937, Cardinal Pacelli, later Pope Pius XII, blessed the great church. It was consecrated in 1954.
A modern stone altar labelled " Great Britain" (but perhaps meaning England and Wales only, for there is another dedicated for Scotland and another for Ireland) contains relics of St. Teresa and the English Martyrs, and was consecrated by Bishop Rudderham of Clifton.
The bombardment of Lisieux took place in 1944 following the D-Day landings. The Carmel seemed in imminent danger. For weeks the nuns took refuge in the crypt of the unfinished basilica.
But the basilica was suspect. Was it, thought the Allies, being used as a German arsenal? A French priest who got through the German lines, told of the use to which the basilica was being put, and guns already trained at the partly-built church, were turned away.
Startling mosaics in scarlet, black. brilliant oranges. greens, and golds now cover the walls, the pillars, the arches, the domes, like ancient byzantine work translated into a piercing 20th century medium.
Behind the Basilica are two new tombs, those of the Saint's father and mother moved there only a few months ago as their own beatification causes advanced another step.
Down near the town. up a narrow shop-filled passage, stands Les Buissonnets, the comfortable and somewhat Georgian style house to which M. Martin and hisfive girls moved after the death of their mother.
Here you sense the homely Teresa. A skipping rope hangs over a chair, a doll's cot tastefully draped with net—the doll itself in white satin; a doll's tea-set in a large cardboard box. In her bedroom where once her " smiling " statue of Our Lady came to life (the statue is now behind her tomb) a small altar has been set up.
Lisieux. in Teresa's day was old with rows of magnificent old wooden houses, Now it is a town of our times: rows of new shops with flats above, and before the venerable Cathedral a sprawling market place too full of the tawdry, too many well-known detergents, too much plastic and glitter which, sad to say, finds its way into all but perhaps one of the " souvenir " shops.
Cows stood tethered in the fields. Huge orange pumpkins peered through the hedgerows. But as Saturday's coaches sped back to the airport and a last Rosary was said by England's departing pilgrims, one thought of the land beyond Normandy, beyond the rest of France, and beyond that again, and again. For this was the continent of Europe where Teresa is known in every country, whether that country be free or enslaved.
Pope Pius XI called St, Teresa "A prodigy of miracles ". St. Teresa herself said " I will spend my heaven doing good upon earth " " You will look down upon us from heaven." said one of her sisters. " No." she replied, I will come down and help priests, missionaries and the whole Church."
A thought to take tic forward to next week and to Mission Sunday.