05 June 2008

Les Buissonets

Lisieux Part I

Before marriage, Louis Martin and Zélie Guerin attempted the religious life—Louis with the canons of St. Bernard Hospice in the Alps, and Zélie with the Daughters of Charity. Both were rejected. Louis was told he should complete his studies, and in Zélie’s case, the Mother Superior told her without hesitation that such was not God’s will. Rather, the two would later meet in Alençon and marry. Louis was then an expert watchmaker, and Zélie ran a successful lace-making business. Both were profoundly Christian, with a deep devotion to their faith and a desire to follow God’s will.

They were married for nineteen years, and together had nine children, three of whom died in infancy and a daughter who died at the tender age of five. One can read from Mme Martin’s letters to her brother her intense anguish over the loss, one by one, of her children, and her resignation to the divine will. She ultimately succumbed to cancer, and died when her youngest child was only four. Monsieur Martin would also suffer greatly toward the end of his life. After offering himself up to God as a victim soul, he was quickly heard: arteriosclerosis led to mental instability and delirium, and a stroke would cause paralysis. Finally, a heart attack ended his life.

M and Mme Martin’s suffering would not be in vain. Their remaining five daughters all entered the religious life, and their youngest would one day come to be called by Pope St. Pius X “the greatest saint of modern times.” St. Therese of Lisieux, so called because of the town the Martin girls would call home after the death of their mother, grew up in the red brick house she knew as Les Buissonets. Of her parents, Therese would later say, “The Good Lord gave me a father and a mother more worthy of Heaven than of earth.”

The home is stately, but much smaller within than one imagines, consistent with many nineteenth-century French homes. The staircase, for instance, is small and so narrow it can fit only one person at a time. If you’ve seen the recent film Therese, it’s quite obvious they filmed in an American period home, as the rooms and staircase are much more spacious. Another inaccuracy in the film is that it shows a horsedrawn carriage leaving from the front of Les Buissonets, when in fact there is no drive at all; in fact, a red brick wall blocks access to the home, save for a small portal.

The fireplace before which Therese would receive her great Christmas grace: the end of her scrupulosity and excessive sensitiveness.

The house itself remains largely unchanged. Here is the dining room in its original state, where Therese shared her last emotional meal with her family before entering Carmel. On the mantle is a clock made by Mr. Martin.

The bed where Therese lay mortally ill in her youth, and a replica of the statue of Our Lady, whose miraculous smile cured Therese. Known as Notre Dame du Sourire (Our Lady of the Smile), the original sits above the reliquary of St. Therese in the Carmel of Lisieux.

Statue of Ste-Jeanne d’Arc on the dresser opposite the bed.

Louis Martin’s room next door.

St. Therese’s childhood room is next to her father’s, and has been turned into something of a museum and religious store. Here you can see her First Communion dress, and the outfit she wore upon entry into Carmel.

Below her dress is the crucifix she received at her First Communion from her sister Léonie. Therese kissed it as she lay on her deathbed, and bequeathed it to her first “spiritual son”, Father Bellier, a missionary priest in Africa with whom she corresponded. It would be returned in 1907.

Her tea set and picnic ensemble.

The cage where she kept her beloved canary, a chess set, crucifix, and writing desk.

The backyard is spacious, and full of little gravel paths that wind past shrubbery and beneath trees. A memorial has been built of the moment St. Therese revealed to her father her wish to enter Carmel.

“The little garden of Therese.”

“One of the altars that little Therese called marvelous.” Though difficult to see, here is a small crèche that was made in one of the nooks in the backyard and has been preserved.

One of the many garden paths Therese and her father would walk together in the evenings.

Anterior view of Les Buissonets

Les Buissonets, with the cathedral spire visible in the background. It is the church the Martins regularly attended (Mr. Martin donated the gorgeous marble High Altar there).

Marie lays flowers at the foot of St. Therese’s statue near the home's entrance.