Our Lady of the Smile

This statue and title, Notre Dame de Sourire, used to be the focus of a lot of devotion, because it was the Mary statue used in the home of St. Therese’s parents, Bl. Louis and Bl. Zelie Martin. (Soon to be canonized.)

There’s a lot of history here, too.

Once upon a time, there was the Church of St. Sulpice in Paris, which was a sort of EWTN-like center of Catholic education and Christian devotion. There was a lot of famous art there, but one of the most famous statues was a touching statue of Mary striding forward with hands outstretched. (It was by Edme Bouchardon, who also did this very nice statue of Christ for the church.) However, this Mary statue was especially striking, because it was made in 1735 from silver donated by the parishioners. Some nicknamed it “Our Lady of the Old Silverware.”

The statue was very popular, and many copies were made. Even after the statue was destroyed and melted down in the French Revolution, small copies were still popular in nearby Paris stores. It even seems to have been part of the inspiration for the Miraculous Medal; St. Margaret Mary Alacoque lived near St. Sulpice, and I guess Mary liked this depiction, too!

At any rate, Blessed Louis Martin studied at St. Sulpice for a while, and he brought home a souvenir copy of the long-gone statue of Mary. It ended up in his daughters’ bedroom.  When St. Therese was very ill as a little girl, and the whole family was praying for her, St. Therese saw the statue’s gentle, neutral expression miraculously turn into a smile. At that moment, she began to be healed.

And this was how St. Therese always thought of Our Lady afterwards – as a smiling mother. Her last poem was about Mary:

“O Thou who came to smile on me at dawn of life’s beginning!

Come once again to smile on me. Mother! the night is near.”

Finally, some people associate Our Lady of the Smile today with prayers against depression and sadness.

So there you go. Devotion, destruction, defiance, desperation, and a hidden loving smile that only one girl got to see, but which is still healing many people and giving them joy.

Sometimes artists do something better than they could have known, something that lives beyond their own handiwork. Bouchardon today has a reputation as “icy.” But his restrained work of devotion is not lacking in emotion for ordinary people around the world; and Heaven and the saints have approved his work.

Not bad for “icy.”

A replica of Louis Martin’s souvenir statue is now kept at Le Buissonets, her house. The original is in St. Therese’s burial chapel at the Carmel in Lisieux.

Unfortunately, the modern world is very bad at depicting this complicated and beautiful story. Here’s the chapel they want to build at Lisieux at the Basilica at a pilgrim house, complete with a really crude version of Notre Dame de Sourire. Yeah, don’t be working too hard, guys. OTOH, it’s not actively, hideously ugly, so I guess things are getting better.

A Cupid statue by Edme Bouchardon, at the Louvre. The expression is subtle, but the Louvre has a better picture of it than Art Renewal Center’s version above.

A few more works by Bouchardon at the Web Gallery of Art.

The Four Seasons by Bouchardon, at the BBC.

Bouchardon on Wikimedia. Includes Fournel’s copies of Paris vendors drawn by Bouchardon for “The Street Cries of Paris.”

“The Virgin Mourning,” also from St. Sulpice.

Paris vendors. Another set of copies of those drawn by Bouchardon for “The Street Cries of Paris.”

A Pinterest dedicated to Our Lady of the Smile and including another version present at the deathbed of St. Therese’s sister, the Servant of God Leonie.



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2 responses to “Our Lady of the Smile

  1. …the bare minimum stuff would be good support, but having it as the only thing there feels like trying to make a meal out of crackers.

  2. More details about the history of the statue of Our Lady of the Smile in the Martin family (including that St. Therese was the only nun in the Carmel who could lift it when it arrived) are at http://www.thereseoflisieux.org/the-blessed-virgin-cures-there/

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