Sunday, June 10, 2012

The Deliverance of Lisieux in August 1944

The Basilica of St. Thérèse of Lisieux.
[The view from the railway station]

 The Carmel, Lisieux.
[Home of an enclosed convent of Carmelite nuns]

A 'Little Flower' prayer card of WW2
[Reportedly popular with American soldiers in WW2]




To read about the deliverance of Lisieux, Normandy, at the end of August 1944 click on 'Comments' below.

8 Comments:

Blogger ritsonvaljos said...

Additional information

The town of Lisieux, Calvados, France

Lisieux (Normandy) is situated in the Calvados department in northern France in the heart of the Pays d'Auge. It is an area renowned for Calvados cider and cheese. Above all, Lisieux is probably most famous for its association with 'St Thérèse of the Child Jesus', a Carmelite nun whose real name was Thérèse Martin (1873 - 1897). St Thérèse of Lisieux is also often referred to as "The Little Flower".

On the surface, one might not readily associate Lisieux with the history of the Second World War. Yet, Lisieux experienced its first real Allied bomb attack during the evening of 6 June 1944. Some civilians were killed. Refugees took shelter during the period of devastation awaiting the hour of deliverance, many of them placing themselves under the spiritual protection of St Thérèse.

Much of the devastation of Lisieux in 1944 was caused by the Allies whose intention was to liberate the town. Such are the things that happen in wars.

Reputedly, soldiers of both sides sought the protection of St Thérèse, not just in Lisieux itself but throughout the Normandy region. During the war one thing connected to Lisieux proved to be especially popular for at least some of the soldiers: the 'little pictures' (prayer cards). One of these wartime cards can be seen above.

Devastation to Deliverance: a timeline

The approximate timeline and details about Lisieux in the summer of 1944 is based upon information obtained at the Lisieux Tourist Information and the Basilica of St Thérèse, Lisieux.

Sunday, 10 June, 2012  
Blogger ritsonvaljos said...

Tuesday, 6 June 1944 (evening)

An Allied bomb attack on Lisieux. Many buildings are hit, including the railway station, buildings in the vicinity of the Carmel and the Basilica. .

Wednesday, 7 June 1944 (night)

Allied war planes destroy much of Lisieux in 45 minutes. There are many civilian victims, including 21 Benedictine monks

Another air raid leads to fires breaking out in many parts of Lisieux. The esplanade near the Basilica and other buildings in the vicinity of the Basilica are destroyed.

The Carmelite nuns in the Carmel leave the convent and make their way through the devastation of the town up the hill to the Basilica of St Thérèse.

During the night, the roof of the tower house of the Carmel is burned. The chapel containing the reliquary of St Thérèse is at risk of being destroyed by the fire. The wind changes - attributed by some to the intercession of St Thérèse herself. The chapel is spared but the staircase is damaged.

Thursday, 8 June 1944

In the morning, the fires of the previous night are still burning. Priests and seminarians at the 'Mission de France' (French mission) put out the fires, rescue the documentary archive at the Carmel and the reliquary of St Thérèse. These are then taken to the Basilica where the religious communities are sheltering.

Many of the civilian population of Lisieux and the surrounding area also take shelter in the Basilica.

Saturday 10 June / Sunday 11 June 1944

During the night of 10th / 11th June Lisieux is subject to further bombing. The Carmelite convent and garden is slightly damaged.

Tuesday, 13 June 1944

Cardinal Emmanuel Suhard, Archbishop of Paris (and previously Bishop of Bayeux and Lisieux, 1928 - 1930) sends word to the Mother Agnes, prioress that St Thérèse had been declared a 'secondary saint' of France by Pope Pius XII on 3 May 1944.

['Mother Agnes' the prioress of the Carmelite convent at Lisieux, Pauline Martin (1861 - 1951) was an elder sister of St Thérèse].

June / July 1944

The bombing of Lisieux and environs continues. Further refugees take shelter in the Basilica.

Tuesday, 11 July 1944

By 11 July, about 3/4 of the buildings of Lisieux have been destroyed. The priests and religious decide to organise a novena (nine days of prayer) for the intercession of St Thérèse. It would begin the following day (12 July).

Thursday, 20 July 1944

At the closing ceremony of the novena, the Basilica is crowded with refugees, including many from neighbouring villages whose homes and churches had already been destroyed, made a promise to St Thérèse. Henceforth, if they were delivered, each year they would come in procession from St Peter's Cathedral to the Basilica.
[This has happened every year since the war].

Sunday, 10 June, 2012  
Blogger ritsonvaljos said...

7 - 15 August 1944

Early August - the 'Secours National' (National Relief) offers the Carmelite nuns the opportunity to be evacuated to Paris, but they feel obliged to remain in Lisieux. They organise a second novena in preparation for the Assumption (15 August). The prayers are again for an end to the nightmare and deliverance.

Wednesday, 16 August 1944

Following a request from the Pope in Rome that the religious buildings at Lisieux be respected, the German 'Kommandatur' asks the civil authorities for precise details about the buildings. For some unknown reason the 'Kommandatur' leaves suddenly never to return.

Saturday, 19th August 1944

The beginning of the battle for Lisieux in earnest. Artillery fire is aimed at Lisieux. One artillery shell hits the wall of the Carmel cloister, blows the roof off the wash house, with doors and windows of the main convent blown in.

Monday - Wednesday, 21 - 23 August 1944

The main battle for Lisieux.

During the night of 21 / 22 August, about 200 German soldiers arrive at the Basilica which is already crowded with townsfolk and refugees from the neighbouring countryside. The Germans ask for somewhere peaceful to sleep for a few hours. They are directed to the upper part of the Basilica.

Tuesday, 22 August 1944 (evening)

The first Allied tanks arrive, meeting stiff resistance from German machine guns positioned in the town square, and continue exchanging fire. German artillery shells fall in the yard which gives access to the crypt. It appears to the religious community and the civilian refugees that Basilica would be destroyed. They continue to pray for deliverance and the intercession of St Thérèse.

Wednesday, 23 August 1944 (evening)

British troops arrive and ask to set up an observation post from the lantern inside the dome of the cathedral, and install a machine gun. The position is abandoned within a few hours. The Germans have departed. After 48 hours of fierce fighting Lisieux had finally been delivered!

The Basilica was largely unharmed. According to the Basilica archives, the saving of the Basilica from further damage is attributed to Major George Warren of the 1/6 Battalion, Queen's Royal Regiment:

"The Basilica, it was to be knocked down! We were given the order to destroy it because we were told it was protecting Germans. It was already aimed at when we were guaranteed that there were no soldiers. Not wanting to foolishly destroy such a monument we asked on numerous occasions to check if there were no troops hiding here. There was a counter-order but you were very lucky!”

Sunday, 27th August 1944

There is a religious ceremony of thanksgiving in the Basilica. Afterwards the Carmelite nuns led by Mother Agnes, who as it has already been noted was the sister of St Thérèse, process back to the convent, returning the reliquary of St Thérèse to the Carmel chapel. There is a large procession of laity to accompany them.

The Carmelite nuns return to their usual monastic way of prayer and silence.

In the following days and weeks many people from the surrounding countryside come to Lisieux to give thanks for their deliverance.
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Sunday, 10 June, 2012  
Blogger ritsonvaljos said...

The 'little pictures' of St Thérèse
(An eyewitness account)

The following is an English translation of a witness statement given by the 'curé' (i.e. the parish priest) of Villedieu-les-Poêles (Manche) close to Saint-Lô and the American Landing Beaches is displayed at Lisieux:

“At the time I was parish priest in a town called Villedieu-les-Poêles. Life was slowly going back to normal after the liberation of 1st August 1944. Convoys were crossing the town. The war was not over but we were rid of those awful bombings.

One day an American soldier arrived at the presbytery. He was a jolly sort, but could not speak a word of French. I understood he was a chaplain in the American army. He was making signs and kept repeating “little pictures…”

I finally understood that he was looking for holy pictures to give out to his men. I went to the librarian who gave me all he had, mostly communion pictures. The American went through them one after another without comment. Suddenly, he stopped at one of them, waved it in the air and declared joyously “Good! Good! The Little Flower!”

That was the one he had been looking for! For all those men, facing danger and who had left their loved ones far behind them, the chaplain wanted to give a picture of the one he called 'The Little Flower'.”

[The 'little picture' cards in question would be similar to the one seen in the above photograph which dates from the war years].
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Sunday, 10 June, 2012  
Blogger ritsonvaljos said...

Some devotees of St Thérèse

During the First World War (1914 - 1918) a special devotion developed for Thérèse Martin especially among French Catholic soldiers serving in the trenches on the Western Front. This was even before Thérèse had been canonised or even beatified by the Catholic church. Thérèse was beatified only in 1923 and canonised (i.e. declared to be a saint) only in 1925.

The foundation stone for the Basilica of St Thérèse was laid in 1929. Although the building was largely completed by 1937 it was only finished and consecrated after WW2, in 1954.

During the First World War some French soldiers declared that they Thérèse had appeared to them in person while they were in the trenches and even spoke to them. By train, Lisieux is only within an hour or so from the centre of Paris. It is recorded that many French soldiers who were on leave or recovering from wounds made the train journey from the Gare St. Lazare, Paris to Lisieux. Upon reaching the train station at Lisieux they walked up the hill to lay flowers - usually roses - at the grave of Thérèse.

Probably the best known devotee of St Thérèse of Lisieux was the French cabaret singer, Edith Piaf (whose real family name was Gassion). According to the folklore that surrounds the legendary Piaf, about the age of 7 / 8 Edith was living in the house of her paternal grandmother at Bernay, Eure (a house of ill repute!) when she became blind due to keratitis (inflammation of the cornea).

Taken to Lisieux on the train by her grandmother, the young Edith, carrying a bouquet of roses, climbed the hill from the railway station to Thérèse's tomb. Once there, like the French soldiers of the recent war and the increasing number of other pilgrims, Edith asked for the intercession of Thérèse to regain her sight. A few weeks later, Edith regained her sight which was attributed to Thérèse of Lisieux.

Edith Piaf's subsequent life may not have been lived as a saint. Nevertheless, she retained a special devotion to Thérèse all her life. Reputedly, like some of the French soldiers of the First World War, Edith Piaf believed that she could talk directly to Thérèse in her prayers. Additionally, Edith Piaf wore a St Thérèse medal around her neck and kept a small statue of St Thérèse on her dressing room table. As many people will know, during WW2 Edith Piaf was one of the most popular French singers, with recordings such as "L'accordeoniste".
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Sunday, 03 March, 2013  
Blogger ritsonvaljos said...

"St. Thérèse Of The Roses".

After WW2 St Thérèse also became the subject of a popular song: "St. Thérèse Of The Roses". Written by Remus Harris and Arthur Strauss, in 1956 one recording of the song was a minor hit record in the United States. In the same year another version of the song, performed by Malcolm Vaughan, was released in the UK. Incredibly, the song was deemed "unsuitable for broadcast" by the BBC!

In retrospect it is difficult to understand why such a song should be banned from the airwaves. It takes the form of a prayer to St. Therese of the Roses (i.e. Saint Thérèse of Lisieux) by a man who is shortly to marry his sweetheart. The man asks the saint to send her blessings to himself and his sweetheart for a happy and loving marriage. Incredibly, a BBC committee decided that the lyrics were contrary to both "... Roman Catholic doctrine and Protestant sentiment"!

Nevertheless, the song was heard over the airwaves on Radio Luxembourg, then a popular music channel for the young in Britain. "St. Thérèse Of The Roses" made No 3 in the British best-seller charts and sold more than half a million records!

To listen to Malcolm Vaughan singing his 1956 hit song about St Thérèse , "St Thérèse of the Roses", click on the following link:
Malcolm Vaughan, 'St Thérèse of the Roses'
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Sunday, 03 March, 2013  
Blogger ritsonvaljos said...

Further information about Lisieux

In addition to being a major pilgrimage town for those wishing to visit the places associated with St. Thérèse, Lisieux's most famous former resident, it is also a suitable base to visit many of the sites associated with the Normandy Landings and the Battle of Normandy. About 20 minutes from the seaside by road and 2 hours from Paris by train, Lisieux is also at the hub of the famous Pays d'Auge region, which has a reputation for good local food and Calvados cider.

For further information about the basilica and sanctuaries of St Thérèse of Lisieux click on the following link (available in French, English, Spanish and Italian):
The Sanctuaries of St. Thérèse of Lisieux'

For further information about Lisieux and its environs, click on the following link to the Tourist information website (available in French, English, German, Spanish, Italian, Dutch and Portuguese):
Tourist Office of Lisieux
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Acknowledgements

Tourist Information Office, Lisieux

Basilica of St Thérèse and Carmelite convent, Lisieux

Cumbria County Archives & Local Studies Centre
(Whitehaven Records Office)
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Sunday, 03 March, 2013  
Blogger ritsonvaljos said...

"St Thérèse of Lisieux: A Gateway" is an American based website with further information about the life and times of St Thérèse of Lisieux. In addition, there are a number of articles about Lisieux during the Second World War.

Click on the following link to access this website:
Saint Thérèse of Lisieux: A Gateway
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Friday, 13 June, 2014  

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