Relics visit icon

An icon of St. Thérèse will accompany her relics as they travel around England and Wales in September-October 2009. The icon has been commissioned by the Discalced Carmelite Friars in England, and is reproduced here with their kind permission.

The icon depicts the saint as she is known by her religious name: St. Thérèse of the Child Jesus and the Holy Face. It is the work of icon-writer Guillem Ramos-Poqui, assisted (in the small inset icons) by Lynne Taggart. It is painted using the traditional materials for an icon, namely egg tempera and water-gilding on a wooden panel prepared with gesso.


The Symbolism

The two small icons of the Mandilion and the Child Jesus at either side

St Thérèse’s full title is “Thérèse of the Child Jesus and the Holy Face”, thus the reason for the two small icons at either side: "The Holy Face" being an image of the face of The Man of Sorrows on a cloth ("Mandillion", "Sudarium" of Saint Veronica, or Head of Christ imprinted on Veronica's Veil). The "Child Jesus" is blessing with his right hand as He points to His Sacred Heart, surronded by rays. The girdle (or cord) around Jesus’ waist suggests the letters Α and ?, and also Christ’s anagram XP.

Whilst she was a nun, St. Thérèse was a practicing artist herself, a painter and a poet. She has left us with a production of beautiful watercolours rich in symbolic iconography. Therefore, for the original iconographic sources of the two images in this icon, one needs to take into account the actual images which inspired St Thérèse, as available in her time (these, and her own art work, are documented in the extensively illustrated book, Thérèse and Lisieux, text by Pierre Descovenant and Helmuth Nils Loose. Novalis & Eerdmans, 1996). We can discover that, within the Latin Sacred Tradition, the images of the Child Jesus and the Holy Face which inspired St Thérèse have an affinity with paintings by Duccio and Mantegna (for the Head of Christ, in the, icon of the Holy Face), and with Duccio and Fra Angelico (for the icon of the Child Jesus). These iconographic references have been adapted in this icon accordingly.



St Thérèse’s beautiful writings and paintings often made references to flowers. She uses flowers as symbols with which to represent her personal approach to Christ, comparing herself to simple flowers:

“Jesus deigned to teach me this mystery. He set before me the book of nature; I understood how all the flowers he has created are beautiful, how the splendour of the rose and the whiteness of the Lily do not take away the perfume of the little violet or the delightful simplicity of the daisy. I understood that if all flowers wanted to be roses, nature would lose her springtime beauty, and the fields would no longer be decked out with little wild flowers. And so it is in the world of souls, Jesus’ garden. He willed to create great souls comparable to Lilies and roses, but He has created smaller ones and these must be content to be daisies or violets destined to give joy to God’s glances when He looks down at His feet. Perfection consists in doing His will, in being what He wills us to be". (The Story of a Soul)

"...Like the daisy With the rosy calyx, Me, tin y little flower, I will open up to the sun...." (PN52, poem, 31st May 1897)

There are two flower arrangements in the icon; on the left the flowers give tribute to Mary and on the right to Christ.


Bouquet of flowers on the left
These are arranged around a white Rosary, which appears in the background. The Rosary is displayed with the five sections to form the shape of a pentagon (a symbol of Mary), and with the Cross suspended on the right. The top of the pentagon, above the red rose, is crowned with the initials of Ave Maria, A M, flanked by two jasmine flowers.

The main flower is a red rose, “a rose without thorns”, or symbol of Mary.
Next to the red rose, a white Lily, symbol of purity, and a small campanula, also symbol of Mary.

On the right is a daisy with a butterfly on it, the butterfly being a symbol of the soul. Directly below and above the little cross a corncockle flower. Above the lily, a white wild rose.

A little sparrow appears, this is to do with Thérèse's teaching about Littlness comparing herself to a "Little Bird". The sparrow is inkling his head upwards. It's that when Thérèse speaks of the petit oiseau in Manuscript B, an important element is that, while the big birds can fly up to the sun, the little bird keeps gazing at the sun, even if there are clouds in the way. In this case you could say that the sparrow is looking at the icon of the Holy Child.


Bouquet of flowers on the right
The flowers are here arranged around a diagonal cross. Clinging from the cross: ivy, symbol of fidelity and the faithful. The cross is crowned with the initials of Christ: JHS, with a jasmine at either side. Also around the cross a scroll with the words of Therese: “I have sought nothing but the truth” (“Je n’ai jamais cherche que la verite”). Above the Cross some small red flowers, called Crown of Thorns. On the right of the cross, bending over towards it: a daffodil, a symbol of Easter (the Resurrection) and of spiritual renewal. On the left of the cross: a shaft of wheat, a Eucharistic symbol, and a violet.

At the foot of the cross, over the three ivy leaves at the bottom is the word CARMEL.

For a full description, with detailed photographs taken during the icon-writing process, please click here.