Although the Norman city of Lisieux itself traces its beginnings to the Romans, and the Carmel Monastery in Lisieux to the early 1800s, there are glimmers of the new fused with the old in Lisieux. In L’Ermitage, the retreat house for pilgrims, in the small intimate Chapelle de la Notre Dame de la Sourire behind the altar, there is a modern rendering in a gold medal curved gently into an outline of a woman. The flexibility, the suppleness, the softness of the curves formed from the hard medal arrested my attention. Could my hardness be made supple like this? In the center of the feminine outline, is the square Tabernacle with luminous gold light around it. I did not investigate the modern technology creating this effect, I was simply blessed by it and its incorporation into the artist’s creation. The message clear and obvious. The light of the world, Jesus, in the Tabernacle could and would in fact create of the hardness of our hearts (my heart in particular) a heart of flesh soft and pliable.
In the crypt of the Basilica dedicated to St Therese is the modern Chapel of Adoration constructed in 2000. It is a place of silent prayer. On the wall is a golden portrayal of the famous icon of the Holy Trinity by Russian iconographer, Andrei Rublev. Now I have many times seen this icon but the effect in the all gold modern rendering again arrested me. It is traditionally the visitation to Abraham of the 3 angels at the Oaks of Mamre but even in Rublev’s time was widely interpreted as the Trinity. Here sit the Father, and the Holy Spirit delicately moving the chalice toward the Son who would descend to earth to redeem humanity to sit at the fourth place at the table.
At the Carmel, there has been since 1923 a stone chapel; it was here in 1923, St Therese’s remains were brought for final repose and veneration. In the chapel the Carmelite nuns traditionally have sung their daily office hidden from the view of the pilgrims to the right side of the altar. The pilgrims, however, could participate and be blessed by their chant and devotion. This has changed. A modern wood construction has been erected within the stone chapel with wood pews, altar and raised pews in the front. I was surprised, the wood is soft, smooth and honey brown and the design warm and comforting. The Carmelite sisters now come reverently from the side to the front raised seats and with the help of a moveable electric accompaniment sing their offices and attend Eucharist.
I went to Vespers. One wonders what the sisters thought when asked to exchange the old for the new.