The secret of Léonie Martin's christening robe: June 13, 2016

The christening robe of leonie Martin

The christening robe of leonie Martin

Léonie Martin was born on Wednesday, June 3, 1863, in her parents’ home on Rue Pont-Neuf in Alençon.

15 rue Pont-Neuf, Leonie's birthplace

15 rue Pont-Neuf, Leonie's birthplace

St. Pierre de Monsort, the church of Leonie's baptism

The family did not move to rue Saint-Blaise, well known as the birthplace of St. Thérèse, until 1871, when Léonie was eight.  During their years on rue Pont-Neuf, in a working-class quarter of Alençon (originally a suburb), the Martins were parishioners of St. Pierre de Monsort, a church in that part of the city.  The church of St. Pierre de Monsort still exists in Alençon today, but the building, on the site of the old church, is not the one the Martins knew. 

The church of St. Pierre de Monsort today

The church of St. Pierre de Monsort today

The church in which Léonie was baptized, and which Louis and Zélie and their children attended from the time of the Martins’ wedding in 1858 until their move to rue Saint-Blaise in 1871, was an old building, in poor repair, and too small for its congregation.

A postcard of the church of St. Pierre de Monsort, where Leonie was baptized

A postcard of the church of St. Pierre de Monsort, where Leonie was baptized

 Zélie’s confessor, Fr. Crété, launched a drive to raise funds to demolish the old church and build a new one.  The neighborhood was becoming more prosperous, with the homes of weavers and the building of mansions for the new class of the bourgeois.  Louis Martin’s father contributed to this fund.  The Martins left Alençon in 1877, and the foundation stone of the new St. Pierre de Monsort was not laid until 1880.  The church was consecrated April 15, 1884.  Louis and his daughters would have visited It when they returned to Alençon on visits. 

The Baptismal Font

The baptismal font in which Leonie was baptized, in the church of St. Pierre de Monsort in Alencon

The baptismal font in which Leonie was baptized, in the church of St. Pierre de Monsort in Alencon

The baptismal font of the old church was preserved and installed in the new church.  The font, of rose-colored stone, is from the 18th century, given in 1753 by Master Londes Réquier, parish priest from 1707 to 1757.  It was in this font. at the old church of St. Pierre de Monsort, that all the Martin children except Thérèse were baptized.[1] 

The font in which the Servant of God, Leonie Martin, was baptized on June 4, 1863

The font in which the Servant of God, Leonie Martin, was baptized on June 4, 1863

The priest who bapTIzed Léonie

Léonie was baptized the day after her birth, on Thursday, June 4, 1863, the feast of Corpus Christi.  Canon Lebouc, a friend of Louis Martin’s, who had baptized Marie and Pauline, performed the baptism. 

[Canon Lebouc did not forget the daughters of his old friend.  Decades later, on April 29, 1915, Marie wrote from the Carmel of Lisieux to Leonie at the Visitation:

Our Mother is sending you something which will interest you: your baptism certificate! Dear Fr. Lebouc, who baptised all three of us, sent us our baptism certificates a while ago thinking we would like to have them. The dear Canon is highly venerated in the diocese of Séez and will soon turn 90 I think! He is the brother of the Miss Leboucs; you must remember those dear old ladies?[2]

(Read the whole letter here at the Web site of the Archives of the Carmel of Lisieux).

Canon Lebouc, born in 1827, died in 1919, so he did live well past his 90th birthday!]

Léonie’s godfather

Adolphe Leriche, the nephew of Louis Martin and the godfather of Leonie.  Photo courtesy of Archives of the Carmel of Lisieux.

Adolphe Leriche, the nephew of Louis Martin and the godfather of Leonie.  Photo courtesy of Archives of the Carmel of Lisieux.

Léonie’s godfather was her cousin, Adolphe Leriche, Louis Martin’s nephew.  Born January 6, 1844, he was the son of Louis’s deceased sister Fannie.  After the death of his mother, he spent his youth in the home of Louis and Louis’s parents on rue Pont-Neuf. He was still part of the household when Zélie joined them after her marriage in 1858. At the time of Léonie’s baptism, he was a young man of 19.  He trained as a watchmaker, and, after inheriting some money, purchased Louis’s shop and practiced his trade there until he died in 1894, the same year his uncle died.

Léonie’s godmother

Leonie gilbert, later mme jacques tifenne, godmother of leonie martin

Leonie gilbert, later mme jacques tifenne, godmother of leonie martin

Léonie’s godmother, born Léonie Gilbert, is usually called Mme. Tifenne.  But, at the time she served as godmother, she was not yet married.  She was a neighbor of Louis and Zélie. She lived at 26 rue Pont-Neuf with her parents, who were tanners.  (Léonie Gilbert turned out to have a double bond to the Martins, for, three years after the baptism, in 1866, she married Jacques Tifenne, a pharmacist who, while doing his studies in Paris, had become an intimate friend of Léonie’s uncle, Isidore Guérin, who later settled at Lisieux).  Louis and Zélie gave all their children the first name “Marie,” and also gave each child the name of one of their godparents.  Their daughter Léonie was named for Mademoiselle Gilbert.[3]

The secret of Léonie’s christening robe

Léonie's godmother, who was known for her generous heart, gave the Martins a christening robe on this occasion.  Léonie was the first to wear it.  After that, it was worn by all the younger Martin children, including Thérèse, at their christenings.[4]  

By the time Thérèse, their last child, was born in 1873, Louis and Zélie had moved back to Zélie’s girlhood home on rue Saint-Blaise.  Since that house was in the parish of Notre-Dame, where they had been married, Thérèse was the only one of their children to be baptized in that church (Our Lady of the Assumption, raised to the rank of a basilica after the Martin spouses were beatified). 

Therese’s baptism is commemorated by a magnificent stained-glass window depicting the occasion, installed in 1925.  The window depicts Marie, Pauline, and Céline with Louis.  Léonie is not pictured.

Where is Léonie's christening robe today?

At the Church of Notre-Dame in Alencon, above the font in which Thérèse was baptized, the christening robe Thérèse received from Léonie is on display under glass. 

The christening robe shared by Leonie and Therese, exposed above the font where Therese was baptized in the church of Notre Dame in Alencon.

The christening robe shared by Leonie and Therese, exposed above the font where Therese was baptized in the church of Notre Dame in Alencon.

Because Thérèse was the first of the family to be raised to the altars, the robe is exposed at the site of her baptism. 

Baptismal font of St. Therese, Notre-Dame Church, Alencon

Baptismal font of St. Therese, Notre-Dame Church, Alencon

But, if you have the joy of visiting Alençon in the footsteps of the Martins, please, while you are in the Basilica of Notre-Dame, imagine the first appearance of this baptismal garment at St. Pierre de Monsort in 1863, clothing the little blonde, blue-eyed baby girl who, one hundred and fifty-three years ago, was the first to be received into the Church wearing it. 

The baptismal garment of the Servant of God, Leonie Martin, handed down to her sister, St. Therese of the Child Jesus.  Notre-Dame Church, Alencon

The baptismal garment of the Servant of God, Leonie Martin, handed down to her sister, St. Therese of the Child Jesus.  Notre-Dame Church, Alencon

It is characteristic of Léonie’s continued hiddenness that countless pilgrims have prayed in the presence of her baptismal garment without realizing it. 

Today, when a child is baptized, the priest or deacon administering the sacrament says:

“You have become a new creation, and have clothed yourself in Christ. See in this white garment the outward sign of your Christian dignity. With your family and friends to help you by word and example, bring that dignity unstained into the everlasting life of heaven.” 

How marvelous to know that the white garment that symbolized Léonie's Christian dignity at her baptism later did the same for Thérèse: a foreshadowing of the fruits of the graces poured out on both girls in the great sacrament of baptism—graces which would lead the two sisters, so intimately united, along the way of confidence and love that opened a new era for souls.

The renewal of baptismal promises

If you have the opportunity while you are in this holy place, please renew the vows of your own baptism, and invite your children to renew theirs.  May the prayers of the Martin family help us to continue to clothe ourselves in Christ.

Notes        

[1] All information about the two churches from the Web site “Basilique Notre Dame des Victoires,” http://www.notredamedesvictoires.com/alencon-2/, accessed 6/13/16.

[2] Web site of the Archives of the Carmel of Lisieux at http://www.archives-carmel-lisieux.fr/english/carmel/index.php/correspondence-1915/15023-sr-marie-du-sacre-coeur-a-sr-francoise-therese-29-avril-1915, accessed 6/13/16.

[3] Louis et Zélie Martin, by Thierry Hénault-Morel.   Paris: Les Editions du Cerf, 2015, page 133.

[4] Louis et Zélie Martin, by Thierry Hénault-Morel.   Paris: Les Editions du Cerf, 2015, page 133.