A few weeks ago, I went to Lisieux, in Normandy, for the weekend. I’ve been fascinated by the life of Saint Thérèse ever since World Youth Day this past summer and, since Lisieux is just a train’s ride away, I thought why not visit the place?
I took a train from London St Pancras to Paris Gare du Nord, then Paris St Lazare to Lisieux. I arrived Friday evening and could immediately see the larger-than-life Basilica of St Thérèse standing tall, above the trees on the hilltop.
There were four places I wanted to visit during my quick trip. These were: the home of St Thérèse, Les Buissonnets; the Carmel convent that later became her life; Saint Peter’s Cathedral; and the basilica.
Les Buissonnets was interesting; as I stood there in each room, I could imagine the scenes of Thérèse’s life being played out. From the family meals in the evening, to Thérèse’s moment with the statue of Mary, her life seemed more real to me.
It wasn’t quite as easy to imagine myself walking the same steps as Thérèse when I visited the convent. This was because places like the museum and gift shop weren’t around in her time. Also, the chapel had been modified and updated over the past century. Nevertheless, being there and visiting her shrine helped form that connection to her life.
The cathedral surprised me, insofar as it exceeded my expectations. From the outside, I wasn’t expecting much, but inside it had a certain ‘je ne sais quoi’, which somehow resonated with me. Perhaps it was the architectural style inside, or perhaps it was seeing things like the chapel in which Thérèse made her first confession, but I found the cathedral to be more interesting than I expected.
The basilica was quite spectacular. It’s quite ironic that a saint who stressed her “nothingness” and smallness should have such a large and imposing building created in her honour. However, I suppose the size of the basilica is reflective of the size of her impact on the lives of the many people touched by her words.
The town of Lisieux itself is very small. In fact, I felt very much like being at home, in an ordinary little English town, except for the fact that everyone there spoke French. However, certainly for me, the reasons for visiting Lisieux were not because of the town, but for the places of St Thérèse.
All in all, it was an enjoyable weekend. It was fascinating to delve deeper into the life of the famous little saint and is certainly worth the trip for anyone interested in her life.