Sunday, January 18, 2015

Shrine of the Sacred Flower

This is the Shrine of the Little Flower, located in Royal Oak Michigan. I first became aware of this shrine when looking through the contents of my father’s army wallet, which I wrote about a few days ago. Realizing that I knew very little about the place I decided to look on line to see what I could find out. As always, I’m glad I did.

Catholic Shrines have always been of interest to me. Although I am Jewish, my father was Catholic; as in Irish Catholic. It was Latin and incense, blood and body of Christ; and no meat on Friday’s until the Pope said it was okay in the 1960’s. I even went to church with him until I was about 6 years old. I found it spooky; all in Latin and dark with the nuns wearing their wimples. But I have always been fascinated with the Shrines; as they usually represent some interesting story, and even; in some cases; a miracle. That interest is what sparked me to find out about this particular Shrine.

The National Shrine of the Little Flower Catholic Church is a Roman Catholic National Shrine, as well as a functioning church. It was built in two stages between 1931 and 1936. It serves as an active parish of the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Detroit. Father Charles Coughlin; the controversial evangelistic preacher; helped to fund it. He even broadcast some of his programs from the tower during the 1930's.

The shrine itself was erected in honor of Saint Thérèse de Lisieux ; also known as the Little Flower. The church was built in 1926. The area was largely Protestant and within about two weeks after it opened the Ku Klux Klan burned a cross in front of the church. The original wood structure was destroyed by a fire in March of 1936. The construction of a new church was already underway; having  begun in 1931; with the entire project completed by 1936, shortly after the fire.

The large limestone Art Deco tower is known as the Charity Crucifixion Tower. It was completed in 1931 and has sculptures by Rene Paul Chambellan, including one of Christ on the Woodward Avenue façade. It was built as a response to the Ku Klux Klan as a "cross they could not burn." Pretty cool, huh?

The sides and rear of the building contain a crucifix which can be lit from the inside. The upper four corners of the structure are representations of the Four Evangelists, and carved below the feet of the figure of Christ are the Seven Last Words. Just below that is a doorway with "Charity" and "Christ Crucified" carved above it. On the sides of the doorframe are depictions of items associated with the Passion.”  This doorway leads to a balcony resembling a pulpit. It is carved with depictions the Archangels Jophiel, Raphael, Michael, Gabriel and Uriel. And, across the terrace facing the crucifix there is a depiction of Saint Thérèse of Lisieux is carved into the wall. This sculpture is also by Chambellan.

As for the Little Flower herself, well she was in reality Marie-Françoise-Thérèse Martin, born on January 2, 1873. She was a French Discalced Carmelite nun from the age of 15 until her death 9 years later from tuberculosis at the age of 24. She is popularly known as "The Little Flower of Jesus". She is also known as simply the “Little Flower”. In 1997 Pope John Paul II named her as a Doctor of the Church; the youngest so honored and only the 3rd woman to hold that position. As a result her already wide following has increased.

What made her so revered were the volumes of poetry and writing she left behind. Her extreme ordinariness was the very quality which led to her writings becoming the basis for her eventual canonization in 1925. Her spirituality in the face of her illness is what she is revered for. Her feast day is October 1st.

If you wonder why I am taking the time to find this out, it’s all just an extension of trying to understand my father; as well as get to know a bit more about Roy; pictured above at about the time he got the crucifix which he gave to my Dad. While I may not be able to make these journeys physically, through the wonders of technology I can walk the grounds and see where Roy once went and where he bought that crucifix. And the story about the Little Flower isn’t bad either…

Note: The above photo of Uncle Roy is courtesy of Aunt Gloria from the Williams Family Collection; which is housed in various drawers and photo albums across the land.

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