Good morning, friends! I have a new piece to share with you that I’ve been thinking about for a long time, and after a few starts and stops– have finally finished! It’s a portrait of one of my favorite ‘modern’ saints, St. Zelie Martin.
Perhaps best known as the mother of St. Therese of Lisieux, St. Zelie (and her husband, Louis!) has recently been canonized (in 2015) and recognized for her own spiritual gifts and sainthood. Born in 1831 in France, Zelie had dreamed of a religious vocation but instead found life leading her to marriage, motherhood and running her own artistic business.
Along with her husband, Zelie lived what most of us live— a life centered around home, work and family. She and her husband had a strong love match and strong faith in God, and had 9 children together, though only 5 lived into adulthood. Their 5 surviving children were all daughters who all later entered into religious vocations, the youngest of which was declared a saint in 1925– St. Therese of Lisieux. Another daughter, Leonie, is currently honored as a ‘servant of God.’
I recently finished this book, The Extraordinary Parents of St. Therese of Lisieux, and am also reading a biography of St. Therese by none other than Dorothy Day (herself now honored as a ‘servant of God’), which has really given me an affinity for St. Zelie. Many of her letters and comments from her family and friends survived after her death from breast cancer at the age of 45, and a portrait of a thoughtful, wise woman with a great sense of humor and irony has made me come to love her. She is not so pious that she can’t poke fun at herself (or those around her!) and she is always aware of her shortcomings and striving to do her best. Her life was not perfect, and often there was tragedy— war, death, sorrow and separation from those she loved from time to time were things that she struggled with throughout her life. She also lived with a chronic illness, breast cancer, until her death in 1877. Through it all she had humor and grace, and even kept up her successful business that also employed several other women in her town. She was, simple, a fantastic woman who I would have loved to have been friends with.
In this painting, I’ve placed Zelie in a setting where she would have spent many of her days– beside a window in her home, working on a lace commission as one of her daughters naps beside her. On her sewing table you’ll see her sewing and lace making tools, as well as her rosary. Around her home are displayed items that celebrate her faith and family, and she gazes outside to her town where the church bells are ringing throughout the day. I’ve also given her lots of roses– which have become synonymous with her daughter St. Therese, who is often called “the little flower” and who mused often about flowers and roses in her own writing.
The lace that Zelie is creating is a special, and very famous, type of lace created specifically in her town of Alencon, France known as Alencon lace. While researching this lace I came upon this fascinating video of modern day women keeping this industry alive in France today, and thought I’d share it with you here:
This portrait of St. Zelie is now available in my Etsy Shop, and I will have prints made very soon! I hope you like it!
And I hope you have a wonderful week–