a poignant letter by Dieudonné Lambrecht, a great hero of the Belgian resistance during World War I, who was executed by the Germans on April 18, 1916. Five days earlier, he had bid farewell to his wife with this beautiful and pious missive:
My dearest Jeanne April 13, 1916
I was judged yesterday, and, although I do not know the decision of the jury, I have the impression that the death penalty, demanded by the public prosecutor, has been granted. I have always expected it, and I have never hoped except in God and in your appeals. A single chance of salvation, therefore, remains to me; that His Excellency von Bissing may pardon me. But, not wishing to put too much trust in that, and fearing not to have the time to bid farewell to all of you and to put my affairs in order, I am preparing myself from this day forward. This letter will only be sent to you if I face the firing squad. My beloved, is it necessary to tell you all the distress of my soul, when I think of our cruel separation? I would have so wished to consecrate myself to the happiness of my poor little Riette, who will be five months old tomorrow, to that of the devoted and loving companion whom I have loved for 17 years, and at whose side I would have wished to pass many days, to that of my poor parents, for whom I would have wished to make possible a happy and tranquil old age, for those who have always sacrificed themselves so for me. And God, whose designs are impenetrable, calls me to Him. May His holy will be done; He will protect all of you; I hope in His divine goodness. He will pardon me my past faults. He will make me enjoy the supreme happiness, and, close to Him, I will be able to watch over those who are dear to me, and to pray Him to fill you with His graces. He has accorded to me, from the first day, courage and resignation. He will accord it to you too. You will be very courageous and valiant, you will bow before his decree, you will pray to Him much for me. He gave us a daughter shortly before these events, it is so that you may attach yourself to her, so that your life may have a goal, noble among all, that of forming a soul. You will make of her, I am sure, a good Christian woman like her mother, simple and hard-working, like her. You will teach her well that life is not made of joys but of duties, and that true satisfaction and true happiness consists in fulfilling them. It is with a torn heart that I write to you, and it is impossible for me to find the words to express all the sentiments for you and for our child with which it overflows. Take refuge in prayer, and, may my death may be less painful for you, in thinking that it is for the Fatherland. After our Faith, this is the most sacred thing we have, and it is a great consolation to think that in offering her my blood, I do nothing but consecrate the little I have done for her, and that which so many others have done and will do yet. Oh! My adored one, accept this trial very valiantly, and draw from the sacraments, in this period of Easter, the strength necessary to pass these sad days. I entrust to you my parents; replace me at their side. It is a sacred debt I leave to you. I leave off and I cannot continue, the tears abound so in thinking of their atrocious suffering. I was everything to them, you know it, and I would have wanted to return to them a little of the immense affection that had for me. I was sometimes a bit gruff with them, but how superficial it was, and how much I loved them! They are too rare, you know, parents who, like them, are only happy in sacrificing themselves for their children; one could say they were too good, if, really, one could be too good. You know their situation, they need many consolations, with me gone, François at the front, also doing his duty, Marie a bit too young. Go to see them often; be their daughter, a loving daughter, and, upon you, [they will pour out (?)] the love they had for their Dieudonné. Search in your heart for what may be agreeable to them, you must replace me, that tells you the many duties to fulfill towards them. I will see from on High what you do for them, it will give me great joy, and God will bless you! Adieu, my beloved wife, until we meet in His presence. Life passes so swiftly, do not forget it, it only lasts a moment. We will see each other again in a better world. It is in moments like those through which I have just passed, that one appreciates well the inestimable good that Christian parents give their children, by giving them a Christian education and faith in God. Oh! What a comfort to think that if the Almighty strikes us with severity, it is only to reward better our submission to His decrees. It is only in Him that great sorrows, like ours, can find appeasement. He will give you all the happiness I ardently wish for you. Farewell, my Jeanne, I bless you, as well as our poor adored little one, who will not know the father who loves her so. To you my most intimate thoughts, to you both my most affectionate kisses, from him who was
My devoted companion,
My letter finished, I have received the visit of the chaplain. Oh! May he permit me to call him my friend, the last I shall have known and loved. It is to him that I owe all the sweetening of my last moments. It is he who will have the painful duty to bring you the painful news, and to give you the first consolations. Pray often for him, that his mission may be fruitful here below. Together we wept, he will have seen my last tears, he will see yours, your first tears as a widow. He will bless you for me, and give you his holy benediction, in the name of his Master and Almighty Lord.
Farewell, my beloved, until we meet again, in a better world, and then for eternity.
Ma Jeanne Chérie 13 avril 1916
J'ai été jugé hier, et quoique ne connaissant pas la décision du jury, j'ai l'impression que la peine capitale, demandée par l'avocat-général, a été accordée. Je m'y suis toujours attendu, et n'ai jamais espéré qu'en Dieu et dans vos démarches. Une seule chance de salut me reste donc; c'est que Son Excellence von Bissing me gracie. Mais, ne voulant pas trop me fier à cela, et craignant de ne pas avoir le temps de vous dire à tous adieu et de mettre en ordre mes affaires, je me prépare dés aujourd’hui. Cette lettre te sera remise que si je suis fusillé. Ma bien aimée, est-il besoin de te dire toute la détresse de mon âme, lorsque je pense à notre séparation cruelle? J'aurais tant voulu me consacrer à faire le bonheur de ma pauvre petite Riette, qui aura demain cinq mois, de la compagne dévouée et aimante que j'aime depuis dix-sept ans, et auprès de laquelle j'aurais voulu passer de longs jours, celui de mes pauvres parents, à qui j'aurais désiré faire une vieillesse heureuse et tranquille, eux qui se sont toujours dévoués pour moi. Et dieu, dont les desseins sont impénétrables, me rappelle à Lui. Que sa sainte volonté soit faite; Il vous protégera tous; j'espère en sa divine bonté. Il me pardonnera mes fautes passées. Il me fera jouir du bonheur suprême, et, près de lui, je pourrai veiller sur les êtres qui me sont si chers, et le prier de vous combler de ses grâces. Il m'a accordé, depuis le premier jour, le courage et la résignation. Il vous l'accordera aussi. Tu seras bien courageuse et vaillante, tu t'inclineras devant son décret, tu Le prieras beaucoup pour moi. Il nous a donné une fille peu avant ces événements, c'est pour t'attacher à elle, pour que ta vie ait un but, noble entre tous, celui de former une âme. Tu en feras, j'en suis sûr, une bonne chrétienne comme sa mère, simple et travailleuse, comme elle. Tu lui apprendras bien que la vie n'est pas faite de joies mais de devoirs, et que la véritable satisfaction, et le vrai bonheur, consistent à les remplir. C'est le coeur déchiré que je t'écris, et il m'est impossible de trouver les mots pour exprimer tous les sentiments dont il déborde pour toi et notre enfant. Réfugie-toi dans la prière, et que ma mort te soit moins pénible, en pensant que c'est pour la Patrie. Après notre Foi, c'est ce que nous avons de plus sacré, et c'est une grande consolation de penser qu'en lui offrant mon sang, je ne fais que consacrer le peu que j'ai fait pour elle, et ce que tant d'autres ont fait et feront encore. Oh! Mon adorée, accepte bien vaillamment cette épreuve, et puise dans les sacrements, en cette période de Pâques, la force nécessaire pour passer ces tristes jours. Je te confie mes parents; remplace-moi auprès d'eux. C'est une dette sacrée que je te laisse. Je m'arrête et ne peux continuer, tant les larmes abondent en pensant à leur atroce douleur .J'étais tout pour eux, tu le sais, et j'aurais voulu leur rendre un peu de l'immense affection qu'ils avaient pour moi. J'étais parfois un peu rude avec eux, mais comme c'était superficiel, et combien je les aimais! Ils sont trop rares, vois-tu les parents qui, comme eux, ne sont heureux qu'en se sacrifiant entièrement à leurs enfants; on pourrait dire qu'ils étaient trop bons, si, réellement, on pouvait être trop bon. Tu connais leur situation, ils ont besoin de beaucoup de consolations; moi disparu, François au front, faisant lui aussi son devoir, Marie un peu trop jeune. Va souvent les voir; sois leur fille, une fille aimante, et sur toi, l'amour qu'ils avaient pour leur Dieudonné. Cherche dans ton coeur ce qui peut leur être agréable, tu dois me remplacer, c'est te dire les nombreux devoirs à remplir envers eux. Je verrai de Là-haut ce que tu feras pour eux, cela me donnera une grande joie, et dieu te bénira! Adieu, ma femme aimée, je te donne rendez-vous auprès de Lui. La vie passe si vite ici-bas, ne l'oublie pas, elle ne dure qu'un moment. Nous nous reverrons dans un monde meilleur. C'est dans des moments comme ceux que je viens de traverser, que l'on apprécie bien quel bien inestimable donnent à leurs enfants, les parents chrétiens, en leur donnant une instruction chrétienne et la foi en Dieu. Oh! Quel réconfort de penser que si le Tout - Puissant nous frappe avec rigueur, ce n'est que pour mieux récompenser notre soumission à ses décrets. Ce n'est qu'en Lui que de grandes douleurs, comme la nôtre, peuvent trouver un apaisement. Il vous donnera tout le bonheur que je vous souhaite ardemment. Au - revoir, ma Jeanne, je te bénis, ainsi que notre pauvre petite adorée, qui n'aura pas connu son père qui l'aime tant. A toi les plus intimes pensées, à toutes les deux les plus affectueux baisers de celui qui fut
Ma compagne dévouée,
Ma lettre terminée, j'ai reçu la visite de Monsieur l'aumônier. Oh! Qu’il me permette de l'appeler mon ami, le dernier que j'aurai connu et aimé. C'est à lui que je dois tout l'adoucissement de mes derniers moments. C'est lui qui aura le pénible devoir de t'apprendre la pénible nouvelle, et de te donner les premières consolations. Prie souvent pour lui, pour que sa mission soit féconde ici-bas. Ensemble nous avons pleuré, il aura vu mes dernières larmes, il verra les tiennes, tes premières de veuve. Il te bénira pour moi, et te donnera sa sainte bénédiction, au nom de son Maître et Seigneur Tout-Puissant.
Au revoir, ma bien-aimée, dans un monde meilleur, et alors pour l'éternité.
Saturday, April 30, 2011
Friday, April 29, 2011
royal wedding, here is a delightful account of the betrothal ceremonies of King Albert I and Queen Elisabeth of the Belgians, at the Castle of Possenhoven in Bavaria, over a century ago.
"On the stroke of five, the military band in the next room struck up a waltz; the doors of the Charlemagne salon opened, and the procession entered. At its head was the slight figure of Princess Elisabeth, walking with slow steps. She wore a white satin dress cut just low enough to show her smooth delicately-shaped shoulders and the graceful column of her throat. A simple coronet circled her chestnut curls. There was a burning blush on her cheeks- she was obviously moved. The Prince's face matched the crimson ribbon on his breast. They talked to each other as they moved along; the Princess, who looked even lovelier than on the previous night, gazed up at her tall cavalier.
When they had taken their seats, she had eyes for no one but the Prince who was on her left. She took no heed of the King of Roumania on her other side, the Regent who was seated a little further away, nor of the score of princes and princesses who were present. The tiny pages shyly offered their dishes that were handed to them by the footmen. I noticed that the young Princess scarcely took anything; she ate nothing, but talked incessantly to Prince Albert who would nervously crumble his bread whenever the King of Roumania claimed his fiancée's attention for a minute. The two seemed to be absorbed in a world of their own. No one could see them without realizing that this Prince and Princess were true lovers, and that this was their hour; the throne, the historic past evoked by the setting, their exalted rank, their dazzling surroundings might have been non-existent. Their only thoughts were for each other, for their future life together. Their love shed such a lustre over them that everything paled beside them, or, rather, was transfigured, gaining in nobility what was lost in brilliance. They were in love, and at that moment, they were only a man and a maid. The guests themselves were metamorphosed. No longer were they kings, duchesses, generals, ladies-in-waiting- the human touch had made them oblivious of their rank, and in the presence of the lovers, they had become simple men and women. The lights streamed down on radiant faces, on shoulders that would have been as lovely without the glitter of necklaces, eyes that would have sparkled as brilliantly without the answering flash of coronets..."As anyone can tell from reading the letters of Albert and Elisabeth, this romance was no mere journalistic myth, but reality. For more than three decades, the King and Queen would support each other through joyful and sorrowful times, with a pure and profound love nourished by shared faith and good works. May Prince William and Catherine, the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge, be blessed with the same kind of marriage.
Sunday, April 24, 2011
Thursday, April 21, 2011
I am a little American girl. I go to a school on a mountain covered with pines. I heard that you were going to Washington. I hope that you will also come to see me in my school. I know a great many things and I will tell them to you. I helped to make clothes for the Belgian children during the war. I prayed for you alot. My sister prayed too. I have never been to Washington. I am ten years old. My sister is eight. Goodbye!
Here is an online version of Pierre Goemaere's charming book, Across America with the King of the Belgians (1921) , a first-hand account of the Belgian sovereigns' triumphal tour of the United States in 1919. Albert and Elisabeth were welcomed everywhere as heroes. (Above is a letter from one of their youngest admirers). Harvard University conferred an honorary degree of Doctor of Laws upon the King, in recognition of his defense of right during World War I. The book is replete with interesting observations, praise and criticism of the United States. I do think, though, that M. Goemaere over-stated his case in claiming that this - admittedly relatively young- nation had "no history" and "no traditions" (!). It is particularly odd, since he also described the King's impressions upon visiting places of deep historical significance, such as the tombs of George Washington and Abraham Lincoln.
Wednesday, April 20, 2011
Monday, April 18, 2011
A charming clip of the wedding of Prince Alexander of Yugoslavia and Princess Maria Pia of Savoy, eldest child of King Umberto II and Queen Maria José, in 1955. Sadly, Alexander and Maria Pia were divorced twelve years later, after the birth of two sets of twins. The Princess remarried in 2003, to Prince Michael of Bourbon-Parma.
Wednesday, April 13, 2011
Saturday, April 9, 2011
A brief but moving clip of the ceremony at the Abbey of Hautecombe on March 24, 1983, with several shots of a grief-stricken Queen Maria José hidden behind a long black veil. It must have been a very hard year for her, as both her brothers, Prince Charles and King Leopold III of Belgium, would also pass away within the next six months.
Friday, April 8, 2011
Thursday, April 7, 2011
On a hand-painted plate in the entry of the garden of the Abbaye de Notre Dame du Vivier, at Marche-les-Dames. Is it just a coincidence or are the colors of the Belgian flag there for a reason?
Wednesday, April 6, 2011
this article by Gareth Russell on the history of the devotion to the Mater Dolorosa. As I have mentioned before, the Walloon mystic, Berthe Petit (1870-1943), reported that Our Lord repeatedly requested the consecration of Belgium to the Sorrowful and Immaculate Heart of Mary. By a strange, all too suitable coincidence, a chapel dedicated to Our Lady of the Seven Dolors also stood at the foot of the cliff where a desperate search party found the body of King Albert I of the Belgians during the night of February 17-18, 1934.
Tuesday, April 5, 2011
relates, in touching terms, that her father, King Albert I of the Belgians, amidst the pressures and preoccupations of World War I, nonetheless found time to instruct her personally in the catechism, prior to her First Communion. Here is a beautiful account of the occasion from a contemporary youth journal:
FIRST COMMUNION OF A PRINCESS.
The First Communion of the little Princess Marie Jose, the only daughter of the royal house of Belgium, took place within the little strip of Belgian territory still held by the Belgian army, in which Queen Elizabeth had erected a temporary refuge for orphaned and destitute Belgian children. In the plain and humble chapel of this refuge, and in company with some of the orphan children, the little Princess received her First Communion at the hands of the Bishop of the diocese. The tiny chapel was crowded with orphans, officers and poilus.
On a prie-dieu in front of the altar knelt King Albert in uniform and the Queen in plain white coat and skirt. The little princess, in traditional white dress and veil, and wearing a gold medal, knelt a little in front. She looked very lovely and very simple on this beautiful day, and at the close of the Mass, after a pious thanksgiving, in which her royal parents, who had also received Holy Communion, joined, she came forth in sunshine to greet her companions of the hours of misfortune, the staff officers of her father's entourage, the ladies of the Queen's tiny household, and then busied herself the rest of the day with the orphans.
The little Princess had made the journey to Belgium from her English convent school that she might in her native land, receive for the first time her Divine King in the Holy Sacrament of the Eucharist.
Monday, April 4, 2011
Here is a set of magnificent photographs of the popular Refuge Albert Ier, in the Mont Blanc massif, near Chamonix. On August 30, 1930, the beloved third King of the Belgians, a passionate alpinist, inaugurated the first hikers' refuge on the site, a modest wooden cabin named in his honor. On July 12, 1959, to meet growing demands, a much larger, stone structure was opened near the location of the original hut. Here is a short video in French on the history of the Refuge Albert Ier, commemorating the 50th anniversary of the inauguration of the new building, in 2009. Sadly, after the grand opening in 1930, the King never saw the Refuge Albert Ier again, since he died tragically, only four years later, while climbing the cliffs of the Meuse. Yet, it is comforting that such a splendid place still carries his name and something of his spirit.
Sunday, April 3, 2011
Saturday, April 2, 2011
Here is an article about the generous and charitable Montenegrin princess who became the mother of the last King of Italy, Umberto II, and, therefore, the mother-in-law of Marie-José of Belgium.
A fascinating biography of Queen Elena by Luciano Regolo may be found, in limited preview, here.
A fascinating biography of Queen Elena by Luciano Regolo may be found, in limited preview, here.