Sunday, February 24, 2013

The Private Theatre of Marie-Antoinette

Here are two images of Marie-Antoinette's private theatre. (Via Tea at Trianon). As shown above, it was redecorated by her niece Marie-Amélie, Queen of the French under the July Monarchy of 1830-1848.  Readers of this blog will remember that Marie-Amélie's daughter, Louise-Marie d'Orléans, was the first Queen of the Belgians.  Marie-Antoinette's design (below) has since been restored, although the monogram above the center stage is actually still Marie-Amélie's. I love both Marie-Amélie and Marie-Antoinette, but I must say that I much prefer Antoinette's beautifully delicate, lighter taste. The heavy scarlet is too oppressive for me.

Saturday, February 23, 2013

February 23, 1934: The Accession of Leopold III

On February 23, 1934, a day after the funeral of his tragically deceased father, Albert I, Leopold III, fourth King of the Belgians, ascended the throne. I have gathered a few contemporary descriptions of this sombre, but magnificent occasion. It was a moment of mingled joy, sorrow, wonder and hope.
Albert, King of the Belgians, warrior, statesman and sportsman, now belonged to history. And King Leopold III, in his turn, now belonged to the people of Belgium. Before middle age he was called upon to succeed a father who had set a standard of kingship of immaculate realism and democracy. That call had been so sudden, the circumstances surrounding it so tragic, that he could well have been forgiven a tremor of hesitancy. But the Royal stock of Belgium is sturdy. Leopold, in those critical days, acquitted himself with grace and honour. The boy who had "fagged" at Eton for the Duke of Gloucester now became the man prepared to serve a nation. His grief did not outstrip his courage or his sense of duty or his regal bearing. Behind him, he knew, was the trust and love and inspiration of his Queen, the friendship and confidence of his subjects. ~Michael Geelan

One of the most noble and touching sights of contemporary times was that of the young, handsome, forthright Leopold, head and hand raised, taking the Oath of Accession before his Throne in the Chamber of Deputies. In his first speech as king he said: "According to a solidly established tradition, the Belgian dynasty is at the service of the nation, and I am firmly resolved never to forget it." He glanced towards Queen Astrid - a stately figure in deep black, seated with her children in virgin white - and their eyes met. Then and there he told the august gathering of State that both he and they could depend upon the love and loyalty of the Queen. These were no idle words dove-tailed into the pattern of a formal and picturesque ceremony. They were sincere. They came, not only from his manuscript, but from his heart. All who heard them knew them to be true. ~Michael Geelan

The young and handsome couple were well fitted to be the protagonists in this deeply moving pageant. The new Queen was soon to become a mother again. Seated between her two children, who were as lively as crickets, she drove round the capital in the state coach. The new King, followed by the Count of Flanders, rode to the Chamber on horseback, as his father had done before him, and delivered his speech with quiet dignity. His next action had no precedent: he mounted his horse and rode round the city, only pausing once- before the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. 

When the new King and Queen appeared on the balcony of the Palace in the dazzling sunlight, she in black, he in the uniform of a Lieutenant-General, the people, still subdued by the sorrow of the previous day, felt as though they were gazing at a reincarnation of the spirit of spring. ~Charles d'Ydewalle

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Little Prince Alexandre

I thought these were quite handsome pictures of Prince Alexandre Emmanuel (1942-2009), the first child of King Leopold III and Lilian Baels. 


Berthe Petit

Berthe Petit (1870-1943) was a Belgian Franciscan tertiary, mystic, stigmatist and apostle of devotion to the Sorrowful and Immaculate Heart of Mary. She was born in Enghien, the daughter of pious parents. She was a delicate child, and, throughout her life, suffered many illnesses, causing her to receive the Last Rites seven times. From the age of four, she believed she experienced visions of Christ and the Blessed Mother. These recurred throughout her life, centering on her chief mission- to obtain the consecration of the world to the Sorrowful and Immaculate Heart of Mary. Berthe was always highly respected by the ecclesiastical authorities. As far as I know, the Church has never found anything contrary to the Catholic Faith in her revelations.

Berthe was born into a family of comfortable means; her father was a prosperous attorney. Deeply devout, Berthe longed to become a Sister of Charity, but it was not to be. During her youth, her father suffered severe financial reversals and Berthe was obliged to work to help support her family. She offered her disappointment as a sacrifice for the sanctification of a priest of God's choice. This proved to be Father Louis Décorsant, a French priest who became one of her spiritual directors and close collaborators.

Berthe's life was marked by physical and spiritual suffering. At the age of 10, after her First Communion, she told her teacher, a nun: "I must suffer a great deal, I must be like Jesus." The nun asked: "who told you that?" The child replied: "the little Host which is my wonderful Jesus." In addition to painful illnesses and accidents, she experienced fears, doubts, perplexities, and diabolical persecution. At one point, during World War I, while praying, she was hurled down a stone staircase by an unseen force, yet her life, miraculously, was saved. She heard hissing in her ear: "I shall fight you to the end, obsessing minds, hardening hearts, feeding passions."

By all accounts, Berthe was a delightful character, combining spiritual fervor and common sense, humble, cheerful, thoughtful, attentive to others, loving and deeply sincere. She was a splendid cook, yet, from the age of 38, lived only on Holy Communion. At one point, when she was lodging in a convent, a nun who shared her room was instructed by her superiors to observe if Berthe took any food in secret. Despite her initial skepticism, she found, after a year's observation, that Berthe really ate nothing, only drinking, in the morning, a cup of coffee (soon rejected), and, in the afternoon, a small glass of wine.

Berthe's revelations often had a political character, dealing with the spiritual dimensions of national and international events. (Interestingly, Msgr. Pieraerts, court chaplain during the reign of King Albert I, was one of her spiritual directors and close friends). Berthe reported that Christ requested Belgium's consecration to the Sorrowful and Immaculate Heart, as a remedy for the country's political and moral ills. Shortly after World War I, according to Berthe, Our Lord made this striking statement:
Internal strife is more rampant than ever in your country. It is being fanned by the evil seeds sown by the invader; it is fed by egoism, pride and jealousy, malevolent germs which can only generate moral ruin. I continue to have pity on a country that defended its honor at the cost of the greatest sacrifices, and on a sovereign faithful to his duty. To save this nation, I have wished, and continue to wish, that it should be solemnly consecrated to the Heart of My Mother....

(The Sorrowful and Immaculate Heart of Mary: Messages of Our Lord to Berthe Petit, Franciscan Tertiary, 1870-1943, 2004, p. 51)
Berthe's last words were filled with longing for God and the salvation of souls: "I thirst!"

May she intercede for us all.

Sunday, February 17, 2013

Easter Essay Contest

Well, I have decided to have another essay contest for Easter. The rules as to range of topics and length of submissions will be the same as for the Christmas essay contest.  I hope there will be more participants this time! Please email entries to crossoflaeken@gmail.com by March 31, 2013. Please do not send essays as attachments, but simply cut and paste the text in the body of the email.

February 17, 1934: The Death of Albert I

Today is the anniversary of the tragic and untimely death of Albert I, King of the Belgians. According to official documents, a chance slip from a craggy precipice at Marche-les-Dames, during a solitary rock-climbing excursion on the afternoon of February 17, 1934, cut short the life of this beloved monarch, at the age of 58. In the depths of the night, after hours of desperate search, his weeping attendants found him by the light of torches, spread-eagled at the foot of the Cliff of the Gentle God of Pity, soaked in his blood, his skull fractured. By a cruel coincidence, the Sovereign who had led independent Belgium to her centenary, four years earlier, had died only ten months before celebrating his Silver Jubilee. 

Grief, shock and disbelief swept through the Royal Family, the country, and, indeed, the world. Widely loved and admired for his heroism during World War I, and graced with a modest, affable personality, Albert was deeply mourned far beyond the frontiers of his realm. Meanwhile, throughout Flanders and Wallonia, as in 1914, the carillons tolled out the tocsin. In Brussels, amidst the moving and imposing funeral ceremonies, the people, braving pouring rain and icy fog, filed past silently to pay their last respects to their dead King, lying in state in a candle-lit chapel of flowers in the Royal Palace."The top of the head was heavily bandaged," wrote the British ambassador, George Clerk, "but the features were extraordinarily composed and peaceful, and death had removed the traces of many years".  
On February 22, as the funeral cortège made its way from the palace to the Cathedral of St. Gudule to the Church of Our Lady of Laeken, vast, sombre crowds lined the route. Thousands knelt and prayed as the gun-carriage, bearing the King's coffin, passed by. "Au revoir, Albert," one old man was heard to whisper. After the Requiem Mass, celebrated by Cardinal van Roey, Archbishop of Malines, in the black-draped cathedral, Albert's body was conducted to the Church of Our Lady of Laeken, where the final Benediction took place. Then, to the strains of funeral music and the booming of artillery, the third King of the Belgians was laid to rest in the Royal Crypt. 

In a sermon to commemorate the Belgian dead of World War I, and the veterans who had passed away since the return of peace, the saintly Abbot of Orval, Dom Marie Albert van der Cruyssen, himself a war hero, and an intimate of King Albert, rendered a beautiful tribute to the deceased monarch: 
Ah, I cannot tell you all the good sentiments with which his heart was filled to overflowing, and which he poured out, in private, in confidences, which do not yet belong to the history of our time. But his public virtues can and must be known, those of the good father of a family, so attached to inculcating in his children integrity and self-sacrifice, those of the head of state, so concerned for justice and the happiness of all, and, above all, those of the great Christian who could tell himself each day: "I do not fear death, I am ready." If some were astonished, because, on the mask of the man who had died in such a tragic accident, there was such a peace, for, he was not - God is my witness, since I had the supreme consolation of giving, to this king and friend, the last blessing, before the lead coffin closed forever upon his august face - he was not, I say, disfigured, or disguised, he was great, calm, and beautiful in death, it is because he was great and beautiful in his life!
Albert 675