The devotion of French prisoners of war and requisitioned workers to Thérèse of Lisieux: transcending the ‘Diocese behind Barbed Wire’
St Thérèse of Lisieux
spiritual resistance, Catholic devotions
France, feminized Church
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AbstractThis article discusses the devotion of French prisoners of war and requisitioned workers to St Thérèse of Lisieux (1873–1897) in the period 1940– 1945. Soon after her death Thérèse, who was canonized in 1925, attracted millions of devotees internationally. The material under review reveals that the example of Thérèse was both inspirational and consoling. Individuals and groups constructed a spiritual world, emotionally, through the connections they made and maintained with Catholics in the camps and at home, and physically, through the altars and chapels they erected, the letters they wrote and received, and the images and reading materials that were sent to them. The usual dichotomies applied to histories of the period, notably the resistance/collaboration binary, do not provide an adequate framework for interpreting non-combatant responses to the crisis of defeat and captivity. The example of devotion to Thérèse demonstrates that for those who regularly practised their faith, or were moved to do so for the period of their ‘exile’, religious belief and observance offered a viable and ethical alternative to the masculine ideal of military heroism.
Journal of War & Culture Studies, 2014; 7(3):283-296