"Paint an image according to the pattern you see,
myself will give you many orders directly,
with the signature: Jesus, I trust in You" (Diary, 47).
but I will delay the possibility
of their being carried out
and make it depend on others (...) but know,
My daughter, that this offering will last until your death." (Diary
HISTORY OF THE FIRST IMAGE OF MERCIFUL JESUS
The house where the first image of the Merciful Jesus was painted. In the background
– a church converted by the Soviet authorities into a prison (operating until 2008).
At the beginning of 1934, Father Michael Sopoćko commissioned a Vilnius artist, Prof. Eugeniusz Kazimirowski, to paint the image of the Merciful Jesus. Sister Faustina, who stayed in Vilnius during the whole period of painting the image, visited the studio to pass on the details. Father Sopoćko personally made sure that the image was painted exactly according to her instructions. He fitted the size of the canvas – on which the image was to be painted – to the old frame he received from one of his parishioners. The process of painting took about six months, and when the image was ready, Father Sopoćko requested Sister Faustina to ask Jesus how to position the inscription:
“Once, my confessor (Father Sopoćko) asked me where the inscription should be placed, because there was not enough space on the painting for everything. I said I would pray and give him an answer the following week. When I left the confessional and was passing before the Blessed Sacrament, I received an inner understanding about the inscription. Jesus reminded me of what He had told me the first time; namely that these three words must be clearly in evidence. These words are: Jesus, I trust in You” (Diary, 327).
The dictated inscription, which is a significant part of the image, was written on a separate board and placed at the frame beneath the image. Then, as Lord Jesus explicitly requested through Sister Faustina, Father Sopoćko started making efforts to place the image in St. Michael’s Church in Vilnius, where he held the post of a rector. As a result, on April 4, 1937, with the consent of Metropolitan Archbishop of Vilnius Romuald Jałbrzykowski, the painting of the Most Merciful Savior, positively reviewed by experts, was hung next to the high altar in St. Michael’s Church, where it was righteously worshipped by the faithful for about eleven years.
The second committee of experts, appointed at the Archbishop’s request in 1941, stated that: “The image is painted in an artistic manner and it constitutes a valuable contribution
to the contemporary religious art". (The Commission’s Report on the assessment and conservation of the image of the Most Merciful Saviour in the St. Michael’s Church in Vilnius dated May 27, 1941, signed by the following experts: Professor of History of Art, M. Morelowski, Professor of Dogmatic Theology, Fr L. Puchaty, and the restorer Fr P. Śledziewski, PhD)
The painting in the St. Michael’s Church (1937-1948)
In 1948, after the St. Michael’s Church was closed by the Soviet authorities, the painting (without the frame and the inscription “Jesus, I trust in You”) was secretly and illegally purchased from a Lithuanian worker who was getting rid of the church’s furnishings. Two women bought it (a Pole and a Lithuanian), worshippers of the Divine Mercy. They were aware of the possible consequences they could suffer from the hands of the Soviet authorities, so removed the rolled-up painting from the church and hid it for some time in the attic. Later on, it was passed on to the Church of the Holy Spirit where all the movables from the closed church had also been deposited. The parish priest of the Church of the Holy Spirit, Father Jan Ellert was interested neither in keeping the image nor in displaying it, so he hid it in the storage area at the back of the church.
It was not until 1956 when the friend of Father Sopoćko, Father Józef Grasewicz, returned to Vilnius after being released from a Soviet labour camp, undertook to find the painting. He contacted Father Sopoćko who was agonising over the lack of information about the image of the Merciful Jesus. Father Grasewicz received permission to resume his priestly service in Nowa Ruda. Before leaving Vilnius, he asked the parish priest of the Church of the Holy Spirit if he could move the painting to his parish in Nowa Ruda. He received a positive response. So, Father Grasewicz brought the painting to Nowa Ruda and placed it in the church keeping its origin a secret.
Father Sopoćko considered taking the painting to Poland, but he gave up his efforts when it turned out that it would be dangerous. Despite many changes in the administration of the church, the painting stayed in Nowa Ruda for about thirty years.
The painting in Nowa Ruda, today Belarus (1956-1986)
The church in Nowa Ruda at present
In 1970, the local communist authorities in Nowa Ruda decided to convert the church into a warehouse. The furnishings from the closed church were moved to another parish. However, the painting was left in the deserted church for a seemingly trivial reason: it was hung high up and the ladder they were using to remove objects was not long enough to reach it. At that time Father Sopoćko, was in Poland and he could do nothing to protect the painting. He remained deeply concerned about it however and asked Father Grasewicz to move it to another, safer place. However, it was not possible for him to do so, as Father Grasewicz could not leave his parish. All the priests in Belarus were too afraid to host the painting. The painting of Merciful Jesus, was left for years in that abandoned wooden church, surviving the dangerous era of communism.
Father Sopoćko remained concerned about the painting throughout his whole life. Secretly, he sent numerous requests to move the painting to Vilnius. He requested that the painting be placed at the Gate of Dawn in Vilnius, where it was originally displayed to be worshipped publicly. This request was not passed on until 1982 (already after the death of Father Sopoćko). When he received it, Father Tadeusz Kondrusiewicz, then the priest at the Gate of Down, refused and suggested placing the painting in the Church of the Holy Spirit, where Father Aleksander Kaszkiewicz was the parish priest. Initially hesitant, Father Kaszkiewicz eventually agreed to hang the picture in the Church of the Holy Spirit. So, Father Grasewicz made the decision to bring the painting back to Vilnius.
To steer the communists’ attention away from the extraordinary origin of the painting, one November night in 1986, the original painting in Nowa Ruda was secretly replaced with a copy prepared earlier. The residents of Nowa Ruda, who gathered in prayer in the abandoned church, were not aware of this. With the assistance of the Sisters of the Mother of Mercy (from the Gate of Dawn), the canvas was removed from the stretcher bar, rolled-up, and, the same night, taken first to Grodno, and then to the Church of the Holy Spirit in Vilnius.
In the Church of the Holy Spirit, Father Kaszkiewicz ordered the restoration of the painting. Damaged areas were covered with a new layer of the paint. This substantially changed the appearance of the face of Jesus. The red inscription “JESUS, I TRUST IN YOU” was added at the bottom of the painting. Moreover, to fit the painting into the recess in the altar, the bottom edge was folded-up and an additional part added at the top.
The changes were inconsistent with the artistic composition of the image painted by Prof. Kazimirowski in collaboration with Sister Faustina and Father Sopoćko.
It was a drastic
interference, which decreased considerably the original value of the work.
The image being placed in the side altar at the Church of the Holy Spirit in Vilnius, was not of particular interest to either pilgrims or church authorities. The lack of proper conditions for its exposition had adverse physical effects on the image. It was not until July 2001 that, thanks to the courtesy of Father Mirosław Grabowski the parish priest of the Church of the Holy Spirit, the Congregation of the Sisters of Merciful Jesus was able to establish a new centre in Vilnius to take proper care of this unique and invaluable image of Merciful Jesus, one that came into existence in an atmosphere filled with God’s miracle making power – the prayer and suffering of Saint Sister Faustina, in her presence and with her participation.
Thanks to the efforts and devotion of Sisters, in April 2003, a thorough restoration of the painting was performed in the chapel of the sisters’ convent in Vilnius. All the overpaints and stains (resulting from moisture and attempts of chemical cleaning) were removed. As a result of this restoration, the original form of the panting and the appearance of the image of Merciful Jesus were restored.
Some of the defects in the painting canvas could only be repaired by applying patches glued to the canvas on the underside. This damage was the result of numerous removals of the canvas from the stretcher bar (nail holes), and the folding-up of about 4cm of the bottom part of the painting (in 1987, the painting was fitted in the altar in the Church of the Holy Spirit). Although invisible upon the painting’s display, these defects constitute some of the characteristic features of the painting.
The folded-up bottom stripe (nail holes are visible which are the result of changing of the stretchers many times).
At present the painting is fastened to the stretcher bar with clips.
The painting at the Church of the Holy Spirit in Vilnius (1987-2005)
before and after the conservation
The painting was thoroughly restored and returned to the Church of the Holy Spirit - the parish church for the Poles living in Vilnius, in which Holy Masses and other services are said only in Polish.
To create proper conditions for individual contemplation - adoration of the image of Merciful Jesus - for everyone, at any time, regardless the origin and background - the Metropolitan Archbishop of Vilnius, Cardinal Audrys Juozas Bačkis, decided to move the image of the Merciful Jesus to a small neighbouring Church of the Holy Trinity, which was converted into a Divine Mercy Sanctuary.
The circumstances surrounding this event triggered controversial discussions in all media publications and thus, unintentionally, became a huge, positive promotion, reminding people of the existence of the original image of the Merciful Jesus in Vilnius and of the history of its origin, again spreading the message of Divine Mercy delivered through the Saint Sister Faustina.
Since September 2005, the original image of Merciful Jesus has been worshipped in the Sanctuary of Divine Mercy in Vilnius, where sisters and numerous pilgrims entrust the faith of the world to the Divine Mercy in their daily prayerful adoration of THE HOLLY IMAGE OF JESUS. The Metropolitan Archbishop of Vilnius entrusted the prayer service at the Sanctuary to the Congregation of Sisters of Merciful Jesus.
A thanksgiving prayer concluding the ceremony of perpetual vows
of the Sisters of Merciful Jesus in Vilnius, 2011
Perpetual adoration at the Divine Mercy Sanctuary in Vilnius, 12 Dominikonu st.
The Congregation of the Sisters of Merciful Jesus, founded by the Blessed Father Michael Sopoćko in response to the request of Lord Jesus, is a multinational community, actively contemplating and spreading the cult of the Merciful Jesus. For several decades the Sisters have been implementing the charism of the Congregation, passed on by its founder, by spreading the message of Divine Mercy all over the world. Through their prayer and sacrificial service to others, they incessantly ask for Divine Mercy for the world, especially for the grace of mercy for the dying, and for the God's blessing for priests and religious.
"I desire that there be such a Congregation" (Diary, 437).
"And every act of mercy will flow from God’s love, that love with which they will be filled to overflowing. They will strive to make their own this great attribute of God, and to live by it and to bring others to know it and to trust in the goodness of the Lord" (Diary, 664).
In 2004, the Metropolitan Archbishop of Vilnius ordained two buildings at 4 Rassu St. – belonging to the former convent of the Visitation Sisters – which become the premises for the operations of the Sisters of Merciful Jesus. During the Soviet era the convent and the surrounding building were transformed into a prison. It closed in 2008. One of these buildings was designated to become the monastic house and the other a hospice, named after the Blessed Father Sopoćko, for people suffering from cancer.
The renovation of the damaged buildings and their adaptation to the needs of the convent and the hospice was carried out thanks to the generosity of donors from various countries.
In addition to their religious duties, The Sisters of Merciful Jesus have been providing hospice care in Vilnius since 2008 by assisting the sick in their homes.
The Hospice and the Monastic House of the Sisters of Merciful Jesus
On June 6, 2012, the very first in Lithuania in-patient hospice was formally consecrated. The ceremony was preceded by a con-celebrated Holy Mass chaired by Metropolitan Archbishop of Vilnius Audrys Juozas Bačkis, with participation of Apostolic Nuncio in Lithuania, Archbishop Luigi Bonazzi, Bishop Arunas Poniškaitis, and several dozen other priests.
The ceremony of consecrating the hospice named after the Blessed Father Michael Sopoćko
In his opening speech, the Metropolitan Archbishop of Vilnius pointed out this special place being a cradle of the Divine Mercy devotion. He spoke warmly about the Blessed Father Michael Sopoćko, about Saint Faustina, about the Sisters of Merciful Jesus, and about all of the donors who contributed to commemoration of the place that in the inter-war period was the residence of Father Sopoćko, the spiritual director of Sister Faustina, and also E. Kazimirowski, the painter who painted the image of the Merciful Jesus according to instructions of Sister Faustina. The room, where for six months the image was painted in 1934, at present serves as the chapel at the Monastic House of the Sisters of Merciful Jesus and is visited by numerous pilgrims.
Chapel at the convent of the Sisters of Merciful Jesus in Vilnius, 4a Rassu St.
On the occasion of this ceremony, the letter-blessing was addressed by Pope Benedict XVI to the Metropolitan Archbishop of Vilnius
“…The certainty of the future immortality and the hope for resurrection cast new light on the mystery of suffering and dying and trigger an extraordinary strength inside the believer so he can sacrifice himself solely to God. His Holiness calls for an abundance of gifts of the Holy Spirit for the Sisters of Merciful Jesus, for the other personnel of this nascent venture, and for the volunteers working with them, so their work, following the example of Christ the Good Shepherd, would bear fruit. His Holiness, through the intercession of the Virgin Mother, with great pleasure extends his Apostolic Blessing to Your Eminence, to the Sisters, and especially, to all patients and their families, and spreading over all participants in the Ceremony”.
When in 1947 Father Sopoćko had to leave Vilnius permanently, he probably did not expect that, in this place, the Divine Mercy would be cultivated in full through work, word and worship.
THE CONSERVATION OF THE FIRST PAINTING OF MERCIFUL JESUS
- PHOTOGRAPHIC DOCUMENTATION
Part of the painting before the restoration (2003)
Removal of the overpaints
After the removal of overpaints
After the restoration
The painting before the restoration
with the added inscription
After the removal of the overpaints
Removal of the layers of overpaint
The painting after the completed restoration
Courtesy of the restorer’s archive from 2003
The restoration was carried out in 2003 by Ms. Edyta Hankowska-Czerwińska of Włocławek, an art restorer, graduate of the Faculty of Fine Arts at the Nicolaus Copernicus University in Toruń. e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org
“By means of this Image I shall be granting many graces,
so let every soul have access to it" (Diary, 570).
On the initiative of the Foundation of the Apostles of Merciful Jesus operating at the Church of the Society of Jesus in Łódź (see Copy of agreement) (the organizer and sponsor of the 2003 conservation works on the Divine Mercy painting), in March 2004 a professional photographic session of the first painting of the Merciful Jesus was held at the Church of the Holy Spirit in Vilnius. The photocopies developed from the 20cm slides taken with a professional camera have been made available by the Foundation for the public evangelization.
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All rights reserved: © Text compilation – Urszula Grzegorczyk
Consultation – Sister Maria Kalinowska, The Congregation of the Sisters of Merciful Jesus.
The texts may be copied only on the condition that the full name of the source
© Translation: Ewa Olszowa, Copyediting: Matthew Vinall