"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
THE HISTORY OF IMAGE OF MERCIFUL JESUS
The house where the first image of Merciful Jesus was painted. In the background
– church converted by Soviet authorities into a prison. It remained in operation until 2008.
At the beginning of 1934, Father Sopoćko commissioned painting of the image of Merciful Jesus to a Vilnius artist, Prof. E. Kazimirowski, whose apartment and studio were located in the same building where Father Sopoćko lived. Sister Faustina, who stayed in Vilnius (see The house of Congregation) 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 got from one of the parishioners. The process of painting took about half a year, and when the image was ready, Fatherr Sopoćko requested sister Faustina to ask Jesus how to position the inscription: (see Memoirs of Father Sopoćko).
"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 (in Polish: Jezu, Ufam Tobie) must be clearly in evidence. These words are: Jesus, I trust in You" (Diary, 327).
"I am offering people a vessel with which they are to keep coming for graces
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 Saviour, positively reviewed by experts, was hung next to the high altar in St. Michael’s Church, where it had been righteously worshipped by the faithful for about eleven years.
to the fountain of mercy. That vessel is this image with the signature:
Jesus, I trust in You" (Diary, 327).
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) (see Memoirs of Father Sopoćko).
The painting in St. Michael’s Church (1937-1948)
In 1948, after the St. Michael’s Church had been closed by Soviet authorities, the painting
(without the frame and the inscription) was secretly and illegally purchased from a Lithuanian worker who was liquidating the temple’s furnishings. The purchase was made by two women (a Pole and a Lithuanian), worshippers of the Divine Mercy, who being aware of the possible consequences they could suffer from the Soviet authorities, removed the rolled-up painting from the church and hid it for some time in the attic. Later on, they passed it over to the Church of the Holy Spirit where all the movables from the closed church were 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 at the back of the church. It was not until 1956 when the friend of Father Sopoćko, Father Józef Grasewicz, who returned to Vilnius after being released from a Soviet labour camp, decided to find the painting. He got in touch with Father Sopoćko who was agonising over the lack of information about the image of Merciful Jesus.
Father Grasewicz got the permission to resume his religious 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. The response to his request was positive.
Thus, Father Grasewicz brought the painting to Nowa Ruda and placed it in the church keeping its origin a secret. 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 liquidated church were moved to another parish.
However, the painting was left in the desolated church for some seemingly trivial reason:
it was hung high up and the ladder 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 was deeply concerned and asked Father Grasewicz to move it to a different, safer place.
That was not possible as Father Grasewicz had to leave his parish, and all the priests in Belarus were too afraid to host the painting. The painting of Merciful Jesus, for years left in the abandoned wooden church, survived the dangerous area of communism.
Father Sopoćko was concerned about the painting throughout his whole life and he was secretly sending numerous requests to move the painting to Vilnius. His request to place the painting at the Gate of Dawn in Vilnius, where it was originally displayed to be worshipped publicly, was not passed until 1982 (already after the death of Father Sopoćko). Father Tadeusz Kondrusiewicz, then the vicar 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. This way Father Grasewicz made the decision to bring the painting back to Vilnius.
To steer communists’ attention away from the extraordinary origin of the painting, at the one November night in 1986, the original painting in Nowa Ruda was secretly replaced with the prepared earlier copy. The residents of Nowa Ruda, who were gathering for 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, at 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, which substantially changed the appearance of the face of Jesus, and the red inscription “JESUS, I TRUST IN YOU” was added at the bottom. Moreover, to fit the painting to the recess in the altar, the bottom edge of the image was folded-up and an oval part was 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 placed in the side altar at the Church of the Holy Spirit in Vilnius, was not of particular interest to either from pilgrims or church authorities. The lack of proper conditions for the exposition of the image had adverse effects on its physical substance.
It was not until July 2001, when 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 and take proper care of this unique and invaluable image of Merciful Jesus, the 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 be removed only by applying patches glued to the canvas on the underside. They were the results of numerous removal of the canvas off the stretcher (nail holes), and folding up about 4cm of the bottom part (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
(Visible are nail holes which are the effect of triple changing of the stretchers)
During the conservation in 2003 the painting was re-fastened to the stretcher bar.
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, made a decision to move the image of 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 of the existence of the original image of Merciful Jesus in Vilnius and of the history of its origin coming from 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.
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, spreading the cult of Merciful Jesus. For several dozens of years the Sisters have been implementing the charisma of the Congregation, passed on by its founder, spreading the message of Divine Mercy all over the world. Through their prayer and sacrificial service to other people, they incessantly ask for the Divine Mercy for world, especially for the grace of mercy for the dying, and for the God's blessing for priests and religious persons.
"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 intended the two buildings at 4 Rassu St. - belonging to the former convent of the Visitation Sisters - for the premises and operations of the Sisters of Merciful Jesus. During the Soviet era the convent and the surrounding building were transformed into a prison which was closed down just in 2008. One of these buildings was designated to become the monastic house and the other the in-patient hospice, named after the Blessed Father Sopoćko, for persons suffering from cancer. The renovation of the devastated facilities and their adaptation to the needs of the convent and the hospice was done thanks to the generosity of donors from various countries. In addition to their religious duties, The Sisters of Merciful Jesus have been providing a hospice care in Vilnius already since 2008 - assisting the sick at their homes.
The Hospice and the Monastic House
On June 6, 2012, the very first in Lithuania in-patient hospice was formally consecrated. The ceremony was preceded by the Concelebrated Holy Mass chaired by the Audrys Juozas Bačkis, Metropolitan Archbishop of Vilnius, with participation of apostolic nuncio Archbishop Luigi Bonazzi, Bishop Arunas Poniškaitis, and several dozens of 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 that is a cradle of the Divine Mercy devotion. He spoke warmly about the blessed Father Michael Sopoćko, about Saint Faustina, about Sisters of Merciful Jesus, and about all donors who contributed to commemoration of the place that in the interwar 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 had been painted in 1934, has been presently serving as the chapel at the Monastic House of the Sisters of Merciful Jesus visited by numerous pilgrims.
Saint Faustina's Chapel at the Monastic House of the Sisters of Merciful Jesus in Vilnius, 4 Rassu St.
On the occasion of this ceremony, the letter-blessing was addressed by Pope Benedict XVI to the Metropolitan Archbishop of Vilnius
"On the occasion of the opening of the hospice for the terminally ill named after the Blessed Father Michael Sopoćko in the Metropolitan of Vilnius, the Pope Benedict XVI - spiritually participating in this significant event and sharing the joy of the successful completion of the project supporting the service to all, who at the end of their earthly journey need not only medical, but most of all the spiritual and religious support, so they can face crossing the bridge to the eternal life in peace and in a dignified way in light of the eternal religious values - extends his sincere greetings and wishes.
The certainty of the future immortality and the hope for resurrection cast the 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.
Calling for abundance of gifts of the Holy Spirit for the Sisters of Merciful Jesus, for the Personnel of this nascent structure, and for the volunteers, so the work following the example of Christ the Good Sheppard bear fruits - His Holiness, through the intercession of the Virgin Mother, with great pleasure extends his Apostolic Blessing to Your Eminence, to Sisters, and especially, to all patients and their families, spreading it over all participants of the Ceremony".
When in 1947 Father Sopoćko had to leave Vilnius permanently, he probably did not expect that once, in this place, the mercy will be cultivated in full through work, word and worship.
Illustration at the hospice
"For I was hungry and you gave me no food, I was thirsty and you gave me no drink, I was a stranger and you did not welcome me, naked and you did not clothe me, sick and in prison and you did not visit me. (...) Truly, I say to you, as you did it not to one of the least of these, you did it not to me" (Mt 25, 42−45)*.
* Source: Bible Gateway, Revised Standard Version, www.biblegateway.com
“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 organizers and sponsors of the conservation works conducted in 2003 – the Foundation of the Apostles of Merciful Jesus in Łódź (see Copy of agreement) – a professional photographic session of the painting was held in the Church of the Holy Spirit in March 2004. Since that time, the photocopies of the first image of Merciful Jesus (produced from 20cm slides made with professional camera) have been propagated and made available for public evangelization (see High resolution images for printing - www.merciful-jesus.com).
THE CONSERVATION OF THE FIRST PAINTING OF MERCIFUL JESUS
- PHOTOGRAPHIC DOCUMENTATION
Part of the painting before the restoration
Removal of the overpaints
After the removal of overpaints
Part of the painting after the restoration
The painting before the restoration (2003)
After the removal of the overpaints
Removal of the layers of overpaints from the altered parts of the painting
The painting after the restoration
Courtesy of the restorer’s archive from 2003
Despite the thorough restoration, the condition of the painting stayed considerably impaired. The painting should be displayed in proper conditions according to the restorer’s recommendations. The restoration was conducted by Ms. Edyta Hankowska-Czerwińska of Włocławek, e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org, an art restorer, graduate of the Faculty of Fine Arts at the Nicolaus Copernicus University in Toruń.
On August 3, 2009, at the Sanctuary of Divine Mercy Shrine in, the restorer Edyta Hankowska-Czerwińska conducted a periodic check-up of the condition of the painting.
She described it as good with no need for any conservation.
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