Q: Who is Our Lady of the Smile?
A: The name "of the smile" does not correspond to a special title of Mary but an impression which Saint Therese of the Child Jesus had of Mary's (the statue of Mary in the home of the Martins) facial expressions when she was miraculously healed in 1883. Therese discovered on Mary's face, beauty, bounty and infinite tenderness, but above all, a charming and enchanting smile. This smile becomes a summary, so to speak, of Therese's Marian spirituality. At the end of her last Marian poem (see the last two verses), she discovers in Mary the one who lovingly smiles at her in the morning of her existence, and again at the moment of its sunset.
It is debatable whether the statue smiles or only appears to do so for the neutral observer. The statue is a typical representation of the Immaculata crushing the head of the snake, standing on the globe, her head surrounded by a crown of twelve stars. There exists an unmistakable resemblance between this statue and the statue of the Miraculous Medal. It is indeed said in Descouvemont/Loose that Catherine Labouré's confessor, Fr. Aladel, presented the goldsmith Vachette with this same type of statue, a copy of Edme Bouchardon's (1698-1762) rendering of the Virgin (1735). This statue has the same posture and outstretched hands as the Miraculous Medal but lacks the typical attributes of the Immaculata, that is, the twelve stars, the globe and Mary's foot crushing the head of the serpent. Sculpted for the church of St. Sulpice, it was placed in the Lady Chapel where such famous figures of the French school of spirituality as J. J. Olier and Louis Marie Grignion de Montfort must have seen it. It disappeared during the French Revolution but was reconstituted in 1832 on the basis of visual materials (estampes) still available.
Need there be a contradiction between the Immaculata and a smiling Madonna? Assuredly not, since Immaculateness expresses itself necessarily as pure joy, among many other things. Mary is cause of our joy, however discreet the smile of her statues. It is in the joy of Mary that her smiling has its roots. Mary's joy has an eschatological significance. It is in the certitude that in the end God will triumph (in his creation, incarnation and redemption) that Mary's life found direction and perspective. This certitude in faith was the source of her joy and the cause of her smiling.
Devotion to Our Lady of the Smile was popular on this continent in the 1950s. It can be detected in Montreal (center of "Les Biussonnets" beginning in 1949), Manchester, NH, Milwaukee, Cleveland, especially of the Shrine of Our Lady of the Smile in Pittsfield, NH (1953).
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