Divine Mercy Image History
Saint Faustina of the Most Blessed Sacrament was canonized as the very first saint of the 3rd millennium by Pope John Paul II in Rome on Divine Mercy Sunday, April 30th, 2000.
Saint Faustina was called to sanctity at a very early age and entered religious life with the Sisters of Our Lady of Mercy in Poland in 1925. On Sunday, February 22, 1931, Jesus appeared to her with bright rays of light emanating from His heart. He said to her “Paint an image according to the pattern you see, with the signature: Jesus, I trust in You! I desire that this image be venerated… in your chapel, and... throughout the world” (47).
Jesus went on to exclaim, “I promise that the soul that will venerate this image will not perish. I also promise victory over [its] enemies already here on earth, especially at the hour of death. I Myself will defend it as My own glory (48). I desire that there be a Feast of Mercy. I want this image, which you will paint with a brush, to be solemnly blessed on the first Sunday after Easter; that Sunday is to be the Feast of Mercy (49).
I desire that priests proclaim this great mercy of Mine towards souls of sinners. Let the sinner not be afraid to approach Me. The flames of mercy are burning me clamoring to be spent; I want to pour them out upon these souls. Distrust on the part of souls is tearing at my insides. The distrust of a chosen soul causes Me even greater pain…. Even my death is not enough for them. Woe to the soul that abuses these [gifts]” (50)After Saint Faustina’s superior had asked for proof that God was asking for this image, Jesus said to Saint Faustina “I will make this all clear to the Superior by means of the graces which I will grant through this image (51). I desire that this image be displayed in public on the first Sunday after Easter. That Sunday is the Feast of Mercy” (88)
One day as Saint Faustina was offering all her prayers and sufferings so that the Feast of Mercy would be established as Our Lord desired, she said to Jesus: “they tell me that there is already such a feast and so why should I talk about it?” Jesus answered: “And who knows anything about this feast? No one! Even those who should be proclaiming My mercy and teaching people about it often do not know about it themselves. That is why I want the image to be solemnly blessed on the first Sunday after Easter, and I want it to be venerated publicly so that every soul may know about it” (Diary, 341).
On Good Friday, April 19, 1935, at three o’clock in the afternoon when Saint Faustina entered the chapel, Jesus said to her: “I desire that the image be publicly honored” (414). On the following Friday, just before the Feast of Divine Mercy, Saint Faustina’s confessor, Fr. Sopocko gave a sermon about Divine Mercy and when he began to speak about the great mercy of the Lord, the image came alive and the rays pierced the hearts of the people gathered there, but not all to the same degree. Some received so much more.
After the “original Vilnius” image had been painted it was seen for the first time in public during celebrations marking the close of the Jubilee Year of the Redemption of the World from April 26-28, 1935 at Ostra Brama (the “Dawn Gate” to the city of Vilnius). It was then hung in the corridor of a convent near the church and Jesus instructed St. Faustina, “Tell the confessor that the image is to be on view in the church and not within the enclosure of the convent that it’s in. By means of this image I shall be granting many graces to souls; so let every soul have access to it” (570).
Jesus then said “The first Sunday after Easter is the Feast of Mercy, but there must also be acts of mercy, and I demand worship of My mercy through the solemn celebration of the Feast and through the veneration of the image which is painted. By means of this image I shall grant many graces to souls. It is to be a reminder of the demand of My mercy, because even the strongest faith is of no avail without works” (742).
On November 10, 1937, when St. Faustina’s superior showed her the first booklet ever published with the prayers she provided regarding devotion to The Divine Mercy, Jesus told her: “Already there are many souls who have been drawn to My love by this image. My mercy acts in souls through this work” (1379).
Saint Faustina wrote: Today I saw the glory of God which flows from the image. Many souls are receiving graces, although they do not speak of it openly. Even though it has met up with all sorts of vicissitudes, God is receiving glory because of it; and the efforts of satan and of evil men are shattered and come to naught. In spite of satan’s anger, The Divine Mercy will triumph over the whole world and be worshipped by all souls (1789).
Saint Faustina died on October 5, 1938 and in the years following, images of the Divine Mercy were distributed on prayer cards, just in time to meet the needs of the citizens of war torn Poland who were being persecuted by the German occupation in World War II.
In 1943, Adolph Hyla painted an image of The Divine Mercy as a votive offering to the Krakow-Lagiewniki Chapel of the Sisters of Our Lady of Mercy in thanksgiving for his family’s preservation during the war. This “Hyla” image is still in that chapel, directly over the mortal remains of St. Faustina and is often confused as being the first image.
Over the years there have been many different renditions of the original Hyla image and many other paintings of Jesus, The Divine Mercy: the “Hyla” image by Weber painted in 1992, the “Skemp” image by Robert Skemp painted in 1982, the “Shrine” image painted in 1945 by Maria Gama under the direction of Fr. Joseph Jarzebowski using a photograph of the original “Vilnius” image, and many other Divine Mercy images by various artist.
I would imagine that Jesus, in His great wisdom, knew that there would be many different Divine Mercy images painted. After Saint Faustina complained to Him about her disappointments with the original artist, Eugene Kazimirowski’s ability to paint Him as He truly is and saying to Jesus “Who will paint You as beautiful as you are?”, Jesus assured her: “The greatness of this image lies not in the beauty of the color or the brush, but in My grace” (313).
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