In her Autobiographical Manuscripts, Saint Therese of the Child Jesus recounts the joys of her pilgrimage to the Holy House of Loreto in Italy. She traveled there with her family when still very young. She comments:
“I was indeed happy when on the way to Loreto. Our Lady had chosen an ideal spot in which to place her Holy House. Everything is poor, simple, and primitive; the women still wear the graceful dress of the country and have not, as in the large towns, adopted the modern Paris fashions. I found Loreto enchanting.
And what shall I say of the Holy House? I was overwhelmed with emotion when I realized that I was under the very roof that had sheltered the Holy Family.”
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This comment on customs and dress by Saint Therese is extremely interesting. It makes us sense how the local landscape lent itself so well to hosting this holy relic of the Holy House. She notes how the landscape and the Holy House of Loreto, with its graces, shaped the souls and customs of the local inhabitants.
She makes a traditional comment, saying how those local women did well to keep their old traditional dress. At the time of Saint Therese (1873-1897), people in many regions of Europe kept their ancient local costumes.
Saint Therese notes how good this habit was. She praises regionalism while censuring cosmopolitanism. How well those women behaved by keeping their innocent costumes of yore instead of wearing Paris fashions! These revolutionary fashions were imposed on everyone in a process that ‘cosmopoliticized’ the world and ended all regional characteristics.
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This comment lets us gauge how she was a counter-revolutionary. She had the sensitivity to observe the circumstances of temporal life. She understood a principle that is so dear to us—there is the correlation between temporal and spiritual life. She saw that when society is well organized, it favors the practice of virtue and sanctification. All this is found in this very simple, synthetic, but substantial excerpt from her autobiography.
We cannot help but smile, thinking that she was dressed in what she called Paris fashion. She wore this attire. She did not wear her region’s attire because only the peasants had remained faithful to them, and she was not a peasant. She dressed in Paris fashion. At that time, this fashion was still decent and modest. Her comment was not criticizing it as immoral since it was still proper. She disapproves of the very serious evil of cosmopolitanism.
We see how she thought this out well philosophically. We can also consider the resignation with which Saint Therese wore her Paris fashion (since there was no regional option for her). Indeed, it is the resignation with which we should wear our own cosmopolitan attire imposed upon us. The suit jacket and tie are reputed to be so reactionary. However, they do not satisfy the hunger and thirst in our souls that crave the regional richness of fashions that reflect the true culture of a people.
The preceding article is taken from an informal lecture Professor Plinio Corrêa de Oliveira gave on December 10, 1970. It has been translated and adapted for publication without his revision. –Ed.