The amazing journey of a masterpiece

By Brenda Hopf

Connecting Faith and Life

Stolen. Stored. Smuggled. Forgotten. These are all words that could be used to describe the incredible journey of the original Image of Divine Mercy depicted in the documentary, “The Original Image of Divine Mercy, the Untold Story of an Unknown Masterpiece.”

As a parishioner of Divine Mercy Parish, this story is of particular interest to me. Of the many variations of the Image of Divine Mercy, our parish displays a copy of the original painting for veneration in both churches. I have a feeling that like me, you too, will be intrigued by the incredible details of how this painting survived against all odds.

On Feb. 22, 1931, Jesus appeared to Sister Maria Faustina Kowalski, a cloistered nun of the Congregation of the Sisters of Our Lady of Mercy in Poland, and directed her to have the Divine Mercy Image painted with the signature, “Jesus, I trust in You.” He promised that even the most hardened sinners who would venerate this image would be saved. Our Lord also told St. Faustina of his great desire that the first Sunday after Easter be designated as Divine Mercy Sunday and that this image of his mercy be known and venerated by the whole world.

There are multiple depictions of the image that, though varying in details, have been approved by the church. Yet, there is only one that St. Faustina herself helped create by providing the details to the artist, details revealed to her by Christ himself.  

In Jan. 1934, in Vilnius, Lithuania, St. Faustina’s spiritual director, Father Michael Sopocko, hired his neighbor, artist Eugene Kazimirowski, to paint the image. St. Faustina was very particular about the details of the painting. The image was to represent Christ in a walking posture, left foot forward to indicate movement toward us to bring us his peace. He was to wear a white garment girdled by a cincture. His right hand was to be raised in blessing at shoulder height. With two fingers of his left hand, the index finger and thumb, he was to be depicted as opening the garment in the area near his heart. Emitting from there was to be white and red rays radiating in various directions, principally toward the viewer. Jesus told St. Faustina that his gaze was to be downward as if he were looking at us from the cross. The painting was completed in June 1934.

The Divine Mercy Image was first venerated during the closing celebration of the Jubilee of Redemption on April 26, 1935, at the Shrine of Our Lady of Mercy in Poland. In 1937, the image was hung near the main altar in St. Michael’s Church in Vilinius, Lithuania. It remained there until 1948 when the church was closed by the Communist government and the contents of the church were hastily transferred to a nearby convent. Sometime in 1956, the Image of Divine Mercy was transferred from this convent in Vilinius to a church in Belarus near the Russian border in the village of Nova Ruda. 

In 1970, the Soviet authorities closed the church in Nova Ruda and removed the contents. By some extraordinary miracle, they overlooked the Image of Divine Mercy. In 1986, after 30 years in this now abandoned church in Nova Ruda, a parish priest by the name of Thaddeus Kondursiewicz, who later became the archbishop of Moscow, secretly helped return the image to Vilinius.

In 1991, an artist attempted to retouch the damaged image to no avail, so in 2003 the original Divine Mercy Image was professionally restored to its original state. On the Feast of Divine Mercy, April 18, 2004, Cardinal Audrys Juozas Backis reconsecrated the renovated Holy Trinity Church in Vilinius, Lithuania, and designated it as the Shrine of Divine Mercy. In September 2005, the original Image of Divine Mercy was relocated and placed in this shrine. 

Through the grace of God may we join together not only to embrace devotion to the Divine Mercy, but to also do our part to spread the message of mercy it conveys.

Brenda Hopf is RCIA Coordinator for Divine Mercy Parish.