I hardly had time to go to Mass in the morning. Crowds began to come from all directions to venerate Father Julien. Clergy, bourgeois, women, children, all of La Mure came. They brought Rosary Beads, medals, books, and pictures. I stayed beside the bed and touched all these objects to Father’s hands. They received them back with devotion and kissed them. All those who came in gave a cry of admiration at the sight of Father’s fine and calm figure. They came to pray for a dead person, and found themselves faced with a sleeping saint. Those whom Father regarded most highly could not hold back their tears and I heard Mr. Delesbrosse saying, sobbing: “He called me his friend!” The sight of old men who had known Father as a child, who recalled his innocence, his piety, was even more touching and their memories seemed to increase their emotion. A very old lady, over eighty years of age, threw herself at Father: “He embraced me every time he came, she said, I want to embrace him again!”.
“We have all passed through his hands, the secretary of the town hall told me. During the priest’s holidays, Father Julien instructed us in the ceremonies, reunited us. Nobody escaped his influence”.From morning until four o’clock I remained at the bed, my two hands filled with objects to be touched to him. The room never emptied. We needed people down below to ensure that the circulation of people was not interrupted.
From time to time, everyone was asked to kneel to say an Our Father and Hail Mary. We asked several times for the indulgence of Portiuncula for Father.
However the heat was excessive, we feared an accident and from time to time we put a little rosemary in Father’s nostrils and ears. That was his only embalming.
I cannot forget the attitude of all this crowd in the presence of Father. Nobody silent or reticent like with ordinary dead people, but from every muoth, on every face the cry: ”Oh! Isn’t he beautiful! How alive he seems”.
Many children were carried there in their mother’s arms. The sight of the dead person should have frightened them. Far from it, with the exception of two who attached themselves to their mother’s bosom turning their heads away, all looked at Father with a certain child-like astonishment and kissing the cross which in each instance I touched either to Father’s hands or mouth.
Nothing seemed as significant to me as this homage of the innocence which was not yet in control of itself, to the innocence crowned with a crown of peace and glory.
They estimated at 10,000 the number of visitors who came to pay their respects to our esteemed Father. Apart from all the inhabitants of La Mure, the Sunday allowed neighbouring communities to come in crowds. I think this estimate is a good indication of the exact number.
Apart from the testimony of the crowd, of the number, of the piety of the tears, there was also the testimony of the general esteem for Father’s piety, the witness of his trust and his protection. One person was crippled. She came to touch Father’s clothing to apply them to her ailing limbs. Another had a problem with her arm which prevented her from using this limb. She came to ask for some relic, prayed in tears at Father’s feet and began under his protection a novena to obtain her healing.
A little boy of 12 years, blind for 7 or 8 years, also came with the same request. I don’t know if God wants to hear their prayer: this testimony of faith and of trust inspired by the piety and saintliness of Father, is nonetheless significant. For the rest, this movement was always growing and Father’s grave is visited by the sick who come to pray to Father to use on their behalf, the favour they believe he enjoys with God.
They tried to take a photo of Father around half past ten. The attempt only yielded a blurred outline.
However 45 hours had elapsed since Father’s death. They feared that the extreme heat would bring on decomposition. The Doctor’s opinion was not to expose him to this sad occurrence and the great crowd which by then was in La Mure wanted to render a final public homage to him whom they venerated.
Fr. Leroyer arrived at that moment. He could pray and see the face of him whom he had assisted in his work, and who he was pleased to have as a guide in his own work for the glory of God.
They wanted then to move Father from the second floor to a room on the ground floor, a difficult task on a narrow and winding staircase. They carefully bound his jawbone. The body was enclosed in a sheet and, assisted by three strong men, we brought our dear deceased to his final funeral bed.
Beforehand, Our Lord had accorded me a favour of which I was not worthy, that of re-vesting Father in the priestly ornaments which would be buried with him. We did this with Melle Thomas - We put a violet stole on Father, the maniple and chausible of the same colour. His limbs were still fairly supple.
It was just that we hadn’t anything more suitable to put on Father’s shoulders! But we weren’t at home, we were satisfied with what we could find in the parish. The last trait of resemblance with his Master, our Lord, Father died outside his home, and strangers lent him a shroud.
Around five o’clock, the clergy came looking for Father. Eight or ten from the locality had come to La Mure to surround in a final homage, him who had been their friend and model. They asked despite their age, to carry the body. A sweet favour I would have liked! I managed to have Fr. Leroyer assigned to support or carry the head of the coffin (we were the Society!) under the pretext that the good priests who were carrying the top of the coffin were strained under the weight.
O God, You sustained me! But You know how my heart was torn when the priest said: De Profundis, before moving the body. What a phrase! How deep it sounds and how sad it resounds! You down below, O Father? No way!
I embraced my Father again. I couldn’t leave him. How lovely he still looked being carried in his open coffin. He retained the peace of the days when we used to see him before the Blessed Sacrament, recollected and full of faith. He was going to his final adoration.
The crowd rushed towards the coffin to say a last farewell to the Saint from La Mure, to take away a last memory of his beautiful appearance.
A more numerous police presence would perhaps have helped us to get more order. But this rush, this enthusiasm, this flood of people who remained, despite their number, calm and respectful, spoke to us too eloquently for me to complain about it. It was an impression like that of many children around their father. Each wanted to see, to throw a last kiss. But all knew how to respect authority and to master their very legitimate desires.
Towards six o’clock, it was all finished. The crowd knelt down a last time passing by promising sincerely to come often to pray on this honoured tomb. They have kept their word.
For me I had re-covered the coffin and seen that everything was done well. I could at this last moment touch my Father’s face with a rosary beads belonging to a priest who had arrived late and who wanted this favour.
It’s the last duty I did for him here below. There wasn’t really anything else to be done. I heard, and this rests sadly in the depth of my heart, the holy earth falling on our beloved deceased. At the end of a half-hour, he had completely disappeared from our sight.
The coffin was double oak, inside another of zinc. It was carefully sealed. I have regretted very much that they did not enclose in it the record of Father’s achievements. God will arrange it all! May the moment come soon when, on digging up a few feet of earth which hides him from us, we will see our Father again. And from the bottom of my heart I hope that his innocence so carefully guarded that the Body of Jesus Christ was so often and well received, might preserve him from the presence of corruption. That if God wishes otherwise, his ashes will be no less dear to us and we will await with total confidence the day when we all appear in the presence of Jesus Christ re-clothed in our glorified body!!
Father said, when he used to visit the cemetery at La Mure, which he did on all his visits: “who knows if the good Lord will not bring me back here beside my dear mother”. God has fulfilled his hopes.
Father rests laid by the church wall. He is looking at the tabernacle behind which, barely 7 years of age, he went to spend long hours and “hearing, according to his expression, what Jesus was saying to him”.
It is he, I have no doubt, who inspired the idea of his modest tomb.
The Blessed Sacrament surmounts it. It was the centre, the pivot, the goal of his life.
The stole stretches towards the foot of the monstrance. It is the adoration, the homage of a priest totally consecrated to Jesus Hostia.
An open book recalls to us his teachings always directed towards the Eucharistic source.
Finally, the body of the tomb is a Prie-Dieu. It is the throne, the triumphal chariot of the adorer because this was his instrument of combat and the altar was his immolation.
Speak to us always, dear modest tomb, the language of our Father, and remind us unceasingly of his spirit of abnegation, his absolute gift of his person to our Lord, his devotion to the service of Jesus Hostia.
This text is transcribed from a copy preserved in the Archives of the French Province in Paris. The Punctuation has been slightly adjusted for ease of reading.
The copy from the Paris archive has as its title, in Fr. J. Lavigne’s writing, “Notes of very Rev. Fr. Tesniere (Bro. Albert) on the last days of Blessed Peter Julian Eymard”.