Story of the Painting

The Image of the Merciful Jesus (also called the Image of Divine Mercy), painted in Vilnius by artist Eugene Kazimirovsky is based on visions experienced by the mystic Sister Maria Faustina Kowalska in 1934, faithfully following her instructions.

Shrine of Divine Mercy in Vilnius

“Paint an image according to what you see, with the signature: Jesus, I trust in You. <…> I promise that the soul which will venerate this image will not perish.” (Diary, 47-48)

The first calling to paint the picture of the Jesus of Divine Mercy was heard by monastic Sister Maria Faustina Kowalska on February 22nd, 1931, while she was residing in Poland, in the monastery of Plock. Already during this vision, Jesus not only promised to provide many graces through the picture, but also associated it with the Feast of Mercy, and with it the whole Mystery of Divine Mercy. She wrote in her diary about this vision: “Paint an image according to what you see, with the signature: Jesus, I trust in You. I desire that this image be venerated, first in your chapel, and [then] throughout the world… I promise that the soul which will venerate this image will not perish. I also promise victory over [this soul’s] enemies already here on earth, especially at the hour of death. I Myself will defend it as My own glory… My image already exists in your soul. 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 Divine Mercy.” (Diary, 47-49)

Sister Faustina’s confessor initially believed that what Christ had in mind was to paint an image in Faustina’s soul. Jesus’ confirmation that it would be a “painting you paint with a brush” became an impossible task for Sister Faustina, who could not draw. One time the elder of the monastery even handed over a brush and told her to draw. It was only when Sister Faustina settled in Vilnius that her confessor, priest Michael Sopocko, although she initially looked at her visions with hesitation, began to look for an artist who, according to her story, could paint the image of Jesus. At first, he interviewed the Bernardine artist Frances Viezbicka, but she refused. Perhaps Jesus told Faustina that she was not humble enough. (Diary, 354) The clergyman then turned to his neighbour, an artist, because he lived and wrote scientific work during visits to the sisters, and the artist Eugene Kazimirowski also had a studio there. The priest admits that in the beginning he took the task out of curiosity, but in the long run he became involved in the process, not only making sure that the painting was painted as accurately as possible according to Sr. Faustina’s stories, but also posing for the artist.

The artist began work in January 1934 where he worked patiently and humbly for almost half a year. From her monastery in Antakalnis district, Sister Faustina, accompanied by a senior artist, visited the workshop once or twice a week. It is symbolic that before going to give further instructions to the artist, she also visited the Gates of Dawn to pray.

Sister Faustina was not pleased with the painted picture because Jesus she had seen in the visions was more magnificent. But Jesus answered her: it is not in the beauty of the paint or brush that yields the greatness of this painting, but His grace. He explained that this picture is a vessel of his grace with which people must come to find the source of mercy. This vessel is a picture with the caption, “Jesus, I trust in you.” After Jesus confirmed what the inscription should be, Fr. M. Sopocko engraved it on an additional plate, which he attached to the frame under the picture, because there was not enough space on the picture to write it.

On Good Friday April 19th, 1935, Sister Faustina heard the words of Jesus: “I desire that this image be publicly honored.” (Diary, 414) On April 26-28 of the same year, during the celebration closing three-day celebration of the Sunday after easter, the image of the Divine Mercy was shown to the people for the first time. Sr. Faustina herself adorned the image with greenery and flowers, and the painting was eventually hung in the Gates of Dawn, on the left, adjacent to the gallery in the top window of St. Teresa’s Church. In saying the homily, the priest emphasized redemption as an expression of divine mercy. Sister Faustina wrote that “as the priest began to speak of the great mercy of the Lord, the image became a living figure and the rays penetrated the hearts of the assembled people, but unequally, some received more, others less…” (Diary, 417). Faustina saw a vision that the picture was going over the city, and Jesus broke the nets that covered the city. During Sunday after Easter, at the end of the Mass, she saw Jesus himself in the picture giving a blessing, and His rays spread all over the world…

Interestingly, Jesus repeatedly appeared to Sr. Faustina as painted in the picture and eventually the image began to look quite beautiful to her. In the last years of Faustina’s life, when Father M. Sopocko began distributing small pictures and photocopies, Faustina wrote to him: “People are purchasing some of them and many souls have experienced the grace of God through this source. Like everything, it will take time. These photos are not as beautiful as the big picture. They are bought by those who are attracted by the grace of God…” (Krakow, February 21st, 1938).

Jesus promised to protect the towns and villages where this image would be revered, as well as to protect the people who trusted in the mercy of the Lord. This provided particular hope and encouragement during the war, and the small images of the Merciful Jesus spread rapidly.

With the painting remaining in Lithuania and the cult of Divine Mercy becoming popular in Poland, the need to have a painting of the Merciful Jesus arose from other artists who created a number of copies of this painting. Unfortunately, not all artists had the required humility to paint a picture according to all of instructions given by Jesus. The painting done by E. Kazimirowski was inaccessible for a long time, it was repeatedly hidden, taken away and started a new life again only in the years of Lithuanian Independence. Having discovered his place in the Shrine of God’s Divine Mercy, this image does not cease to witness the graces of Mercy given to the world.

Journey of the Divine Mercy Image

Fr. Michael Sopocko brought back the Divine Mercy Image to his apartment. From 1934 autumn he hung the painting in the corridor of sisters of the Bernardine monastery, which was located near St. Michael’s Church, of which the clergyman himself was the rector. Jesus, appearing to Sr. Faustina, asked to move the painting to a place of honor in the church above the central altar. To do this, Fr. Sopocko had to ask for the permission of Bishop R. Jalbrzykowski and feared he might not get the permission. The bishop was still skeptical of Sister Faustina’s visions, and therefore opposed the priest’s proposal to address the Holy See and proclaim the feast of God’s Mercy on the first Sunday after Easter. Avoiding the decision to allow the image to be hung in public, he called for the formation of a commission. On April 4, during the Sunday after Easter, the painting found itself in St. Michael’s Church, next to the high altar.

Unfortunately, while living in Vilnius, sister Faustina did not live to see this in person. She was already suffering from illness in March 1936 and her elders had her relocate back to Poland, where he died a couple of years later, at just 33 years old. After Sr. Faustina died, her diary was read and the whole mystery of the revelation of God’s Mercy was revealed.

In August 1948 St. Michael’s Church in Vilnius was shut down by the Soviet occupants, the Bernardine monastery was abolished, and inventory was transported to Church of the Holy Spirit and housed in the corridor of a former Dominican monastery. The image of Divine Mercy remained in St. Michael’s Church, and only a few years later, two devout women from Vilnius – Bronė Miniotaitė and Janina Rodzevič – bought the painting from the church guardian and hid it in an attic wrapped in an empty ammunition tube so that the painting could survive to less dangerous times. They then handed over the painting to the parish priest of the Church of the Holy Spirit, Fr. Jan Elert, who was neither interested in preserving nor exhibiting the painting. He hid it in an archive at the back of the church. There was also a desire to take the image to Poland, but it was due to strict border controls of the Soviet Union that prevented it. The man who promised to smuggle the picture across the border changed his mind in the last moment. “It seemed to me that I was going to perform blasphemy,” he later admitted.

A couple of years after the priest was relocated from this parish, the people continued to visit the picture and prayed in front of it. In 1970 the Soviet government closed the church and removed all its inventory. The image of Divine Mercy remained miraculously untouched. Probably also protected by the fact that this painting was hung unusually high, close the ceiling. It found refuge in this church for 30 years. Concern for the fate of the painting did not abandon Father Sopocko until his death. He sent trust-filled requests many times to have the painting transported to Vilnius. Through the efforts of several priests, the vicar of the Gates of Dawn at the time, Tadeus Kondrusevic, and the Bishop of Grodno, Aleksander Kaskevic, in autumn 1986 the image of God’s Mercy was secretly transported back to Vilnius. Fr. Michael Sopocko had expressed a wish that the painting be hung in the Gates of Dawn, but at that time it was impossible to implement. He was again entrusted with the custody of The Church of the Holy Spirit, which was under repair at the time, so the new painting did not raise suspicions from the authorities. The image was hung on the side altar to the right of the church, in front of the pulpit, where the painting was attended to until 2005.

In the spring of 2003 professional restorer Edita Hankovska-Cervinska removed traces of previous preservations and repainting from the image, so now the painting is exactly as it was in 1934. Originally the image was painted by artist E. Kazimirowski under the supervision of Sister Faustina.

In 1993, a few months after the beatification of Sister Faustina, Pope John Paul II prayed in front of the image. He called this painting “the sacred image”. On September 28th, 2005, the image of Merciful Jesus was transferred to the restored Blessed Trinity Church, which has been bestowed with the title of the Shrine of The Divine Mercy.