On a recent visit to Berlin’s infamous BOROS collection—a privately curated art exhibition residing in an old WWII bunker—I stumbled upon a remarkable object.
On the first floor gallery I found a letter hanging on the wall, French by language, handwritten in ink. Upon reading it, the words echoed in my soul for long after I had left the bunker.
The letter is an artwork by acclaimed Vietnamese artist Danh Vō. He had re-issued this copy of an authentic letter, the original dating back to the year 1861. The letter holds the last words of Saint Jean-Théophane Vénard—a French Catholic missionary sentenced to death in Vietnam—to his father, written in the night before his execution.
The beauty of the words paired with the authenticity of the document crept under my skin. According to Wikipedia, it is said that “on the way to martyrdom Father Vénard chanted psalms and hymns. To his executioner, who coveted his clothing and asked what he would give to be killed promptly, he answered: ‘The longer it lasts the better it will be’.”
Rumor has it that you can obtain a copy of the letter, hand-written by the artist’s father when you inquire about it via one of Danh Vō’s galleries.
Find an English translation of the letter below.
“January 20th, 1861
Very dear, very respected and beloved father,
because my sentence keeps me waiting I want to send you another goodbye which will probably be the last. The days of my imprisonment are passing gently. Everybody around me honors me, a great number [of people] loves me. From the great Mandarin to the last soldier, everybody regrets that the law of the kingdom condemns me to death. I did not have to endure torture, like many of my brothers. A light cut of a saber will separate my head [from my body], like the gardener cuts a spring flower for his pleasure. We are all flowers planted on this earth that god reaps in His due time, some earlier, some later. May it be the purple rose, the maiden lily, or the humble violet. Let’s all try to please the Lord and Master according to the scent or color that is given to us.
I wish you, dear father, a long, quiet and virtuous age. Carry gently the cross of this life, like Jesus did, until the day of the peaceful passing. Father and son will meet again in paradise. I, little ephemera, I will go there first. Goodbye.
Your very devoted and respectful son
J Théophane Vénard