In December this year, the world will celebrate the 105th anniversary since the birth of the world-famous French singer and film actress Edith Piaf. As is the case with many celebrities, this woman’s life was difficult and full of trials. However, Edith had true love in her that helped her endure hardships, and that love was abundant. One other thing that she had was the so-called “faith of a coal-miner”. Perhaps, those were the two traits of her character that have tipped the God’s scale towards the salvation of her soul.
The main facts of the artist’s rich biography are known to many. Instead of enumerating them, it would be better to speak in more detail about the details that would appeal to a Christian reader; those where the hand of God can be seen most clearly.
Childhood in a Brothel and Recovery of Sight through Adulterers’ Prayers
Edith was an unwanted child for her mother. The failed actress Anita Maillard refused to look after her daughter since her birth and often nursed her with diluted wine instead of milk. It was not long before Edith’s father decided that the girl would be better off in Normandy, under the wing of his mother, who ran a brothel. It happened just as he expected. The brothel dwellers surrounded little Edith with great love and care, bought her the best toys and always fed her well. But poor living conditions in the early years of infancy affected the baby’s health. She developed severe cataracts, which no doctor on earth could heal. The girl became blind and began to perceive the world primarily by ear. In all likelihood, that occasion helped the future singer develop such a magnificent musical talent.
The brothel residents, including the hostess, were very worried about little Edith, because each of them loved her like her own daughter. One day they firmly set themselves on going with the child to the church in Lisieux and asking St Therese for help. The women closed the brothel for the whole day, dressed in chaste clothes and went to the temple with great hope, bringing with them a letter to the abbot. In the letter the hostess promised to donate 10,000 francs to the church if the girl regained her sight. The dissolute women stayed in the church all day praying to Saint Therese for the girl to be healed at least after ten days. On the tenth day, the women were waiting for a miracle. They spent the entire day testing Edith’s vision. But it was not until the evening, when everyone was already starting to lose faith, when the miracle happened, and they found the girl contemplating a picture on the wall. On the following day the promise given to the abbot was fulfilled. Later in her adult life Edith will address in her prayers to Saint Therese more than once, asking her for help.
Risky Endeavor to Help War Prisoners
It was during the Second World War, when France was occupied by the Germans that Edith Piaf was allowed to give a concert for prisoners of war followed by taking a group photo as a keepsake. After the concert, Piaf gave the photo to friends, who enlarged it, cut out the faces of all the prisoners present and made 120 forged documents. After that Edith managed to persuade the invaders to allow another concert in the same camp. The singer brought fake passports in her double-bottom suitcase and handed them over to the prisoners along with her autographs. As a result, many prisoners managed to escape and hide.
Meeting with her Last Husband and Conversion to Orthodoxy
There were many men in Edith’s life and also many disappointments in men, possibly because she could not stand being alone. But her only true love was the boxer Marcel Cerdan. After his tragic death in a plane crash, Edith could no longer imagine falling in love and getting married again. And yet, the Lord gave her such a gift.
Edith Piaf last relationship was with the young hairdresser Teo Sarapo (Theophanis Lambukas), an immigrant from Greece. He was much taller than the singer and almost half her age; in addition to that, Edith was already suffering from a number of diseases by that time. The couple was often met with derision even to the point of Teo being considered a gigolo, although, in fact, he was the one supporting the artist, who by that time did not have any savings, having spent what was left of her rather extravagant young years on subsequent medical treatment. When Theo first proposed to Edith while visiting her in the hospital, she refused, but did not push him away. Ultimately she gave her consent to marry Teo in an Orthodox church, which required a change of faith. It was at the age of 47, a year before her death, that Edith Piaf renounced Catholicism and converted to Orthodoxy. She kept her name in Orthodox baptism since St. Edith (of Wilton) is both a Catholic and an Orthodox saint. The couple got married in 1962. Their marriage took place at St Stephen’s Cathedral in Paris.
Later, writing down her life story already on her death bed in hospital, Edith Piaf asked people and God to think of her with the Savior’s words said of Mary Magdalene: “Her sins, which are many, are forgiven; for she loved much.”
Indeed, there were many controversial events and dark times in Piaf’s life, such as dependence on morphine and alcohol, many affairs and break-ups. They were intertwined with even more difficult trials: a false accusation of murder resulting in attempts to drive her off the stage; the loss of the desired child, the death of the main love of her life, depression and, finally, cancer… And yet, to this day, Edith remains in the hearts of people all over the world a figure for admiration, because she was genuine and spoke to people in simple terms. Her performances were not essentially shows; she just went on stage and with her singing opened the audience’s eyes to see the beauty. Each one of her songs carried a trace of her life and her suffering.
The biography of Edith Piaf once again shows that life is more complicated than we might think. The ways of the Lord are inscrutable. Until the very last day any person can still repent and be saved, if not by deeds, then by faith. We don’t know for sure if Edith eventually managed to cleanse her soul through suffering. But there is one famous French expression about popular religiosity: “La foi du charbonnier” (translated as “the coal miner’s faith”). It means a naive but firm conviction that God exists and helps a person in a difficult situation. Edith certainly did have such faith.