|Devotion to Our Lady||
The Church on the Eve of the Revolution
The Church on the eve of the French Revolution is sometimes represented as having been in a calamitous condition―as having failed to produce within herself those fruits of goodness and holiness which she claims as one of the miraculous testimonies to her divine origin, and as having failed, moreover, to benefit the world as she should have done were she truly the creation of Jesus who "went about doing good."
A fair examination of the question, however, will reveal that this view is not a just conclusion from the evidence of history. It is put forward mainly by those who accept the French Revolution as having been a popular rising against a tyrannous monarchy duped by scheming ecclesiastics, and not what (as we shall see) it really was―an attempt, organized by Freemasonry, to uproot the Catholic tradition in Europe and to plant in its place the godless creed of the Rationalists.
The Church, being human as well as divine, depends, though not entirely, on human conditions for her development. If the conditions are favorable, like the seed that falls on good soil, she produces a hundredfold. If conditions are unfavorable, her progress is retarded: it can never be completely checked, because of the Divine assistance which is always with the Bride of Christ. On the eve of the French Revolution three hostile movements (studied in the last chapter) had been oppressing the Church for a century or more. Catholic life suffered as a consequence. But that the Church did not by any means fail in her mission will be evident from the following brief review.
1. The Sacred Sciences, in the first place, were not neglected.
St. Alphonsus Liguori (d. 1787), founder of the Society of the Most Holy Redeemer (Redemptorist Fathers), excelled particularly in moral and ascetic theology in which branches of Catholic doctrine he undid much of the havoc of the Jansenists and "as it were sums up all that which for two hundred years had dominated the thought and devotion of the faithful." The great English bishop too, Richard Challoner (d. 1781), compiled valuable works in defense of Catholic doctrine. Historians of the Church were unusually abundant, as an examination of the scholarship of the time will show. There was no scarcity of scholarly theologians; there was, however, a scarcity of theologians who could take the field against the Rationalists and beat them with their own weapons, as St. Alphonsus did, embodying Catholic teaching on disputed points in attractive readable form for the people.
St. Alphonsus Liguori deserves special notice. Born at Marianella near Naples in 1696, he became a successful barrister, but abandoned the legal profession to be a soldier of Christ. He bad extraordinary intellectual powers and had made a vow never to waste a moment. His Moral Theology was the greatest of his works, his Glories of Mary achieved amazing success, but perhaps the most popular was his Visitations to the Blessed Sacrament and the Blessed Virgin. The fact that he was declared a Doctor of the Church by Pope Pius IX (1871) proves that be expressed the feelings and interpreted correctly the spirit of the Church.
St. Alphonsus was forced to accept a bishopric but remained a humble religious until his death (in 1787) at the age of 91. The illustrious Congregation which the Saint founded in 1732 today counts about 5,000 members and has already had three canonized saints―the founder St. Alphonsus, St. Clement Mary Hofbauer, and the wonder‑working patron of youths. Gerardo Majella.
Among the great theologians of the time should be noted Tournely (d. 1729), the Dominican Billuart (d. 1757), Peter Ballerini (d. 1764), and the Capuchin Thomas de Charmes. Scriptural studies are represented by the Benedictine Dom Calmet (d.1757). Studies in ecclesiastical history were cultivated intensely by the Benedictines of the Congregation of St. Maur, by the Jesuits and by many other scholars, secular and religious, of the time. Canon Law had a noted representative in the Jesuit Father Schmalzgrueber (d. 1735). In ascetical and mystical theology enduring work was done by Fathers Scaramelli (d. 1752) and Lallement (of the Society of Jesus), the Benedictine Schram ,(d. 1720), and by Saint Louis Grignion de Montfort (d. 1716) through his little treatise on True Devotion to the Mother of God.
2. Catholic Education was well provided for, particularly in France.
Secondary education was given for the most part in colleges directed by the religious Orders or the secular clergy. The suppression of the Jesuits dealt a severe blow to the Church=s work in this important field. Primary education was the work of the Brothers of St. John Baptist de la Salle, the Sisters of St. Vincent de Paul and the Ursulines. The devotedness of the De la Salle Brothers to the instruction of the poor earned for them, as we shall see, the special hatred of the leaders of the French Revolution who, in strange contradiction to their pretended A popular A doctrines, were strongly opposed to the education of the people.
It should not be forgotten that in Ireland at this time, all Catholic schools being banned by the Penal Laws, the light of faith and learning was kept aglow in the Hedge Schools. As early as 1731 a State Inquiry revealed the fact that there were from 540 to 580 of these schools scattered through Ireland. As the century advanced they increased in numbers, and seem to have made a very much more favorable impression on foreign visitors than the Protestant Charter and Charity schools supported by the State. Their "Popish Schoolmasters" were frequently men of considerable ability and scholarship. With the hunted priest of Penal Days and the faithful people, they belong to one of the most hallowed chapters in the history of Catholic life in Ireland.
3. Religious Discipline among clergy and faithful varied considerably according to circumstances.
The bishops of France, nominated by the King and selected by him almost wholly from the nobility enjoyed rich revenues, lived their lives, as a rule, aloof from clergy and people, and in some cases did not always fulfill their obligations with exactness. Yet in fairness it must be noted that they exercised a salutary influence on society by directing charitable works and in other ways. "Taken as a whole, the episcopate was commendable in private life and was not wanting in good qualities; but what a gulf between it and the nation, what a source of misunderstanding!"
Of the clergy, those in the higher ranks were undoubtedly worldly. The lower clergy, of peasant and town stock, by reason of the general improvement in clerical training since the establishment of the seminaries after the Council of Trent, were for the most part exemplary: "They gave the example of Christian virtue, and stood intact in a gangrened society." The greater number, however, were poor by necessity and constantly oppressed by material cares : this explains why many of the less worthy threw in their lot with the Tiers‑Etat or popular section of the parliamentary assembly. Secondly, they lacked intellectual courage: "they were resigned to be nothing, they did not protest when they saw the Church humiliated." There were no leaders.
The Laity (except for that section of the upper classes which had been depraved by the immorality of the court of Louis XIV and Louis XV and the scoffs of the freethinkers) were, on the whole, true to their faith and religious duties.
The condition of things prevailing in ecclesiastical life can be traced back to Gallicanism: "The Church, from the time of the fourteenth century, had been . . . enslaved; it bad been deprived of its rights . . . ; it had been watched and tracked even in its liturgy; so that the Church in France was nothing more than one of the wheels put in motion by the despotism of the State." What was worse, this position of servitude caused the Church to be identified in shallow minds with the monarchy, and gave her enemies the opportunity to associate her with the monarchy's faults.
The Religious Orders, except those of nuns, show a decline in fervor. This decline was due, for the most part, to the interference of the State in monastic affairs by the abuse of commendam (i.e. the appointment of lay noblemen to abbacies for the sake of the revenues attached to them). It was, however, compensated for by the birth of new religious institutes, full of youthful zeal :
THE CONGREGATION OF THE MOST HOLY REDEEMER (Redemptorist Fathers), founded 1732 by St. Alphonsus Liguori (1696‑1787) for teaching and mission work.
THE PASSIONISTS, founded by St. Paul of the Cross (1694‑1775) for the preaching of penance by word and example, for the conversion of the erring, and for the propagation of devotion to the Passion of Our Savior. The founder, though an Italian, prayed constantly for the conversion of England where his Order was soon firmly established.
THE CONGREGATION OF THE HOLY GHOST, founded by Claude Poullart Des Places (1679‑1709), to prepare poor clerics for the humblest works of the ministry, including the missions. Suppressed during the Revolution, the Congregation was restored in 1805, and was appointed to attend to the spiritual needs of all the French colonies in 1816. It received a welcome strengthening when the missionary Congregation of the Immaculate Heart of Mary, founded by the convert Jew, Venerable Francis Libermann for the evangelization of the black races, was fused with it in 1848.
THE PRIESTS OF THE COMPANY OF MARY, founded by St. Louis Grignion de Montfort (1673‑1716), whose treatise on True Devotion to the Blessed Virgin, has had such a notable influence on the piety of the faithful in recent years.
THE BROTHERS OF THE CHRISTIAN SCHOOLS, founded by St. John Baptist de la Salle (1651‑1719) for the education of the poor, a task which they fulfilled splendidly until their suppression during the period of the Revolution. After the Revolution they were re‑established and increased rapidly in number.
Of the RELIGIOUS SISTERHOODS in France on the eve of the Revolution it is sufficient to say that they were the glory of the Church. They numbered in all about 35,000 members‑holy women consecrated to God in the religious state‑about 14,000 of whom were engaged in teaching. The most numerous bodies were the Ursulines, the Daughters of Our Lady (Filles de Notre Dame) of St. Peter Fourier, the Dominican Sisters and the Poor Clares. Besides these there were a host of Congregations whose activities were confined each to its own particular diocese. "The nuns (at this epoch)" writes a great authority, "were the real redemptresses. On all the rest the age had left its mark. On them at least it has left no mark of defilement. And the first stain on their virginal robe will be, in the days of the approaching persecution, that of their own blood, shed by the executioner."
Finally we should note as evidence of the unfailing vitality of the Church at this time:
(I) The growth of DEVOTION TO THE SACRED HEART OF JESUS, besides other manifestations of the spirit of reparation. In 1721, for example, Pope Innocent extended the feast of the Most Holy Name of Jesus to the entire world; in 1765 Pope Clement XIII in the same way made the practice of the Forty Hours' Adoration universal.
(ii) The increase in the number of FEASTS IN HONOR OF OUR LADY extended to the universal Church―The Holy Name of Mary, Our Lady of Ransom, The Most Holy Rosary, The Patronage of the Blessed Virgin, Our Lady of Mount Carmel, and The Seven Dolours. The Feast of Our Lady of the Rosary (October 7th) was made universal by Pope Clement XI in 1716 to commemorate the defeat of the Turks by Charles VI at Peterwardein; that of the Seven Dolours (Friday in Passion Week) by Pope Benedict XIII in 1727.
(iii) THE SAINTS and their work. The names are few. They are, however, crowded within the brief compass of eighty years. They are, moreover, great names which speak the heroic holiness which, according to the promise of Our Lord, will always be found as the miraculous testimony to the divine origin of His Church. Suffice it here to recall St. Alphonsus Liguori, St. Francis of Hieronimo, St. Paul of the Cross, St. Leonard of Port Maurice all great preachers‑the great teacher St. John Baptist de la Salle and the beggar saint, Benedict Joseph Labre.
Thus, in the midst of what might veritably be called an age of iniquity, "The Catholic Church," as a great historian writes of the time, "remained as ever a home of holiness, the one and only efficacious barrier against the torrent of immorality which threatened to submerge all."
THE CHURCH AND THE REVOLUTION
Such was the interior condition of the Church against which the French Revolution flung itself in satanic hatred. How the Revolution happened may be briefly explained in the following points:
(I) The condition of the French peasantry before the eighteenth century varied. In some places they were much better off than the peasants of other lands, while in other provinces their lot was extremely hard. The people as a whole were attached to the Catholic monarchy, but there undoubtedly existed a number of social wrongs to be righted, particularly in the administration of the laws regulating the relations between the peasantry and the privileged nobility.
(ii) Between the peasantry and the nobility there existed a third social grade, the bourgeoisie or propertied middle class who exploited the grievances of the peasantry to their own. advantage and were the real engineers of the Revolution. It was the old Catholic order of things which, they lyingly declared, was the parent of all the social injustice of the time and which had therefore to be ended. To achieve this purpose they worked up in Paris the mob‑frenzy which carried out the Revolution.
(iii) The bourgeoisie were inspired by the teachings of Voltaire and his fellow‑scoffers and Jean Jacques Rousseau. These teachings were spread principally through the activities of the Masonic Lodges. The ultimate controlling force behind the French Revolution, therefore, was Freemasonry.
In 1789 at the opening of the States‑General, the Freemasons boast, "the great French Masonic family was in full vigor. . . . It numbered amongst its. members Condorcet, Mirabeau, Danton, Robespierre, Camille Desmoulins. Its Grand‑Master was the Duke of Orleans" (French Freemasonry in France Since 1725, published by the French Grand Orient).
The "reforms" carried out by the Revolutionaries were based on cahiers or notebooks of suggestions sent up to Paris from the provinces. Recent research has shown that the substance of these cahiers originated in the Masonic Lodges.
We will later look at how the wave of hatred of the Catholic Church in the French Revolution swiftly took shape, hurled itself upon its victim in an angry flood of persecution and finally ebbed sullen and exhausted, leaving the Church wounded, it is true, but gathering her energies for the glorious Catholic revival which, we shall see, heralded the opening of the nineteenth century. The Revolution may be said to have begun with the establishment of the National or Constituent Assembly (17th June, 1789). This government was succeeded by the Legislative Assembly (October, 1791), which in turn gave place to the National Convention (1792‑1795). After the National Convention came the Directory and Napoleon Bonaparte who brought the French Revolution to a close (1815):
However, they may have varied in other respects, the four successive phases of the Revolution were at one in a common enmity to the Mystical Body of Christ. Laws were passed which struck first at the Catholic priesthood and the religious life (the first victims of every satanic attack on the Church), private ownership and family life ; the Christian calendar with its festivals, old and new, was abolished; churches and shrines were horribly profaned. Lastly, a veritable campaign of extermination was entered upon against both clergy and faithful, thousands of whom perished together in the September Massacres of 1792 and the Reign of Terror (1793), or passed from life entombed in dungeons of death.
In 1790, the new Revolutionary government decided to abolish religious orders, for a number of reasons. For one thing, many religious orders had strong ties to the monarchy and tended to be royalist. For another, the Revolutionaries felt that human reason was the ultimate authority, not religion, and priests, monks, and nuns had no part in their world. And finally, there was a practical reason: the government needed money, and those churches, convents, and monasteries represented wealth they could seize ― from agricultural estates to gold and silver vessels.
Orders that provided services such as nursing or teaching were not targeted at first, but the Carmelites were a contemplative order ― their vocation was prayer and meditation. In 1792, all contemplative nuns and monks were expelled from their convents or monasteries, forced to wear civilian clothing, and required to swear an oath of loyalty to the state.
All across France, monks and nuns faced three options: return to secular life, go into exile and join an order in another country, or continue the religious life in hiding.
From all these sorrows God wrought mightily for His Church. The sympathy evoked by the sufferings of the Catholics of France, and the edification given by the exiled refugees of the Revolution to those who accorded them a welcome in other lands, led, as we shall see, to the softening of anti‑Catholic feeling in England and elsewhere, and to the lifting of anti‑Catholic laws. In the greater world of spiritual triumphs the Church was once more glorified in the blood of martyrs whose sacrifices doubtless won for her much of the grace that helped to sustain her in subsequent trials.
WHERE ON EARTH IS COMPIÈGNE?
A LITTLE BIT OF COMPIÈGNE HISTORY
SOME HISTORICAL DATES FOR COMPIÈGNE
● The history of Compiègne goes back a long way. Here are some notable dates from that history:
● In 665 AD, Saint Wilfrid was consecrated Bishop of York (England) in Compiègne, before being sent there. Wilfrid was an English bishop and saint. Born a Northumbrian noble, he entered religious life as a teenager and studied at Lindisfarne, at Canterbury, in Gaul (France), and at Rome. He returned to Northumbria in about 660, and became the abbot of a newly founded monastery at Ripon. His success prompted the king's son, Alhfrith, to appoint him Bishop of Northumbria. However, Wilfrid chose to be consecrated in Compiègne, Gaul (France), because of the lack of what he considered to be validly consecrated bishops in England at that time.
● In February, 888 AD, Odo, Count of Paris and king of the Franks, was crowned in Compiègne.
● On the 23rd of May, 1430, during the Hundred Years' War, Joan of Arc was captured by the Burgundians while attempting to free Compiègne. The Siege of Compiègne (1430) was Joan of Arc's final military action. Her career as a leader ended with her capture by the Burgundians during a skirmish outside the town on 23 May 1430. They then sold her to the English. Although this was otherwise a minor siege, both politically and militarily, the loss of France's most charismatic and successful commander was an important event of the Hundred Years' War.
● In 1630, Marie de' Medici's attempts to displace Cardinal Richelieu ultimately led to her exile to Compiègne, from where she escaped to Brussels in 1631.
● In 1630, in 1770, Marie-Antoinette was welcomed to France at Compiègne by Louis XV, and her future husband who would become the ill-fated Louis XVI.
● On the 17th of July 1794, the Carmelite Martyrs from Compiègne are executed in Paris during the Reign of Terror.
THE TOWN OF COMPIÈGNE
Carlópolis, which later evolved into and became Compiègne, was founded by the Emperor Charles the Bald at the end of the ninth century. It was to be the "capital" of a Carolingian empire. However the territory of Compiègne goes back to antiquity and appears to be a privileged land—one could almost be tempted to say a luscious Mt. Carmel transplanted form the Holy Land into Gaul (present day France). Rich soil will always attract permanent habitants who need to grow their food in order to survive—and the land around Compiègne certainly was rich.
The confluence of two navigable rivers, the Aisne and the Oise; the fertility of the plain; the growth of a beautiful forest; all contributed to cause a relatively dense occupation by people from as early as the 5th century before Christ. Archeological discoveries that show the presence of prehistoric man are well attested. The remains of a camp of hunters; the first villages near the river; the first permanent occupation of breeders and farmers; an important form of collective burial funeral hut of stone and wood; Bronze Age objects; a vast fortified site at Saint-Pierre in Chastre housed the activity of bronze workers themselves; the instruments of the First Iron Age attest to a certain prosperity between the seventh and sixth centuries B.C. The Romans conquerors only ratify the existing situation. Under the Roman Empire, Compiègne was attached to the Roman Province of Belgium.
SOME COMPIÈGNE 'REAL-ESTATE'
The Church of St. Germain
This church was dedicated to Saint-Germain of Auxerre, it was first a Merovingian chapel, near the ford on the Oise which leads “the compendium”, which gave its name to the shortened derivative of “Compiègne.” It was by the villa where King Clotaire died in 561, after a hunting in the nearby forest of Compiègne.
This was for centuries the only parish church for Compiègne, which was placed, in 917, by King Charles the Simple, under the care and ministrations of the Abbey Saint-Corneille. Over two hundred years later, the creation of two more parishes in 1199 (St. Anthony and St. James), reduced the church of St. Germain and its parish to no more than a relatively poor suburban parish.
It was destroyed during the 1414 siege, reconstruction began only at the end of the fifteenth century and its bell tower porch dates from 1620. Ravaged, like so many other churches, by the 1789 French Revolution, it opened again in 1801, but its restoration had to wait until 1828.
The Church of St. Anthony
Founded in 1199, together with the other downtown church of Saint James, its construction continued throughout the 13th century and was dependent upon the nearby abbey St. Cornelius. The church was majorly renovated in the 16th century, probably because of the damage sustained during the Hundred Years War. Its building style is Gothic. Turned into fodder store during the 1789 Revolution, while its interior was destroyed; it was rebuilt with the debris from neighboring communities. The church was again majorly renovated in 1863.
It was the parish of Cardinal Pierre d'Ailly (1351-1420), rector of the University of Paris, Archbishop of Cambrai, renowned theologian who helped end the Great Schism at the Council of Constance (1414-1418). This is where St. Joan of Arc came to pray, on August 23rd, 1429, while she was staying in a nearby house, accompanying the king after the coronation of Reims.
The Carmelites of Compiègne, who were arrested and taken to Paris to be martyred, found refuge in three houses near the church, where they gathered from September 1792 to October 1793. Arrested on June 22nd, 1794, they were transferred to Paris, where they were tried and guillotined on July 17th, ten days before the fall of the revolutionalry leader Robespierre.
The Church of St. James (St. Jacques)
St James’ church, on the Place Saint-Jacques, was established in 1199, and takes its name from one of Compostela routes. It was listed as a historical monument in the list of 1862-1865.
The original church was begun around 1199. The choir, the transept and the nave with aisles were built between 1235 and 1270, except for the upper part of the nave; the latter, the belfry , the chapels along the aisles and the ambulatory were added between 1476 and in middle of the 16th century.
The Church of Our Lady of Good Help
The Capuchin, Father Boniface, had a great devotion to a picture of the Madonna and Child, that he venerated—and he especially begged Our Lady to protect her convent from the ravages of the Spanish invasion of 1636. The following year, the area was ravaged by the plague.
Our Lady’s protection was given and many miraculous healings were documented, with many votive offerings of thanksgiving covering the walls. The chapel of the Capuchins was rebuilt in 1654 and dedicated to St. Roch and St. Sebastian. This focal point of Compiégnese piety was even attended by the royal family, and particularly attracted pilgrims that flocked to the chapel during the novena for the Annunciation.
The city's parishes went there in procession three times a year until 1789—the year of the French Revolution—and resumed the pilgrimages during the Restoration period, when the Faith could be freely practiced without danger. However, with time, the processions stopped. The tradition was resumed August 15th, 1945, after the vow made by the city council in the church of Saint-Jacques, June 25th, 1944, to obtain a happy end to the Second World War.
This chapel was saved from the aftermath of the 1789 French Revolution, through the piety of a neighboring family, who bought it, conserved it, and eventually give it to the city in 1981. On the facade of the chapel, at the top, there can be seen the protective Virgin of the city, to the left stands Saint Roch and Saint Sebastian is at the right. These three statues came from the chapel built during the 1637 plague.
The Tower of St. Joan of Arc
There was a Carolingian castle, perhaps as early as the late eleventh century, built in the shape of a round tower, located on the hill overlooking the Oise. This is the earliest known example of perfectly circular tower (1120-1130). Bordering the river, it helped to defend the old bridge, the remains of which are nearby. After the generous donations of St. Louis and the Jacobins, for the building of the L’Hotel Dieu, the castle was abandoned as a royal residence. However, even under Louis XI, it was the seat of the governor of the city and the Audience Royal justice, with its prison.
Famous prisoners were held there. By the time of the 1789 French Revolution, the tower was crumbling, and a revolutionary petition vainly demanded the scrapping of what they called a “monument to the pride of kings.” It had also been renamed as “The Tower of St. Joan of Arc” in honor of the heroine who crossed the nearby old bridge before being captured on the other side of the river, on May 23rd, 1430.
The Château de Compiègne
The Château de Compiègne is a French chateau, a royal residence built for Louis XV and restored by Napoleon. Compiègne was one of three seats of royal government, the others being Versailles and Fontainebleau. Even before the chateau was constructed, Compiègne was the preferred summer residence for French monarchs, primarily for hunting given its proximity to Compiègne Forest.
The first royal residence was built in 1374 for Charles V, and a long procession of successors both visited it and modified it. Louis XIV resided in Compiègne some 75 times. Louis XV was perhaps even more favorably impressed. In 1750, prominent architect Ange-Jacques Gabriel proposed a thorough renovation of the chateau. Work began in 1751 and was finished in 1788. It is Neoclassical in style, with simplicity and clarity governing both its external and interior features.
During the French Revolution, the château passed into the jurisdiction of the Minister for the Interior. In 1795 all furniture was sold and its works of art were sent to the Muséum Central; it was essentially gutted. Napoleon visited in 1799 and again in 1803. In 1804 the château became an imperial domain and in 1807 he ordered it be made habitable again. Its layout was altered, a ballroom added, and the garden was replanted and linked directly to the forest.
The Town Hall of Compiègne
The Town Hall or City Hall, the L’Hotel de Ville, is listed as a historic monument by the list 1840-1848. The city of Compiègne Town Hall or City Hall, has been in the same location since 1367. It began by being housed in a series of rented houses and bequeathed to the town by Jean Loutrel. A belfry was probably erected at the time of obtaining the town charter in 1153.
In the 15th century, the belfry was ruined and a new town hall is built in 1504-1505 in its present Gothic style happens to be the most notable town hall in all of Picardy. The statues of the facade were all destroyed in August 1792 and had to be redone. Its restoration between 1854 and 1882 was launched on an impulse of Eugène Viollet-le-Duc. The interior is also decorated in Gothic style. The original furniture was either stolen and/or destroyed during the Frnech Revolution, but the bedrooms upstairs still have the beautiful furniture of the 18th century.
HOW THE CARMELITES CAME TO COMPIÈGNE
The Carmel of Compiègne Before and After Martyrdom
Compiègne #1 — 1641-1794
The Carmel of Compiègne originated out of the Carmelite convents of Amiens and Paris, which were in turn founded by the Spanish Carmelites, who themselves were the spiritual daughters of St. Teresa of Avial, having arrived in Paris in 1604.
On Apirl 21st, 1641, the eight founding Spanish Carmelites took solemn possession of the house called “Toison d’Or” meaning “The Golden Fleece”—a name stemming from Greek mythology. They changed their residence several times, before finally settling on a property in the suburb known as “Porte Chapelle”, which was located close to the Château of Compiègne. The Carmelites entered this convent on March 23rd, 1648 and dedicated their convent to the mystery of the Annunication.
The proximity of the Royal Court at the Château of Compiègne, meant that the Carmelites community were visited on numerous occasions by Anne of Austria (1601-1660)―queen consort of France and regent for her son, Louis XIV of France―from who were also great benefactors to the Carmelite community.
In later years, another benefactress was Maria Leczinska― she was a daughter of King Stanisłaus I of Poland. She married King Louis XV of France and was the grandmother of Louis XVI, Louis XVIII, and Charles X. She was the longest-serving queen consort of France and was popular due to her generosity and piety.
Later, “Madame Louise” of France (1737–1787), who was the youngest of the ten children of Louis XV and his wife, Maria Leszczyńska, would become a benefactress in another way. As a child, she was sent to be raised at the convent of the Abbey of Fontevraud with Louis' three other young daughters. When Louise reminded a nun at the convent that she was the daughter of the King, the nun replied: “And I am the daughter of God!” Whether that had an impact on her not, we do not know, but in 1770, to general amazement, Louise asked her father to allow her to become a Carmelite nun. She believed that becoming a nun would compensate for her father's lax morals. Louise joined the Carmelite convent at Saint-Denis, near Paris (not too far from Compiègne), where the order's rule was obeyed strictly, taking the name Thérèse of Saint Augustine. Louise became prioress of the convent in 1773 and was again prioress when the French Revolution broke out in 1789.
The Carmelites of Compiègne were kicked-out of their convent by the revolutionaries on September of 1792. They had to split up and lodge in three little groups among the inhabitants of Compiègne. They continued to live the religious life “in exile.” Following a suggestion made by the Mother Superior, the Carmelites made a consecration and offering of their lives to God in return for peace to return to the bloodthirsty and revolutionary France. They renewed this consecration and offering daily.
After being denounced in June of 1794, les sisters were arrested on June 22nd and imprisoned in their convernt which had been transformed into a makeshift prison. On July 12th, they were transferred to the Conciergerie (a brutal prison) in Paris and guillotined on July 17th, 1794, on the currently named “Place de la Nation”, after being judged and found guilty of adhering to their religion and the religious life. Their bodies were dumped in the mass grave with over 1,300 other guillotined persons (2 pits that were dug out) in a field which is now the Picpus Cemetery in Paris.
The original Carmelite convent of Compiègne no longer exists today, having been confiscated with all other church properties (in France, to this day, the State owns all religious buildings). It was then sold in 1795—about a year after the martyrdoms—and later destroyed in the early 1800’s. Today, the Imperial Theatre stands on the site of the chapel and the Ecole d’Etat-major (a military school for officers) occupies the space that provided living quarters for the nuns.
A more detailed account of the martyrdoms will follow later. This is merely a brief overview of the Carmel of Compiègne from its foundation up to the time of the martyrdoms.
Compiègne #2 — 1835-1848
In 1835, there was an attempt to re-found or restore the Carmel of Compiègne. This was due to the drive of Mother Camille de Soyecourt (from the Carmelite convent on the Rue de Vaugirard, in Paris, with the assistance of Fr. Auger, the parish priest of St, Anthony’s in Compiègne. The queen at that time, Marie-Amélie, gave them her support. But this effort was without a future, for the next Revolution of 1848, dispersed and scattered once again all the sisters who had returned to their original Carmels.
Compiègne #3 — 1867-1992
Finally, in January of 1867, several religious of the Carmel in Troyes, led by Mother Marie-Thérèse of the Infant Jesus (Marie Daignez), officially, but only provisionally, took possession of a very humble and poor property on the Rue Saint-Lazare, on the outskirts of the town, near the forest. The construction of the convent took 16 years, from its official opening in 1872 to the inauguration of its chapel in 1888.
A great influx of postulants allowed Mother Marie des Anges (Olympe Anner), in 1892, to found another Carmel at Beauvais, in the Notre-Dame du Thil district of the town.
The remembrance and memories of the Carmelites Martyrs and the desire to restore the Carmelite religious life in France, fueled and maintained the newly planted Carmel at Beauvais. In 1894, on the occasion of the celebration of the centenary of the martyrdom of the Carmelites of Compiègne, there was an overwhelming echo of celebration throughout all the Carmels of France and amongst the public at large. A Lisieux, Sister Thérèse of the Infant Jesus worked with great enthusiasm on some decorations destined for the Carmel of Compiègne in its centenary celebration. In 1896, the canonization process for the martyred Carmelites was begun, which led to Pope St. Pius X bestowing upon them the title of “Blessed.”
When France introduced the infamous Laws of Expulsion at the start of the 20th century, the Carmelite community at Compiègne was forced to leave the country and seek refuge in Statte, Belgium. This became, in 1906, a Carmel in its own right, under the guidance of Mother Marie of Saint-Joseph (Célina Wattecamps). During the course of the 20th century, several of the sisters who came out of the Carmel of Compiègne, ended up founded other Carmels: Betafo, in Madagascar, Saint-Sever in Landes; as well as Mangalore and Shembaganur in India.
Compiègne #4 — since 1992
In the course of 100 years, the building aged and the ways of living and working changed greatly. The cost of renovation would have been not only expensive, but also would have been greatly intrusive and hindering to the religious life at the Carmel. Therefore, the decision was taken to sell the current Carmel and move to Jonquières (6 miles west of Compiègne) and to build a new convent in that location.
The crypt of the new church contains many items that were recovered from the martyred Carmelites. A memorial room was created to house all these items, where one can go to pray and contemplate their great charity and heroism.
ORIGINAL SITE OF THE CARMEL OF COMPIÈGNE
HONOR ROLL CALL
Stand Up And Be Counted
From existing documents and from the precious testimony of the three Carmelite nuns of the community of Compiègne who escaped martyrdom, we can make a fairly complete list of the sixteen martyrs with their respective names in religion and, in parenthesis, their names in the world:
Teresa of St. Augustine (Mary Magdalen Claudina Lidoine), prioress, born in Paris on September 22nd, 1752; Died aged 41.
Sister St. Aloysius (Mary Anne Frances Brideau), sub-prioress, born in Belfort on December 7th, 1751; Died aged 42.
Sister Anne Mary of Jesus Crucified (Mary Anne Piedcourt), born in Paris on December 9th, 1715; Died aged 78.
Sister Charlotte of the Resurrection (Anne Mary Magdalen Thouret), born in Mouy (Oise) on September 16th, 1715; Died aged 78.
Sister Euphrasia of the Immaculate Conception (Mary Claudia Cypriana Brard), born in Bourth (Eure) on May 12th, 1736; Died aged 58.
Sister Henrietta of Jesus (Mary Frances de Croissy), born in Paris on June 18th, 1745; Died aged 49.
Sister Teresa of the Heart of Mary (Mary Anne Hanisset), born in Rheims (Marne) on January 18th, 1742; Died aged 52.
Sister Teresa of St. Ignatius (Mary Gabriella Trezel), born in Compiègne on April 4th, 1743; Died aged 51.
Sister Julia Louise of Jesus (Rose Christiana de Neuville), born in Evreux (Eure) on December 30th, 1741; Died aged 52.
Sister Mary Henrietta of Providence (Mary Annette Peiras), born in Cajarc (Lot) on June 16th, 1760; Died aged 34.
Sister Constance (Mary Genevieve Meunier), novice, born in Saint-Denis (Seine) on May 28th, 1765; Died aged 29.
Sister Mary of the Holy Spirit (Angelica Roussel), lay sister, born in Fresne-Mazancourt (Somme) on August 3rd, 1742; Died aged 51.
Sister St. Martha (Mary Dufour), lay sister, born in Bannes (Sarthe) on October 2nd, 1741; Died aged 52.
Sister St. Francis Xavier (Elizabeth Julietta Verelot), lay sister, born in Lignieres (Aube) on January 13th, 1764; Died aged 30.
Sister Catherine Soiron, extern sister, born in Compiègne on February 2nd, 1742; Died aged 52.
Sister Teresa Soiron, extern sister, born in Compiègne on January 23rd, 1748. Died aged 46.
These fourteen Carmelite nuns and two female servants were guillotined at the Place du Trône Renversé (which means “the Place of the Overturned Throne”), now called the Place de la Nation, in Paris. Their official condemnation listed assorted ridiculous crimes against the state, and their remains were placed in a common grave along with the over 2,600 other victims of the guillotine.
They were a mere handful of the French Revolution’s victims; who should have earned, at most, a mere footnote in history books. Instead, they have commanded the attention of historians, hagiographers, authors, playwrights, composers, and operas for over two hundred years. In our century, the Martyrs of Compiègne have been the subject of at least one massive scholarly history, a German novella, a French play, a film, and an opera.
In 1902, Pope Leo XIII declared the nuns Venerable, which is the first step toward canonization. They were later beatified by Pope St. Pius X, in May, 1906: Carmelites celebrate the memory of the prioress, Blessed Teresa of St. Augustine (Lidoine), and her fifteen companions on July 17th, and Catholics may adopt them as patrons.
So What Happened?
What was it about these Carmelites, that inspired such an interest and a following? The Discalced Carmelites arrived in France at the beginning of the seventeenth century, having overcome formidable political and cultural obstacles to their immigration.
The community of Discalced Carmelite nuns had been established at Compiègne (Oise, France) in 1641, a foundation of the monastery of Amiens. Within seven years, the convent with the church dedicated to the Annunciation were functioning. The community always flourished in fervor and was know for its regular observance and for its fidelity to the Teresian spirit. It enjoyed the affection and esteem of the French court.
Their pedigree, so to speak, was impeccable. Among the Spanish sisters, who came to France, were several who had been close companions of St. Teresa of Jesus herself, including Anne of Jesus and Anne of St. Bartholomew. They were also formed in the spiritual life by St. John of the Cross.
Thus, they represented a solid and sound traditional Catholicism, with all its Baroque and militant Counter-Reformation spirit, and transplanted that into a France which was already a hotbed of modern thinking and revolution. It was a meeting of two drastically different cultures. The French novices are said to have been astonished when Mother Anne of Jesus danced in the choir! It brings to mind the quote of St. Francis de Sales: “A saint who is sad, is indeed a sad saint!”
The French Revolution
At the outbreak of the revolution the nuns refused to lay aside their monastic habit; and when, between June and September of 1792, the disorders began to increase, all of them, following the inspiration received from the prioress, Teresa of St. Augustine, offered themselves to the Lord as a holocaust “to placate the anger of God and so that divine peace, brought to Earth by His beloved Son, would return to the Church and to the state.” This act of consecration, also made by two of the older Sisters who at first were frightened by the thought of the guillotine, became the daily offering of the nuns until the day of their martyrdom, which occurred two years later.
Guilty By Association
It was, however, the Caremelites' "supposed" sympathy for anti-revolutionists that led to their arrest. Within the monastery, authorities found a portrait of the king and images of the Sacred Heart similar to those used by reactionary groups.
The sisters of the community at the time of the French Revolution came from a variety of backgrounds. Mother Henriette of Jesus (Marie-Françoise Gabrielle de Croissy) was the grand-niece of Jean-Baptiste Colbert, one of the most powerful ministers to King Louis XIV. Most of the nuns, however, were from humble families of cobblers, carpenters, and common laborers. They were thus far from being sympathizers of the ancien régime (the old regime), even if authorities cited as damning evidence of their treason the presence in the convent of an old painting of the executed King Louis XVI.
The religious were accused of halting the progress of public spirit. In reality, however, political factors figured little in the nuns condemnation to the guillotine. Something more threatening, something less well defined, provoked that retribution by civil authorities.
Throughout the events of the Revolution, the Carmelites of Compiègne, like most religious communities, obeyed the civil law insofar as possible. Of course, they prayed for those in authority over them, as all Christians are counseled to do. It is likely that they kept the royal portrait (which was an object of hatred for the revolutionaries) as a memento of a family which had been kind to them. However, for the revolutionaries, who had come to power in 1789, this was a despicable crime. Another crime was the discovery of The Canticle to the Sacred Heart of Jesus, written by a Parisian priest and used as incriminating evidence in the nuns trial because a copy was found in their monastery.
Religion a Waste of Time
In addition to this, for the revolutionaries, religious life, especially religious obedience, simply makes no sense to the enlightened modern man. Active religious orders might be tolerated at a pinch, because they provide education or medical care; but contemplative orders such as the Carmelites, were, to the French rationalist revolutionary, a mere absurdity.
Forget Your Vows! You’re Free Now!
The next step of the revolutionaries was to suppress monastic vows (as if they a Divine right to do so!) by order of the Assemblée (the revolutionary parliament). This led to the city authorities coming to the monastery to interrogate each sister as to the motives of her vocation and to offer freedom to any Carmelite sister who wished it. When none chose to leave the Carmel, the officials returned with armed guards that they posted as sentinels within the cloister: they believed that the sisters were afraid to speak for fear of being overheard. One by one the nuns were brought to be examined. When Mother Henriette’s turn came, she handed them a written response and asked them to read it aloud to her:
“How false are the judgments that the world makes of us! Its profound ignorance disapproves of our promises, all that it adorns itself with is but pure vanity. Its only reality is the sorrow that devours it. I despise its pride, I consider its hatred an honor; and I prefer my chains to its spurious freedom. O day of eternal celebration, O day forever holy, when, vowing myself to Carmel I won the heart of God. O beloved and precious bonds I strengthen you each day; all that the Earth can offer me is worthless in my eyes; your sarcasm, worldlings, compared to my joy is a dead giveaway: that joy outweighs all the cares to which your soul is prey.”
It is crucially significant not only that the former prioress elected to reply in verse, but that her answer, while perhaps not a great poem, is both competent poetry and a well-constructed argument. An even more striking example of reasoned rhetoric turned against the nuns would-be liberators occurred when, in 1790, Mother Nathalie of Jesus (Grenelle) addressed the Assemblée Nationale on behalf of French Discalced Carmelites:
“The most complete liberty governs our vows; the most perfect equality reigns in our houses; here we know neither the rich nor the noble and we depend only on the Law . In the world they like to broadcast that monasteries contain only victims slowly consumed by regrets; but we proclaim before God that if there is on earth a true happiness, we possess it in the dimness of the sanctuary and that, if we had to choose again between the world and the cloister, there is not one of us who would not ratify with greater joy her first decision. After having solemnly declared that man is free, would you oblige us to think that we no longer are?”
Another Nail in the Coffin
In 1790, came the next ‘nail-in-the-coffin’ of Carmelites, which was triggered by the striking example of reasoned rejection, of this unwelcome interference by revolutionaries in the affairs of the Carmel, by Mother Nathalie of Jesus (Grenelle) addressed the Assemblée Nationale on behalf of French Discalced Carmelites:
“The most complete liberty governs our vows; the most perfect equality reigns in our houses; here we know neither the rich nor the noble and we depend only on the Law . In the world, they like to broadcast that monasteries contain only victims slowly consumed by regrets; but we proclaim before God that if there is on Earth a true happiness, we possess it in the dimness of the sanctuary and that, if we had to choose again between the world and the cloister, there is not one of us who would not ratify with greater joy her first decision. After having solemnly declared that man is free, would you oblige us to think that we no longer are?”
In other words, she was saying: “If you hold so vehemently these new found “Rights of Man” then we should be free to do what we want. What do we want to do? We want to be Carmelite sisters!”
Get Out of Your Convent!
Such pleas availed little; religious houses were ordered to be closed and their religious to be dispersed, and it was even forbidden to meet for common prayer and to wear the habit. Between June and September 1792, Madame Lidoine [Teresa of St. Augustine] avowed to her daughters that having made her meditation on the subject, the thought had come to her to make an act of consecration by which the Community would offer itself as a holocaust to appease the wrath of God, and in order that the divine peace which his dear Son had come to bring into the world would be bestowed on the church and the state.
The Carmelites of Compiègne were forced to leave their Carmel on September 14th, 1792 the Feast of the Exaltation of the Holy Cross, the day on which the long penitential season in Carmel traditionally began. The Carmelites continued their life of prayer and penance. Sometime shortly before, the women had pledged themselves to a course of action their persecutors would have found even more incomprehensible than monastic life: through a communal act of consecration, they offered their lives for the sake of peace in France.
Preparing For Martyrdom
Like generations of Carmelites, the sisters had made dramatic representations of martyrdom part of their recreation; these were imaginative rehearsals for the real thing, always regarded as a possibility. Yet they knew that seeking martyrdom too actively could be sinful, a temptation of pride. For almost two years after first making their act of consecration, the nuns, in quiet defiance of the law, lived apart in small groups, obeying the law by dressing as laywomen, but meeting for common prayer. They divided into four groups in various parts of Compiègne, but remained united by affection and correspondence under the watchful direction of Teresa of St. Augustine.
The Final Fatal Arrest
All this was soon discovered and denounced by the revolutionary committee and on June 23rd, 1794, they were captured and forcibly herded together at Sainte-Marie, the Maison de Reclusion, a former monastery of the Visitation Sisters, but now transformed into a prison. In the room next to theirs were imprisoned a group of English Benedictine Nuns from Cambrai. The following day, the Carmelites retracted before the town mayor the Oath of Liberté-Égalité they had made ― thus signing their own death warrant. Meanwhile, their captors waited for instructions from the Committee for Public Safety in Paris.
The three-week imprisonment was very harsh. The food was hardly palatable and the sick were not given any special diet. A few straws on the bare floor served as their beds. The two communities of nuns were forbidden to communicate with each other, yet the abbess of the Benedictines, Mother Mary Blyde, somehow was able to converse with the Carmelites on two occasions. Fresh clothing was denied the nuns, yet they were forbidden to wash their soiled clothes. After many solicitations, they were finally granted a particular day to do their washing - but they never even had the chance to finish their laundry.
To the Dreaded Conciergerie Prison in Paris
At 10:00 a.m., on July 12th, members of the Revolutionary Committee of Compiègne came with orders from Paris to transfer the Carmelites to the dreaded Conciergerie at the capital. Mother Thérèse protested the untimely order. Their civilian clothes had just been put to soak. She requested permission to seek fresh clothing for her sisters to bring along. This was straightforwardly refused. Therefore, the nuns had to go to Paris wearing part of what was once their religious habits, the only dry clothing that was available.
After finishing their meager meal, the sixteen bade adieu to their Benedictine companions. With hands bound behind their back, they were herded into two carts for the long journey to Paris. Along with them was arrested a citizen named Mulot de la Ménardière, accused as an accomplice of the nuns. A great number of women, many of whom the nuns helped in many ways, sneered at them: “They do well to destroy them. They are useless mouths. Bravo! Bravo!” Mother Thérèse meanwhile calmed Catherine Soiron who was outraged by the way they were being maltreated.
The caravan arrived at the Conciergerie between three to four in the afternoon of the following day. With their hands still tied behind them, the sisters went down one by one and stood waiting in the prison courtyard. However, the octogenarian Sr. Charlotte, deprived of her crutch and with no one to assist her, could not descend from the cart. An impatient soldier jumped aboard and callously threw her upon the paving stones where she laid motionless. Fearing he had killed her, the soldier lifted up the old nun whose face was covered with blood. “Believe me,” she told him, “I am not angry with you. On the contrary, I thank you for not having killed me for if I have died in your hands, I would have been deprived of the joy and glory of martyrdom.”
Charity Work in Prison
While waiting for their trial, the nuns occupied themselves with prayers and works of charity. They sought the sick among the imprisoned and attended to them even until late in the night. During daylight, they continued to celebrate the divine office faithfully. The other prisoners woke in the middle of the night hearing the nuns chanting Matins. Sr. Julie-Louise celebrated the feast of Our Lady of Mount Carmel (July 16th) by composing a canticle to the tune of the Marsellaise. Mother Thérèse continually supported the sisters with her exemplary courage, calmness, and maternal attention to the needs of their distressed bodies.
Courtroom and Sentence
At around 9:00 a.m., on July 17th, the sixteen were brought to the Courtroom of Liberty where the Revolutionary Tribunal performed its functions. They were led before the three judges and the notorious Antoine Fouquier-Tinville, the Terror's implacable public prosecutor. He read the Act of Accusation:
“With regard the ex-Carmelite religious Lidoine, Thouret, Brard, Dufour and the others, they kept up, although separated by their abodes, anti-revolutionary meetings and cabal among themselves and wish others whom they brought together and, by taking up again their spirit of sisterhood, conspired against the Republic. A voluminous correspondence found in their possession proves that they did not cease to plot against the Revolution. A portrait of Capet [Louis XVI], his will, the hearts, which are the rallying signs of the Vendean rebels, fanatical puerility, accompanied by the letter of an émigré priest dated 1793, proved that they were in correspondence with the external enemies of France. Such are the marks of the Confederacy formed among themselves. They lived under obedience to a superior and, as for their principles and vows, their letters and writings bear witness to them …. They are more than a band, an assembly of rebels, with criminal hope of seeing the French people returned to the chains of tyrants and to the slavery of bloodthirsty priests who are impostors as well.”
Sr. Marie-Henriette did not fail to ignore the phrase “fanatical puerility”. She asked Fouquier-Tinville to explain: “What I mean is your attachment to your childish beliefs, your stupid religious practices.”
She then turned to the other Carmelites and said to them: “My dear Mother and sisters, let us rejoice in the Lord for this. We are going to die for the cause of our holy religion, our faith, our reliance in the holy Roman Catholic Church.”
Mother Thérèse addressed the judges: “The letters that we have received are from the chaplain of our house condemned by your law to be deported. These letters contain nothing more than spiritual advice. At most, if these correspondences be a crime, this should be considered as mine, not of the community as our Rule forbids the sisters from making any correspondence, even with their nearest relations, without the permission of their superior. If therefore you must have a victim, here she is: it is I alone whom you must strike. My sisters are innocent.”
A show trial had proved them to be “enemies of the people.” The blatantly false charges also included “hiding weapons in your convent.” In answer, the 41-year old prioress, Mother Teresa of St. Augustine, lifted her crucifix from her bosom and held it up to the presiding judge saying, “The only weapon we’ve ever had in our convent is this. You cannot prove we have ever had any others.”
When the answer and sentence came, she was happy and transmitted it to her Mother and Sisters in religion. All of them shared that joy and went forward to die. Mother Henriette, who was very resolute, offered assistance to each of them until the end. Only the Prioress, Mother Teresa of St. Augustine, died after her, because she was the superior, and the Captain must always be the last one to leave the sinking ship.
The nuns received their penalty with serenity and joy. However, Thérèse Soiron fainted. Tension, fatigue, and lack of sleep and nourishment finally broke her down. The prioress quickly asked a constable for a glass of water for the tourière. When she regained consciousness, Thérèse asked pardon for her weakness and assured them she was ready to be faithful to the end.
After that incident, it became quite clear that the nuns needed something to eat. After all, they had not eaten anything since the break of dawn. With the permission of the prioress, Mother St. Louis bartered a pelisse in exchange for sixteen cups of chocolate. Thus, while the executioner carried out on the other condemned prisoners the last “toilet” – the trimming away of hair and ripping of any clothing that may impede the decapitation of their heads ― the Carmelites had the opportunity to dine in common before their execution.
Executed the Same Day
The sentence was to be completed that same evening. The community was praying the Office for the Dead when they were summoned. The nuns bade farewell to the other prisoners, among them was a devout Catholic named Blot: “How come our dear Blot is crying? Rather, you should rejoice to see us at the end of our trials. Recommend us well to the good God and the most Holy Virgin that they may assist us in these final hours. We will pray for you when we are in Heaven.”
Cloaked in their white mantles and with hands bound at their backs, the sixteen recollectedly boarded the tumbrils that would bring them to Place du Trône Renversé where the guillotine awaited them. Along the way, priests disguised as sans-culottes gave them absolution. The journey was long… but the air was permeated by their solemn chants of the sixteen, singing as they did in choir: “Have mercy on me, God, in your kindness. In your compassion, blot out my offense…. Hail, holy Queen, mother of mercy….”
The guillotine had been standing for more than a month already at the Barrière du Trône (Place du Trône Renversé; today it is called Place de la Nation). Upon arriving there, Sr. Constance suddenly accused herself before Mother Thérèse of not having finished her divine office. Her superioress told her: “Be strong, daughter! You will finish it in Paradise!” Twenty-four others were executed that day, but we do not know any detail concerning them.
At the foot of the scaffold, the prioress asked the executioner if she might die last so that she could encourage and support her sister. She also asked for a few minutes to prepare them. This time her requests were granted. They sang once more, invoking the Holy Spirit: “Creator Spirit, come….” Afterward, they all renewed their religious vows. The ceremony completed, one unknown sister was overheard saying: “O my God! I am just too happy if this little sacrifice calms your wrath and lessens the number of victims.”
One by one, from the youngest to the oldest, the nuns were called.
“Citizeness Marie Geneviève Meunier!”
Summoned by her real name, Sr. Constance knelt before Mother Thérèse and asked for her blessing and the permission to die. This being given, the novice kissed a small red-clay statuette of the Virgin and Child that Mother Thérèse had been concealing in her hand and she renewed her religious vows to her superior just before mounting the scaffold.
Mother Henriette de Jesus was the last one before the Prioress, Mother Teresa of St. Augustine, to mount the scaffold to die. To the end, she encouraged her Sisters to persevere. When a charitable person offered a glass of water to one of the Sisters, Mother Henriette told her: “In Heaven, my Sister, in Heaven we will soon have water aplenty to drink.”
The last one to be slain was Mother Teresa of St. Augustine, who had prepared her daughters so well for martyrdom and who had realized in a marvelous way what she had been accustomed to say: “Love will always be victorious. When someone loves, he can do everything.” The martyrdom, which occurred on July 17th, 1794, showed again the insuperable power of the love of Christ.
Yet the sight of the nuns being executed seems to have affected even the hardened Parisian crowd, accustomed to cheering loudly each fall of the guillotine blade. Within ten days of the execution or martyrdom of the Carmelites, by July 27, 1794, the revolutionary leader Robespierre and the provisional revolutionary government, with their “Age of Terror” were finished.
An ironic sidelight: the one nun of royal blood, Marie of the Incarnation, happened to be away at the time of the arrest and thus escaped execution; one of only three survivors of her community, she became the martyrs first historian, collecting eyewitness accounts of the Carmelites’ deaths.
Reverend Mother Émilienne, Superior General of the Sisters of Charity of Nevers, wrote in a letter: “I learned from a person who was a witness to their martyrdom that the youngest of these good Carmelites was called first and that she went to kneel before her venerable Superior, asked her blessing and permission to die. She then mounted the scaffold singing Laudate Dominum omnes gentes. She then went to place herself beneath the blade allowing the executioner to touch her. All the others did the same. The Venerable Mother was the last sacrificed. During the whole time, there was not a single drum-roll; but there reigned a profound silence.”
Bodies Thrown Into A Communal Pit
The decapitated heads and bodies of the sixteen Carmelite martyrs were thrown into a common grave, deep sand-pit about thirty feet square, together with the bodies of other condemned persons, in a place which later became the present-day cemetery of Picpus, where a stone records their martyrdom. As this sand-pit was the receptacle of the bodies of 1298 victims of the Revolution, there seems to be no hope of their relics being recovered. Some of their clothes, which the Carmelites were washing in the Conciergerie when they were taken before the tribunal, were saved and given, two or three days later, to the English Benedictine nuns of Cambrai, who were also imprisoned, but later freed. These precious pieces of clothing, five secondary relics, are kept today in the abbey of the Benedictine nuns of Stanbrook in Worcestershire, England.
Died guillotined on 17 July 1794 at the in Paris, France Before their execution they knelt and chanted the AVeni Creator@, as at a profession, after which they all renewed aloud their baptismal and religious vows. The heads and bodies of the martyrs were interred in a in a cemetery at Picpus.,.
Picpus Cemetery (French: Cimetière de Picpus) is the largest private cemetery in Paris, France, located in the 12th arrondissement. It was created from land seized from the convent of the Chanoinesses de St-Augustin, during the French Revolution. Just minutes away from where the guillotine was set up, it contains 1,306 victims executed between June 14 and 27 July 1794, during the height of the Reign of Terror. Today only descendants of those 1,306 victims are eligible to be buried at Picpus Cemetery. Picpus Cemetery is one of only two private cemeteries in Paris, the other being the old Cimetière des Juifs Portugais de Paris (the Cemetery for the Portuguese Jews of Paris) in the 19th arrondissement.
Picpus Cemetery is situated next to a small chapel, Notre-Dame-de-la-Paix (“Our Lady of Peace”), run by the Sisters of the Sacred Heart. The priests of the Congregation of the Sacred Hearts are referred to as “The Picpus Fathers” because of the order's origins on the street. It holds a small 15th-century sculpture of the Vierge de la Paix, reputed to have cured King Louis XIV of a serious illness on August 16th, 1658.
During the French Revolution, the guillotine was set up in the Place de la Nation, then called the Place du Trône Renversé. Between June 13th and July 28th, during the time known as the “Reign of Terror”, as many as 55 people per day were executed. The Revolutionary Tribunal needed a quick but anonymous way to dispose of the bodies. The cemetery is only five minutes from the Place de la Nation. A pit was dug at the end of the garden where the decapitated bodies were thrown in together, noblemen and nuns, grocers and soldiers, laborers and innkeepers. A second pit was dug when the first filled up.
The names of those buried in the two common pits, 1,306 men and women, are inscribed on the walls of the chapel. Of the 1,109 men, there were 108 nobles, 108 churchmen, 136 monastics (gens de robe), 178 military, and 579 commoners. There are 197 women buried there, with 51 from the nobility, 23 nuns and 123 commoners. The bloodshed stopped when Robespierre himself was beheaded, and the garden was closed off.