Thank you to the Editor of AlwaysCatholic.com
, Sofia Guerra, for allowing me to repost this essay here at Toronto Catholic Witness.
Here is a story of when government decides
that God either doesn't exist or if He does He has no place in public
life. While reading this, remember it happened in 1792 but know this:
change the names of the tyrants in charge and the dates and it could be
now. I am including a prayer for tomorrow's Feast of the Catmelite
Martyrs of Compiègne. They were executed by the guillotine on July 17,
1792 the day after the great Carmelite Feast of Our Lady of Mount Carmel.
the point: The government at the time decided the Church was an
obstacle to their "progressive" ways. so it started with curtailing
Catholics. The rest is history, known as the "Reign of Terror". Don't
think it can't happen today.
It has already started.
Prayer for the feast of the Carmelite Martyrs of Compiègne - July 17th
God, you called Bl. Teresa of St. Augustine and her companions to go on
in the strength of the Holy Spirit from the heights of Carmel to
receive a martyr's crown. May our love too be so steadfast that it will
bring us to the everlasting vision of your glory. We ask this through
our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son, who lives and reigns with you and the
Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.
They Sang All the Way to the Guillotine
By: Matthew E. Bunson
Published at Catholic Answers Magazine
January 26, 1957, the Teatro alla Scala in Milan was the
site of a new opera by noted French Catholic composer François Poulenc.
Le Dialogue des Carmélites (The Dialogue of the Carmelites) was based in
part on a screenplay written by the Catholic writer Georges Bernanos
and inspired by Gertrud von le Fort’s German novella, Die Letzte am
Schafott (" The Last on the Scaffold"). The new work presented a
seemingly odd choice for its subject—the execution of sixteen French
Carmelite nuns from Compiègne during the darkest days of the French
Revolution.The opera was recognized immediately as one of the greatest
of the twentieth century and opened to rave reviews both in Italy and
France. At the heart of Poulenc’s opera is the harrowing approach of
death for the nuns in the Carmelite cloister of Compiègne and the way
that each of them makes her own spiritual journey to martyrdom, despite
the chances to surrender her faith and so live. The opera ends, like the
lives of the nuns, upon the scaffold in Paris, with the nuns singing a
hymn. One by one their voices are silenced, but the power of their
message sings on into eternity.
Poulenc’s effort remains a
powerful and frequently performed work of classical opera. Its very
success reminds us that the deaths of some French nuns during French
Revolution have not been forgotten, and the examples of faith in the
face of repression and anti-Catholic persecutions are eternal ones.
Faith under Fire
facts surrounding the death of these women are straightforward. On July
17, 1794, in the final days of Maximilien Robespierre’s fiendish
leadership over revolutionary France, fourteen Carmelite nuns and two
female servants were guillotined at the Place du Trône Renversé (now
called the Place de la Nation), in Paris. Their official condemnation
listed assorted crimes against the state, and their remains were placed
in a common grave along with the over 1,300 other victims of the
In the wake of the French Revolution of 1789 and the
establishment of the Revolutionary government centered in the Assemblée
nationale (the National Assembly), the Church was placed in an
increasingly difficult position. French Catholicism had long enjoyed a
position of national prominence and possessed seemingly vast wealth. As
such, the Revolutionary leadership sought both to strip the Church of
her holdings and to curb the influence of Catholics in the new order.
first to be targeted were the religious orders—the monks and nuns?who
held extensive properties and who were condemned by the Enlightenment
philosophers for serving no practical purpose for society. It was
incomprehensible that monks and nuns, most so the contemplative orders,
were of any benefit to the world as they did nothing but sit in their
houses and pray. In his work, Georges Bernanos has the former prioress
of the Compiègne Carmelites, Mother Henriette of Jesus, declare to her
revolutionary captors: "We are not an enterprise for mortification or
the preservation of the virtues, we are a house of prayer; those who do
not believe in prayer cannot but assume we are impostors or parasites."
October 28, 1789, the Assembly prohibited the taking of vows in
France’s monasteries; on February 13, 1790, religious orders with solemn
vows were suppressed. The religious men were then compelled to enter
monasteries without regard to their former orders or were given paltry
pensions. The women religious, meanwhile, were allowed at first to
remain in their houses under severe conditions, including the
requirement that they adopt secular dress.
The devastation of the
monasteries?like the dissolution of the monasteries in England under
King Henry VIII?was merely the start of even greater oppression, in the
form of the Civil Constitution of the Clergy, passed by the Assembly on
July 12, 1790. This measure placed the Church in France entirely in the
thrall of the state. Faithful Catholics opposed the harsh measures,
especially the oath of loyalty to the state imposed on all clergy in
November 1790. In the end, the Assembly and its increasingly radical
leaders suppressed all religious orders, banished the priests who would
not take the oath (the so-called "non-juring priests"), and even
punished "juring" priests who ran afoul of local officials.
worse were the murders of priests and bishops, such as the 225
slaughtered in the September Massacres of 1792. The social and political
chaos took its inevitable course with the rise of the infamous
Robespierre as the most influential member of the Committee of Public
Safety (the Comité de salut public), set up on April 6, 1793 to oversee
the trials and execution of the growing lists of "enemies of the State."
Under Robespierre, France sank into the Reign of Terror that lasted
from September 1793 to July 28, 1794. The Terror led to the deaths of
thousands at the guillotine, as well as fresh anti-Catholic outrages
such as the adoption of the Revolutionary Calendar and the grotesque
celebration that installed the goddess "Reason" in Notre Dame Cathedral
in the form of a half-naked prostitute.
Evicted and Imprisoned
was the storm that engulfed the houses of religious women in France,
and one of them, in the relatively small city of Compiègne in northern
France, was a convent of Discalced Carmelites. The community at
Compiègne had been founded in the spirit of zeal that followed the first
arrival of the Carmelites in France in 1604. 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, 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.
fact, as was the common practice for all houses of religious in France,
the nuns took care to obey the letter of the laws being imposed upon the
Church. At the same time, though, they found their own ways to practice
resistance. When, for example, authorities arrived after the
suppression of vows to encourage each sister to leave the community,
they found the members uncommunicative and disinclined to accept their
offer. In a foreshadowing of what was to come, the officials returned
with soldiers to threaten the determined religious should they refuse to
abandon their habits.
The darker events in the country continued
apace, and soon the houses of religious were dispersed. The nuns at
Compiègne were evicted from the convent on September 14, 1792, the Feast
of the Exaltation of the Holy Cross. The nuns had anticipated this next
development and had, at the prayerful suggestion of Sister Teresa of
St. Augustine, made a collective act of consecration by which they
offered their lives as a holocaust on behalf of the Church in an age of
Ostensibly in obedience to the law, the nuns lived
outside of the house in four groups and dressed like simple French
women. They met in common prayer and never wavered in their private
fidelity to the rules of the Carmel, even if they had to live as exiles
from the convent. Known and hated by the fervent anti-Catholics in the
region, the nuns were watched. It was only a matter of time before their
prayer life, their devotion to the Sacred Heart, and their acts of
charity led to their arrest by the local Committee of Public Safety. On
July 12, they were transferred to Paris, and the city beheld the
spectacle of sixteen defenseless women being led to jail by a force of
gendarmes and nine hard-bitten dragoons.
The procession reached
its destination: the dreaded Conciergerie, the somber prison for those
poor souls who had fallen into the hands of Robespierre’s Committee. The
charges against the Carmelites were conspiracy and treason against the
nation by supposedly corresponding with counter-revolutionary
conservative elements, being royalists, and keeping in their possession
the writings of the liberticides of the ancien régime. Ironically, the
only member of the convent with royal blood, Sister Marie of the
Incarnation, was away at the time of the arrests. She would later
chronicle the events that followed.
Song and Silence
trial was a pre-ordained condemnation, as the tribunal met without
granting the nuns any lawyers or even witnesses. After a brief
discussion, the judges found the nuns guilty, but to the list of
"crimes" for which they stood condemned to death, Mother Henriette of
Jesus demanded and succeeded in adding the charge of "attachment to your
Religion and the King." She then turned to her sisters and declared
proudly, "We must rejoice and give thanks to God for we die for our
religion, our faith, and for being members of the Holy Roman Catholic
On July 17, 1794, the sixteen Carmelites were led through
the streets of Paris in a tumbrel, the traditional open cart that left
condemned prisoners subject to the mockery, abuse, and jeers of the
crowds lining the avenues leading to the guillotine. With utter
serenity, the nuns made their way to the Place du Trône Renversé and
were removed from the cart. Sister Charlotte of the Resurrection, who
was seventy-eight and could barely walk, was tossed to the ground by one
of her guards, but in response told him that she forgave him and
assured him of her prayers.
The mob that had gathered for its
customary fun, however, was soon reduced to stunned silence by the
actions of the Carmelites. The women religious did not cower in fear
before the blade of the guillotine. Rather, they sang as each one
mounted the steps to her death. Some accounts declare that they sang the
Veni Creator, others that it was the Salve Regina. In his recent work
To Quell the Terror: The Mystery of the Vocation of the Sixteen
Carmelites of Compiègne Guillotined July 17, 1794, William Bush argues
that they sang Psalm 117: "O praise the Lord all ye nations! / Praise
him all ye people! / For His mercy is confirmed upon us / And the truth
of the Lord remaineth forever! / Praise the Lord!"
The first to
sing as she ascended was the youngest of the Carmelites, Sister
Constance. Called by the executioners, she knelt before her Mother
Superior, asked her blessing and permission to die, and then placed
herself beneath the guillotine without any need of assistance or force.
Each of the remaining nuns followed in exactly the same manner. The
next-to-last was thirty-four-year-old Sister Henriette. As infirmarian,
she assisted her sisters up the steps. Finally, the venerable Mother
placed her head in the device and waited for the blade to drop.
the executions, no sounds could be heard save the singing of the
sisters, their chorus reduced one by one, and the remorseless slicing of
the guillotine. The customary drum roll did not take place, and no one
in the crowd cheered, laughed, or mocked the victims. When it was done,
the crowd dispersed in further silence, and a pervasive sense of unease
settled over the city. The remains of the sisters were taken away from
Paris and interred in a deep sand-pit in a cemetery at Picpus, where
they joined the other victims of the guillotine.
The murder of the
Carmelites was the climactic moment of the Reign of Terror and its
apparently greatest victory over superstition and the Church. And yet,
within ten days, Robespierre fell from power and died himself beneath
the guillotine. The Reign of Terror was brought to a sudden and
A Lasting Witness
Sixteen victims of the
thousands murdered by the French Revolution, the Carmelite Martyrs of
Compiègne were from the time of their executions remembered with an
intense fervor and revered for their holiness and courage. Indeed,
credit for the shocking close to the Terror was given to the Carmelites
of Compiègne by those in the Conciergerie who had come to know them
well. As religious orders were still forbidden in England, English
Benedictine nuns founded a home at Cambrai, France. Like the Carmelites,
they had been imprisoned in Paris in October 1793 and had met the nuns
from Compiègne in the Conciergerie’s dungeon. They loved and venerated
the martyred Carmelites and preserved with devotion the secular clothes
the women left behind. When the Reign of Terror halted so abruptly, the
English Benedictines gave thanks for the holiness and the act of
offering made by their beloved sisters. The Benedictines also took the
few second-class relics of the Carmelites with them when they were
permitted to go back to England in 1795. Because the Carmelites were
buried in the common grave at Picpus, no first-class relics have ever
Over the next century, the Carmelites were honored
by the Carmelites of France, by the Benedictine nuns of England, and by
St. Thérèse of Lisieux, the Little Flower and Doctor of the Church. The
movement for their cause for canonization gained swift ground in
France, and in 1902, Pope Leo XIII declared them venerable. A mere four
years later, after the confirmation of several miracles, they were
beatified by Pope St. Pius X on May 27, 1906, the first martyrs of the
French Revolution to be so honored. Their cause for canonization
For apologists today, the Carmelite martyrs—as with all
martyrs for the faith—remind us that their example is not confined to a
bygone age of suffering and war in a Europe gone mad with the
Enlightenment. St. Teresa Benedicta of the Cross (Edith Stein) wrote
with veneration of the Compiègne Carmelites. Like the Benedictine nuns
before her, the future martyr g.asped the significance of their act of
spiritual consecration and their willingness to be martyrs for the faith
that evil was trying to expunge. Rather than being forgotten, the nuns
inspired Catholics and artists over the next two centuries as Christians
died at the hand of the Nazis, Communists in Spain and the Soviet
Empire, and extremists the world over. As François Poulenc’s opera
brings to riveting operatic life, the Carmelites of Compiègne
demonstrate to all Christians that even as we should be willing to
follow Christ in every way that we live, it is just as important to
follow Christ in how we die.
Bunson is a former contributing editor to This Rock and the author of
more than 30 books. He is a consultant for USA Today on Catholic
matters, a moderator of EWTN’s online Church history forum, and the
editor of The Catholic Answer.
THE SIXTEEN DISCALCED CARMELITE MARTYRS OF COMPIEGNE (X 1794)
BLAMELESS VICTIMS OF A REVOLUTION GONE AWRY
was something eerie in the air as the tumbrils passed through the
streets of Paris that led to Place du Trône Renversé. It was, in fact,
too eerie that the normally noisy and violent crowd was "in a respectful
silence such as has never been accorded throughout the Revolution." No
rotten fruit was pelted and no clamorous insult was raised on the
condemned women and men. That evening one only heard the ethereal
chanting of sixteen Discalced Carmelite nuns on their way to death.
women could hardly be recognized as nuns. Wrapped in their white
mantles, they did not, however, wear their veils. Their wimples had been
cut away, exposing their necks to facilitate the truculent job of the
At around eight in the evening, after a ride
of two hours, the tumbrils finally arrived at the place of execution. A
horrid stench of rotting flesh from the common graves in nearby Picpus
and of putrifying blood beneath the scaffold greeted them. The crowd
remained reverently silent. The Carmelites have finally come face to
face with the dreaded guillotine. Led by their courageous prioress, Mo.
Thérèse of St. Augustine, they sang the Christian hymn of praise: “You
are God: we praise you; You are the Lord: we acclaim you; You are the
eternal Father: all creation worships you…. The glorious company of
apostles praises you.
The noble fellowship of prophets praises you. The white-robed army of martyrs praises you...
WINDS OF AN INEVITABLE REVOLUTION
historians agree that the twentieth century traces its foundations to
the events that shook France from 1789 to, strictly speaking, 1795. The
French Revolution took place amid an in social disarray. Historian
Edward Tannenbaum capsulized: “Many people knew that something was
wrong. There was an economic crisis aggravated by population pressure;
the aristocratic resurgence exasperated sections of the bourgeoisie and
the peasantry; enlightened political ideas were raising constitutional
issues, and enlightened despotism was not working very well.
the rising of the masses, an era of radical ideas unconceived beforehand
was ushered - equality of all before the law; freedoms of speech,
religion and opinion; resistance to oppression; rights to property,
security and liberty. A new epoch practically began with this “mother of
The clash, however, of the old and new orders
produced a violent friction. Reforms were plenty, indeed, but violence
also abounded, caused by years of bottled hatred or plain paranoia.
Soon, freedoms highly idealized by the revolution like choice,
conscience and religion were trampled upon. There were too many victims
in the process, many of whom were commoners exercising their democratic
rights. Among them were the sixteen Carmelites of Compiègne.
twenty-one nuns of the Carmel of the Annunciation externally appeared
unperturbed by the melee outside the walls of their monastery. They
continued with the routine life that had been followed by their
predecessors since the monastery was established in 1641. They were
composed of fifteen choir nuns, three converses (lay sisters or sisters
of the white veil), and one choir novice.There were also two
nuns came from every social stratum of French society and each had her
unique personality.“Taken as a whole, the community does not present an
exceptional milieu. Their fathers were a master purse-maker, shoemaker,
turner, laborer, clerk, and an employee of the observatory. Only one is a
counselor of the king, one a noble squire. Few were blue-blooded; most
were commoners. The grille sheltered, both from the psychological and
social points of view, a world in a nutshell.” The lone novice was of
peasant stock, but she had for her formator the grandniece of the great
aristocrat Jean-Baptiste Colbert. The pretty and young assistant
infirmarian laughed at the whims of the beloved old sister
“philosopher”. The well-balanced prioress had for her assistant a nun
passionately in love with the divine office.
Assembly provisionally suspended the profession of vows in all
monasteries on 29 October 1789. Mother Thérèse was distressed that the
decree prevented Sr. Constance, the lone novice, from making her
profession. She wrote to a former postulant: Sr. Constance remains
always a novice here. Troubles have not been lacking on the side of her
family: now they do not want her letters anymore or to hear her spoken
of. The Lord permits this to be assured of her fidelity, and she
accounts herself happy if they leave her in peace as at present. She
hopes that the good God will at last touch their hearts and that they
will look on her perseverance without sorrow.
THE CIVIL CONSTITUTION OF THE CLERGY
12 July 1790, the National Assembly implemented the Civil Constitution
of the Clergy. Among its articles was a provision for the suppression of
the monastic orders and the liberation of monks and nuns who would
choose to renounce their vows. On 15 August, the members of the
Directory of the Compiègne district came to the monastery to interrogate
each nun and offer her liberty.
The unanimous reply of the religious was to remain and keep their vows. Some of the nuns made their declarations more vivid:
fifty-six years I have been a Carmelite. I desire to have the same
number of years more to be consecrated to the Lord.” (Sr. of Jesus
“I became a religious by my own will. I have made up my
mind to go on wearing this habit, even if I have to purchase this joy
with my own blood.” (Sr. Euphrasie)
“A good spouse desires to remain with her husband. I do not wish to abandon my spouse.” (Sr. Saint Francis Xavier)
I will be able to double the bonds of my attachment to God, then, with
all my strength and zeal, I will do so.” (Sr. Thérèse of the Heart of
In February of the following year, the nuns were ordered to
elect, in the presence of the municipal officers, a prioress and a
bursar. Mo. Thérèse was unanimously re-elected; Mo. Henriette was voted
bursar. The state then provided the eighteen intern nuns with decent
ENEMIES OF THE REPUBLIC
provision of the Civil Constitution of the Clergy required priests and
religious to take a loyalty oath that required them “to be faithful to
the nation, the law and the king; and to maintain the constitution with
all their power.” What the ambiguous statement meant was that they were
to give the revolutionary government the right to control and
democratize the Church in complete disregard of Papal jurisdiction. Pope
Pius VI issued on 10 March 1791 a condemnation of the Civil
Constitution of the Clergy and forbade the clergy to take it. A schism
was inevitable. The clergy was split between the “juring” (those who
took the oath) and “non-juring” bishops and priests.
after Easter of 1792, the guillotine was installed in Paris. Everyone
was talking about it, even in the Carmel of Compiègne, and everyone
feared it. In September, around 1,400 “enemies of the Republic” were
killed during the infamous September Massacre; among them were hundreds
of non-juring priests.
A belief that they would all be called to
martyrdom someday prevailed in the community. Between June and September
of that year, Mo. Thérèse proposed that the community offer their lives
to God with an act of oblation “in order that the divine peace which
Christ has brought to the world may be restored to the Church and to the
State.” All promised to unite themselves to it, except for Sr. of Jesus
Crucified and Sr. Charlotte of the Resurrection, the two most senior
nuns. Trembling and fearful that they would end more than fifty years of
peaceful life in Carmel with a bloody death, both withdrew from the
community. Before the day ended, however, they prostrated themselves
before the prioress and tearfully asked forgiveness for their momentary
weakness. All the nuns renewed the act until the very day of their
UNITED IN SPITE OF DISPERSION
August 1792, the Convention ordered all French citizens receiving state
pension to take the Oath of Liberté-Egalité which required them “to be
faithful to the nation and to maintain liberty and equality or to die
defending them.” Three days later, all religious houses were ordered
At this point in time, the Carmelites of Compiègne had
been reduced to nineteen with the death of two sisters. The remaining
nuns left the monastery and garbed secular clothes on 14 September 1792.
They divided themselves into four groups with the prioress,
sub-prioress, bursar and another nun heading each.
September, with the permission of Fr. Rigaud, their ecclesiastical
superior, they all took the Oath of Liberté-Egalité. Thus, all,
including the tourières, were eligible to receive pension from the
state. Only Sr. Constance, the novice, was excluded from this right
because the members of the Directory of Compiègne did not consider her a
For two years, each community strove to continue
being faithful to their regular observances. “The beautiful accord which
reigned among all the sisters ensured that each one never deviated from
her duties. One could say that obedience was practiced with all the
exactitude of the cloister.” It was difficult to find a priest to
celebrate the Eucharist; nonetheless, the sisters faithfully recited the
divine office at the appointed hours. Since their houses were not far
apart, they managed to be in frequent contact with one another.
Secretly, they sustained the members of the Confraternity of the
Scapular and continued its enrollment. The extern sisters continued to
buy provisions and to share these out among the different houses. The
dynamism of the entire community was sustained by the daily renewal of
the act of oblation and the solicitude of Mo. Thérèse.
REIGN OF TERROR
worsened when Maximilien Robespierre and his henchmen, the radical and
fanatical Jacobins, came into power during the summer of 1793. The
Committee of Public Safety was established to protect the republic from
foreign invasions and to control prices and wages all over the country.
Along with this was institutionalized the infamous Reign of Terror. It
not only apprehended and punished with death those who refused to be
conscripted into the army but also anyone suspected of any unpatriotic
behavior – or thoughts!
Within its brief one-year and one-month
existence, over 300,000 were imprisoned of whom 50,000 were executed by
musketry or in the dreaded guillotine or died in prison. France was
literally transformed into an abattoir for her own people. Obsession
replaced reality as the radical leaders sought to establish a utopistic
Anticlericalism reached its apex and, later, the
revolution began to take the guise of a religion. First there was the
abolition of the Gregorian calendar. Then churches were turned into
“Temples of Reason”. Next, the juring clergy were ordered to marry
(about 20,000 heeded). Finally, Robespierre established the Cult of the
Supreme Being in an attempt to totally de-christianize France.
March 1794, Sr. Marie of the Incarnation went to Paris to settle a
serious family problem.Her stay was prolonged until June. Mother Thérèse
was also obliged to go to the capital on 13 June to bid farewell to her
old and widowed mother who was to return to Franche-Comté, the cradle
of her family. During that sojourn, the two nuns were by chance in the
streets when tumbrils carrying those to be guillotined passed before
them.Sr. Marie tried to get Mother Thérèse to avoid the sight.The
prioress, however, refused to move:“My good sister, allow me the sad
consolation of seeing how martyrs go to their death.”Sr. Marie later
wrote that two of the condemned fixed a deep gaze on them as if to say,
“Soon, you will follow us.”
On the evening of 21 June, Mother
Thérèse promptly returned by stagecoach to Compiègne.She was met by some
of the nuns who informed her that members of the Committee for
Revolutionary Surveillance had searched all their four abodes that very
morning and seized all their papers.The search continued the following
day. A portrait of the guillotined king, a copy of his will, letters
from their deported non-juring confessor and scapulars of the Sacred
Heart were found and branded “seditious”.They also took the food
prepared for the nuns, depriving them of nourishment that day.
previously mentioned, nineteen of the Carmelites of Compiègne were
still alive by the middle of 1792.During the time of the arrest, Sr.
Marie of the Incarnation was still in Paris. Since March 1794, Sr.
Thérèse of Jesus and Sr. Stanislas of Providence were in Rosières.Thus
only sixteen were arrested. Through the biography written by Sr. Marie,
we were not only able to know much about the arrest and execution of her
community (in this entire chapter, unless noted otherwise, her accounts
are enclosed in quotations)but also about their lives.
Thérèse of St. Augustine (Marie-Madeleine-Claudine Lidoine; b. 22
September 1752 in Paris), a woman “so loved by God,” was serving her
second term as prioress when the Revolution struck. Her correspondences
reveal a woman of great human and supernatural qualities.
St. Louis (Marie-Anne-Françoise Brideau; b. 07 December 1751 in
Belfort), the sub-prioress, was given to silence and gentleness. She
celebrated the divine office with admirable remembrance and exactitude.
Henriette of Jesus (Marie-Françoise de Croissy;b. 18 June 1745 in
Paris), the novice mistress, was the predecessor of Mother Thérèse. She
“made herself esteemed for the qualitites of her heart, her tender
piety, zeal, the happy combination of every religious virtue.”
Charlotte of the Resurrection (Anne-Marie-Madeleine Thouret;b. 16
September 1715 in Mouy, Oise), the most senior member of the community,
possessed a lively temperament. Fond of frequenting balls in her youth,
she entered Carmel “after a tragic event.”She served as infirmarian to
the point of developing a spinal column deformation that she endured
Sr. of Jesus Crucified (Marie-Anne Piedcourt; b. 09
December 1715 in Paris) was younger than Sr. Charlotte by a few months
but was senior to her by profession. She occupied the office of
sacristan for many years.Speaking about their persecutors, she said:
“How can we be angry with them when they open the gates of heaven for
Sr. Thérèse of the Heart of Mary (Marie Hanisset; b. 18
January 1742 in Reims), first sister of the turn and third bursar, was
endowed with wisdom, prudence and discernment.
Sr. Thérèse of St.
Ignatius (Marie-Gabrielle Trezel; b. 04 April 1743 in Compiègne), the
“hidden treasure” of the community, was undoubtedly a mystic. Asked why
she never brought a book for meditation, she replied: “The good God has
found me so ignorant that none but He would be able to instruct me.”
Julie-Louise of Jesus (Rose Cretien de Neuville; b. 30 December 1741 in
Evreux) entered Carmel as a widow. She dreaded the guillotine but she
chose to stay with her sisters.
Sr. Marie-Henriette of Providence
(Marie-Annette Pelras; b. 16 June 1760 in Cajarc, Lot), the assitant
infirmarian, first entered the Sisters of Charity and Christian
Instruction of Nevers but left it for the more secluded Carmelite life.
Youngest among the choir nuns, she possessed a most exquisite beauty.
Euphrasie of the Immaculate Conception (Marie-Claude-Cyprienne Brard;
b. 12 May 1736 in Bourth, Eure),the “philosopher” and “joie de vivre of
the recreation,”admitted that she was filled for some time with
resentment against her prioress. She worked very hard on herself that in
the end she was able to overcome her negative disposition.
with these ten choir nuns were three lay sisters. Sr. Marie of the Holy
Spirit (Angélique Roussel; b. 03 August 1742 at Fresne-Mazancourt,
Somme) was afflicted by atrocious pains throughout her body, which she
heroically bore up until her death. Sr. St. Martha (Marie Dufour, b 02
October 1741 at Bannes, Sarthe) edified her companions with her virtues.
Sr. St. Francis Xavier (Elisabeth-Juliette Vérolot; b. 13 January 1764
at Lignières, Aube) was frank, lively, and full of goodness.
youngest member of the community was Sr. Constance(Marie-Geneviève
Meunier; b. 28 May 1765 at Saint Denis, Seine)Circumstances forced her
to remain as a novice for seven years. Her parents wanted her to return
home and even sent the police for this purpose. Sr. Constance told them:
“Gentlemen, I thank my parents if, out of love, they fear the danger
that may befall me. Yet nothing except death can separate me from my
mothers and sisters.”
The two tourières were blood sisters.
Anne-Catherine Soiron (b. 02 February 1742 in Compiègne)tearfully begged
the prioress not to let her and her sister be separated from the
community during those crucial hours. Thérèse Soiron,(b. 23 January 1748
in Compiègne) possessed such a rare beauty and charming personality
that the ill-fated Princess de Lamballe wanted her to be attached to her
court. She responded: “Madame, even if your Highness would offer me the
crown of France, I would prefer to remain in this house, where the good
God placed me and where I found the means of salvation which I would
not find in the house of your Highness.
23 June, the sixteen nuns were forcibly reunited in the Maison de
Reclusion, a former monastery of the Visitation Nuns. 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.
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.
At 10:00 a.m. of 12 July,
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 repast,
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.”
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 (16 July) 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.
around 9:00 a.m. of 17 July, 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.”
then turned to the other nuns 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 advises. 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.”
"They are your accomplices!" was the blunt reply of the presiding judge. In the end,
the sixteen were convicted as enemies of the people. A sentence was
given: death by guillotine.
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.
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 nuns had the opportunity to dine in
common before their execution.
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
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
The guillotine had been standing for more than a month
already at the Barrière du Trône. Upon arriving there, Sr. Constance
suddenly accused herself before Mother Thérèse of not having finished
her divine office.ioress, 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.
" Citzeness Marie Geneviève Meunier!”
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.
Sr. Constance mounted the
scaffold singing the psalm the nuns chanted daily to announce their
coming into the house of God: “O praise the Lord, all you nations…”
Her sisters followed: “…acclaim him, all you peoples! Strong is his love for us; he is faithful for ever.”
the sisters followed the example of the novice. They each went to their
death joining the song of those waiting for their turn.While the blade
of the guillotine snuffed their lives one by one, the chorus progressed
into a decrescendo. As she ascended the scaffold, Sr. of Jesus Crucified
was assisted by the assistants of the executioner.“My friends,” she
told them, “I forgive you with all my heart, as I desire forgiveness
Finally, only one voice was left.
"Citizeness Marie Madeleine Claudine Lidoine!”
seen fifteen of her daughters precede her to the scaffold, Mother
Thérèse followed them to the guillotine. At the sixteenth thud, there
was nothing left… but silence. On that day, it was said, more than one
religious vocation was born and just as many conversions took place.
days later, amidst cacophonous shouts and screams, an infuriated and
disillusioned crowd led a man to his death on the guillotine. “Down with
the tyrant!” they cried. This time, it was the turn of Maximilien
Robespierre. More than a week later, an enervated Antoine
Fouquier-Tinville followed his fate on the very instrument where he had
sent hundreds to their death. And with the inglorious end of these two
died, also, the Reign of Terror.
THE DECREE ON THE MARTYRDOM OF
MARIE-MADELEINE-CLAUDINE LIDOINE (THÉRÈSE OF ST. AUGUSTINE) AND HER
SIXTEEN COMPANION MARTYRS WAS PROMULGATED ON 24 JUNE 1905.
THEY WERE BEATIFIED ON 17 MAY 1906.
Thank you to HelpFellowship.org for this post.