Monday, July 17, 2006

The Martyrs of Compiegne - Bl. Teresa of St. Augustine and Her Companions

You are all probably tired about hearing about these Carmelite feast days, but this one was too good to pass up. (American) Jenny told me about these martyrs awhile ago, but I kind of forgot about them until I went to Mass today and found out it was their feast day.

Here's a quick summary:

The French revolution was a dark time for the Church in France. Churches were converted into storage houses or temples worshipping "reason" as a god. Religious icons were replaced with icons dedicated to human wisdom, the stones from the Bastille were almost venerated like relics, and freedom from external authority was seen as something very desirable. It was illegal to wear the habit of a religious order in public and priests were often attacked.

In the midst of this conflict, the Discalced Carmelite nuns at Compiegne decided to make an offering of their lives to God to stop this conflict. They renewed this offering daily asking for the grace to give their lives so the conflict could end. During this time the sisters were forced to meet clandestinely and wore lay clothes, but since they only had one pair they kept their habits so they could wear them while their other clothes were being washed.

One day they were arrested. They were able to dress in their habits and were put on trial. They were convicted on evidence that they had a litany to the Sacred Heart of Jesus in their possession, wore habits, wore the brown scapular, had images of the Sacred Heart of Jesus, and other charges. This sort of event gives new meaning to the question "If being Christian were a crime would there be enough evidence to convict you?" The nuns were quickly convicted and sent to the guillotine.

They went as brides to their wedding. The whole way they chanted psalms and hymns. They chanted the Veni Creator and the Te Deum when they were getting close. When they arrived at the guillotine the youngest nun knelt before the prioress, Teresa of St. Augustine and asked permission to die. She began singing Laudate Dominum omnes gentes ("Praise the Lord all you nations") and went to her death. In an age where individual freedom was being worshipped as a god each nun knelt before her superior and asked permission to offer her life as a martyr for the faith so France could be restored to peace. The sisters ascended the scaffold and didn't let the executioner touch them. They placed their heads directly in the guillotine and were beheaded for the faith. Silence reigned during the execution. There was no drumroll, no jeers from the crowd. The only sound that could be heard were the sisters singing praise to God that they were found worthy to suffer for love of Him.

Ten days later the Reign of Terror ended and the provisional revolutionary government came to an end. These sisters were martyred the day after the Solemnity of Our Lady of Mt. Carmel July, 17 1794.

More information can be found here.

These sisters have a very impressive story and there is a lot this story can teach us. Their martyrdom really was a prophetic witness that proclaimed the gospel to a nation that had abandoned it.


Blogger Sean Nolan said...

That is a powerful story of martyrdom, a true "witness" (martyr means witness) to the faith. Especially amazing is that the sisters nelt before their superior and asked to die. They took their vow of obedience to a level I wouldn't have thought of. They removed their individual aspect from the act and made it a sort of community sacrifice in that they subordinated to the church hierarchy.

5:48 PM  

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