The Blessed Carmelite Martyrs of Compiègne *
July 17, 2017
During the French Revolution’s Reign of Terror, over 40,000 persons were executed for their fidelity to the Catholic Faith. The sixteen Carmelite martyrs of Compiègne, beatified by Pope St. Pius X in 1906, were among this vast number of Christ’s faithful, yet their testimony is particularly striking.
When their lodgings were invaded in June 1794, revolutionaries shattered their devotional objects. The revolutionary who trampled their tabernacle underfoot told them that their convent should be turned into a dog kennel. In the prison where they were taken, they composed a chant for their impending martyrdom. The original copy of the chant still exists. The last verse pays special homage to Our Lady, singing:
“Holy Virgin, our model, August queen of martyrs, deign to strengthen our zeal / And purify our desires, protect France even yet, help us mount to Heaven, / Make us feel even in these places, the effects of your power. Sustain your children, / Submissive, obedient, dying, dying with Jesus and in our King believing.”
On July 17 they were brought to trial, and charged with having received arms. Their prioress, Mother Teresa of St. Augustine, answered by holding up a crucifix and stating: “Here are the only arms that we have ever had in our house.” When the Sisters were charged with “fanaticism”, the prioress asked what was meant by this term. The prosecutor’s reply was “your attachment to your childish beliefs and your silly religious practices.” One of the Sisters replied, “Let us rejoice, my dear Mother and Sisters, in the joy of the Lord, that we shall die for our holy religion, our faith, our confidence in the Holy Roman Catholic Church.”
The journey to the guillotine took more than an hour. All the way the Carmelite Sisters sang the Miserere, the Salve Regina, and the Te Deum. When they reached the place of their execution, the prioress asked permission to be executed last. The youngest went first, climbing the steps, it is said, “with the air of a queen going to receive her crown”, and singing “Laudate Dominum omnes gentes”. Each Sister followed her example, until only the prioress remained, holding in her hand a small figure of our Blessed Mother. The execution of each of these martyrs—eleven professed Carmelites, three lay sisters, and two externs—took only two minutes. By contrast, the joy into which they entered on that day of July 17, 1794, and the example they set for us in our own day, is everlasting.*
* Largely taken from “The Sixteen Carmelite Martyrs of Compiègne”.