The Blessed Carmelite Martyrs of Compiègne
On July 17, 1794, sixteen Carmelites caught up in the French Revolution were guillotined at the Place du Trône Renversé (now called Place de la Nation), in Paris.
When the revolution started in 1789, a group of twenty-one discalced Carmelites lived in a monastery in Compiegne France, founded in 1641. The monastery was ordered closed in 1790 by the Revolutionary government, and the nuns were disbanded. Sixteen of the nuns were accused of living in a religious community in 1794. They were arrested on June 22 and imprisoned in a Visitation convent in Compiegne There they openly resumed their religious life.
For a full twenty months before their execution, the sisters came together in an act of consecration “whereby each member of the community would join with the others in offering herself daily to God, soul and body in holocaust to restore peace to France and to her Church.”
The nuns were not just mere victims of the Revolution overcome by circumstances. Each contemplated her martyrdom; each understood her offering. Each sought that “greater love” of giving herself for her fellow man in imitation of the Divine Lamb Who redeemed humanity.
On July 12, 1794, the Carmelites were arrested, taken to Paris, where they were placed on trial, accused of treason, and sentenced to death. Five days later, the sixteen Carmelites were led through Paris in an open cart to the town center to be guillotined. Their hair was cut and clothing ripped to expose their necks in preparation for the execution.
Before their execution they knelt and chanted the “Veni Creator Spiritus”, as at a religious profession, after which they all renewed aloud their baptismal and religious vows. They went to the guillotine singing the Salve Regina. Each nun, one by one, from the youngest to the oldest, made their way to the guillotine, pausing to kneel before the Prioress, asking “Permission to die Mother.” To which the Mother Superior responded, “Go, my daughter.”
The heads and the bodies of the sixteen martyrs were thrown into a common grave, with the bodies of the other 1298 victims of the Revolution. Thus, there was no way to obtain relics.
Shortly after the nuns offered their lives in exchange for peace, the bloodiest part of the French Revolution, the Reign of Terror, finally came to an end. They were beatified in 1906 by Pope St. Pius X. Their martyrdom was immortalized by the composer Francois Poulenc in his famous opera Dialogues des Carmelites.
“Courage, my sister, the yoke of a Carmelite is necessarily very light or very heavy in proportion as one’s courage bears it or one’s cowardice drags it.” –St. Teresa of St. Augustine (Martyr of Compiegne)
“The secret of sweetening our sacrifices is to attend a little less to what costs us and a little more to what we value” –St. Teresa of St. Augustine (Martyr of Compiegne)
“Love will always be victorious. When someone loves, he can do everything.” — St. Teresa of St. Augustine (Martyr of Compiegne)
Prayer for the feast of July 17th
Lord 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.
Prayer for obtaining graces through the intercession of the Blessed Carmelites of Compiègne
Lord our God, You called the 16 blessed Carmelites of Compiègne to show you the greatest testimony of love through the offering of their blood that “peace may be returned to the Church and to the State.” Remember the joyful and heroic fidelity with which they glorified you. May your goodness manifest their favor with you, in granting through their intercession the grace (the miracle) that we ask you in the Hearts of Jesus and Mary. Through Jesus Christ, our Lord. Amen!
To learn more about these martyrs, Catholicism, and modern times, read the essay “The Mantle of Elijah: The Martyrs of Compiegne as Prophets of the Modern Age” by Terrye Newkirk, OCDS.