Sixteen Carmelite nuns are commemorated on July 17 for their martyrdom gained in 1794 during the French Revolution. These sixteen were beatified in 1906, having been declared martyrs. The stunning faith of these women has inspired literary and artistic works which bring their story to the modern world, calling to mind the enduring faith and dedication which marked the souls of these cloistered nuns and in fact impelled them in their very lives towards their proffered holocaust.
The instigators and perpetuators of the Reign of Terror, “enlightened” rationalists that they were, found religious orders to be superfluous, folly, and even organized supporters of the anti-revolutionaries. The contemplatives especially were impugned, as their complete submission to God and lives of prayerful quietude could not be comprehended. The monastery of Compiegne was subjected to interrogation as to the motives of the professed sisters. Their prioress, Teresa of St. Augustine, was inspired to suggest to her community that they make a consecration and offering of their lives to God “so that Divine Peace, brought to earth by His beloved Son, would return to the Church and to the state.” They agreed and made a daily consecration and offering, which came to fruition two years later. The nuns were made to scatter from their monastery, but continued to meet and pray together until they were apprehended and imprisoned. Even in the hardship of the prison, the nuns remained serene and forgiving. They were known to sing hymns of praise and thanksgiving, even as they were driven by cart to the guillotine. The usually jeering crowds were silent. A witness later reported that they looked to be going to their weddings.
Prioress Teresa of St. Augustine had prepared her daughters for martyrdom, especially with the words, “Love will always be victorious. When someone loves, he can do everything.” These nuns loved deeply and well. They loved their Lord and they loved the Church and they loved the souls to whom they wished to bring peace. Each went before her Superior and requested a blessing and permission to die, and then, calmly singing, placed herself at the guillotine. Teresa of St. Augustine was the last to die in this manner. The bodies of the nuns were added to a mass grave. These nuns were among the last of the victims of the Reign of Terror, which ended just ten days later. The beautiful spectacle of the pure offering of themselves served to turn the masses against the works of the Terror.
These nuns did not seek martyrdom, but humbly offered themselves, and accepted the Will of God as it came. It was not in vain. Nothing offered in love is ever in vain. As secular humanism and relativism erode the underpinnings of American society, we can turn to these martyrs to pray for that same “Divine Peace” they begged for with their lives.
July 11, 2015