Tuesday, July 17, 2012

July 17: Memorial - Carmelite Martyrs of Compiegne

Today is another day for Carmelites around the world. We remember the Martyrs of Carmelite Martyrs of Compiegne. These cloistered nuns went to guillotine for not renouncing their vows during the French Revolution.  As they waited, they sang the Salve Regina, which my secular Carmelite does at the end of each monthly meeting. The violence ended soon after the nuns paid the ultimate sacrifice.

The story is rather remarkable. I'm going to refer you to a 2010 post by "Clare" which captures it quite well.

While France reeled in the throws of the revolution a group of 16 Carmelite nuns continued their prayerful lives in the cloister.

On October 29, 1789 the sisters were directly affected for the first time by the revolution when the government decreed that the profession of vows for all religious orders was to be suspended. The prioress of the Carmelites - Mother Therese of St. Augustine - was distressed with this order because it prevented their sole novice, Sr. Constance, from making her final profession of vows. Sr. Constance was no stranger to objections to her vocation. As Mother Therese wrote "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 government's next attack on the Church came in the Civil Constitution on the Clergy which, among other things, ordered the suppresion of all religious orders and the "liberation" of any monks or nuns who should wish to renounce their vows. Government officials arrived at the monastery at Compiegne on August 15, 1790 to offer the sisters their "freedom." The sisters unanimously declared that they had no intention of renouncing their vows. Some of the sisters were rather more forceful. Sister of Jesus Crucified declared "For fifty-six years I have been a Carmelite. I desire to have the same number of years more to be consecrated to the Lord." Sister Euphrasie stated "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." Sister Saint Francis Xavier displayed her love of the Lord when she stated "A good spouse desires to remain with her husband. I do not wish to abandon my spouse." Sister Therese of the Heart of Mary finished "If I will be able to double the bonds of my attachment to God, then, with all my strength and zeal, I will do so."

The infamous guillotine was erected in Paris two weeks after Easter in 1792. At this time Mother Therese instructed her sisters to offer everything they could for an end to the massacres; in her own words "in order that the Divine peace which Christ has brought to the world may be restored to the Church and to the State."

The government continued in its persecution of the Church with a decree that all religious orders must take the Oath of Liberte-Egalite and, three days later, that all monasteries must be vacated. On September 14, 1792 the Carmelites of Compiegne took on secular clothing and divided into four groups to live inconspicuously in the town. For two years the Sisters struggled to maintain their religious life in the world outside the cloister.

In the summer of 1793 Maximilien Robespierre and his Jacobin henchmen attained power and instituted the infamous Reign of Terror which led thousands of French citizens, many of whom were clergy and religious, to the guillotine.

Sister Marie and Mother Therese were obliged to go to Paris in March 1794 for family reasons. While walking down the street the sisters were confronted with the sight of tumbrils carrying victims to the guillotine. Sister Marie attempted to avert Mother Therese' gaze but she told her sister "allow me the sad consolation of seeing how martyrs go to their death."

Upon the return of Mother Therese to Compiegne she received the report from her sisters that all four of their houses had been searched by the Committee for Revolutionary Surveillance and all their papers and food had been seized.

Shortly after the sisters were arrested... [continue reading the Martyrs of Compiegne at Clare's Catholic Clutter]

Further reading:

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The obedient are not held captive by Holy Mother Church;
it is the disobedient who are held captive by the world!

- Diane M. Korzeniewski

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