The French Revolution and the Carmelite Martyrs of Compiègne
The Martyrs of Compiègne describes the 16 Carmelites (all of them from the Carmel of Compiègne) consisting of 11 discalced nuns, 3 lay sisters, and 2 tertiaries/externs who were executed in Compiègne (today referred to as Place de la Nation, Paris, France) by the guillotine on 17th July in 1794.
This occurred during the infamous Reign of Terror that occurred at height of the French Revolution.
They were the first-ever martyrs executed during the revolution and have since been recognized as saints. The actual beautification occurred in 1902 and canonization would follow four years later.
Four years prior to execution, the revolutionary government passed the Civil Constitution of the Clergy of 1790. This law required the Catholic Church to operate under the full control of the revolutionary government.
Many religious orders were effectively banned and all church land confiscated. Suppression of monasteries became frequent amidst opposition.
On that fateful day (17th July 1794), the government had had enough of the disobedient sisters. So, they were rounded up and brought to court for trial which ended with their sentencing to death by guillotine.
Providentially, they only wore their outlawed religious garments because their only secular garments weren’t ready yet for this defining occasion.
Judging from the weight of the offense and the traditions of the time, it might have been just right for the guilty to be condemned in their rightful garments of offense.
All the 16 nuns were paraded in the streets of Paris on their way to the gallows. As they approached their scaffold, they sang and chanted hymns, more so the holy Veni Sancte Spiritus.
Each one ascended up the stairs, took a few seconds to renew her vows before bending under the blade of the guillotine. With each blade’s fall, the singing and chants became less profound and diminished as the nuns got fewer, voice by voice.
Once all the sixteenth had been executed and confirmed dead, there was a somber silence. Surprisingly, this was unusual if you consider the custom and traditions of the time as far as executions were concerned.
Typically, execution would be preceded by excitement and a drumroll; and after the execution, the crowd would erupt in cheers and glee, paradoxically believing they were celebrating and cheering for such values as freedom, reason, and equality.
This time, however, the mood was dull and somber – no cheering, no drums, no celebration, just a sea of saddened watchers. The crowd then dispersed in silence.
It seems the nuns sacrificed their lives for peace on the land because the terror ended ten days after they’ve been guillotined.
Who were the martyrs?
Here is a list of all the 11 nuns, 3 lay sisters, and 2 externs/tertiaries:
Mother Teresa (1752 – 1794) of St. Augustine
Mother St. Louis (1752 – 1794), sub-prioress (also known as Marie-Anne [Antoinette] Brideau)
Mother Henriette of Jesus (1745 – 1994), an ex-prioress
Sister Mary (1715 – 1794) of Jesus Crucified (also known as Marie-Anne Piedcourt)
Sister Charlotte (1715 – 1794) of the Resurrection, an ex-sub-prioress
Sister Euphrasia (1736 – 1794) of Immaculate Conception (also known as Marie-Claude Cyprienne)
Sister Teresa (1740 – 1794) of Sacred Heart of Mary (also known as Marie-Antoniette Hanisset)
Sister Julie Louise (professed in 1777) also known as Rose-Chrétien de la Neuville)
Sister Teresa (1443 – 1794) of St. Ignatius (also known as Marie-Gabrielle Trézel)
Sister Mary-Henrietta (1760 – 1794) of Providence, (also known as Anne Petras)
Sister Constance (1765 – 1794) of St. Denis, (also known as Marie-Geneviève Meunier)
Sister Mary (1742 – 1794) of the Holy Spirit, (also known as Angélique Roussel)
Sister St. Francis Xavier (1764 – 1794) (also known as Julie Vérolot)
Sister St. Martha (1742 – 1794) (Marie Dufour).
Catherine Soiron, (1742 – 1794)
Thérèse Soiron, (1748 – 1794)