Pope Francis opens special trial to canonize 16 Carmelite martyrs of the French Revolution

Pope Francis opens a special trial to canonize 16 Carmelite martyrs of the French Revolution.

The Blessed Martyrs of Compiègne were guillotined for their faith on July 17, 1794. / Photo illustration.

Denver Newsroom, Feb. 25, 2022 / 1:40 p.m. (CNA).

Their voices sang from the scaffold as they went to their deaths alone on July 17, 1794, during the Reign of Terror, the chilling period of the French Revolution that oversaw the execution of at least 17,000 people.

At the request of the bishops of France and the Order of Discalced Carmelites (OCD), Pope Francis agreed on February 22 to open a special process known in the Catholic Church as “equipollent canonization” to elevate the 16 Carmelite martyrs of Compiègne at the altars.

Equipollent or “equivalent” canonization is, like the regular canonization process, an invocation of papal infallibility where the pope declares a person to be among the saints in heaven. It avoids the formal process of canonization as well as the ceremony, since it occurs through the issuance of a papal bull.

The saint’s long-standing veneration and demonstrated heroic virtue are still required, and although no modern miracles are required, the fame of miracles occurring before or after his death is taken into account after study by the historical section of the Congregation of the saints.

The process is very rare. Pope Francis declared other saints by equipollent canonization, such as Saint Peter Faber and Saint Margaret of Costello, which Pope Benedict XVI also did for Saint Hildegard of Bingen and Pius XI granted for Saint Albert the Great.

The long-venerated martyrs include 11 nuns, three lay sisters and two externs.

Inspired by the spontaneous action of the only novice among them — and the first and youngest to die — each of the 16 members of a Carmelite monastery in Compiègne sang the Laudate Dominum as she climbed the steps leading to the guillotine. The prioress of the convent grants solemn permission to die to each sister who, kneeling before her just after having kissed the statue of the Blessed Virgin in her hands, climbs the steps of the scaffold. The Prioress was the last to die, her voice echoing until the metal scorched her head and body.

Their deaths calmed the crowd and 10 days later the Reign of Terror was itself silenced, a feat for which the sisters offered their executions to God.

Professed Carmelite and EWTN host Fr John Hogan added his weight to news of Pope Francis’ action on Twitter.

“These Carmelite nuns remained true to the faith even though the state demanded that they adopt what was ultimately a new religion – lay worship,” he tweeted, adding that there are “many parallels with what is happening now”.

Their feast day will remain July 17.

A heroic plan to end the Terror

Beatified in 1906, the sisters’ fidelity to their vows and the remarkable testimony of their death inspired everything from novels such as “The Song and the Scaffold”, to films, and even a famous opera entitled “Dialogue des carmélites”. inspired by the book of the same name written by the famous Catholic novelist and essayist Georges Bernanos.

Destined to meet their death during the chaos of one of the most anti-Catholic persecutions to face the Church, the sisters imitated the manner of the dead of the early Christians in their piety and practice of singing hymns and traditional offices. as they went to salute their death. .

The Carmelite monastery was founded in 1641 just an hour’s drive north of Paris and renowned for its fervor and religious practice. His daughters will particularly practice and bear witness to this fervor throughout the years of the French Revolution.

Among the first acts of the anti-Catholic Civil Constitution of the Clergy in 1790 was to force priests to swear loyalty to the civil government and to ban religious life, although it took two years before the sisters were finally stripped of their their ability to wear clothes. and pray in common within the walls of the monastery.

On the feast of the Exaltation of the Cross, September 14, 1792, the cloistered Carmelites, vowed to enclosure and vowed by religious consecration to the contemplation of heaven, reintegrated a society torn apart by the bloody chaos of the French Revolution.

They had already formulated their plan.

According to the report filed by Sister Marie of the Incarnation, absent at the time of the arrest and therefore not executed, at Easter 1792, the prioress of the convent Mother Teresa of Saint-Augustin suggested to the sisters an additional vow : to offer their lives in exchange for the end of the French Revolution and the Catholic Church in France.

When the convent was dissolved in September after the government looted and confiscated all the nearby Catholic churches, the sisters continued their religious life underground in a set of apartments in Paris for the next two years. The revolution kept getting worse before the sisters were discovered and given the opportunity to fulfill this wish.

In 1794 the Reign of Terror began and the bloodshed accelerated. In addition to the 17,000 executed by the Committee of Public Safety, 300,000 were arrested, of whom approximately 10,000 died in prison.

Even the cultural elements of Christianity have been attacked. The authorities changed the working week to 10 days, to eliminate all traces of Christianity in the culture, including the practice of Sunday rest.

The body of Voltaire, proclaimed patron saint of atheists during the Reign of Terror because of his vehement anti-Catholic and atheist positions, was exhumed and exhibited in the streets. Dictator Maximilien Robespierre, who oversaw much of the bloodshed, also marched through the streets and proclaimed a god inside the famous Notre-Dame Cathedral, repurposed as a temple dedicated to the goddess Reason.

Sing hymns of praise

In this climate, in June 1794, the sisters were arrested, tried and condemned by the Committee of Public Safety as counter-revolutionaries and religious fanatics. After 26 days in prison, on July 17, 1794, the 16 members of a Carmelite monastery in Compiègne were processed through an open prison cart through the streets of Paris until their death.

The journey took two hours. The constant harassment of the large crowd gathered to witness their fate and the horses’ difficulty in dealing with the crowd contributed to the length, in addition to the fact that, according to onlookers, the horses had been frightened by the smell of blood for ages. weeks of executions.

On the way to the scaffold, the sisters sang hymns of praise, the Misererethe Salver Regina, and evening vespers among other prayers and songs. At the place of execution, the sisters sang both the Veni Creator Spiritus and the Te Deumas was the custom during the religious profession of vows, and then the only novice, Sister Constance, pronounced her vows.

It was the spontaneous intonation of Laudate Dominum by Sister Constance at the end on the scaffold, however, which was intended to fill the imagination of opera composers and novelists, though popularly depicted in artistic depictions as the Salver Regina, Veni Creator Spiritus, or the Te Deum.

The definitive history, written in French and titled “History of the Carmelites of Compiègne”, detailed the vow proposed by Mother Teresa of Saint Augustine and the manner of the executions.

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