Blessed Martyrs of Compiègne
“Love will always be victorious. When someone loves, he can do everything.” These words were spoken and lived out by Blessed Teresa of Saint Augustine, one of sixteen Carmelite nuns who, during the French Revolution (1789-1799), together gave the ultimate heroic witness to their faith and their fidelity to the Church and their Carmelite life.
These nuns belonged to the Discalced Carmelite community of Compiègne, France, which was founded in 1641. From its earliest days, this community had been known for its zeal in observing the Carmelite Rule and living in the true Teresian spirit. The nuns had also been esteemed by the French court, until the French Revolution broke out and changed matters drastically. Because they refused to stop wearing their religious habit, the nuns were immediately branded as enemies of the Revolution.
The nuns offered their lives as a sacrifice to God for a return of peace and order to France, and, after being thrown out of their monastery on September 14, 1792, they separated into four groups, living in different parts of Compiègne. They were discovered, arrested, and imprisoned together on June 24, 1794. They were soon transferred to the crowded and dismal Conciergerie prison in Paris. During their imprisonment, the nuns displayed a remarkable peace and confidence in God, and were even able to cheer up and comfort their fellow prisoners, showing that Christian charity can bring light to even the darkest of places and situations. On July 16, 1794, the Feast of Our Lady of Mount Carmel, one of the nuns, using paper she had obtained from a fellow prisoner, wrote a hymn to Our Lady, to the tune of La Marseillaise, France’s Revolutionary anthem.
On July 17, 1794, the sixteen Carmelite nuns were condemned to death by the revolutionary tribunal, having been charged with “fanaticism”, the tribunal’s term for their fidelity to the Church’s authority, their religious life, and their special devotion to the Sacred Heart of Jesus and Immaculate Heart of Mary. While the nuns were led away to their execution, the usually boisterous crowd of onlookers was unusually silent. The nuns, wearing their forbidden religious habits, broke this silence by singing the Miserere, the Salve Regina, and the Te Deum. At the base of the guillotine platform, they sang the Veni Creator as, one by one, beginning with the youngest, the nuns mounted the platform to be executed, having first renewed their religious vows at the hands of their Prioress, Mother Teresa of Saint Augustine, who was the last to be martyred. Shortly after Our Lord accepted the sacrifice of these courageous nuns, the bloodiest part of the French Revolution, the Reign of Terror, finally came to an end.
The feast day of the Blessed Martyrs of Compiègne is celebrated by the Carmelite Order on July 17.