Wednesday, July 17, 2013

The Carmelite Martyrs of Compiegne on the Son Rise Morning Show

Today I'll be on the Son Rise Morning Show at 6:45 a.m. Central/7:45 a.m. Eastern because this is the memorial (in France) of the Carmelite martyrs of Compiegne, victims of the Committee for Public Safety and French Revolution, executed in Paris in 1794. Brian Patrick and I will discuss the sacrificial martyrdom of these Carmelites, who swore to offer their deaths for the peace of France. The Catholic martyrs of the French Revolution are probably as little known as the martyrs of the English Reformation have been, although I hope I've made a dent in that ignorance. Many priests and nuns suffered torture, execution--and exile during the Reign of Terror.

The Carmelites' story also has a great connection to the English Reformation and the Dissolution of the Monasteries. The exiled French priests and nuns who fled the Civil Constitution of the Clergy and the dangers of the Terror provoked feelings of sympathy in England. The fact that they were allowed to practice their faith while English Catholics were not contributed to the Catholic Relief movement in Parliament. Among those exiles were actually English Benedictine nuns from Cambrai--they were English nuns in exile on the Continent who then founded a new monastery at Stanbrook Abbey. The foundress of the Cambrai house was none other than Helen More, the great-great-granddaughter of St. Thomas More. Her name in religion became Dame Gertrude More. The Benedictines of Our Lady of Comfort in Cambrai wore the secular clothing of the Carmelites on their journey "home". Stanbrook Abbey was the inspiration for Rumer Godden's novel, In This House of Brede, one of my favorite books. According to her New York Time's obituary:

To do research on ''In This House of Brede,'' Ms. Godden lived for three years near Stanbrook Abbey. Her experience with the nuns there contributed to her decision to convert to Roman Catholicism in 1968. In many of her stories and novels, Ms. Godden would write about the rewards and perils of the contemplative life.

A couple of years ago, I went on a mini-pilgrimage in Paris to the site of the Blessed Carmelites' execution and then to the cemetery behind which their remains were dumped into mass graves: here are links to those posts: the site of execution and the chapel at Picpus, the cemetery grounds at Picpus, and the mass graves.

There were sixteen martyrs in all on July 17, 1794:

Choir Nuns
Mother Teresa of St. Augustine, prioress (Madeleine-Claudine Ledoine) b. 1752
Mother St. Louis, sub-prioress (Marie-Anne [or Antoinett] Brideau) b. 1752
Mother Henriette of Jesus, ex-prioress (Marie-Françoise Gabrielle de Croissy) b. 1745
Sister Mary of Jesus Crucified (Marie-Anne Piedcourt) b. 1715
Sister Charlotte of the Resurrection, ex-sub-prioress and sacristan (Anne-Marie-Madeleine Thouret) b. 1715
Sister Euphrasia of the Immaculate Conception (Marie-Claude Cyprienne) b. 1736
Sister Teresa of the Sacred Heart of Mary (Marie-Antoniette Hanisset) b. 1740
Sister Julie Louise of Jesus, widow (Rose-Chrétien de la Neuville) b. 1741
Sister Teresa of St. Ignatius (Marie-Gabrielle Trézel) b. 1743
Sister Mary-Henrietta of Providence (Anne Petras) b. 1760
Sister Constance, novice (Marie-Geneviève Meunier) b. 1765

Lay Sisters
Sister St. Martha (Marie Dufour) b. 1742
Sister Mary of the Holy Spirit (Angélique Roussel) b. 1742
Sister St. Francis Xavier (Julie Vérolot) b. 1764

Catherine Soiron b. 1742
Thérèse Soiron b. 1748

[Image Source: wikipedia commons--from the Carmel in Quidenham, Norfolk!]


  1. The Carmelite Martyrs of Compiegne were the inspiration of the 1957 opera "Dialogue of the Carmelites" by Francis Poulenc. Here's a video of the gripping final scene in which the sisters sing the "Salve Regina" as the go to the guillotine: The fall of the blade is include in the orchestration.

    By the way, I read your book recently and liked it very much.

  2. Sean Gallagher, thank you very much. Cimitiere Picpus, which I visited in 2010, has other operatic connections, because the poet Andrea Chenier is buried behind the wall too:
    I'm glad you enjoyed "Supremacy and Survival"!