A visitor in Paris today might arrive at the Place de la Nation, a hub of transportation and commerce on the right bank of the Seine River, and never know about the revolutionary deeds of blood committed there.
Restaurants, taxis and buses ring around the Place de la Nation and its statue depicting Marianne, the symbol of the Republic, while locals walk their dogs in the park. But here, in the last hot summer of the French Revolution’s Reign of Terror, on July 17, 1794, 14 nuns, three lay sisters and two servants of the Carmelite house of Compiègne died for their Catholic faith.
What brought them to such a bloody end beneath the blade of the guillotine the day after the feast of Our Lady of Mount Carmel?
The answer might be surprising if we presume the ideals of liberty, fraternity and equality truly summarize the spirit of the French Revolution. After the fall of the traditional, absolute monarchy and the rise of the National Assembly with a constitutional monarchy in 1789, the state attacked the Catholic Church, confiscating churches and closing convents. . . .
For pilgrims seeking to walk the path of the Carmelites, after leaving the whirl of the Place de la Nation, they should walk to Cimitière de Picpus where the Carmelites are buried in one of the two mass graves behind the wall next to the family tombs. The opening hours are limited, the entrance fee is only two euros, and it is far off the tourist track.
But it is peaceful and apart, perfect for a traveler who wants to be a pilgrim in Paris, contemplating the mystery and the glory of martyrdom.
The ultimate source on the Blessed Carmelite Martyrs of Compiegne is William Bush's To Quell the Terror: The True Story of the Carmelite Martyrs of Compiegne from ICS Publications: