Today's Saint

The Blessed Martyrs of Compiègne

The Carmelites of Compiègne: Martyrs in the Age of Enlightenment

In September of 1792, by decree of the French Revolution’s National Assembly, the Carmelites of Compiègne, France, had been cast out of their convent and forced to live as private citizens. Though they had been required to give up their religious habits and wear lay clothes, the nuns bravely continued to follow their Rule and to meet daily to recite communal prayers. This insistence on living out their vows coupled with their refusal to take the oath of allegiance to the new constitution ultimately led to their arrest and imprisonment on June 22, 1794.

Convicted of crimes against the state on July 17, 1794, the sixteen Carmelite nuns met their deaths by the guillotine in Paris. The usually raucous Parisian crowd was utterly silent as the nuns mounted the scaffold singing the Salve Regina and the Veni Creator after having first renewed their vows of baptism and religious profession. The first to go to her death was the novice, Sister Constance (Marie-Geneviève Meunier); the last to die was the Prioress, Mother Teresa of St. Augustine (Madeleine-Claudine Ledoine). The oldest of the nuns at the age of 79 was Sister of Jesus Crucified (Marie-Anne Piedcourt), who said to her executioners, “I forgive you as heartily as I wish God to forgive me.”

The heads and bodies of the martyrs were thrown into a deep sandpit in a cemetery at Picpus. Because this pit contains over 1300 victims of the Revolution, there seems to be no hope of their relics being recovered; however the Benedictine nuns of Stanbrook Abbey, Worcestershire, England, have five articles of the Carmelites’ clothing which was given to members of their order who had been imprisoned with the Carmelites in Paris.

The martyrs of Compiègne have been models of inspiration for all Carmelites, including Saint Thérèse of Lisieux, Saint Julie Billiart, Saint Madeleine Sophie Barat, Blessed Elizabeth of the Trinity, Blessed Titus Brandsma, and Saint Teresa Benedicta (Edith Stein). Their story has been the subject of numerous articles, books, a film, and even an opera, Poulenc’s Dialogues des Carmélites.

Other Saints We Remember Today

St. Alexis the Beggar (5th Century)

image: Compiègne Martyrs on stained glass in the Eglise Saint Honore d’Eylau (Paris) by GFreihalter / Wikimedia Commons (CC BY-SA 3.0)