Today we remember the sixteen Carmelite Martyrs of Compiègne: eleven Discalced Carmelite nuns, three lay sisters, and two externs (tertiaries of the Order, who would handle the community’s needs outside the monastery). They were sent to guillotine for not renouncing their vows during the French Revolution.
On October 29, 1789 the sisters were directly affected for the first time by the revolution when the government decreed that the profession of vows for all religious orders was to be suspended. The prioress of the Carmelites – Mother Therese of St. Augustine – was distressed with this order because it prevented their sole novice, Sr Constance, from making her final profession of vows.
Government officials arrived at the monastery at Compiegne on 15 August 1790 to offer the sisters their freedom. The sisters unanimously declared that they had no intention of renouncing their vows. Some of the sisters were rather more forceful. Sister of Jesus Crucified declared “For fifty-six years I have been a Carmelite. I desire to have the same number of years more to be consecrated to the Lord.” Sister Euphrasie stated “I became a religious by my own will. I have made up my mind to go on wearing this habit, even if I have to purchase this joy with my own blood.”
The guillotine was erected in Paris two weeks after Easter in 1792, and the “reign of terror” followed. At this time Mother Therese instructed her sisters to offer everything they could for an end to the massacres; in her own words “in order that the Divine peace which Christ has brought to the world may be restored to the Church and to the State.”
The government continued in its persecution of the Church with a decree that all religious orders must take the Oath of Liberte-Egalite and, three days later, that all monasteries must be vacated. On 14 September 1792 the Carmelites of Compiègne took on secular clothing and divided into four groups to live inconspicuously in the town. For two years the Sisters struggled to maintain their religious life in the world outside the cloister.
In 1794 the sisters were arrested. Their names were as follows: Mother Therese of St Augustine; Mother St Louis; Mother Henriette of Jesus; Sr Charlotte of the Resurrection; Sr Mary of Jesus Crucified; Sr Therese of the Heart of Mary; Sr Therese of St Ignatius; Sr Julie-Louise of Jesus; Sr Marie-Henriette of Providence; Sr Euphrasie of the Immaculate Conception; Sr Marie of the Holy Spirit, lay sister; Sr St Martha, lay sister; Sr St Francis Xavier, lay sister; and Sr Constance, novice and youngest of the sisters. Also arrested with the sisters were two women, blood sisters, who served the community, Anne-Catherine Soiron and Therese Soiron. On the day of their arrest Anne-Catherine begged Mother Therese not to allow herself and her sister to be separated from the Carmelites.
The sisters were imprisoned on 23 June and taken to Paris for trial on 17 July, where all sixteen were sentenced to the guillotine, being mocked by the magistrate for their “attachment to … childish beliefs” and “stupid religious practices.” The next day they were taken to the guillotine and beheaded one by one, as they all sang Laudate Dominum omnes gentes. The sisters were interred in a mass grave with other victims of the guillotine. They were beatified in 1906.