Blessed Teresa of St Augustine and Companions
The Martyrs of Compiègne offered their lives as a sacrifice to God, hoping that their martyrdom would bring peace to France and the Church. Their story inspired the French composer, Francis Poulenc, to write the famous opera Dialogues des Carmelites.
Compiègne lies some eighty kilometres northeast of Paris. A Carmelite convent was founded there in 1641. This convent had twenty nuns when the French Revolution began. The prioress was Mother Teresa of St Augustine who had a profound trust in God’s goodness and mercy.
In 1790 the French Revolutionary Government outlawed all forms of religious life. Following this legislation, the nuns at Compiègne were visited by officials who were greatly surprised when their offer of ‘freedom’ was rejected by all of the community. However, the nuns began to prepare for their eventual expulsion from the convent and, indeed, their possible execution. They made a common decision to offer themselves as victims, if God wished such a sacrifice from them, as they prayed for peace between France and the Church. They resolved to follow the way of Jesus, their crucified and risen Saviour.
On September 14th, 1792, the Convent was taken over by the municipality and the nuns were forced to find refuge elsewhere. Implementing their earlier plans, they divided into groups of four. They adopted secular dress, lived in separate houses, and depended on the charity of friends. They continued their prayerful lives and Mother Teresa urged them to renew their dedication every day for the next two years.
As the Reign of Terror reached its climax in 1794, sixteen of the nuns were denounced and arrested for living the religious life in violation of the Constitution and for supporting the memory of the King. They were taken to Paris and condemned to the guillotine. As they were brought to the place of execution (the present day Place de la Nation) the nuns prayed and sang hymns. Usually, such executions were accompanied by shouting and cheers but as each nun went the guillotine there was an increasing silence. The Reign of Terror ended ten days later. The nuns were buried in a common grave in Picpus cemetery. Today a plaque is dedicated to their memory there. Blessed Teresa of
St Augustine and Companions were beatified by Pope Pius X, the first victims of the French Revolution to be so recognised by the Church.