The Discalced Carmelite community at Compiegne was established in 1641. It rapidly flourished and became well known in its religious fervor. But with the outbreak of the French Revolution it, became the object of scorn and hatred by those in power. Despite growing hostility, the nuns at Compiegne continued to live their religious life and refused to abandon the habit. Officials of a newly appointed local government inspected the grounds of the monastery and interviewed each individual nun. They were offered freedom from their “so-called vows”, and a suitable pension if they wished to leave. All refused.
Mother Teresa of St. Augustine, the prioress, began to prepare the community for the real possibility of arrest and death by the revolutionary government and the Reign of Terror. The nuns sent a formal document to the District Directory stating they wished to live and die as professed Carmelites. On Easter 1792, the community offered themselves as a sacrifice to God “so divine peace brought on earth by His Beloved Son would return to the Church and to the state.”
Aware of the growing number of religious communities expelled from their houses by the government, Mother Teresa began emergency preparations. She rented rooms in four houses and bought secular clothing in case the nuns were forced to discard their habits. On September 12, 1792, the local officials searched the house, took whatever valuables were present and desecrated the Blessed Sacrament. Two days later the monastery property was confiscated and the nuns were forced to leave.
For the next two years, they continued, to the best of their ability, to live religious life as four separate communities. Their new chaplain, Fr. de la Marche, S.J. would dress in disguise and secretly meet the nuns in the parish church in Compiegne to celebrate Mass.
The government became aware of the nuns and arrested them in July 1794. They were brought to Paris and imprisoned on July 13 at Conciergerie, nicknamed the “Morge”, since no one stayed there long because of rapid executions. The nuns were put on trial on July 17 and condemned to death. The judge said, “You are to die because you insist on remaining in your convent in spite of the liberty we gave you to abandon all such nonsense.” Before their death, the nuns washed their secular clothes, which forced their capturers to allow them to wear their habits.
They were brought to the Barrierede Vincennes (now Place de la Nation). Usually a mob gathered around the guillotine to mock and ridicule those to be executed. But the nuns arrived at the site singing hymns which silenced the crowd. The nuns as a community renewed their vows at the foot of the guillotine. The first to die was a novice, Sr. Constance. She knelt in front of Mother Teresa and asked, “Permission to die, Mother?” The prioress responded, “Permission granted.” In Mother Teresa’s hand was a very small statue of the Virgin Mary and the Christ Child. Sr. Constance kissed it before climbing the steps. She, along with the rest of the community, was chanting Psalm 117 Laudate Dominum, the Salve Regina and the Magnificat. The remaining nine Discalced Carmelite nuns, three lay sisters and two externs asked Mother Teresa the same question, kissed the same statue of the Virgin and her Son and sung the same hymns before being put to death. All during this the mob remained silent. The nuns were buried in a mass grave at Picpos Cemetery where a simple cross marks the remains of 1,306 victims of the French revolutionary government.
In 1902, Pope Leo XIII declared Mother Teresa of St. Augustine and her companions venerable. In May 1906 Pope Pius X beatified them
“Love will always be victorious. The one who loves can do everything.”
Mother Teresa of St. Augustine