That Something May Live

Submitted into Contest #237 in response to: Write a love story without using the word โ€œlove.โ€... view prompt


Historical Fiction Christian

This story contains themes or mentions of physical violence, gore, or abuse.

A wooden cart rumbles and jolts over the cobbled streets of Paris, France. People lining the streets hurl insults and garbage at the sixteen women riding in the bed of the cart. The women sing as the cart rolls along. Salve Regina, a Marian hymn, Compline, the night prayer of the church, and the Office of the Dead, to be prayed for the repose of a deceased person's soul, are among their musical selections.ย 

The date is July 17, 1794. These sixteen Carmelite nuns of the Carmel Monastery of Compiรจgne have been sentenced to die by guillotine, by order of the Committee of Public Safety of the National Convention of Revolutionary France. The criminal charges levied against them accuse them of being counter-revolutionaries and religious fanatics. Mother Teresa of St. Augustine, the prioress, claimed total responsibility for all the charges, and argued that the rest, her religious sisters and one sisterโ€™s male cousin, were innocent and should be released.ย 

The damning evidence was found in personal letters belonging to the nuns, including one written by Sister Euphrasia of the Immaculate Conceptionโ€™s male cousin, Mulot de la Mรฉnardiรจre. The letters contain sympathy for the abolished monarchy and reveal that the nuns have been continuing to live as a community of consecrated religious, despite having been evicted from their monastery. They have carried on with their lives of obedience, poverty, and chastity.

Mother Teresa of St. Augustineโ€™s dowry to enter the convent was paid by now-dead Queen Marie Antoinette, and that detail is not helpful in the trial of the nuns and Mulot, who are all ruled guilty.ย 

After two hours of transport from the Conciergerie Prison, the nunsโ€™ cart creaks to a halt at the Place du Trรดne Renversรฉ. A platform rises above the street, so that all the gathered spectators may easily see the condemned die. The tall upright form of the guillotine stands stark against the afternoon light.ย 

The religious sisters are ordered out of the cart. Their hands being bound makes this a difficult task to carry out, but they succeed. All except the eldest, Sister Charlotte of the Resurrection, who is 78 years old, needs a crutch to walk, and cannot stand up on her own, let alone get out of the cart. The other sisters are unable to help her. One of the guards picks her up and throws her out onto the ground.ย 

The onlookers are momentarily shocked into silence. Some begin to shout at the guard, scolding his action, as Sister Charlotte lies face-down in the street. At the clamor, she pushes herself up, revealing that her face has been scraped and is sullied with blood. โ€œThank you, sir,โ€ she says, looking up at the guard, โ€œfor not killing me and depriving me of sharing in my communityโ€™s glorious witness for Jesus Christ.โ€

A woman in the crowd steps forward with a cup of water in her hand and offers it to the sisters. They have had nothing to eat or drink since the morning, before their trial. In the early morning, Mother St. Louis, the sub-prioress, with the permission of the prioress Mother Teresa of St. Augustine, bartered her fur wrap for a cup of hot chocolate, which was shared between the sixteen women so as to give them strength for the day.ย 

One of the sisters reaches out for the cup of water. She is stopped by Sister Mary-Henrietta of Providence. โ€œDo not break our unity, Sister,โ€ she says. โ€œWe will have all we want to drink in Heaven.โ€ During the trial earlier today, Sister Mary-Henrietta pretended not to know the meaning of the word โ€œfanaticโ€, and by this ploy got the judge to admit that the sisters were being accused of fanaticism because of their religion.ย 

Sister Constance of St. Denis, a novice, not yet a professed sister, kneels before Mother Teresa of St. Augustine and professes her vows. Sister Constance had been prevented from making her profession as a full-fledged sister of the community by the new laws from the revolutionary government. The mother prioress holds a small statue of the Virgin Mary in her bound hands, and Sister Constance kisses it in veneration.ย 

Mother Teresa of St. Augustine need not have been here. She had left the Compiรจgne Carmel to tend to her ill parents, but returned four days before the rest of her sisters and the male cousinย were arrested after a two-day search of their apartments that turned up the letters.ย 

The guards order Sister Constance to ascend the steps first. She turns to Mother Teresa of St. Augustine and asks, her voice calm and sweet, โ€œPermission to die, mother?โ€ย 

The prioress gives her consent. She is the one who suggested to her sisters that they commit themselves to execution as a sacrifice for their dear France, the eldest daughter of Holy Mother Church.

The newly-professed young sister begins to sing the Laudate Dominum, and all the other sisters join in.ย 

She continues to sing until the fall of the guillotine blade cuts off her voice.ย An ugly thunk is adible in the sudden silence.

In turn, each of the sisters recites the formula for the renewal of baptismal vows, asks the mother prioress for permission to die, and kisses the prioressโ€™s statue of the Virgin Mary. All the while, anyone not speaking with the prioress continues to sing the Laudate Dominum. All of them are silenced in turn.ย 

When Sister Mary of Jesus Crucified climbs the steps, she says to the guards and the executioner, โ€œI forgive you as heartily as I wish God to forgive me.โ€

Mother Henriette of Jesus, former prioress, and Sisters Teresa of the Sacred Heart of Mary, Julie Louise of Jesus, a widow, and Sister Teresa of St. Ignatius all lose their lives.ย 

The three lay sisters, Sister St. Martha, Sister Mary of the Holy Spirit, and Sister Mary St. Francis Xavier follow them.ย 

Catherine and Thรฉrรจse Soiron, women who served the nuns and helped care for the elderly members, also die.ย 

Sister Mary-Henrietta of Providence helps each of the first fourteen sisters to climb the steps of the scaffold, always returning to stand beside her prioress. She is the second-to-last to be called.ย 

The Mother Prioress is the very last to be executed. She has watched every one of her sister-daughters lose their heads. She is the last, and now it is her turn.ย 

For France, she prays, and for the Church in France. The blade falls.ย 

Ten days later, Maximilien Robespierre was executed, and the Reign of Terror ended. It was widely believed by French Catholics that the willing sacrifice of the Carmelite Nuns of Compiรจgne had brought down from heaven the grace necessary to banish death's bloodthirsty rampage.

Blessed Mother Teresa of St. Augustine, pray for us.

Blessed Mother St. Loius, pray for us.

Blessed Mother Henriette of Jesus, pray for us.

Blessed Sister Mary of Jesus Crucified, pray for us.

Blessed Sister Charlotte of the Resurrection, pray for us.

Blessed Sister Euphrasia of the Immaculate Conception, pray for us.

Blessed Sister Teresa of the Sacred Heart of Mary

Blessed Sister Julie Louise of Jesus, pray for us.

Blessed Sister Teresa of St. Ignatius, pray for us.

Blessed Sister Mary-Henrietta of Providence, pray for us.

Blessed Sister Constance of St. Denis, pray for us.

Blessed Sister St. Martha, pray for us.

Blessed Sister Mary of the Holy Spirit, pray for us.

Blessed Sister St. Francis Xavier, pray for us.

Blessed Catherine Soiron, pray for us.

Blessed Thรฉrรจse Soiron, pray for us.

February 17, 2024 04:49

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Michelle Oliver
14:00 Feb 17, 2024

History is gruesome. I feel for these poor women and admire their composure and commitment. My first teaching position was at a Carmelite school. The charism of community, contemplation and service was very strong.


Wow, thatโ€™s so cool that you worked with Carmelite sisters, Michelle! That sounds like it must have been a beautiful experience. Iโ€™ve yet to meet them myself, though I have spent time with Dominican sisters. Thanks for reading my story!


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Thank you for reading. Critiques, feedback, and comments are greatly appreciated. The title is taken from G.K. Chesterton's book Orthodoxy: [T]he martyr is noble, exactly becauseโ€ฆhe sets his heart outside himself: he dies that something may live.


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