Priestly Martyrs

During the French Revolution in September of 1792 there was a bloody assault on clergy in Paris. This account of heroism, narrated by British historian Christopher Hibbert, allows one to almost taste the meaning of Tertullian’s phrase, “The blood of martyrs is the seed of the Church…”

The same afternoon another small gang of armed men burst into the garden of the Carmelite Convent off the Rue de Vaugirard where about 150 priests who had been held prisoner for the past fortnight, were gathered under guard, several of them reading their office. The men advanced upon them, calling out for the Archbishop of Arles. One of the priests went forward to meet them, demanding a fair trial for himself and his fellow-prisoners. A shot was fired and his shoulder was smashed. The Archbishop, after praying for a moment on his knees, then went towards the men himself. “I am the man you are looking for,” he said, and was immediately struck across the face with a sword. As he fell to the ground a pike was plunged through his chest. At that moment an officer of the National Guard appeared and managed to get the priests away to the nearby church where they gave each other absolution. While they were saying prayers for the dying, the armed gang broke through the door and dragged the priests out in pairs to slaughter them in the garden. After several had been killed a man with an air of authority arrived at the church calling out, “Don’t kill them so quickly. We are meant to try them.” Thereafter each priest was summoned before a makeshift tribunal before being executed. He was asked if he was now prepared to take the constitutional oath and when he said that he was not — as all of them did — he was taken away to be killed. Some bodies were removed in carts, the rest thrown down a well from which their broken skeletons were recovered seventy years later.

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