Tuesday, September 02, 2003

Back when the French had their Revolution, they really had a Revolution!

On this day in 1792, 191 bishops and priests were massacred in Paris, most of them at the Carmelite Church on the Rue de Rennes.

For, when the French had their revolution, they didn't just get rid of their king and start a new government, like we tell our children that we did. They didn't even just grab the heads of the previous government and string them up (or chop their heads off), like new governments have done to old governments pretty much ever since there have been governments, and like we saw in Romania not too long ago. No, they had a Terror, and a good old fashioned kneel-down-and-kiss-the foot-of-Lady-Liberty-or-else persecution.

"No church or priest of France, and no French citizen, may, under any circumstances or on any pretext whatsoever, acknowledge the authority of an ordinary, bishop or archbishop, whose see is established under the name of a foreign power," their new law said. This was enforced by compelling all clerics to make a public oath of submission to the new government, and renounce all obedience to "foreign powers." The penalty for refusal was deportation, deprivation of citizenship, and lifelong exile. All but four of the bishops of France and the vast majority of the priests refused the oath; a large group of them were detained at the Carmelite Church, awaiting deportation to one or another of France's prison colonies.

A rumor flashed through Paris that a foreign invasion was immanent, and riotous mobs sprung up, attacking the jails and prisons, looking for priests and bishops that they could lynch. After all, priests and bishops were such lovers of "foreign powers". The rioters soon arrived at the Carmelite Church; the first person they encountered after they barged in was Jean de Lau, the archbishop of Arles; when the rioters realized he was an archbishop, they hacked him to death right then and there. But then they decided to make the killings more fun and dramatic. They set up a "court" to have mock trials for their victims, then took them out to the garden courtyard for "executions".

The prisoners were called for interrogations and "trials" two by two, and it took many hours, but the revolutionaries did not tire of their new sport. Late in the evening, among the last few prisoners, the turn of the bishop of Beauvais came; he was a paraplegic invalid. The bishop called from his pallet, "Gentlemen, I am at your disposal. I am ready to die, but I cannot walk. Would a few of you be so kind as to carry me where you wish me to go?"

And so were born to eternal life Jean-Francois Burte, Severin Giralt, Jean de Lau, and their 188 companions, bishops and priests, martyrs.

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