The Catholic Church in France suffered greatly in the eighteenth century. During the French Revolution, the worship of God was forbidden, Sunday and holy days were abolished. An evil woman was placed on the altar of the Cathedral of Notre Dame and worshiped by the mob as the “goddess of reason”.
In 1790, all religious houses were suppressed. Clergy were required to take the constitutional oath which upheld ideas contrary to Christian principles and subjected the authority of the Church completely to civil structures. Those who refused to take the oath were persecuted with banishment and martyrdom.
In 1792, there was great fear of rebellion and foreign invasion that the municipalities were authorized to arrest all suspects, including priests who had refused to take the constitutional oath. On September 2, there was rumor that the prisoners were planning an uprising. Mobs stormed the jails and killed more than a thousand prisoners. The priests were asked whether they had taken the constitutional oath. If they said “no”, they were killed on the spot. It is believed that not a single priest saved his life by a lie. The martyrs were beatified by Pope Pius XI on October 17, 1926.
In 1789 the National Assembly in France decreed that all Church lands would become property of the state and in 1790 all religious houses were suppressed.
Sixteen Carmelite nuns of Compiegne were divided into four groups and were able to carry on something of their way of life. In 1794, they were accused of living in a religious community and were arrested on June 22. They were confined in a Visitation convent in Compiegne and openly resumed their religious life.
On July 12, the nuns were taken to Paris. They were sentenced to death on July 17. During their trial, the prosecutor accused the Carmelites of being fanatics and counter-revolutionaries, Mother Henriette de Jesus asked him to explain the meaning of those words. The irritated judge vomited a torrent of offenses against her, and then said: “It is your attachment to your Religion and the King.” Mother Henriette replied, “I thank you for the explanation.” Then, addressing her companions, she said: “My dear Mother and my Sisters, we must rejoice and give thanks to God for we die for our Religion, our Faith, and for being members of the Holy Roman Catholic Church.”
When a person offered a glass of water to one of the nuns, Mother Henriette told her, “In Heaven, my Sister, in Heaven we will soon have water aplenty to drink.”
Before their execution the nuns knelt and chanted the “Veni Creator” and renewed aloud their baptismal and religious vows. As each nun mounted the scaffold she sang the short psalm 117, “Praise the Lord all you nations.”
The Carmelite martyrs of Compiegne were beatified by Pope Pius X in 1906.
Blessed Noel Pinot was born at Angers in 1747. As a priest, he served the sick with remarkable zeal and revitalized his parish spiritually through piety and preaching.
Refusing to take the constitutional oath, Father Pinot was sentenced to be deprived of his parish for two years. However, he continued his ministry in secret.
One day, while fully vested for Mass, Father Pinot was captured, dragged through the streets, and was put in prison. He was sentenced to death for refusing to take the oath.
Father Pinot went to the guillotine still vested for Mass saying: “I will go to the altar of God, to God who gives joy to my youth.”
He was martyred on February 21, 1794, and was beatified in 1926.