July 17th – Feast of the Carmeltie Martyrs of Compiegne

I have posted the climactic scene of Poulenc’s opera, “Dialogues of the Carmelites”, not once but twice

Today, three days after Bastille Day, is the feast day of the Martyrs of Compiegne. Here is a piece by Stephanie Mann that tells their story:

Their trial, held in a courtroom crowded with other defendants, was quick. Accused of hiding arms for counter-revolutionary forces, the Prioress held up a crucifix, proclaiming it contained the only arms they had ever kept. Authorities had found an altar cloth decorated with a fleur-de-lis, so they were accused of supporting Louis XVI and the monarchy. One of the nuns answered that “If that is a crime, we are all guilty of it; you can never tear out of our hearts the attachment for Louis XVI and his family. Your laws cannot prohibit feeling; they cannot extend their empire to the affections of the soul; God alone has the right to judge them.”
Finally, one of the nuns asked the judge, Fouquier-Tinville, what he meant when he charged them with “fanaticism.” He replied, “I mean your attachment to your childish beliefs and your silly religious practices.” The Carmelites rejoiced that they could be found guilty of being true Catholics.
Their conduct at the guillotine, which had been moved from what is now Place de la Concorde to what is now Place de la Nation (too much blood had accumulated on the former site) is the stuff of legend—and of operatic drama (Poulenc’s “Dialogues of the Carmelites”, based on a play by George Bernanos, based on a novel by Gertrude von Le Fort). Loaded into the tumbrel and driven through the streets of Paris, they chanted the “Miserere”, the “Salve Regina”, the “Te Deum”. Even the most hardened atheistic Revolutionary would have recognized these chants of the Church. When they arrived at the Place de la Nation, they sang the “Veni, Creator Spiritus”, invoking the Holy Spirit.
Each of the Choir nuns paused at the foot of the scaffold and renewed their vows to the Prioress, Mother Teresa of St. Augustine, as they began to chant “Laudate Dominum omnes gentes”. They each kissed a small statue of the Blessed Virgin Mary and mounted the scaffold starting with the youngest, Sister Constance, who made her final vows just before she died:

Mother Teresa of St. Augustine
Mother St. Louis, sub-prioress
Mother Henriette of Jesus, ex-prioress
Sister Mary of Jesus Crucified
Sister Charlotte of the Resurrection, ex-sub-prioress and sacristan
Sister Euphrasia of the Immaculate Conception
Sister Teresa of the Sacred Heart of Mary
Sister Julie Louise of Jesus, widow
Sister Teresa of St. Ignatius
Sister Mary-Henrietta of Providence
Sister Constance, novice

Three lay sisters, who had helped the choir nuns with chores and hospitality and two externs, who had been the nuns’ contacts with the outside world, also suffered martyrdom:

Sister St. Martha
Sister Mary of the Holy Spirit
Sister St. Francis Xavier
Catherine Soiron
Thérèse Soiron

The chant ended when the Prioress was guillotined. Their bodies were loaded into a cart and hauled off to the Picpus Cemetery, where they were dumped into a mass grave.

It wouldn’t hurt to embed Poulenc’s finale once again:


The Hippo Gargoyle of Laon

Among Laon Cathedral’s sculpture, I thought one gargoyle deserved a post of its own. Here is the façade of the cathedral

And here is a gargoyle of a hippo, of a perhaps surprising degree of realism (to me anyway)

The realism is all the more surprising as, according to this, the first hippo seen in Europe since Ancient Rome was Obaysch in 1850 (compare the Laon hippo with Albrecht Durer’s 1515 rhino, not admittedly drawn from life)

In “The Desire”, James M Houston writes:

Humour has a lot to do with humility, in that it shows up the incongruities of human life. Nothing is more absurd than humanity trying to play at being God. Perhaps that is why there are gargoyles on the cathedral roof, as well as at the carved ends of the pews, to remind worshippers that human pride, and even taking ourselves too seriously, is really comical. As Malcolm Muggeridge once observed, it is significant that modern high-rise office blocks don’t have gargoyles. Compared with the court jesters and other evidence of comedy in medieval life, modernity takes itself very seriously!

A medieval wooden stature of St Molua at St Molua’s Church, Killaloe, Ballycallan, Kilkenny

St Molua’s Church, Killaloe, Ballycallan Parish, Kilkenny, is not to be confused with St Molua’s Church in the other Killaloe in Country Clare. And indeed one must not confuse Molua with Mo Lua of Killaloe – of whom an unsourced statement on Wikipedia claims: “Local Historians note of stories that tarnished the Saint’s reputation in his time, those being that he had fathered many children to the daughter of a local Eóganachta Chieftain in County Clare. These children were named locally as Ó Maoldomhnaigh which in turn birthed the family name of Moloney.”

Catriona MacLeod, in a 1946 paper in the Journal of the Royal Society of Antiquaires of Irelanddescribes the statue as among only five extant medieval wooden statues of Irish saints. What is extraordinary is that, unless I am in some way mistaken (is this a replica?), the statue of St Molua is simply there at the back of the church, without any indicative plaque or such I could find:

Here is MacLeod, from the paper cited, above, on St Molua and this statue:

At Killaloe, Co Kilkenny, there is preserved the figure of St Lughaigh, affectionately called Molua, another renowned saint of the 6th century, Molua was sent all the way to the celebrated Comhgall at Bangor for his education. Later he became the soul-friend of such Welsh spiritual leaders as David, Colmoc and Madoc. Today he is especially remembered as follower of Gildas, in upholding the principle of personal asceticism and the Monastic Rule as the greatest means to a deep religious life. In this latter respect his reputation stood so high that St Bernard attributed to him the foundation of a hundred monasteries. Amongst these the most famous were Drumsnatt in Monahan, founded on his way home from Bangor College, and Ross Buailigh in Ossory. There he buit the monastery and pilgrim hostel later to become, through the fame of his sanctity, the “celebrated city”, Clonfertmulloe. There, after a long life of prayer, labour and study, distinguished be extraordinary asceticism, he died at a great age, on August 4, 607 A.D.

At Killaloe a field is still pointed out as the site of another monastery Molua founded and used to visit on his way to and from Limerick. Beside it a holy well and chapel are dedicated to him. In the sacristry of this chapel a wooden statue of the saint is now kept. It is of oak, measures about 5 ft in height and the back is hollowed out so deeply as to l eave only a thin wooden shell. Both arms are unfortunately missing and the base is worn away. The crown of the head, which was much decayed, has been repaired with plaster; and modern paint conceals the original expression of the eyes. Despite these defects this statue remains of very great interest. To me it seems a clear example of what we have already described as the Celtic expression in art. The rigid form, elongated neck, the formalised and decorative treatment of the chasuble folds separate this statue from Continental, English or Anglo-Irish work. These characteristics on the other hand appear to relate it to the stylised figures of native workmanship familiar to us in manuscripts, metal work and stone sculpture of the pre-Invasion period. There is, moreover, stamped upon the features of the St Molua statue that asceticism already noticed on the face of St Molaise [previously in this paper MacLeod considered this statue found at Inishmurray, Co. Sligo] which seems to be a characteristic of native sculpture.

Rev. Mr James Graves pronounced this carving to be “fully as old as the 13th Century” The archaic shape of the eyes, the very highly placed brows and the long narrow chasuble ending in an oval point all offer corroborative evidence of Graves’s opinion. Good example of the 13th century chasuble as represented in Norman sculpture are still preserved on the façade of Wells Cathedral.

The statue of St Molua was according to custom in the guardianship of hereditary custodians or Erennachs – the Haydens at Killaloe. They brought the figure on the saint’s pattern day, to the Holy Well, the centre for assembling pilgrims.

During road repairs about 1760 the well was destroyed and the Hayden’s calling, as guardians of the statue there, fell away. After some years they gave it to the safe keeping of the Butlers whose cottage is close to the present chapel. The Butlers preserved it for more than a hundred years, some alleging that they kept it buried under the floor for safety. Eventually they gave it to the local clergy. Since the destruction of the well St Molua’s pattern has ceased and the old statue is no longer shown to the faithful. But in the chapel a modern figure of the saint holding a little moss-edged well in the right hand shows that the age-old devhttps://www.libraryireland.com/topog/E/Emly-Grenan-Costlea-Limerick.phpotion to Molua, “the Royal Holy, champion”, still persists. St Molua is also venerated at Kilmallock and Emly Grenan in Limerick, his father’s county, whence he first came to evangelise Upper Ossory.

Here are some more views:

In the narthex we find the modern statue of St Molua clutching the moss-edged well as mentioned by MacLeod above:

Above the choir balcony there is a stained glass window based on the wooden sculpture. This was a little hard to photograph from inside as the choir balcony was closed. Here is a magnified detail of what I could manage:

And here is a view from outside:

When Toby Keith eased Merle Haggard’s burdens

Via the Unfinished Pyramid blog, I came across this touching story about the country singer Toby Keith and #AprilCountry outlaw fave Merle Haggard:

“It was Super Bowl weekend. Merle had already cancelled months of shows, but this particular booking was a big payday. Merle had to pay his band and crew, so there was no calling in sick for this gig.

Toby Keith was in town with his wife to watch some football and have some fun. Toby got word that Merle was in Vegas, so he went to see him… Merle was in bad shape. He needed to be in a hospital – not on a stage; but The Show Must Go On. Merle would not take charity from anyone, but he did turn to Toby and say, “How songs of mine do you know?”
“All of ’em” answered T.
“All of ’em?”
“Yep. And I won’t need a teleprompter.”
“Well, stay nearby.”

After four or five songs, Merle’s infected lungs were spent. He couldn’t draw enough air to sing any longer. “We’ve, uh, we’ve got a special guest here tonight…” Toby came out and sang the rest of the show. Merle gave his last concert. The Strangers got paid. And the audience, while not realizing it at the time, saw something special.

Never speak ill of Toby Keith to me; thanks to him, Merle exited the stage with his dignity intact.”