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:

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” L’amour, ce n’est pas faire des choses extraordinaires, héroïques, mais de faire des choses ordinaires avec tendresse” – Jean Vanier (1928-2019)

” L’amour, ce n’est pas faire des choses extraordinaires, héroïques, mais de faire des choses ordinaires avec tendresse” – Jean Vanier (1928-2019)

Jean Vanier, founder of L’Arche, has died aged 90. From Caramel Caramelo:

« L’amour, ce n’est pas faire des choses extraordinaires, héroïques, mais de faire des choses ordinaires avec tendresse. Je rêve d’un monde d’amour où les hommes n’auront plus peur les uns des autres. Il ne faut pas avoir peur d’aimer et de dire aux gens qu’on les aimes. » Jean Vanier.

Une lumière s’est éteinte. Si vous ne le connaissiez pas, je vous recommande vivement de voir qui il fût, simplement par Internet.

A light went off. If you do not know who he was, I recommend you look him up through the Internet.

“I am missing too many important things/because I don’t know how to read.” -‘If I Knew Braille’, a poem by Holly Day

From The Writing Disorder

If I Knew Braille

 

If I knew Braille, perhaps I could read
the graffiti of purple-mouthed limpets clinging
to old, sea-washed boulders
the secret Bibles of zebra mussels clinging to dry-docked boats
the last, profound gasps of snails and slugs dried out in clumps
on the sun-baked pavement in front of my house.
There may be language in the teetering piles of droppings

the rabbits have scattered throughout my yard
written in squirrel on the skin of half-nibbled tulip bulbs
lifted from the ground and carried into the trees
in the fresh pattern of teeth marks gnawed into the table leg
by the dog. I am missing too many important things
because I don’t know how to read.

“the only wisdom within our grasp during our stay in the insoluble mystery of who and where and when we are is the wisdom of humility?”

Comment sections have a bad press, and one can understand when even the most innocuous YouTube video can have all sorts of rabid anger unleashed below. Sometimes, however, comments can do what they supposed to do in the early years of the Internet; be a genuinely illuminating conversational source, a place one learns even more from the wisdom of crowds (not a phrase that has been getting much airing in recent years, has it?)

It’s been a while since I linked to anything on First Known When Lost,  Stephen Pentz’s gem of a blog. First Known When Lost is made by Mr Pentz’s individual sensibility; his affinity with nature and with poets deemed unfashionable.  I have discovered much from him, especially conquering my prejudices against writers who I had not actually read but had generally absorbed a critical antipathy to. And when the online world seemingly has transformed from an exciting frontier of creativity to an echo chamber of hype and hate

The comments on First Known When Lost are of a very high standard and Mr Pentz is scrupulous in replying to comments.

This comment from Bruce Floyd (with a bit of Eliot also)  is worth reading in its own right. For me, humility is at the root of science and religion and art and indeed any human endeavour. Anyway, here is the comment:

The second part of Eliot’s “East Coker”–from the “Four Quartets– clearly asserts that the knowledge gained from experience is of “limited value.” Eliot, late in his life, understands that the “autumnal serenity / And the wisdom of age” are not to be found..He concludes that “The only wisdom we can hope to acquire / Is the wisdom of humility: humility is endless.”

We stand pitifully mortal and profoundly ignorant under the stitched heavens, certain that our perception of our the universe, of our purpose, of ourselves is an illusion. Stevens tells us to beware of “the lunatic of one idea.”

The ideologue, his strident cries rending the stillness, howls into a vacuum. When the wisest know next to nothing, should not we cease our blustering and at long last [realise] that the only wisdom within our grasp during our stay in the insoluble mystery of who and where and when we are is the wisdom of humility?

from “East Coker”

What is the late November doing
With the disturbance of the spring
And creatures of the summer heat,
And snowdrops writhing under feet
And hollyhocks that aim too high
Red into grey and tumble down
Late roses filled with early snow?
Thunder rolled by the rolling stars
Simulates triumphal cars
Deployed in constellated wars
Scorpion fights against the Sun
Until the Sun and Moon go down
Comets weep and Leonids fly
Hunt the heavens and the plains
Whirled in a vortex that shall bring
The world to that destructive fire
Which burns before the ice-cap reigns.
That was a way of putting it – not very satisfactory:
A periphrastic study in a worn-out poetical fashion,
Leaving one still with the intolerable wrestle
With words and meanings. The poetry does not matter.
It was not (to start again) what one had expected.
What was to be the value of the long looked forward to,
Long hoped for calm, the autumnal serenity
And the wisdom of age? Had they deceived us,
Or deceived themselves, the quiet-voiced elders,
Bequeathing us merely a receipt for deceit?
The serenity only a deliberate hebetude,
The wisdom only the knowledge of dead secrets
Useless in the darkness into which they peered
Or from which they turned their eyes. There is, it seems to us,
At best, only a limited value
In the knowledge derived from experience.
The knowledge inposes a pattern, and falsifies,
For the pattern is new in every moment
And every moment is a new and shocking
Valuation of all we have been. We are only undeceived
Of that which, deceiving, could no longer harm.
In the middle, not only in the middle of the way
but all the way, in a dark wood, in a bramble,
On the edge of a grimpen, where is no secure foothold,
And menaced by monsters, fancy lights,
Risking enchantment. Do not let me hear
Of the wisdom of old men, but rather of their folly
Their fear of fear and frenzy, their fear of possession,
Of belonging to another, or to others, or to God.
The only wisdom we can hope to acquire
Is the wisdom of humility: humility is endless.