The Martyrs of Compiègne were the sixteen members of the Carmel of Compiègne, France: eleven Discalced Carmelite nuns, three lay sisters, and two externs (tertiaries of the Order, who would handle the community’s needs outside the monastery). During the French Revolution, they refused to obey the Civil Constitution of the Clergy of the Revolutionary government, which mandated the suppression of their monastery.
Consequently, they were arrested in June 1794, during the Reign of Terror. They were initially imprisoned in Cambrai, along with a community of English Benedictine nuns, who had established a monastery for women of their nation there, since monastic life had been banned in England since the Reign of Henry VIII. Learning that the Carmelites were daily offering themselves as victims to God for the restoration of peace to France and the Church, the Benedictines regarded them as saintly.
The Carmelite community was transported to Paris, where they were condemned as a group as traitors and sentenced to death. They were sent to the guillotine on 17 July 1794. They were notable in the manner of their deaths, as, at the foot of the scaffold, the community jointly renewed their vows and began to chant the Veni Creator Spiritus, the hymn sung at the ceremony for the profession of vows. They continued their singing as, one by one, they mounted the scaffold to meet their death. The novice of the community, Sister Constance, was the first to die, then the lay Sisters and externs, and so on, ending with the prioress, Mother Teresa of St. Augustine, O.C.D.
When the Reign of Terror ended only days after their martyrdom, the English nuns credited the Carmelites with stopping the Revolution’s bloodbath and with saving their own community from annihilation. The nuns of Cambrai preserved with devotion, as the holy relics of martyrs, the secular clothes the Carmelites had been required to wear before their arrest, and which the jailer forced on the English nuns after the Carmelites had been killed. (The Benedictines were still wearing them when, on 2 May 1795, they were at last allowed to return to their homeland, where they became the community of Stanbrook Abbey.)
Amazing heroism. They have something that I want, being able to look past the guillotine to the world that lies beyond it.
(above from a great site, http://catholicninja.tumblr.com)