Casualties of a Revolution


This week, for Friday Fictioneers, I’ve held onto my story until the feast day of a certain set of martyrs whom I wished to commemorate in this week’s response to the photo prompt. I’ve also cheated a little by not counting the words to the Latin hymn as a part of my 103-word story (and I still tipped the scale a little too far).

For those of you unfamiliar with this challenge, Friday Fictioneers is a weekly challenge in which around 100 bloggers from all over the globe participate each week. Rochelle is our gracious hostess, and this week’s photo comes to us courtesy of the inimitable Sandra Crook (whose name I’m finally getting right this time). I will admit that I’m playing a little fast-and-loose with this prompt as the street in modern-day France has inspired me to write about the streets of France during the French Revolution.

2015 07 14 Sandra Crook

Casualties of a Revolution

Veni, Creator Spiritus,

mentes tuorum visita,

imple superna gratia

quae tu creasti pectora.

Constance’s voice quavered. A novice, she had not intended to sing these verses again before her final vows. Executioners shouted. Constance knelt before her mother superior for a final blessing.

Qui diceris Paraclitus

altissimi donum Dei,

fons vivus, ignis, caritas,

et spiritalis unctio.

Lifting her head, Constance found courage in the familiar words. She raised her voice and ascended the scaffold ahead of her sisters.

Tu, septiformis munere,

digitus paternae dexterae,

Tu rite promissum patris

sermone ditans guttura.

The novice placed her head in the designated spot, still singing. She closed her eyes and continued singing as the blade dropped toward her exposed neck.

Accende lumen sensibus:

infunde amorem cordibus:

Infirma nostri corporis

virtute firmans perpeti

One by one, the sisters followed Constance’s lead. The crowd fell silent, listening to the song of praise accompanied by the rush of angel wings.

Deo Patri sit Gloria,

et Filio, qui a mortuis

***

On 17 July 1794, 16 Carmelites were executed in Paris for practicing their faith tradition. The song the sisters actually sang has been lost to the ages. Conflicting reports say they chanted the words above or a number of other spiritual hymns. You can follow the links to learn more.

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49 thoughts on “Casualties of a Revolution

  1. Marie Gail,
    what a great, haunting story, especially since it’s true. I like the way you wrote it, with the song interspersed with the prose.
    That takes a lot of courage but probably had a big impact on the witnesses that day. The way we die really reveals what we actually believe.
    -David

    • storydivamg says:

      Thank you, David. I struggled a lot with this prompt, but when I realized today was the feast day for these courageous women, I had to write their story from Constance’s point of view. Of course, since she went first, I painted myself into a tragic corner of Shakespearean proportions at the end, but I hope it worked anyway. We all need a reminder now and then of what true courage (and true martyrdom) is.

      All my best,
      Marie Gail

  2. I could truly imagine the song fading as one by one they met with their fate. It must have been chilling.

    • storydivamg says:

      Thank you, Dawn. There is an opera about these women that was composed in the 1950s by a Frenchman. The opera actually ends as the last nun’s voice is silenced. When I learned about this, for the first time in my life, I suddenly and desperately wish to attend an opera performance. (Although in the opera they sing a Psalm, which I think to be a bit less dramatic than the Veni, Creator Espiritu.)

  3. Sandra says:

    Fascinating stuff and expertly constructed, Marie Gail.

  4. liz young says:

    A very moving tale well told. What is the opera called? I shall watch out for it.

  5. Margaret says:

    A beautiful tribute. Very moving. I love the feeling, and the inclusion of the hymn adds intensity and drama.

  6. Dale says:

    What a wonderfully written tribute.

  7. Well done! And it doesn’t matter that you went over the word limit. The hymn enhances the piece. Kudos.

    • storydivamg says:

      Thanks, Alicia. I usually stick very closely to that word limit, but this story really needed the inclusion of the hymn to pull it together, I felt. So glad you agree.

  8. That they were met by angels is such an uplifting vision. Looking at the Revolution from the POV of the nuns was a first for me. I have tended to look at it from the POV of the Revolutionaries. Beautifully told, Marie.

    • storydivamg says:

      Thanks, Joy. I worried that the angels might come across as cliche, so I’m glad to read that you liked that visual.

      There are always multiple sides to any conflict. I was interested to learn in my research of this story that many people credit the martyrdom of these 16 women as the catalyst for the end of the French Revolution. In fact, that is listed as one of the reasons for their canonization. Apparently, the Parisians were so moved by the nuns quiet, unshakable faith that they chose to find a resolution to their differences–a resolution other than just killing everyone with whom they disagreed.

  9. I learned something new today! Well told, thank you.

    • storydivamg says:

      Thanks so much! I don’t usually make education the primary purpose of my storytelling, but this story certainly bears repeating, I think. And I think there are probably a few others like it out there–which means I need to get busy putting together a series.

      Glad you stopped by to read.

      MG

  10. draliman says:

    Great last line. I love the “angel wings” and the crowd falling silent as the sisters went to their deaths with dignity.

    • storydivamg says:

      Thanks, Ali. Like I mentioned to another reader, I had some concern in using that turn of phrase, so I’m happy to hear that it worked for you.

      All my best,
      Marie Gail

  11. Dear Marie Gail,

    The interspersion of the verses heightened the drama and put me there. You’re forgiven the extra three words. 😉 Beautifully constructed.

    Shalom,

    Rochelle

    • storydivamg says:

      Whew! The Mother Superior has forgiven me my crime of verbosity. I can now breathe a sigh of relief. 😉

      In all seriousness, thank you. I’m glad you enjoyed the construction and delivery of this historic tale. It’s one of my personal favorites. The story and testimony of these nuns is something the world should never forget.

      All my best,
      Marie Gail

  12. rgayer55 says:

    Marie Gail,
    I loved the way you wrote this. Very moving and a piece of history I was not familiar with. It’s always nice to learn something new.

    • storydivamg says:

      Thank you, Russell. Flattery will get you . . . well, it won’t get you a whole lot, but it will put you in my good graces. Since I became a guillotine-wielding writer this week, that means you might stand a chance if a certain character from Arkansas ever shows up in one of my stories. 😉

      Seriously, I am glad you enjoyed the tale. The history of these Carmelite women has definitely captured my attention.

      MG

  13. Your words created an extremely poignant visual and touching story. I absolutely loved it. 😊

  14. stomperdad says:

    History lesson and excellent reading material all in one. Not an easy accomplishment. Well done.

    • storydivamg says:

      Thanks so much! This bit of history just took hold of me and wouldn’t let go until I wrote about it. I predict I’ll be dreaming of these sweet sisters over the next week.

      • stomperdad says:

        When I first started writing these I would “cheat” and read what others wrote before writing my own in an attempt to gt ideas. Now I see the prompt and either an idea comes to me immediately or I let it simmer for a day and an idea pops in. It’s been a great exercise.

        • storydivamg says:

          I do it both ways still. Sometimes a photo prompt triggers a thought or memory. Other times my muse needs a little jogging. Either way, this has been the best exercise for my creative writing process that I’ve found in years. And the writer friends I’m meeting along the way are a pretty cool bonus.

  15. wildbilbo says:

    This is excellent. Interspersing the approach to the executioner and the bravery of the girls with the song really brings a nice pacing.
    Well done.

  16. Unimaginable! Such courage though. Well written tribute to great women.

  17. This is so good. Considering our current cultural climate, where the atheist state & cultural nabobs feel free to control people entirely, we must be at all tiimes reminded of these nuns

    • storydivamg says:

      Thank you. Larry.

      I think it is also important to remember how blessed we are that we are not (in the western world) threatened with death for our beliefs today. The way some of my Facebook “friends” carry on about things you’d think they were being drug off to the scaffold rather than being asked to be kind to someone with a different set of values or beliefs. The loud complaining of many today is quite the opposite of the quiet faith of these blessed martyrs.

      Peace be with you,
      Marie Gail

      • We aren’t physically being killed at the scaffold but people are being begrudged jobs, reputations etc for speaking out against the left. This isn’t about being merely expect to be kind to those who see things that way, though that’s necessary. It’s about being forced always to bow down to them. We must be kind ot them, but never condone what they’re up too

        • storydivamg says:

          I disagree but I will offer you the peace of Christ. Personally, I can never look at friends who have been force-fed glass, whipped and barely escaped with their lives and claim that I, who have never been physically threatened for my faith have truly been persecuted.

          The great thing is that neither of us will be hunted down by authorities for sharing our faith or our opposing viewpoints here. Thanks be to God for that freedom!

  18. gahlearner says:

    Beautifully written, and it shows that nothing ever changes. Christians kill christians. Christians kill muslims. Muslims kill christians. Everyone kills jews, don’t even mention native people getting killed everywhere, I don’t like your skin colour, your worldview, your politics, let’s kill each other, revolutionists kill traditionalists, traditionalists kill revolutionists… we always seem to find someone we can hate enough to murder.

    • storydivamg says:

      Oh I do hope we have managed to evolve a little over the centuries. But, I agree, there is still too much dissension among the humans.

      Peace be with you,
      Marie Gail

  19. This Is fascinating and so touching. Beautifully done.

  20. Lovely and powerful story, MG. With your thorough description, I could see it happening. I’m sure it left a lasting impression on those watching at the time. The nuns showed true devotion and bravery. Well written. —– Suzanne

    • storydivamg says:

      Thank you, Suzanne. I do hope you weren’t transported there too vividly as the sights and smells must have been simply ghastly. 🙂 But, yes, that sort of devotion definitely deserves our recollection.

      All my best,
      MG

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