Here is a post about the Ursuline martyrs during the French Revolution. Today is the feast of Blessed Jane Louise Barre and Jane Marie Prin, Ursuline nuns guillotined in 1794. For what? For being on the wrong side of history.
One of the most chilling images in English literature is that of ‘les tricoteuses’, the savage women knitting at the foot of the guillotine, who act as a Chorus in Dickens’ A Tale of Two Cities. When we read that book, we never think that it mirrors the human condition, not just an old and ultimately romantic tale of Bad Things from Long Ago. We think, in all our education, that we know all about war and revolution. What I, certainly, was not educated about was that around 40,000 people lost their lives for holding to the Catholic faith during the French Revolution. What does the modern radical do when hearing of old and new crimes? Shrugs one’s shoulders. Makes reference to counter-revolutionaries and people being on the wrong side of history. Makes martyrs of one’s own side, demons of the other.
Reading about the controversy surrounding the funeral of Erich Priebke, the Nazi murderer who took part in the Ardeatine Caves massacre, I was reminded of another atrocity. In Maghera, a group of Irish taking refuge from Cromwell’s forces in one of caves, were slaughtered. Legend has it that fires were lit at the entrance to the cave and all within, women and children, were suffocated. There’s a strand of anger within the Irish psyche, if such a thing exists. It’s sometimes good, if sad, to remind ourselves why.
Looking for artwork for this post, I came across Diego Rivera’s work, The Blood of the Revolutionary Martyrs Fertilising the Earth. Hmm. It’s easy to applaud, buy the print, wear the T-shirt, when you are not faced with the reality. But we are, but we are.
And Rivera, husband of Frida Kahlo, friend of Trotsky, was, by all accounts, an informer.
What do we learn from history? Nothing, it seems. What savages we are.
Gustave Dore – The Christian Martyrs