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On July 17, 1794, 16 women stood together in a Parisian square in defense of their beliefs. They renewed religious vows and chanted the "Veni Creator" before each in turn proceeded up steps to a platform that could be seen by all around. The women were executed by their government, and a large crowd that would normally scream and shout at such events watched in silence.

The women are known as the Teresian Martyrs of Compiegne, and they met their end at the hands of the French Revolution's government. Serving the Carmelite order, eleven of the women were nuns, three were lay sisters of the order, and two were lay helpers of the sisters. Their crime was an unwillingness to give up their religious vows and disband.

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A revolutionary spirit spread across France during the end of the 18th century, but it was not the righteous fight for liberty that was started in the United States. Instead, it contained a riotous uprising that led to the deaths of hundreds of thousands and was dubbed the "Reign of Terror" for the gruesome behavior of the French revolutionary leaders.

Common history only depicts the French Revolution as mobs of starving poor rising up against the decadent rich. Instead, wealthy individuals capable of swaying large groups of people used the mobs to further their own agendas. Seeing the Catholic Church as a threat to their desires for totalitarian control, the revolutionary leaders issued the "Civil Constitution of Clergy" in 1791 and declared their right to control the Catholic communities.

The "Civil Constitution of Clergy" was one of many laws that took over Catholic property, disbanded the organizational structure of the Church, and prohibited Catholic groups from operating within France. Members of the religious community were forced to swear loyalty to the state, and the government assumed full control over all aspects of belief.

Of the French bishops, seven consented to the law and stood by as mobs abused any priest or member of a religious order who held true to their religion. Groups were given license by the government to harass any dissenting priest, and harassment spiraled into violence. The government then passed more measures that promoted the persecution of the Church and sought to remove all Christian influence from French society.

Eventually, the French leaders began to turn on each other as they sought more power. Seeing conspiracies and threats from every direction, paranoid officials began to order the execution or assassination of rivals and commonly used the Church as scapegoats. Many people were put to death with little justification, and the Carmelite nuns were arrested as traitors.

Held in prison, the nuns offered themselves to God as martyrs in hope that it would end the persecution. They clung to their faith until the end and each asked their mother superior, Mother Teresa of St. Augustine, prioress, for permission to die for their beliefs as the silent crowd watched.

On July 28, 1794, the tyrants responsible for much of the bloodshed during the Reign of Terror were overthrown, and religious freedom was soon restored. Many fellow prisoners believed that the Teresian Martyrs of Compiegne inspired the peace.

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