All eyes have been on Paris, France in recent weeks due to the burning of the roof of Notre Dame Cathedral, all the church burnings in general, and all the violence that has erupted on the City of Lights. As a Catholic outside of France, it’s easy to feel a little helpless when it comes to ideas on what to do to help our French brothers and sisters. It must not be easy living in a country in which only four percent attend Mass on a regular basis; one that is becoming more and more secularized as time goes by.
Sure, we can ask some of the more well-known French saints—think St. Therese of Lisieux and St. Genevieve—for their intercessions, but how about invoking the intercession of a group of martyrs that died for their faith? I recommend the Martyrs of Toulouse.
The twelve Martyrs of Toulouse were a group of men who were murdered in a church in Avignonet near Toulouse, France. They were known for being part the Inquisition in southern France so when they arrived in Avignonet, they found all the gates had been closed to them. The local people were threatened with punishment if they supplied the group with food. They had to settle in a farmhouse just outside the town, preaching where and when they could. It is said that they were forewarned of their impending deaths but, instead of fleeing, they remained obedient to their orders of staying in the region. One of them, Bl. William Arnaud, was away from the group but resolved to return and die with his friends.
There are two accounts of their deaths. Some say that all but four were killed at the castle of Count Raymond VII of Toulouse, one of the wealthier heretics. The remaining four were killed in a church, with Bls. William Arnaud and Steven of Narbonne murdered in the sanctuary of the church as they sang the Te Deum. The other account is that the entire group was gathered together in a church on the eve of the feast of the Ascension, singing the Te Deum, when the Albigensian heretics stormed into the church to kill them. What is known is that these twelve brave men were beaten to death in the late night-early morning hours of May 28th and 29th, 1242. Their feast day is celebrated on May 29th.
Blessed are their names
We know all but one these twelve holy men’s names. They were:
- Bl. Adhemar, a cleric.
- Bl. Bernard of Roquefort, a Dominican.
- Bl. Bernard of Toulouse, the archdeacon who assisted clergy of the cathedral of Toulouse.
- Bl. Fortanerio, a cleric.
- Bl. Garcia D’Aure, a Dominican lay brother.
- Bl. Pietro d’Arnaud, a notary; that’s why he’s also known as Peter the Notary.
- Bl. Raymond Carbonius, a Franciscan Friar Minor; also known as Raymond of Carbonier.
- Bl. Raymond di Cortisan, canon and archdeacon of Lezat in Toulouse; also known as Raymond the Writer.
- Bl. Stephen Saint-Thibery, abbot and Franciscan Friar Minor; also known as Stephen of Narbonne.
- Bl. William Arnaud, a Dominican. He was the chief assistant to the inquisitor Peter Seila. He was also a friend of St. Dominic de Guzman and is known as one of the early Dominican martyrs.
- An unknown (unnamed) prior of Avignonet.
Miracles upon miracles
In the hours following their martyrdom, it was reported that bright lights radiated from the bodies of the martyrs who had been dumped in a nearby ravine. The locals went to gather relics of the bodies before they could be discovered.
A large statue of the Blessed Virgin Mary was also found on the steps of the church were the group was martyred. No one knew who the sculptor was nor how it got there. Since the church had been off-limits (placed under interdict) to locals for forty years as a form of punishment for the sacrilege that had occurred, the people took the statue as a sign that they had been forgiven for the crime that had been committed. The image has been known as “Our Lady of Miracles” since then.
Up until recently, the locals also held a ceremony (called “The Ceremony of the Vow”) the night of the 28th into the early morning of the 29th to commemorate the martyrdom. Parishioners would get together at the church, light candles, and processed into the church on their knees (candles lit in their hands), praying for the souls of those who had committed the murders.
While these courageous men met their untimely end far from Paris, where the majority of events have taken place in recent weeks and months, asking for intercessions may be just what the Eldest Daughter of the Church needs right now.
Blessed martyrs of Toulouse, pray for France and for all the martyrs around the world!