In a narrow corridor of the Roquette prison, six ecclesiastics were lined up in front of a firing squad on May 24, 1871. They fell one by one, covered with insults and bullets by the Communards. Among them is Mgr Georges Darboy, Archbishop of Paris. “We were only at the beginning of the bloody drama”, will write in a book in 1873, the abbot Pierre-Henri Lamazou, a hostage who witnessed the execution and who survived the massacres that occurred during the Paris Commune.
Two days later, ten other religious and forty prisoners left the jail, escorted by a hundred soldiers. They walk more than four kilometers, dying from beatings and spitting from the crowd. The procession arrives at the end of the day at the City of Vincennes, rue Haxo, in the 20e district of the capital, where the federates (insurgent soldiers of the Paris Commune) established their last command posts.
For the Communards, “neither God nor master”
Before taking action, some Communards try to organize a trial in haste, in order to respect the hostage law introduced on April 6, which stipulates that: “Any prisoner of war will be brought before the indictment jury”. But the general confusion prevented the holding of the court martial and the first shot was fired. Father Henri Planchat, religious of Saint-Vincent de Paul and nicknamed the priest of the poor, falls, as well as Father Jean-Marie Sabatier of the diocese of Paris, the seminarian Paul Seigneret, three Jesuits and four Picpusians. Their bodies are then thrown into a mass grave. In two days, sixteen clergymen were killed (1).
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This tragic passage in history is sometimes overlooked because “ the number of religious killed is less than the total number of victims during the insurrection ”, estimates Father Stéphane Mayor, parish priest of the parish of Notre-Dame des Otages, inaugurated in 1938 in memory of these victims. This is why the diocese of Paris wished to commemorate these events on the occasion of the 150e anniversary of the Commune during which the Church paid a heavy price.
Because, from March 18, 1871, the message of the Communards is clear: “It is neither God, nor master”, sums up Father Jacques Benoist, historian and theologian who has carried out extensive research on the subject. The Communards first threaten the churches through multiple looting or desecration. In spite of the intimidations which are made more and more persistent, most of the ecclesiastics remain in the capital. “Bishop Darboy stayed because he wanted to be the witness of Jesus”, says, admiringly, Father Benoist. But for Father Mayor: “The religious had never imagined that the Communards would achieve such atrocities. “
The Commune, “an attempt at an anticlerical revolution”
Arrests of clergymen begin during Holy Week. Bishop Darboy was arrested on April 4, “By his nephew Henri Darboy, sided with the Communards”, says Father Benoist. On April 6, Holy Thursday, Father Henri Planchat was taken hostage. Most of these religious prisoners spent Easter in a tight cell. But few of them came out alive from this revolutionary period, which ended on May 28, two days after the Haxo Street massacre. “The Commune was an attempt at an anticlerical revolution. The very clear link under the Second Empire between the Catholic Church and the power in place was inconceivable for revolutionaries », Explains Frédéric Mounier, former journalist at The cross and author of the book Paris siege (Deer, 368 pages, 24 €).
“It is very important to report on what they went through. They were incredible men and good priests ”, Father Mayor assures us. A beatification process is underway for Father Planchat and the four Picpusian priests killed during the massacre on rue Haxo, jointly carried out by the Congregation of the Brothers of Saint Vincent de Paul and the Picpus fathers. “All that’s missing is the Pope’s approval”, underlines Father Mayor, who wants to believe in the announcement of the beatification of these religious by October.
A week of tributes
Tuesday 25 May at 6 p.m. Conference at the Notre-Dame des Otages church in Paris (1) led by Father Jacques Benoist, historian and theologian. He will evoke the highlights of this popular revolt.
Wednesday May 26 at 6 p.m. Requiem Mass in remembrance of the hostages and martyrs of Haxo Street.
JThursday May 27 at 6 p.m. Lecture by Father Yvon Sabourin, postulator of the cause for beatification of Father Henri Planchat.
Saturday May 29 at 5 p.m. Departure from Square de la Roquette (11e arrondissement) for a procession to the Notre-Dame des Otages church.
Sunday May 30, 11 a.m. Solemn Mass celebrated by Mgr Michel Aupetit, Archbishop of Paris.
(1) 81 rue Haxo, Paris 20e. All the commemorations will take place at this location.