In a narrow corridor of the Roquette prison in Paris, six priests were lined up in front of a firing squad on May 24, 1871.
Among them was the archbishop of the city, Georges Darboy, 58 years old.
They were all executed by members of the Paris Commune, the revolutionary socialist government that ruled the city from mid-March to the end of May 1871.
“We were only at the beginning of the bloody drama”, wrote Pierre-Henri Lamazou in 1873.
The priest was a hostage who witnessed the executions on that fateful May 24th. He was one of the lucky ones who survived the massacres that took place during the brief reign of the “Communards”.
Two days later, ten other clerics and forty prisoners leave the prison, escorted by a hundred soldiers.
They walked more than four kilometers, suffering from beatings and spitting from the crowd.
At the end of the day, the procession arrived at the City of Vincennes, rue Haxo in the 20th arrondissement of the French capital. It was there that the volunteer soldiers of the Commune had established their last command posts.
For the Communards, “neither God nor master”
Before taking action, some Communards tried to quickly organize a trial in order to respect the law on hostages established on April 6, which stipulated that “any prisoner of war will be brought before the indictment jury”.
But general confusion prevented the court martial from taking place and the first shot was fired.
Henri Planchat, a Vincentian nicknamed the priest of the poor, was among those killed.
Others included Jean-Marie Sabatier, diocesan priest of Paris, a seminarian named Paul Seigneret, three Jesuits and four priests of the Congregation of the Sacred Hearts of Jesus and Mary (Picpus Fathers).
Their bodies were then thrown into a mass grave.
In two days, a total of sixteen clerics were killed.
Other massacres against the clergy were perpetrated during the Commune of 1871: five Dominicans were killed on May 25 and other priests were assassinated in Roquette prison.
This tragic passage in history is sometimes forgotten because “the number of members of the clergy killed is lower than the total number of victims during the insurrection”, explains Stéphane Mayor, parish priest of Our Lady of the Hostages.
The church was inaugurated in 1938 in memory of these victims.
This is why the Archdiocese of Paris wished to commemorate these events on the occasion of the 150th anniversary of the Commune, during which the Church paid a heavy price.
When the Communards seized the city on March 18, 1871, their message was clear.
“It is neither God nor master”, summarized Jacques Benoist. The priest, who is a historian and theologian, has done extensive research on the subject.
The Communards began their terror by looting and desecrating the churches of Paris.
Despite this increasingly persistent intimidation, most priests and religious remain in the capital.
“Archbishop Darboy stayed because he wanted to be a witness for Jesus,” Benoist says with awe.
“The clergy would never have imagined that the Communards would carry out such atrocities,” says Stéphane Mayor.
La Commune, “an attempt at an anticlerical revolution”
The arrests of clergymen began during Holy Week.
Benoist specifies that Archbishop Darboy was arrested on April 4 “by his nephew Henri Darboy, who sided with the Communards”.
Then two days later, on Maundy Thursday, Father Henri Planchat was taken hostage.
Most of these religious prisoners spent Easter in a narrow cell.
But a few of them came out alive from this revolutionary period, which ended on May 28, two days after the so-called Haxo Street massacre.
“The Commune was an attempt at an anticlerical revolution”, explains Frédéric Mounier, a former journalist at The cross and author of the book Paris siege.
“The very clear link under the Second French Empire between the Catholic Church and the power in place was inconceivable for the revolutionaries”, he notes.
“It’s very important to give an account of what they went through. They were incredible men and good priests, ”says Stéphane Mayor.
The Vincentians and the Congregation of the Sacred Hearts of Jesus and Mary have opened the process of beatification of Planchat and of the four Picpus Fathers killed during the massacre on rue Haxo.
“All that’s missing is the Pope’s approval,” said the mayor.
The Parisian priest hopes that their beatifications will be announced before October.