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On October 1, 1995, Pope John Paul II beatified the Rochefort martyrs: sixty-four priests who died in 1794-1795, during the French Revolution. They belonged to fourteen French dioceses and twelve religious Institutes. Two of them, Blessed Claude Beguignot and Lazarus Tiersot, were Carthusians. These priests, for refusing to take the revolutionary oaths opposed to the Church, were in the spring of 1794 forced to embark on two former slave ships anchored at the mouth of the Charente River, at Rochefort. The names of the ships were «les Deux-Associés» and «Washington». They were massed together in the most appalling conditions and, in addition, treated with brutality by the crew, forced to stand all day and virtually starved.
The Holy Father said in his homily:
This morning, dear Brothers and Sisters, Our thoughts go out to sixty-four French priests who died with hundreds of others on the «pontoons of Rochefort.» As St. Paul recommended to Timothy, they too fought «the good fight of faith» (1 Tim. 6:12). And likewise they experienced a long ordeal for remaining faithful to their faith and to the Church. If they died, it was for wanting to confirm their close communion with Pope Pius VI to the end. In profound moral solitude they ardently wanted to retain a spirit of prayer, «amid the torments» (Lk. 16:23) of hunger and thirst, they had not a single word of hatred toward their executioners. Slowly they allowed themselves to be identified with the sacrifice of Christ that they celebrated by virtue of their ordination. Here they are, then, now offered to our gaze as a living sign of the power of Christ acting in human weakness. At the bottom of their misery, they retained a sense of forgiveness. The unity of faith and the unity of their homeland seemed to them as the most important things. Since then we can joyfully take up the words of Holy Scripture: the souls of these righteous men are in the hand of God. «They seemed to die; their departure from us was thought to be a ruin, but they are in peace» (Wis. 3:2-3).
After his Charterhouse of Bourg-Fontaine was suppressed by the Revolution, Dom Claude Beguignot (born in Langres in 1736) withdrew to Rouen. In April 1793 he was arrested and put on the prison ship ‘Deux-Associés’. During their ordeal Dom Claude was the one the sick turned to for help. A priest who survived witnessed as follows to the monk’s manifest holiness: “The very view of this man inspired the love of mortification. You never tired of hearing him speak of God. He did it so worthily and with such unction.” Dom Claude died July 16, 1794.
Dom Lazarus Tiersot (born in Semur-en-Auxois in 1739), professed and Vicar of the Charterhouse of Our Lady of Fontenay, withdrew to the town of Avallon at the suppression of his monastery. He was arrested in April 1793, and put on the prison ship ‘Washington’. “He impressed the other priests as a Saint”, says one who survived. He passed away August 10, 1794, having predicted his death.
Both martyrs were buried in Aix Island, near the «pontoons of Rochefort».
Other Carthusians, about forty, were also martyred during the Revolution. Among them Dom Pierre Brizard was drowned on the docks of Nantes; Dom André Jacquet, Dom Marcel Liottier, Dom Michel Poncet, Dom Étienne Ballet and Dom Anthelm Monier were guillotined in Lyons at the end of 1791. Also Pacôme Lassus, Carthusian monk of Montmerle, was guillotined in Pontarlier on April 25, 1794. And Mother Albertine de Briois, prioress of the charterhouse of Gosnay, died a martyr in Arras on June 27, 1794.
Father, strengthen our hearts, so that just as our brothers consummated their solitary life by bearing all their sufferings for the Church, so may we, dwelling hidden before Your face, be led to perfect love. We ask this through Christ Our Lord. Amen.