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The Martyrs

 Native American Nations | The Jesuits in North America                    

 

On the morning of the twentieth, the Jesuits at Sainte Marie received full confirmation of the reported retreat of the invaders; and one of them, with seven armed Frenchmen, set out for the scene of havoc. They passed St. Louis, where the bloody ground was strown thick with corpses, and, two or three miles farther on, reached St. Ignace. Here they saw a spectacle of horror; for among the ashes of the burnt town were scattered in profusion the half-consumed bodies of those who had perished in the flames. Apart from the rest, they saw a sight that banished all else from their thoughts; for they found what they had come to seek,--the scorched and mangled relics of Brébeuf and Lalemant.

["Ils y trouuerent vn spectacle d'horreur, les restes de la cruauté mesme, ou plus tost les restes de l'amour de Dieu, qui seul triomphe dans la mort des Martyrs."--Ragueneau, Relation des Hurons, 1649, 13.]

They had learned their fate already from Huron prisoners, many of whom had made their escape in the panic and confusion of the Iroquois retreat. They described what they had seen, and the condition in which the bodies were found confirmed their story.

On the afternoon of the sixteenth,--the day when the two priests were captured,--Brébeuf was led apart, and bound to a stake. He seemed more concerned for his captive converts than for himself, and addressed them in a loud voice, exhorting them to suffer patiently, and promising Heaven as their reward. The Iroquois, incensed, scorched him from head to foot, to silence him; whereupon, in the tone of a master, he threatened them with everlasting flames, for persecuting the worshippers of God. As he continued to speak, with voice and countenance unchanged, they cut away his lower lip and thrust a red-hot iron down his throat. He still held his tall form erect and defiant, with no sign or sound of pain; and they tried another means to overcome him. They led out Lalemant, that Brébeuf might see him tortured. They had tied strips of bark, smeared with pitch, about his naked body. When he saw the condition of his Superior, he could not hide his agitation, and called out to him, with a broken voice, in the words of Saint Paul, "We are made a spectacle to the world, to angels, and to men." Then he threw himself at Brébeuf's feet; upon which the Iroquois seized him, made him fast to a stake, and set fire to the bark that enveloped him. As the flame rose, he threw his arms upward, with a shriek of supplication to Heaven. Next they hung around Brébeuf's neck a collar made of hatchets heated red hot; but the indomitable priest stood like a rock. A Huron in the crowd, who had been a convert of the mission, but was now an Iroquois by adoption, called out, with the malice of a renegade, to pour hot water on their heads, since they had poured so much cold water on those of others. The kettle was accordingly slung, and the water boiled and poured slowly on the heads of the two missionaries. "We baptize you," they cried, "that you may be happy in Heaven; for nobody can be saved without a good baptism." Brébeuf would not flinch; and, in a rage, they cut strips of flesh from his limbs, and devoured them before his eyes. Other renegade Huron called out to him, "You told us, that, the more one suffers on earth, the happier he is in Heaven. We wish to make you happy; we torment you because we love you; and you ought to thank us for it." After a succession of other revolting tortures, they scalped him; when, seeing him nearly dead, they laid open his breast, and came in a crowd to drink the blood of so valiant an enemy, thinking to imbibe with it some portion of his courage. A chief then tore out his heart, and devoured it.

Thus died Jean de Brébeuf, the founder of the Huron mission, its truest hero, and its greatest martyr. He came of a noble race,--the same, it is said, from which sprang the English Earls of Arundel; but never had the mailed barons of his line confronted a fate so appalling, with so prodigious a constancy. To the last he refused to flinch, and "his death was the astonishment of his murderers." [Charlevoix, I. 204. Alegambe uses a similar expression.] In him an enthusiastic devotion was grafted on an heroic nature. His bodily endowments were as remarkable as the temper of his mind. His manly proportions, his strength, and his endurance, which incessant fasts and penances could not undermine, had always won for him the respect of the Indians, no less than a courage unconscious of fear, and yet redeemed from rashness by a cool and vigorous judgment; for, extravagant as were the chimeras which fed the fires of his zeal, they were consistent with the soberest good sense on matters of practical bearing.

Lalemant, physically weak from childhood, and slender almost to emaciation, was constitutionally unequal to a display of fortitude like that of his colleague. When Brébeuf died, he was led back to the house whence he had been taken, and tortured there all night, until, in the morning, one of the Iroquois, growing tired of the protracted entertainment, killed him with a hatchet.1 It was said, that, at times, he seemed beside himself; then, rallying, with hands uplifted, he offered his sufferings to Heaven as a sacrifice. His robust companion had lived less than four hours under the torture, while he survived it for nearly seventeen. Perhaps the Titanic effort of will with which Brébeuf repressed all show of suffering conspired with the Iroquois knives and firebrands to exhaust his vitality; perhaps his tormentors, enraged at his fortitude, forgot their subtlety, and struck too near the life.

The bodies of the two missionaries were carried to Sainte Marie, and buried in the cemetery there; but the skull of Brébeuf was preserved as a relic. His family sent from France a silver bust of their martyred kinsman, in the base of which was a recess to contain the skull; and, to this day, the bust and the relic within are preserved with pious care by the nuns of the Hôtel-Dieu at Quebec.

[Photographs of the bust are before me. Various relics of the two missionaries were preserved; and some of them may still be seen in Canadian monastic establishments. The following extract from a letter of Marie de l'Incarnation to her son, written from Quebec in October of this year, 1649, is curious.

"Madame our foundress (Madame de la Peltrie) sends you relics of our holy martyrs; but she does it secretly, since the reverend Fathers would not give us any, for fear that we should send them to France: but, as she is not bound by vows, and as the very persons who went for the bodies have given relics of them to her in secret, I begged her to send you some of them, which she has done very gladly, from the respect she has for you." She adds, in the same letter, "Our Lord having revealed to him (Brébeuf) the time of his martyrdom three days before it happened, he went, full of joy, to find the other Fathers; who, seeing him in extraordinary spirits, caused him, by an inspiration of God, to be bled; after which time surgeon dried his blood, through a presentiment of what was to take place, lest he should be treated like Father Daniel, who, eight months before, had been so reduced to ashes that no remains of his body could be found."

Brébeuf had once been ordered by the Father Superior to write down the visions, revelations, and inward experiences with which he was favored,--"at least," says Ragueneau, "those which he could easily remember, for their multitude was too great for the whole to be recalled."--"I find nothing," he adds, "more frequent in this memoir than the expression of his desire to die for Jesus Christ: 'Sentio me vehementer impelli ad moriendum pro Christo.' . . . In fine, wishing to make himself a holocaust and a victim consecrated to death, and holily to anticipate the happiness of martyrdom which awaited him, he bound himself by a vow to Christ, which he conceived in these terms"; and Ragueneau gives the vow in the original Latin. It binds him never to refuse "the grace of martyrdom, if at any day, Thou shouldst, in Thy infinite pity, offer it to me, Thy unworthy servant;". . . "and when I shall have received the stroke of death, I bind myself to accept it at Thy hand, with all the contentment and joy of my heart."

Some of his innumerable visions have been already mentioned.  Tanner, Societas Militans, gives various others,--as, for example, that he once beheld a mountain covered thick with saints, but above all with virgins, while the Queen of Virgins sat at the top in a blaze of glory. In 1637, when the whole country was enraged against the Jesuits, and above all against Brébeuf, as sorcerers who had caused the pest, Ragueneau tells us that "a troop of demons appeared before him divers times,--sometimes like men in a fury, sometimes like frightful monsters, bears, lions, or wild horses, trying to rush upon him. These spectres excited in him neither horror nor fear. He said to them, 'Do to me whatever God permits you; for without His will not one hair will fall from my head.' And at these words all the demons vanished in a moment."--Relation des Huron, 1649, 20. Compare the long notice in Alegambe, Mortes Illustres, 644.

In Ragueneau's notice of Brébeuf, as in all other notices of deceased missionaries in the Relations, the saintly qualities alone are brought forward, as obedience, humility, etc.; but wherever Brébeuf himself appears in the course of those voluminous records, he always brings with him an impression of power.

We are told that, punning on his own name, he used to say that he was an ox, fit only to bear burdens. This sort of humility may pass for what it is worth; but it must be remembered, that there is a kind of acting in which the actor firmly believes in the part he is playing. As for the obedience, it was as genuine as that of a well-disciplined soldier, and incomparably more profound. In the case of the Canadian Jesuits, posterity owes to this, their favorite virtue, the record of numerous visions, inward voices, and the like miracles, which the object of these favors set down on paper, at the command of his Superior; while, otherwise, humility would have concealed them forever. The truth is, that with some of these missionaries, one may throw off trash and nonsense by the cart-load, and find under it all a solid nucleus of saint and hero.


1 "We saw no part of his body," says Ragueneau, "from head to foot, which was not burned, even to his eyes, in the sockets of which these wretches had placed live coals."--Relation des Hurons, 1649, 15.

Lalemant was a Parisian, and his family belonged to the class of _gens de robe_, or hereditary practitioners of the law. He was thirty-nine years of age. His physical weakness is spoken of by several of those who knew him. Marie de l'Incarnation says, "C'était l'homme le plus faible et le plus délicat qu'on eût pu voir." Both Bressani and Ragueneau are equally emphatic on this point.]


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The Jesuits in North America in the Seventeenth Century, 1867

Jesuits in North America

 

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