The Death and Afterlife of the North American Martyrs (Part II): February-March Selection

Part II of the Discussion (Pages 165-463)

Read Part I here.

Three hundred and sixty-five years ago this month, Sts. Jean de Brebeuf and Gabriel Lalemant were killed at Taenhatentaron/Saint-Ignace following Iroquois raids on two Wendat villages (Saint Ignace and St. Louis). In 1949, 300 years after their deaths, Fr. Daniel Lord, S.J., directed a pageant or musical spectacular that recalled the events of March 1649 as well as the deaths of the six other North American martyrs. Lord’s production surprised the huge crowd with a second climax. After a calm depiction of the martyrs’ in their eternal repose, the story’s arch-villain, a native medicine man, danced ominously on stage in his native garments. As the music surged to a climax, the medicine man removed his gear. Underneath his indigenous costume, he wore the uniform of a red army soldier (Anderson, 167). The red barbarism of the past had been merged with the red menace of the present. The image was almost seamless, as was the implied response: Canadians were to lay down their lives in the selfless, Christian struggle against Communism like their martyred forebears.

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Like Lord’s pageant, Emma Anderson’s book has a second climax. It examines the last 65 years of the martyrs’ afterlife and the modern shrines that preserve their memory and provide a context for their cult. There are several interesting events that spur Anderson’s reflection—the reality of the Cold War; the Quiet Revolution in Quebec; the transfer of half of Brebeuf’s skull from Quebec City to Midland in 1992 (described as an organ donation from a dead shrine to one that might still thrive); the re-internment of the bones of 681 Wendat men, women and children at Ossossane in 1999; and the canonization of Kateri Tekakwitha in 2012. Anderson presents several perspectives in interpreting these events depicted in the second half of the book: French Canadian Jesuits, English speaking Jesuits (Upper Canada Province), native Catholics, native traditionalists, Goan pilgrims at Midland and conservative Catholic pilgrims at Auriesville. Throughout Anderson’s account, several questions from the first half of the text reemerge:

  • Are the eight men who were killed in the 1640’s in Canada and Upstate New York legitimately called martyrs?
  • Does their cult—in its many forms—exalt the sufferings of eight Europeans who rashly exposed themselves to death in the midst a war among indigenous Americans?
  • Does their cult intentionally ignore or disregard the suffering of Wendat Catholics who died alongside the Jesuits simply because they were non-Europeans?
  • What of the faceless and nameless native victims of the military raids? What of scores of Wendat Catholics?
  • Have the interpretations of the martyrdom of these eight Europeans enabled non-native Canadians and Americans to subjugate indigenous cultures and disabuse them of their patrimony?
  • Has the violence absorbed by the North American martyrs been redirected at native Canadians and Americans a hundred fold over the last 365 years—with epidemic and war, with residential schools, reeducation and the disappearance of entire nations of indigenous people?

These are difficult questions to which I will return. But first, Prof. Anderson offers several insights that help one address these questions. The overarching principle by which Anderson’s account proceeds is the “alchemy of martyrdom.” This interpretive metaphor signifies a deception or, at least, an inauthenticity surrounding the sanctity of martyrdom. That is, the North American Martyrs, in the right context and with the appropriate interpretive tools, can become icons of masculinity (rugged outdoorsmen, “square” and manly Canadians, and stoic pioneers); spiritual bulwarks against Communism; representations of Canadian nationalism; underdogs who persisted in their most fundamental and pure beliefs; religious colonizers; or crude, overbearing European chauvinists. Anderson helps the reader understand the implicit connection between ethnic pilgrimages to the Midland shrine and the plight of Eastern European Catholics behind the Iron Curtain. Poles, Slovaks, Hungarians, Lithuanians and Czechs came to the shrine praying for their compatriot co-religionists still suffocating under Communism. Such groups sought the martyrs’ intercession for the overthrow of Communist regimes. Furthermore, conservative Catholics have seen the martyrs as exemplars for Catholics who conform their lives to the teachings of the church in the midst of a culture that dismisses such moral stands. But, Prof. Anderson’s most powerful image revolves around bones.

In her account, Prof. Anderson strips the martyrs to their bare bones. The pious accounts of the deaths of the North American martyrs center upon blood—a Catholic, Eucharistic image that emphasizes the suffering of these men in their ministry. Prof. Anderson’s account concerns the bones—the hard, bare traces of their actions and the cults that revere the calcified remains of the martyrs’ actions in the new world. Various perspectives en-flesh or incarnate the bones of the martyrs as they have seen fit—to uphold the Christian notion that suffering bears fruit. The bones of the martyrs have become sacred remnants of their efforts to evangelize New France, while the bones of Wendat Catholics and other natives have been desecrated through racial bias, archeological investigation and neglect. The bones of native peoples have been en-fleshed with savagery and recalcitrance toward Western values and norms. The martyrs’ cult has served to prize the bones of Europeans over and against the native peoples they served—or, as some in Prof. Anderson’s account would have it, those whom the martyrs hectored and diminished.

Indeed, Prof. Anderson’s account unsettles. Yet, there are many aspects that seem to be missing. What of Pope John Paul II’s visit to Midland in 1984? What about the pope’s and the Jesuits’ deference to native peoples throughout Canada in the last 30 years? (Yes, this does not right the wrongs of how the church treated native peoples in many instances, but the central authority of the church sought, in the person of John Paul, to recognize and emphasize the dignity of the native peoples of North America.) Prof. Anderson only mentions the pope’s visit twice. Surely this was an important moment in the history of the cult of the martyrs? Has there not been a concerted effort on the part of modern Catholics to merge historical consciousness with devotion throughout Catholic intellectual life and scholarship? Perhaps, Prof. Anderson’s account will further spur such an important melding.

Lastly, there is a concern regarding truth. For Prof. Anderson, truth is “inescapably multiple” (305). One view of Christian martyrdom, as she writes, “does not ultimately trump or negate the others. All are important. All are true” (53). I do not think Prof. Anderson actually believes these conclusions. Violence is never true. Overbearing presentations of an overbearing God are not true, and if they are true—then the God to which they point is not True God. The underdog, the martyr, the victim are not exalted but for their authenticity and goodness—their adherence to a truth that enriches life, that attests to a fuller human life. If a concept like martyrdom devolves into alchemy, then the beliefs that underpin the reverence of a particular view of martyrdom are false. The Cross of Christ can become alchemy as well if it upholds violence or bias or abuse. The great truth about Christ—the one in whom the martyrs believed with all their hearts—was that Jesus Christ manifested the love of the Triune God. If service to such truth injures others, then such service was oriented not to Christ, but to something else. The martyrs sought to save the souls of others. If they went about their business to save their own souls, then their efforts will indeed be inefficacious. Piety, authenticity, blood, bone—this is the stuff of an incarnate God.

Prof. Anderson’s account concludes with the question—will the cult of the North American martyrs live on? And so, I ask the readers of Prof. Anderson’s account:

  • Will the cult of the North American martyrs endure in future generations?
  • Should the cult of the North American martyrs incorporate the native Catholics that died with and around them – like the devotions to St. Paul Miki and companions, the Vietnamese martyrs, the Chinese     martyrs, and martyrs of the Spanish Civil War?
  • How do you en-flesh the bones of the North American martyrs? How do they become alive to you? 
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Sara Damewood
3 years 7 months ago
This is pretty fascinating stuff. I'll read what I can and skim the rest before I have to return the book to interlibrary loan on the 20th, and I'll be thinking about that last question in particular. Looking forward to more of your thoughts!
Andrew Di Liddo
3 years 7 months ago
In the email I received from Kevin this morning, he poses this question: Are the eight men who were killed in the 1640’s in Canada and Upstate New York legitimately called martyrs? Reading what I have read thus far, is casting doubt on the label "martyr". As Anderson mentions, this does go into the area of semantics and linguistics. My bias has always been that martyrdom had some sort of heroic component and she describes many things antithetical to my bias of heroism. Also, I know some of the canonization process from reading Catholic press but am not sure what the Church's definition and processes are for the determination of martyrdom. Much of what Anderson has written if placed in today's context would be labelled "collateral damage", i.e. in any war or conflict, some people get killed unjustly. White men black robes were canonized but the Wendat Catholics who were slaughtered fell into the "collateral damage" category. Kevin asks further, to think about the afterlife and cult of the North American martyrs in the milieu of subjugation of indigenous peoples. Certainly these indigenous peoples were assaulted in almost genocidal proportion, reducing their numbers not only from warfare and barbarism but also from epidemic disease brought by outsiders. Fast forward to the 21st Century, we see renewed respect and revisionism associated with native peoples. A couple of secular examples could include the huge celebration of Columbus Day each year in the Northeastern USA and Canada. In this northeastern USA area it is a well traveled holiday in New England that oftentimes is concomitant with Canadian Thanksgiving. Thus, when traveling at this time, Canadians and Americans often intermingle in either celebration of their Thanksgiving or of Columbus. There certainly has been a swing away from celebrating Columbus as more politically and historically correct aspects of his treatment of native peoples is integrated into school curricula. In fact, in California, there was a movement (it failed) to replace the Columbus day holiday with a "Natives People" holiday. My bias is that in our secular society, not a lot of consideration is given to Anglo European subjugation of indigenous peoples. In re-examining, in conjunction with reading this book, thus far, the saints I read, study, admire, pray to, frequently; very few are martyrs. It seems that the LIFE of saints, how they lived , what they did while living, is what captures my imagination and helps me form my faith rather than the circumstances surrounding their deaths. I seek models for living, not models for death. The North American martyrs will probably not be on my list but I am not called (as of yet) to be a missionary. I find plenty of need in my immediate neighborhood and community that I can help with without going far afield.
Sara Damewood
3 years 6 months ago
Andrew, I also drawn to the lives of saints rather than the circumstances of their deaths. However, I do admire martyrdom, and I'm going to try to explain that in another comment. God bless your service in your neighborhood and community!
Andrew Di Liddo
3 years 7 months ago
The description of the musical play, opera, Salute to Canada is unreal! The native Indian chief transmogrifies in his war dance into a depiction of native peoples as "Red Communists"........thus, the native peoples are depicted as communists? Whats up with that?? seems a bit revisionist.
Andrew Di Liddo
3 years 7 months ago
Saint Marie among the Hurons, Jesuit settlement, now Midland, Ontario area: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:St_Marie_Hurons_1.jpg
Andrew Di Liddo
3 years 7 months ago
I have not posted for a few days. Emma Anderson's depth is a tad above my pay grade :-). So, frankly, I have set her tome aside for a few days because my copy of Dark Was the Wilderness has arrived from inter-library loan and I am plowing through it in conjunction with Anderson's volume. http://www.amazon.com/Dark-was-wilderness-P-OGrady/dp/B0006AQOMC/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1395254559&sr=1-1&keywords=dark+was+the+wilderness What fascinates me about IsaacJogues, Chiwatenwa, and St Brebeuf and Ossossone' is simplistically (probably) depicted but gives me a real feel for the kindred spirits of Jogues and Chiwatenwa and Brebeuf. The melding of the Jesuit spirituality with the Wendat spirituality is awesomely depicted. Reading this account is blood curdling and eye opening.
Sara Damewood
3 years 6 months ago
I'm going to reply to your last question by describing how I would design a shrine museum at Auriesville to en-flesh those bones. In order to build a bridge between Catholics ("ultra conservative," liberal and everything in between), I would create different exhibit areas to tell a variety of stories: - the anthropological and historical background of the martyrdom, including the richness of the native American culture and spirituality, the culture of the French Jesuits and the settlers - an exhibit with the facts about the North American martyrs death by torture (perhaps this should be a roped-off room for adults and children over a certain age) - an exhibit about saints and martyrs (in the Catholic tradition) and what constitutes both. There could be film clips from "Of Gods and Men," and "Who Cares About the Saints." and news clips about martyrs in central America, etc. Then, you sell these items in the book store. - a history of violence and torture, including psychosocial theories (minimizing graphics depictions that might upset people, especially children) - an exhibit on compassion as a universal value... maybe something from the Charter for Compassion I'm imagining this kind of museum as part of a complex where there would be a Catholic chapel and multipurpose room for all kinds of events. Pardon my non-traditional comment here. This is how I've been envisioning "enfleshing" the bones!
Sara Damewood
3 years 6 months ago
I want to add another exhibit to my imaginary museum. Let's have one that interprets the beautiful blend of cultures that comes when people understand each other, e.g. the Catholic conversion of Celtic Ireland.
Andrew Di Liddo
3 years 6 months ago
    Should the cult of the North Americans incorporate the native Catholic "converts" that died with and around them?
ABSOLUTELY YES! I put "converts" in quotes because it can be no more clearer to me that Wendot/Huron Joseph Chihoawtenhwa was born a Christian. The seed of Christianity was en-grafted, implanted on the soul of Chihoawtenhwa by OUR FATHER HIMSELF. That seed was warmed, nurtured, watered by the Black Robe Jesuits and blossomed into sanctity and martyrdom with the intercession of the Holy Spirit. Chihoawtenhwa pestered the Jesuits for the Sacrament of Baptism. He had foreknowledge of his own physical death by the hands of his own people. He had unique insights into the evil hand of their paganism and turned away from that towards "the brave stretched out nailed to wood" on Saint Bre'breuf's hut. Marie Aonetta is a saint and martyr as is Joseph Chiwatenhwa. Of this I can be not be more certain as I studied this volume, prayed to Saint Joseph Chiwatenhwa in my daily prayers and meditated upon his life in an Ignatian exercise. I pray for the courage he had. Saint Joseph Chiwatenhwa took St. Bre'breuf to the Echon Tree which was the center of his spiritual life prior to conversion and where he spiritually sacramentally bonded in marriage to Marie Aonetta. Saint Bre'breuf immediately recognized Joseph's spirituality embodied in this natural setting and immediately ordered Saint Marie among the Hurons Jesuit Headquarters to be be constructed on that site. The Wendot/Hurons did not call Saint Bre'breuf "Father Bre'breuf". They called him "Echon", after this balm emitting healing tree at the center of the combined Jesuit/Wendot community. It is very disappointing to me that Emma Anderson describes how native peoples are turned away from depictions at Auriesville, preferring to go to Fonda, NY, the town founded by the Henry Fonda acting family. There, is the shrine of Saint Kateri Tekakwitha where native peoples commune with this Saint more in tune with their hybrid spirituality.
Sara Damewood
3 years 6 months ago
Andrew, I agree the converts should be included as martyrs. At the same time, I would change your term "evil hand of their paganism" to "... of their violence." "Pagan" simply means country dweller. Primitive earth-centered spirituality is still a path to God. I love what the Catholic Church did in connecting with "pagan" Celts in Ireland; there is a wonderful blend of cultures that came out of that.
Andrew Di Liddo
3 years 5 months ago
Sara: Doesn't it all boil down to what you have writtten? :-) : --> Understanding other people, AND loving them too. Both are hard work but worth the effort. Appreciate your insights too Sara regarding paganism, Celtic culture...etc. I am seeing some of this on the TV recently as there have been many Native Americans featured on the news discussing their spirituality in relation to the KEYSTONE XL Pipeline. They discuss their spirituality AND in the same breath THEIR WAY OF LIFE. The two are inseparable. I can hear it when they speak. I stumbled across this quote from John Paul the Great, Saint John Paul II: "The believer who has seriously pondered his Christian vocation, including what Revelation has to say about the possibility of martyrdom, cannot exclude it from his own life's horizon. The two thousand years since the birth of Christ are marked by the ever-present witness of the martyrs." -Pope John Paul II Should circumstances require it, am I willing to suffer martyrdom for the sake of the Church? Why or why not?

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