Franciscan Women and the Ecclesia Militans in Late-Imperial China

Saturday, January 7, 2012: 11:30 AM
Chicago Ballroom B (Chicago Marriott Downtown)
Anthony E. Clark, Whitworth University
After China’s Boxer Uprising in 1900, a number of French hagiographers memorialized the martyrdoms of seven Franciscan women who, like the Carmelites of Francois Poulanc’s Dialogues des Carmélites, were reportedly beheaded one after the next while singing a Marian hymn in chorus. Despite, or perhaps in spite of, previous missionary attempts to confront China’s differences employing Matteo Ricci’s more accommodationist approach, which presumed the existence of East-West cultural intersections, the Franciscan nuns who travelled to Shanxi in 1899 presupposed their own martyrdom in a “hostile land.” The pre-martyrdom writings of the convent superior, Mother Marie Hermine de Jesus, F.M.M., (1866-1900), her conseurs, and the diocesan reports of two prelates, Gregorio Grassi, O.F.M., (1833-1900) and Francesco Fogolla, O.F.M., (1839-1900) provide unusual insight into the question of Franciscan accommodation within the cultural landscape of Qing (1644-1911) China. Relying their personal correspondences and archival records, this paper suggests that the Franciscan women who traveled to China in 1899, inculcated with an ecclesia militans view common of late-nineteenth-century missionaries, expected martyrdom more than successful conversions, and that the formative rhetoric of anticipated martyrdom imposed an a priori pejorative estimation of indigenous Chinese culture. Assumed antagonisms were in fact realized during the Boxer violence that swept through Shanxi from May until late July, 1900, and the subsequent beheadings of the seven Franciscan women killed under the command of Taiyuan’s governor, Yuxian (d. 1901), contributed to the ecclesia militans ethos disseminated in Franciscan (and Dominican) communities back in Europe. This paper seeks to provide a comparative framework within which to consider how the Jesuit accommodations of the Figurists were supplanted by the less accommodating Franciscan mission, motivated as it was in part by the Order’s expectation of martyrdom.