Two Sides to Every Story: The North American Martyrs Shrines and Indigenous/ Roman Catholic Relations – Part II
Jerome Lalemant, the second Superior of the Huron mission, said there were so few converts because no Jesuit had been martyred yet. It is stated more than once that if the “glorious crown” of martyrdom was denied to them, the mission itself could be seen as a living martyrdom.
And they had a point! There was the continual cold, dampness, and hunger. There was the smoky interior of the multi- family long houses that made eyes tear and burn. There were yapping dogs that ran freely and ate off their master’s plate and sometimes right out of their mouths. There were bugs that burrowed themselves in the priests’ beards. There was food such as sagamite, a gruel-like potpourri, in which whole frogs, insects, wild plants, and ground corn were mixed together and cooked into a glue-like substance. There was the sight of people engaged in public copulation. There was the omnipresent naked human form.
Inside the Longhouse - Iroquoian Village, Ontario, Canada. The 15th century Iroquoian Village was reconstructed on its original site. This village is located along the traditional boundary between the Wendat (Huron) 13th, 14th and 15th centuries and Attiwandaron (Neutral) people 15th, 16th and 17th centuries. (Laslovarga/CC BY SA 3.0)
Jean Brebeuf and Isaac Jogues
Today the Jesuits have distanced themselves from the methods of evangelization their forebears engaged in. For example, one of the greatest “joys” missionary priests experienced was baptizing a dying infant. Boldly entering the private precincts of a grieving family and using the pretense of cooling a high fever, a vial of holy water hidden under a cassock was slyly drawn out and a few drops sprinkled on the child’s forehead. On the other hand, it apparently took six years to baptize one adult Huron!
The Canadian Roman Catholic Church’s very own Jean Brebeuf, known and honored today by having countless schools and churches named after him, said after one such subterfuge, “For this one single occasion I would travel all the way from France. I would cross the great ocean to win one soul for our Lord.”
American Catholics know more about Isaac Jogues, the subject of a popular book called Saint Among Savages by Fr. Francis Talbot, which kept many Catholic school boys awake at night with its blood curdling passages. Jogues lost all his fingers after being captured and tortured by the Mohawk Iroquois. However, Jogues escaped to New Amsterdam where a Dutch ship took him to France. After four years, Jogues returned to the New world and actively sought martyrdom.
Statue of Saint Isaac Jogues, shown teaching two Mohawk Indian children, located on the grounds of the National Shrine of the North American Martyrs in Auriesville, New York, USA. (LotR/CC BY SA 3.0)
It should be pointed out here that dozens of Christianized indigenous people were killed in just as grisly a manner as the Catholic clerics, yet no one other than Kateri Tekakwitha has been recognized, let alone sanctified, by the Church.
Spiritual Violence and Justifiable Homicide?
The death of dozens of Franciscan friars in New Mexico, including twenty-one in 1680 during the Pueblo Revolt, are also unrecognized by the church. They are widely seen as agents of colonialism. Revisionist writer Ramon Gutierrez says that the Franciscans engaged in “supreme acts of aggression” targeting native idolatry so zealously ( spiritual violence) that the latter were forced to act ( justifiable homicide.)
The death of the Jesuit priests can be seen as sanctioned executions. Just like ecclesiastic law in many 17th century European countries required witches and heretics to be put to death, so the Wendat legal system required all sorcerers to be put to death.
Most troubling is the Jesuit’s knowledge that they were spreading the diseases that were killing the Wendat - that may necessitate a formal apology from the head of the Catholic Church.
Huron-Wendat group from Wendake (Lorette) at Spencerwood, Quebec City, QC, 1880, Jules-Ernest Livernois. (Public Domain)
The air borne germ theory of contagions and infectious diseases like small pox, measles, and influenza was not known in the 1600’s. However, it could not have been lost on the educated intelligent Jesuits that the sudden deaths of so many people in so quick a time could be linked to their presence.
There is a hint of culpability in this quote from The Relations, “The Hurons have an extreme horror of our doctrine. They say it causes them to die and that it contains spells and charms which effect the destruction of their corn.”
Michael Power, a recent Catholic apologist said,
“The tragedy of this period is that the French while professing a genuine desire for closer trading relations and the missionaries only the chance to teach God’s Holy Word were both unwittingly planting the seeds of a biological disaster.”
Martyrs' Shrine, Midland, Ontario, Canada. Statue of Jean de Brébeuf. (Tango7174/CC BY SA 4.0)
How to Right a Wrong?
Last year, the Jesuit English Province with support from `Canada 150’, sponsored a canoe pilgrimage from Huronia to Ottawa. A pastoral letter by the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops on the 350th anniversary of the collapse of the Huron mission quotes its third Superior, Paul Ragueneau:
"One must be very careful before condemning a thousand things among their (Wendat) customs, which greatly offends minds nurtured and set in another world… I have no hesitation in saying that we have been too severe on this point… We see that such severity is no longer necessary, and that in many things we can be less rigorous than in the past."
This is a remarkable statement of self-examination.
Logo for the canoe pilgrimage. (Author provided)
A recent upgrade to the Martyrs’ Shrine in Midland, including many `green’ features, does not say anything new about Wendat/Jesuit relations; although is it generally true that the Canadian shrine is more sympathetic to indigenous people than the Auriesville shrine.
Across from the Martyrs’ church in Midland is the rebuilt Sainte Marie Mission, which was appended to a Huron town. It is a National Historic Site run by the Government of Ontario and adheres to guidelines set by the Canadian Museums Association.
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Reconstructed buildings at Sainte Marie among the Hurons. (Pjposullivan/CC BY SA 4.0)
However, visitors can still read on info boards incredulous statements like this:
“The Wendat were impressed with the blackrobe’s ability to survive the diseases that devastated their own people and they accepted the promise of eternal life offered by the Jesuits.”
The question I put to you, readers of Ancient Origins, is what actions can we take to address this matter? Could we advocate to have a permanent display placed at the main entrance of the Martyrs’ Shrine in Midland, which visitors could easily detour around, telling the entirety of the Wendat side of the story?
Could we petition to have all Holy Martyrs and Charles Garnier churches renamed? Can we petition our diocese to ask groups like CWL and Knights of Columbus not to encourage excursions to the Martyrs’ Shrine or at least include alternative perspectives? Can we approach the remaining Wendat and Wyandot living in Quebec and the US about our concerns?
‘The Huron Indians of Loreth’ (c.1838) by John Richard Coke Smyth. (Public Domain)
Top image: Source: Jeff S. PhotoArt/CC BY NC ND 3.0