The MEP Martyrs’ Hall
Welcome to the Paris Foreign Missions Society (MEP),
a catholic missionary society whose priests have de- parted for Asia and Indian Ocean for the past 360 years. Additionally, each year more than 150 lay volunteers use their skills to serve in the missions.
History of Martyrs’ Hall
In 1842, the Paris Foreign Missions Seminary, at Rue du Bac, received the relics of Father Pierre Borie who had departed for the missions in 1830 and was martyred 8 years later in Vietnam. This return stirred up emotion, enthusiasm and fervor. As the circumstances of his death were well known, the relics of the martyr began to be venerated. They were placed in an upstairs room and people quickly developed the tradition of spending a few moments each day in front of the relics.
The relics of Borie were not to be the only relics for long. In the following years, relics of other victims of
the persecutions in Vietnam and China were sent to Paris. The overcrowding of objects and the influx of visitors caused the seminary to adapt to the situation and move the relics to the ground floor in 1867.
Beatifications in the first quarter of the 20th century led to other modifications and relocations: monumental urns were made and can still be seen along the stairs leading to the crypt and continuing its descending movement, Martyrs’ Hall has now moved from the ground floor to level below the crypt.
The upright yoke of saint Borie
The upright yoke of Pierre Dumoulin-Borie, is in an unusual position, and at first sight seems misplaced. However, the yoke forms the central axis of the hall and is a pure, refined symbol.
The yoke, resembling a wooden ladder, was a restraint placed around the prisoner’s neck. Here it is also symbol of the cross, and so takes the central position in the crypt. Standing at the yoke opens your eyes to the rest of the crypt.
One can imagine rays emanating from this central
axis. The metallic boxes placed on the walls, underneath the paintings, are the endpoint of these rays. These boxes contain chains, ropes, swords and knives. Once ordinary tools used for normal work, they have been transformed into tools of violence and cruelty.
Upon seeing these instruments of violence, one might wonder about our predecessors and about the path that led them to this kind of death, to martyrdom. Vertical glass cases, which do not stop a person’s view, display many items and articles used by the martyrs in their daily lives. One looks through these glass cases to bring all
the items in the room into perspective, in particular
the paintings, which depict the final scenes in the lives of the martyrs.
Beginnings and principles
Under the first arch are allusions to the origins and structures of the Society: Foreign Missions, various sym- bols of the apostolic vicars associated with the Martyrs including the stole of François Pallu and a few hand-written documents and letters.
Veneration and Devotion: the Immutable
The second arch is made of three showcases.
First: a sign of the cross, crosses of various origins associated with the memory of Martyrs.
Second: small items of Marian devotion, bear witness, under the context of persecution, to a constant, solid faith that can brave anything.
Third: objects used for celebrating mass. The objects shown here are often known as having the quality of
« Saint Sulpice », meaning that they are cheap fabrications. Many of them were made in Asia after western models. But there are some, made in Japan, which seem ordinary, but actually hide Christian symbols: clandestine objects.
Under the third arch, are shown: clothes from Tonkin, China and Tibet. These are fairly exotic clothes worn by the Martyrs. There are also personal objects whose usage is unfamiliar to us. All the items testify to a hospitality offered and received, as well as the adoption of different habits, food, clothing, and a way of life in places which became new homes for the Martyrs.
This showcase is made for a playful analysis of the objects presented on the rack. The cane of Saint Théophane Vénard with inscriptions in ink: a way of walking. The telescope of Saint Auguste Chapdelaine: a way of seeing. The flute of Father Brieux: for fascination. The sword: evokes destiny. Stop watches: the counting of time.
A diary containing touching verses of music. A little ball which is held in the palm of the hand when it is not being used.
This collection of objects, is symbol of a life given. We ourselves play in harmony when we observe them.
Letters and testimonies
There are also diverse writings which illustrate different destinies. These destinies are exemplified by the writings of the Prior of Tibhirine slain in Algeria. « When God is considering »…
With a little patience, you can decipher a letter of Saint Pierre Mauban in Korea, written in April 1837, to Saint Jacques Chastan who is about to join him. With some sketches, he describes his fellow priest, what signals to place on the boats. Or these words of St. Chastan: « today, September 6, around 3 in the morning arrived a reaffirmed order that Monsignor goes to martyrdom… »
In one of the three desk drawers, you can see original documents which show the diverse situations of the travelers, the means they used to arrive at their missions, and the difficulties they encountered during their journey.
Passages, relics, souvenirs
The Martyrs’ Hall and the Crypt, extensions of each other, share the memory of the Martyrs.
We have established a distinct principle, which may seem arbitrary, but which proves useful for the presentation: we call « relics » the remains of martyrs’ body parts, and
« souvenirs » all other objects related to the martyr and those who suffered because of the persecution. The souvenirs are found in the Martyrs’ Hall and the relics are now placed in the Crypt, and on the passage between one location and the other.
Memory and Eucharist
In the crypt, the Tomb is ready. But it has not yet completely fulfilled its function: under the impressive list of the Martyrs of Asia engraved in stone, are wooden
boxes, reliquary urns will be placed there as the Feasts’ of Martyrs are celebrated throughout the year. Thus, by going around this tomb, we will gradually have a kind of chronology of the Society reminding us of the Martyrs’ anniversaries. The urns containing relics are brought
to the chapel and elevated near the main altar on the feast of Martyrs. In this manner, we see that the Tomb is not separated from the community, solely used for personal devotions, instead it is a part of liturgy and Eucharistic celebration.