Thursday, August 10, 2017

The Cross That Can't Be Lost

Françoise Gonannhatenha was forced to mount the wooden scaffold upon which the Onondaga Iroquois tortured their enemies.

But quite an unusual enemy she made. She was an Onondaga by birth, and the ones who now stood poised to take her life were friends and relatives, including a sister who had handed her over to the elders for execution.

What did this woman do to merit such mistreatment from her own people?

Françoise had been baptized years before by Father Jacques Fremin on his visit to Onondaga. She had lived as an Iroquois Christian among her people, but persecution made her leave her homeland and join other Christian Iroquois at Sault St. Louis, where she was known for her modesty, piety, and above all charity to the poor.

The devout settlement at the Sault, though mainly Iroquois by blood and language, remained close allies of the French, and so their former countrymen declared them enemies of state.

In 1692, an Iroquois army apprehended Françoise, her husband and two friends in a canoe. They mercilessly killed her husband, and dragged the three women back to Iroquoia, pulling their fingernails out and burning the tips of their bloody fingers in pipe-bowls. The other two women were sent to two other Iroquois villages, and Françoise was remanded back to Onondaga, where she was condemned to death.

Yet she remained undaunted. Mounting the torture platform, she loudly declared to the crowd that she was a Christian, and was happy to die in her own village at the hands of her own nation. In this, she added, she was only following the example of the Lord Himself.

Her piety annoyed her relatives, and one of them tore away the crucifix that had been hanging around her neck. He then took a knife and carved a cross into her breast.

“There you see,” he mocked, “the cross which you esteemed so much and which prevented you from leaving the Sault, when I went to seek you there.”

“I thank you, my brother,” she replied. “I can lose that cross which you have taken away from me, but you have given me one which I will never lose, not even in death.”

Marked with the sign of salvation, Françoise boldly preached from the scaffold:

“As frightful are the torments which you condemned me to, do not believe that my fate is to be pitied. It is yours which requires pity and groans. This fire, which you have lit for my torture, will only burn me for a few hours, but another fire which is never extinguished is prepared for you in Hell. It is however still in your power to avoid it: follow my example, become Christians, live according to the Laws of the Religion as saints, and you will escape from the eternal flames. Moreover, I declare to you that I wish those no ill, who I see are ready to snatch my life. Not only do I pardon them for my death, but I pray the sovereign Master of Life to open their eyes to truth, to touch their hearts, to give them the grace of conversion and to die in the sentiments that now inspire me.”

These exhortations only increased the fury of her torturers. She was taken down, and for three days was dragged around the village, subjected to all manner of cruelties and insults. Then, on the fourth day they returned her to the scaffold to begin the hideous final act of her martyrdom. Tying Françoise to the stake, they burned her entire body with red hot firebrands and gun barrels for many hours. Under all this agony she did not cry out.

At last they scalped her, threw hot cinders upon her bleeding head, and untied her—expecting she would run about in agony the way so many other victims had done.

Instead the pious widow knelt down next to the stake, lifted her eyes, and offered her last breaths as a final sacrifice to God. They rained down upon her a shower of stones, and overwhelmed, this holy Christian Iroquois finally gave up her soul to God.

No comments:

Post a Comment