At the beginning of the 20th century, Catholicism in China was rapidly growing. In the year 1900, there were 40 Bishops, 800 European missionaries, 600 native Chinese priests, and around 700,000 native Chinese Catholics that had embraced the faith. It was also during this period when the Boxer Rebellion began to rise up in China. Boxers hated all things European, including and most especially the ever-growing Catholic Church.
As we saw in last week’s article, in 1900, the Boxer Rebellion also attacked the cathedral in Beitang (a district of Wuxi, Jiangsu Province). At the head of the defense of this uprising was the French Lazarist Bishop of Peking, Bishop Pierre-Marie-Alphonse Favier, C.M. It was he who designed the cathedral and saw it built to its current state. During the attack, Bishop Favier kept a very detailed account of the siege, which he recorded in his journal.
In the book, The Heart of Pekin: Bishop A. Favier’s Diary of the Siege, May-August 1900, the Bishop says the following about the Boxers and the Siege –
“The Boxers are a truly diabolical sect; invocations, incantations, obsessions, and even possessions, are common among them. Savants may attribute their extraordinary doings to magnetism or hypnotism or may look upon them as victims of hysteria and fanaticism, but to us they seem to be even more directly instruments of the devil. The hatred of the name Catholic drives them to the greatest excesses. Established as they are in every village they unite on a day specified to attack any one Catholic settlement, destroying and murdering everything and everyone in it. Small children were quartered, women were burned in church or run through with a sword, men were stabbed or shot and some were even crucified. The conduct of the Catholics is admirable; apostasy is proposed to them, but they prefer flight, ruin, even death.”
The cathedral was attacked by 10,000 Boxers and army regulars. Behind the great walls of the cathedral were over 3,000 Chinese Catholics, 30 French seamen led by Lt. Paul Henry, who would die during the siege, 11 Italian soldiers, and many French and Chinese priests and religious sisters. In total, during the two-month attack (June 15-August 15, 1900), over 400 died. The Catholics were attacked with a constant bombardment of mine attacks and flaming rockets. Starvation also set in and many of the children died from small pox.
One of the most heroic figures to rise from the siege was the Superior of the Sisters of Charity in Beitang, Sister Helen de Jaurias. Through the words left in her diary, we learn that she overcome age and extreme fatigue to feed and care for 1800 woman and children. She would die in August of 1900, days after being rescued by French marines who arrived in Beitang.
A year after the Boxer Rebellion, Bishop Favier said at the motherhouse in Paris,
“… Every night during those two months, the Chinese [Boxers] directed heavy gunfire at the roofs of the cathedral and the balustrade surrounding it. Why? wondered [Lieutenant] Paul Henry and the missionaries. There was no one there to defend the cathedral. After the liberation, the pagans provided the key to this mystery: ‘How is it,’ they said, ‘that you did not see anything? Every night, a white Lady walked along the roof, and the balustrade was lined with white soldiers with wings.’ The Chinese [Boxers], as they themselves affirm, were firing at the apparitions.”
Bishop Favier and the Catholics in Beitang attribute their survival to a divine woman in white known as Our Lady of Deliverance. To honor Our Lady and her intercession, the Bishop built a church in Beitang. Our Lady of Deliverance is presented as the Empress of China. In her arms, she is holding the Child Jesus, himself is depicted as an imperial prince.
Our Lady of Deliverance, Empress of China…Pray for Us
“Our Lady of Deliverance, Empress of China.” The American TFP, 4 Aug. 2017, http://www.tfp.org/our-lady-of-deliverance-empress-of-china/.