I’m in the opera (Poulenc’s Dialogues of the Carmelites). I’ve mentioned this before, but I am near finalizing the biography of my character, and wanted to share it here. I am having so much fun in rehearsal–I keep meaning to email my karate teacher to tell him how valuable being able to fall safely has been in these rehearsals! (Soldiers representing The Republic force the nuns to strip to their shifts at bayonet point, and I fight back). Anyhoo, here it is:
Biography of Sister Anne of the Cross
I have known since I was a little girl that I wanted to be the wife of God. My sister and I grew up in Paris near the Sarbonne as the only daughters of a blacksmith who only wanted sons. Most of our happiest moments were spent in the garden because it was the one place papa wouldn’t go and we loved the peaceful feel of being surrounded by a community of women.
I would always plant the peas too close together because I thought as many as possible should have the chance to live. I would have to come in and cull the young ones before they grew too close together and killed each other. I could never abide death.
Mother took us to visit our cousin in Compiègne when I was 9 and you were 11 and we saw the Carmelites and fell in love. Mother told us that “carmel” (the name of a mountain in Israel), combined the Hebrew words karem (garden) and el (God), which together meant “garden of god”.
But before we run away together, my sister fell in love with John and they were married. She was 18 and he was 22. Having no one left at home, I spent two years planning my escape, and when I turned 18 I fled north with our cousin to Compiègne, and arrived at the convent with only the clothes on my back and no food in my stomach. Though I had always found God more present in flowers than in pews, Madame de Croissy (not then the prioress, but on the make) insisted I be let in, because the garden needed tending.
Within a year of my joining the convent, my sister (now Sister Gertrude) joined my convent. Her John had been a carpenter, and died in a duel with a customer who refused to pay for a beautiful bed he had made. She chose the name Sister Gertrude to help him reach heaven—Gertrude is the saint of souls in purgatory.
We lived and gardened together for 15 years, finding peace in prayer and humble service to God
We died on July 17, 1794. My sister was 33, I was 31.
“This is a brief overview of how the Carmelite Monasteries of women came to be founded in this region. We have a custom of calling our Monasteries ‘Carmels’. ‘Carmel’ is a biblical word, derived from the Hebrew ‘karem’ meaning a ‘vineyard’ or ‘garden’. When the suffix ‘el’ is added for the Divine name, it takes on the meaning of ‘the garden of the Lord.’ ‘Carmel’ is also a biblical symbol for beauty and fruitfulness; it is used by the spouse in the Song of Songs (7:5) in order to praise the beauty of the Beloved. We want our Monasteries to be truly ‘gardens of the Lord.” (Quote from Carmelites.net)