Feastday/Memorial Mass Readings     |     Words of Wisdom

1846-1878
Feastday - 25th August

Mariam (St Mary of Jesus Crucified) was born on the 5th of January, 1846, at Abellin – Ibilline today, a small village on a hill in Galilee between Nazareth and Akko.  To the east and north one can see the mountains of Upper Galilee and Lebanon; to the west, the plain of Esdrelon and Mount Carmel.

Her parents were both Greek Catholics.  Miriam’s father George Baouardy was from Hurfeish, and her mother, Mariam Shahyn from Tarshiha, both Muslim villages with a handful of Greek Catholics.  Both were fervent in their faith and suffered for it.  George was persecuted and imprisoned by the Ottoman police but finally declared innocent and in order to remain hidden they left Hurfeish to settle in Abellin.

Sadly, they lost 12 children, all boys, in infancy one after the other.  Mariam persuaded her husband to make a pilgrimage to the grotto of the Nativity in Bethlehem by foot (about 170 km), to promise the Virgin  Mother that they would call their child Mariam and return when the child was three years old in thanksgiving, offering wax candles equal in weight to the child.  The couple were blessed with a little girl, Mariam, and 2 years later by a little boy, Paul (Boulos).

Before reaching the age of 3, both parents died within a few days of one another of an unspecified disease.  Paul was adopted by a maternal aunt in Tarshiha and Mariam by a well to do paternal uncle in Abellin.  Mariam never saw her brother again.

The voice of the Lord began to speak in her heart from early childhood.  Once when burying some beloved birds that she had unintentionally killed by giving them a bath, she heard a voice speaking to her: ‘Everything finishes in this way; but if you will give me your heart, I will be yours forever.’

On another occasion, a snake approached her while she was drinking a bowl of milk.  Fearlessly, she grabbed the snake by the head and plunged it into the bowl.  She was fearless in the face of danger, and in her fight against the ways of the Devil who continued to torment her throughout her life.

She received her first Communion at the age of 7 after having to endure delays by the parish priest.  One day, unable to contain herself, she slipped among the communicants and received the sacred Host. She later related that it seemed to her as if Jesus came to her in the form of a child.

At the age of 12, her uncle relocated the family to Alexandria.  Here, Mariam was informed that according to custom, she would be married.  The arrangements had been made that she would marry a brother of her aunt.  On the eve of the wedding, the bride was to come to present coffee to the guests, beautifully dressed and adorned in jewels.  However, Mariam instead appeared with her hair and the jewels on a tray.  She proclaimed that she had chosen another groom and wished to devote her life to him.

The family were scandalized and tried to reason with her without success.  Her furious uncle sent her to the kitchens to work as a slave.  However, despite the ill-treatment, she said: ‘It seemed to me as if a little bird was singing in my heart.’

She endured this situation for several months, and then desirous of seeing her brother, she tried to send a message to him through a former servant of her uncle, a Muslim, who was going to Galilee.  When she went to his home to deliver the message, he tried to make her deny her religion and when she refused, he angrily slashed her throat with a knife.  Believing her to be dead, he disposed of the body on a deserted street.  This happened on the 7th of September, 1858.

What happened after this shocking incident was a miraculous rescue which Mariam believed was carried out by the Blessed Virgin Mary.  She related that a nun dressed in blue picked her up, brought her to a cave and stitched up her wound.  She then led her to the Franciscan Church of St Catherine and left her there.  Mariam’s scar was plain to see and was examined by doctors in Marseilles, Pau and Bethlehem and by the infirmary sisters.  It measured 10cm in length by 1cm wide.  The wound which should have caused her death was miraculously healed by the Virgin.

After this, Mariam did not return to her uncle, and she never saw him again.  She began working as a maid servant in Alexandria.  She was still very eager to see her brother so she travelled by boat to Jaffa, and then on to Jerusalem.  However, here she was wrongly accused of stealing jewels and imprisoned.  The real thief was apprehended and on her release, she continued towards Haifa, but due to a storm ended up in Beirut.  Again, she began working as a servant.  She went on pilgrimage to Jerusalem and at the Shrine of the Holy Sepulchre, she made a perpetual vow of chastity.  She was 15 years old.  After some time in Beirut she was offered a job with a Syrian family who had settled in Marseilles, so at the age of 18 years, she travelled to France.

Desiring to live in religious life, she discerned which order to enter with the help of her confessor, and was directed to the Sisters of St Joseph of the Apparition.  There were several postulants from Lebanon and Palestine, so she felt at home.  But due to ill health and some mystical phenomena that upset the sisters, she was asked to leave after 2 years of postulancy despite the great esteem in which she was held in by the mother superior and the other nuns.  The mistress of novices, Mother Veronica, a convert from Anglicanism, was awaiting permission from the Holy See to enter the Carmel of Pau.  She suggested that Mariam come with her.  Mariam agreed; was presented and gained admission. In a letter recommending her to the Prioress of the Carmel of Pau, Mother Veronica did not mention her mystical graces but said: 'She will be obedient to the point of a miracle.'

The mystical phenomena that manifested themselves on her were numerous.  The Stigmata first appeared in 1867.  Mainly during lent and on Fridays, deep red blood flowed from gaping wounds on her hands and feet; her left side bled as did the forehead.  It ended in 1876 in answer to the repeated prayer of the nun: 'My God, do not permit this to be seen.  I accept all the thorns in my heart; but tell the Master of the rosebush to hide the roses.' 

Ecstasies were to follow her throughout her life:'Love follows me everywhere.  I was running away and He caught me: He makes fun of me, my Love!  He will not even let me eat!'

Levitations started in 1873 in Pau, 8 of which were witnessed.  As soon as the Mother prioress asked her to come down under obedience, the ecstatic actually descended with great humility. 

On the 24 of May 1868, she experienced the Transverberation of the heart.  From then on her heart would bleed often, staining her clothing.  After her death, when her heart was removed, surgeons and witnesses attested to the scar of an old wound that should have caused death.  She also had a knowledge of hearts and the gift of prophecy.

Possessing so many mystical gifts, she was not with out her enemies and many supposed her to be possessed by the devil, to have had an eastern temperment, hysteria, etc.  However, one can always know a tree by its fruits and this is the testament of a true mystic.

'In reality, as the greatest mystics have admitted, what confers on these manifestations the guarantee of their divine origin, is their fruits. "A good tree can only produce good fruits and a bad tree only bad fruits."; so we read in the Gospel.  Now the fruits of those who are false mystics are very poor things indeed, whereas what authentic mystics offer us are flowers of love and charity.' (from Mystics and False Mystics by Prof. Jean Lhermitte)

If she was possessed of anything it was by the Holy Spirit to whom she had a deep devotion and which she tirelessly promoted.  She wrote this prayer in 1869:

Holy Spirit, inspire me.
Love of God, consume me.
To the right path lead me.
Mary my mother, look down upon me.
With Jesus, bless me.
From all evil, all illusion, all danger, preserve me.

Together with her former novice mistress, Miriam joined the Discalced Carmelites at Pau, France (14 June 1867). In 1870, she was sent with a group of founding sisters to Mangalore, India, where she made her profession (21 November 1870).  The nuns of Mangalore made life impossible for her and succeed in turning former friends against her.  Her spiritual director, Apostolic Vicar Ephrem M. Garrelon, came to believe her mystical experiences were a sign of demonic obsession, and obliged her to return to France in 1872.   Although the Devil tried her greatly here, urging her to anger, to run away, to be disobedient, he did not succeed in stealing her peace.  On returning her former persecutors had a change of heart and were grief stricken at what had happened, writing letters of repentance.  Bl Mary's reply to one of these letters noted: 'All that has taken place was willed by Jesus.  May His name be praised!  It is God who has permitted everything.'

Following the urgings of the Holy Spirit she declared that God wanted a Carmel in Bethlehem, and although everyone was very much against it to start with, all of the permissions were gained miraculously and a benefactress, Berthe Dartigaux, invested her fortune to build the foundation.  On the 12 September 1875, they arrived in Bethlehem and were welcomed by the Franciscan Fathers.  They rented a house initially and 14 months later they moved into the monastery that Bl Mary designed herself, in the form of a tower in memory of the Tower of David which is spoken of in the Song of Songs, following the plan God had revealed to her.  Not long after this she began planning for another Carmel in Nazareth.  Although begun in 1878, it was actually finished in 1910.

She died following a very brief illness at Bethlehem on 26 August 1878. She was 33 years old.  When they wished to close her coffin, her arms spread out in the form of a cross.  The mother prioress said the word 'obedience' and immediately the arms became flexible and the coffin was closed.  She was beatified by Pope John Paul II on 13 November 1983 in Rome, and proclaimed the patroness of prisoners.  She was canonized with other palestinian saints on the 17th of May 2015 in Rome.

Sources: Abridged from Mariam, The Little Arab - Sister Mary of Jesus Crucified 1846-1878.