Mariam (Mary) of Jesus Crucified
“The Little Arab”
“Lily of Palestine”
Born: Ibillin, Galilee 1846
Died: August 26, 1878 in Bethlehem, Palestine
Beatified: November 1983 by Saint John Paul II
Canonized: May 2015 by Pope Francis
Feast Day: August 26
Patroness of: Prisoners and for Peace in the Holy Land
Relics: Carmelite Convent, Bethlehem, Palestine
Mariam Baouardy, known in religion as Blessed Mariam of Jesus Crucified, was born in Ibillin, located in the hill country of upper Galilee, Palestine. Her family originated in Damascus, Syria. They were Catholics of the Melkite Greek-Catholic Rite, descendants of the early Church in Antioch, the place where the followers of Jesus were first called Christians.
Her miraculous birth
The birth of Mariam in 1846 came after many tears and much prayer by her parents, Giries and Mariam Baouardy. Prior to Mariam they had twelve sons born to them, and sadly all died in infancy. Their grief was immense at the loss of all twelve of their children. Broken-hearted, but full of hope, the mother had an inspiration that she confided to her husband: “Let us go to Bethlehem on foot, and ask the Blessed Virgin for a daughter. Let us promise Her that if our prayers are answered, we will name her Mariam and will offer for the service of God a quantity of wax equal to her weight when she is three years of age.”
Full of confidence, the husband and wife left for Bethlehem, at that time a very long trip of 110 miles, which they made on foot. We can guess their hope and fervor as they prayed at the Grotto of the Nativity, where the Mother of God blessed them by granting their request. The parents were overjoyed when their prayers were answered and Mariam was born to them on the eve of the Epiphany, January 5, 1846, and, as promised, they then named her after the Virgin Mary, in whom they had a great devotion. Ten days later she was baptized, confirmed and received Eucharist in the local Melkite Catholic Church in their hometown of Ibillin. When Mariam was only two years old, both her mother and father died within a few days of each other of an unspecified disease. She was to live with her uncle there in Ibillin.
Her childhood devotion to the Blessed Virgin Mary
The Blessed Virgin was to surround, with much tenderness, this young girl whose parents had asked for her at the grotto of Bethlehem. Mariam was to be the privileged child of Our Lady. In Her honor, from the age of five, she fasted every Saturday, taking only the evening meal to the great admiration and edification of her aunt and uncle, who were continually amazed by the devotion of such a young child. In the springtime, she would gather flowers; choosing the loveliest and most fragrant, from the garden or on the hills of Ibillin, to place before the icon of the Blessed Virgin. And what a surprise to find that the cut flowers had taken root in the vase! She showed her uncle who, in turn informed the local pastor. In an effort to keep her humble, he scolded her as though her sins were responsible for this phenomenon. Mariam fell on her knees, humbled herself and asked pardon for her sins.
Mystic experiences: She was in her uncle’s orchard amidst apricot, peach and pecan trees. She kept a cage filled with small birds, a gift given to her. One day she decided that her beloved birds needed a bath; however, she unintentionally drowned them in spite of her well-intentioned efforts. Their death broke her small heart. Grief-stricken, she eventually decided to bury them when deep inside she heard a clear voice, “This is how everything passes. If you will give me your heart, I shall always remain with you.” These words penetrated and took root in the young heart of Mariam.
On another occasion somehow a snake managed to get into the house and came into the room as she was eating by herself. Unafraid, she picked it up, and just then a servant opened the door, and seeing the snake and the child, he screamed. Surprised, Mariam let go of her hold and the snake escaped, while the rest of the family came in running because of the servants scream. The snake incidents seemed to be a precursor to her future mystical battles against evil. During her life, Mariam often had visions of snakes, and later her very life as a Carmelite and a Mystic was to be a fierce battle against “the ancient Serpent”, who is called the Devil or Satan, the seducer of the whole world, (Revelation:12,9.). But like the Woman of the Apocalypse, she would emerge victorious.
At the age of 8, they moved to Alexandria. And at age 13, according to the oriental custom of that time and place, Mariam was promised in marriage to her aunt`s brother who lived in Cairo. The wedding was prearranged without the bride-to-be’s consultation or consent. This was a common custom among Middle Eastern Christians as well as Muslims. Mariam’s reaction was one of shock and deep sadness, as she desired to give herself to God. In her great distress, she could not sleep the night before the wedding ceremony, and she prayed fervently that God might intervene, or show to her His holy will. In the depths of her heart she again heard a familiar voice, “Everything passes! If you wish to give me your heart, I will remain with you.”
Mariam knew it was the voice of the one and only spouse she would have – Jesus! The remainder of the night was spent in deep prayer before the icon of the Virgin Mary, beseeching her help. Having dozed off for a moment, she suddenly heard within her a voice that said, “Mariam, I am with you; follow the inspiration I shall give you. I will help you.”
In the morning Mariam informed her Uncle that she would not marry. He first tried to reason with her, explaining the material advantages and benefits of the prearranged marriage. Her adoptive uncle then flew into a wild rage when he saw that Mariam would not marry, but would remain a virgin. The uncle then beat Mariam and screamed his rage at her disobedience to his order. This did not change Mariam’s mind as she withstood the beatings and insults hurled at her by her uncle. Mariam’s heart was deeply saddened that she had upset her uncle, but she stood firm in her resolve, for her love for God was greater than anything else.
In punishment, her uncle resorted to treating her as the lowest household servant, giving her the most difficult kitchen tasks, and subjecting her to a position lower than his hired help. A Muslim servant, with whom she worked, began to act as her friend, with an eye to converting her away from Christianity.
On September 8, 1858, Mariam convinced him she would never abandon her faith; in response, he cut her throat and dumped her in an alley. An apparition of the Virgin Mary treated her wound and she lived. Her description of the Virgin Mary’s apparition, A nun dressed in blue picked me up and stitched my throat wound. This happened in a grotto somewhere. I then found myself in heaven with the Blessed Virgin, the angels and the saints. They treated me with great kindness. In their company were my parents. I saw the brilliant throne of the Most Holy Trinity and Jesus Christ in His humanity. There was no sun, no lamp, but everything was bright with light. Someone spoke to me. They said that I was a virgin, but that my book was not finished. ”
She then found herself once again in the grotto with the “nun dressed in blue.” How long did Mariam remain in this secret shelter? She later spoke of one month, but she was not sure. One day, the unknown nurse prepared some soup for her that was so delicious that she greedily asked for more, and all her life she was to remember the taste of this heavenly soup. On her death bed she was heard to say tenderly, “She made me some soup! Oh, such good soup! There I was a long time, looking, and never ate soup like that. I have the taste in my mouth. She promised me that at my last hour, she will give me a little spoonful of it.”
Her call to religious life
Toward the end of her sojourn in the grotto, the nurse in blue outlined for Mariam her life`s program, “You will never see your family again; you will go to France, where you will become a religious. You will be a child of St. Joseph before becoming a daughter of St. Teresa. You will receive the habit of Carmel in one house, you will make your profession in a second, and you will die in a third, at Bethlehem.”
The scar on her neck remained the rest of her life. It was confirmed during Mariam’s illnesses by the doctors and nurses at Marseille, as well as at Pau, Mangalore, and finally at Bethlehem. This scar measured 4 inches in length and 1/3 inch in width, and marked the whole front of the neck, the skin there was finer and whiter. Several cartilaginous rings of the tracheal artery were missing, as the doctors at Pau attested June 24, 1875.
The Mistress of Novices was to write, “A celebrated doctor at Marseille, who had taken care of Mariam, had confessed that, although he was an atheist, there must be a God, for from a natural point of view, she could not have lived.” As a result of this deep cut Mariam`s voice was always hoarse. The martyrdom of the little Arab had not been a dream; it remained inscribed in her flesh.
Mariam herself later wrote, “After my wound was healed, I then had to leave the grotto, and the Lady took me to the Church of St. Catherine served by the Franciscan Friars. I went to confession. When I left, the Lady in Blue had disappeared.” Years later when in ecstasy, on September 8, 1874, the anniversary of the attack and the feast of Our Lady’s nativity, Sr. Mariam said, “On this same day in 1858, I was with my Mother (Mary) and I consecrated my life to her. Someone had cut my throat and the next day Mother Mary took care of me.”
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 return to her homeland 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, upon her release, she continued towards Haifa, but due to a storm ended up in Beirut. Again, she began working as a servant. At age 15, Mariam went on pilgrimage to Jerusalem and, at the Shrine of the Holy Sepulcher, made a perpetual vow of chastity. Returning to Beirut, she was offered a job with a Syrian family, who later moved to Marseille, France, and so she travelled with them at the age of 18 years.
A postulant at La Capelette in Marseille, France
The motherhouse and novitiate were located at “La Capelette” in the suburbs of Marseille. The little Palestinian could neither read nor write, and she spoke only Arabic. She was accepted, however, because the novitiate in fact had a few Palestinians among its numbers, and the Congregation had several communities in the East, especially in the Holy Land. Upon entering she was familiarly called “Mariam the Arab” or ”The Little Arab”. She remained a postulant for two years. Thus the first part of the vocation that had been given to her by the Blessed Virgin had been realized, for she was now a daughter of St. Joseph.
Her ecstasies increased. In January 1866, at twenty years old, Mother Honorine found Mariam in the dormitory, prostrate, with her face to the floor and her left hand covered with blood.
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.
As time went on, the Sister of St. Joseph discerned to have Mariam leave the community. Mariam then entered the Carmelite Convent. Together with her former novice mistress, Miriam joined the Discalced Carmelites in Pau, France in 1867.
On May 24, 1868, Mariam 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. One of her charism gifts was to ‘read the hearts’ of others (gift of prophecy).
In 1870, Mariam was sent with a group of founding sisters to Mangalore, India where she made her profession that same year. The nuns of Mangalore made life impossible for her and succeeded in turning her friends against her. The priest thought her mystical experiences were a sign of demonic obsession, and obliged her to return to the Carmelite convent in France in 1872. Although the Devil tempted her, urging her to get angry, to run away, to be disobedient, he did not succeed in staling her peace.
After returning to France in 1872, the next year, levitations started, eight of which were witnessed. 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, permission was gained miraculously and a benefactress, Berthe Dartigaux, invested her fortune to build the foundation. On September 12, 1875, they arrived in Bethlehem and were welcomed by the Franciscan Friars. They rented a house initially and 14 months later moved into the monastery that Mariam designed herself.
Her holy death
On January 5, 1878, Sister Mariam entered her 33rd year of life. In August of 1878 she broke her left arm when she fell while carrying water to the workmen in Bethlehem whom she was helping to build the new Carmelite convent. It was clear that her health had been compromised for quite some time and now her arm would not heal but rather swelled with gangrene, and the infection spread to her lungs and respiratory tract. She knew she was dying. Through her suffering she renewed her vow as a victim for the Church and for her adopted country France. On August 26, 1878 Mariam felt as if she were suffocating and died soon after murmuring, “My Jesus, mercy.” It was ten minutes past five in the morning. Like Jesus she died at the age of 33.
When they were going 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.
Her tomb is engraved with this inscription: “Here in the peace of the Lord reposes Sister Mary of Jesus Crucified, professed religious of the white veil. A soul of singular graces, she was conspicuous for her humility, her obedience and her charity. Jesus, the sole love of her heart called her to Himself in the 33rd year of her age and the 12th year of her religious life at Bethlehem, 26 August 1878.”
She was beatified by Pope John Paul II on November 13, 1983 in Rome and proclaimed the patroness of prisoners. John Paul II also called her the Patroness for peace in the Holy Land. She was canonized on May 17, 2015 in Rome by Pope Francis.
“Keep silence and you will keep God. If you keep silence, God will keep you. … If you keep the presence of God, God will keep you. But if you do not keep silence, he will not keep your soul….
If you keep silence, you will keep humility meekness, obedience and patience… Do not be discouraged; start again.”
Her special devotion to the Holy Spirit
Mariam’s devotion to the Holy Spirit was not common in her time. And yet her spiritual journey seemed to be guided by the Spirit in unprecedented ways. Inspired by having received a special prayer to the Holy Spirit during one of her ecstatic experiences, she was convinced that devotion to the Holy Spirit, who was then commonly known as the Paraclete, was needed by the whole Church. She even sent a petition to Pope Pius IX asking him to cultivate a greater devotion within the Church to the Holy Spirit. No one knows what the pope thought of this at the time, but 20 years later Pope Leo XIII published an encyclical about devotion to the Paraclete.
Concerning devotion to the Holy Spirit she wrote:
“The world and religious communities are seeking novelties in devotions, and they are neglecting true devotion to the Paraclete. That is why there is error and disunion, and why there is no peace or light. They do not invoke light as it should be invoked, and it is this light that gives knowledge of truth. It is neglected even in seminaries . . . . Every person in the world that will invoke the Holy Spirit and have devotion to Him will not die in error.”
Her Prayer to the Holy Spirit
Holy Spirit, inspire me.
Love of God, consume me.
Along the true road, lead me.
Mary my Mother, look upon me.
With Jesus, bless me.
From all evil, from all illusion,
from all danger, preserve me.
Send your prayer petitions to the Carmelite Convent
in the Holy Land: www.carmelholyland.org