In March, 1900, the empress appointed Yu Hsien, a Boxer supporter and an anti-Christian, as the government of the Shansi province in Northern China. Yu Hsien told the people to accuse the Christians of false crimes. But no one did what the governor told them, since the Christians and the missionaries are good people. Since the people were reluctant to do so, Yu Hsien allied himself with the Boxers. Yu Hsien made this proclamation, “The European religion is wicked and cruel, it despises the spirit and oppresses people. All (Chinese) Christians who do not sincerely repudiate it will be executed ...Christians, hear and tremble! Give up this perverse religion! Let all Christians fear and obey: the Boxers will not hurt persons - it is this religion they hate.”
When Yu Hsien was appointed as the governor of Shansi, Franciscan Bishop Gregory Grassi became concerned for the lives of the nuns working in the Catholic mission. But Mother Hermine, the superior of the nuns, told him, “Excellency, for the love of God, do not stop us from dying with you. We fear neither death nor the tortures with which the governor’s rage threaten us. We came here to practice charity and to shed, if need be, our blood for the love of Jesus Christ.” All seven were prepared for their martyrdom. In one of her letters home, one of the nuns, Sister Marie Amandine Jeuris, wrote, “The news is not good, danger is approaching, but we are peaceful. We are in God’s hands. May His holy will be done. When this letter reaches you, perhaps we may already be dead. But rest assured that before we go, we have already offered our lives and our health for the non-Christians. When we came, we knew we would have to suffer. I am neither worried nor sad. I confide myself to God’s care and I pray him to console and fortify the martyrs and those who have to suffer for His name.”
Concerned for the future of the seminarians, Bishop Grassi closed the seminary and ordered the seminarians to return to their homes and save their lives for priesthood. On their way home, five were arrested by the Boxers. They were asked to renounce their faith, but they refused. Because of this, a “canga” (a heavy wood which is placed around the neck, an instrument of torture) was placed around their necks and they were insulted the whole night. The next day, they were released. They returned to the missionaries and refused to leave them anymore, wishing to die with them as martyrs.
On June 27 the Boxers burned the compounds of the Protestant missionaries. The missionaries, together with other native Christians, sought refuge in a Baptist school some miles away. After reaching the school, one of the missionaries, Edith Coombs, realized that she left to schoolgirls in the burning compound. She returned and took the two girls away. After coming outside, Ms. Coombs was pushed back into the house. The two girls saw the missionary burn to death.
There were thirty-two missionaries in the missionary school. With them were native Christians who were too loyal to leave them. Everyday, stones were thrown to the school and insults were hurled to the refugees of the school. They all waited for protection from the governor.
On July 5, the Catholic missionaries, together with a group of Chinese servants, an old woman and some orphans, were arrested. They were herded in a building, which was nearby Yu Hsien’s house, called “Inn of Heavenly Peace.” The missionaries were allowed to say mass. The seminarians would go in the courtyard and play games. One of the priests reprimanded them and asked them to pray and prepare themselves for martyrdom. One of the semiarians, the fifteen-year-old John Wang, said, “Aren’t we going to paradise?”
On the afternoon of July 9, a great crowd was gathered in the palace of Yu Hsien. A great event is going to happen. Then, a group of Protestant missionaries, together with some of their children, were led into the court. Mr. Farthing, an English Baptist missionary, led the group. His wife clung to him, but he set her aside and went forth to the executioners. He was finished with one strike of a sword. The four other missionaries followed him. Yu Hsien got impatient and ordered the soldiers to help the Boxers in killing the missionaries. Three more male missionaries were killed.
What happened next was a moving scene. After the men were killed, the executioners took the women and their children. Mrs. Farthing had hold of the hands of her children who clung to her, but the soldiers parted them, and with one blow beheaded their mother. The executioner beheaded all the children and did it skillfully, needing only one blow, but the soldiers were clumsy, and some of the ladies suffered several cuts before death. Mrs. Lovitt was wearing her spectacles and held the hand of her little boy, even when she was killed. She spoke to the people, saying, “We all came to China to bring you the good news of the salvation by Jesus Christ; we have done you no harm, only good. Why do you treat us so?” A soldier took off her spectacles before beheading her.
Next, the Catholics were brought in. Bishop Grassi gave a general absolution to all those who were imprisoned, in order to prepare them before they die. A mock trial was performed, where Yu Hsien asked the missionaries about Christianity and their mission. Bishop Francis Fogolla, on behalf of the other missionaries, said, “We never wronged anyone. On the contrary, we have done good to many.”
After hearing this answer, Yu Hsien hit Bishop Fogolla with his fist and shouted, “Kill them! Kill them!” The soldiers stormed in immediately and brutally dragged the victims out in front of the governor's court; they drew blood with their swords and savagely carried out the executions, with more or less cruelty depending on their skill, the sharpness of their weapons, and the hatred that motivated them. Bishop Grassi and Bishop Fogolla were the first to fall, then the missionaries, the seminarians and the laymen. While they were carrying out their butchery, the nuns braced themselves awaiting their turn. Having removed their veils, they covered their faces, leaving their necks bare for the executioners to cut them off. The youngest nun, Sister Maria della Pace, started chanting the “Te Deum”, which was then followed by the other nuns. Sr. Maria della Pace, only twenty-four, had already experienced persecutions under her father, who had a very difficult character and would not tolerate any religious practice. Her mother, who suffered very much under her father, died when Sister Maria was still ten, and her father abandoned them. The nuns, after seeing the massacre, were then beheaded.
Then, Mr. Pigott, and his party were led from the district jail which is close by. He was still handcuffed, and so was Mr. Robinson, another missionary. He preached to the people to the very last, when he was beheaded with one blow. Mr. Robinson suffered death very calmly. Mrs. Pigott held the hand of her son, even when she was beheaded, and he was killed immediately after her. The ladies and two girls were also killed. The last to be killed were a group of lay people. At the end, the Boxers, fearing vengeance, fired their guns into the air to put any spirits to flight. The martyrs all died calmly, except for the children who cried in pain. According to a witness, what shocked him most was to see the nuns sing while they were being killed.
While the massacre was taking place, a blood-red globe was seen from the distant city of Tsetinfu—200 km. away—in the direction of Taiyuan, emitting several flashes of light which changed continuously into balls of fire. Another witness reported that as she and the other Christians were praying, they heard a beautiful music and an orderly row of banners came towards them from Taiyuan, where the missionaries were killed. They took this as a sign that the missionaries had been killed and they encouraged each other, thinking that their time to die would also come. The next day, the soldiers announced that the missionaries had been killed.
The remains of the martyrs of Shansi, after being mocked by the Boxers, the soldiers and the mob until the late evening, were flung into a common pit by the city walls, near the Eastern Gate.
When the news of their tragic deaths reached Rome Sept. 22, Mother Mary of the Passion, the foundress of the Franciscan Missionaries of Mary, tearfully announced it to the community, “The house of Taiyuan has been destroyed and all the sisters killed. They are now my Seven Sorrows and Seven Joys. Now I can truly say that we have seven genuine Franciscan Missionaries of Mary.”
When the remains of the martyrs were exhumed, it is said that the earth was covered with a white blanket of snow, so that the new governor, impressed by such a sight, announced, “These foreigners were really good people, heaven itself is taking part in their funeral.”