“Hold Thou Thy cross before my closing eyes, Shine through the gloom and point me to the skies”

by chuckofish

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This is the day Nurse Edith Cavell was executed in 1915 by the Germans during WWI.

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Accused of treason, i.e. helping British and French soldiers to cross the border and eventually enter Britain, Edith was found guilty by a court-martial and sentenced to death. Despite international pressure for mercy, she was shot by a German firing squad. Her execution received worldwide condemnation and extensive press coverage. While the First Geneva Convention ordinarily guaranteed protection of medical personnel, the German authorities justified prosecution merely on the basis of the German law and the interests of the German state. What were they thinking?

In the months and years following Edith’s death, countless newspaper articles, pamphlets, images, and books publicized her story. Her execution was represented as an act of German barbarism and moral depravity. (As it turned out, they weren’t wrong on that count.) The Allies claimed Edith as a martyr and she became an iconic propaganda figure for military recruitment in Britain. Within eight weeks of her death, enlistment into the British Army had doubled.

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Edith, aged 49, was executed by firing squad just outside Brussels on October 12, 1915. Permission was given for the English Chaplain, the Rev. Stirling Gahan, to visit her the night before she died and together they repeated the words to the hymn Abide With Me. It was also to Gahan that Edith made her famous comment that “patriotism is not enough”. Her strong Anglican beliefs propelled her actions and so the Church of England commemorates her in their calendar of saints on October 12.  Although we do not commemorate Edith Cavell on our Episcopal calendar, I think it is fitting that we recognize her here.

Martyrs never regret
what they have done
having done it.
Amazing too
they never frown.
It is all so mysterious
the way they remain
above us
beside us
within us;
how they beam
a human sunrise
and are so proud.

–Alice Walker