Saint Miriam of Jesus Crucified
iriam Bawardy was born on January 5, 1846, in Ibillin, a small village of Galilea, half way between Nazareth and Haifa. Her parents, strong believers, were unable to have a child who could survive; one after the other, twelve boys died very young. In their deep anguish and trust in God, they went on foot to Bethlehem to pray at the Manger and ask the Holy Virgin for the grace of a daughter. Miriam was born nine months later.
She was baptized and confirmed according to the Greek Catholic tradition of her family. Her mystical life of grace, devoted to the Holy Spirit, began at a young age. As a child she experienced the beauty of Creation. For her, everything spoke of God. There was an incident of two small birds having died in her hands. As she buried them, she heard within herself these words, “Behold everything fades away but if you want to give me your heart, I shall remain with you always.”
Miriam was 12 and lived in Alexandria, when her uncle wanted her to get married. She was determined to give herself entirely unto the Lord and so she refused. Threats, humiliations and bad treatment did not affect her decision. She tried to enlist another servant in the house, as an ally, to get a letter to her brother who remained in Galilea.The servant was a Muslim and urged her to leave Christianity and embrace his religion. Miriam declined.
In his fury, the man cut her throat, leaving her body in a dark alley on September 8, 1858. Later she said that she was indeed lifeless at that moment, and it seemed to her as if she had entered into Paradise, seeing the Holy Virgin, the saints, her parents, the glorious Trinity…
But her time had not come. She woke up inside a grotto, next to a young woman who looked like a nun, wearing blue.
“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 Miriam 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.”
After she was cured the nun brought her to a church and left her there at Alexandria. She then moved about from town to town as a servant.
In Marseille, Miriam got in contact with the Sisters of St. Joseph of the Apparition. She was 19 but looked 12 or 13. She was welcomed as a candidate, and her joy was great to be able to give herself to God. She was always ready for tiring jobs, spending most of her time at laundry or in the kitchen. But every week, she lived the Passion of the Lord, received stigmatas, which – simple as she was – she mistook for disease. Some of the sisters were taken aback, and after two years of novitiate, Miriam was not admitted.
Pau: the Carmel
Miriam was warmly received in the Pau Carmel, in June 1867, where she found love and understanding in the midst of her experiences. She took the habit in the following month, receiving the name of Sister Miriam of Jesus Crucified. She experienced many mystical phenomena such as the gift of prophecy, ecstasies, attacks of the devil, possessions of the devil, and angelic possessions along with the stigmata and the crowning with thorns. Amid all these graces, she felt that she was nothing with regard to God and referred to herself as the “Little Nothing” or the “Little Arab”. She pronounced her vows on November 21, 1871. Despite the promising beginning among the nuns she was misunderstood because of all the mystical phenomena, which caused people to doubt the authenticity of the extraordinary graces.
She returned to Pau, where the Holy Spirit assured her she would found a monastery in Bethlehem. She transferred to Bethlehem to live there.
She fell while bringing water to workers and broke her arm. Gangrene set in, and she died within a few days at the age of 33. She was beatified on November 13, 1983, by Pope Saint John Paul II. She was the first Palestinian to be canonized since the early church. Pope Francis canonized her on May 17, 2015.
The significance of Saint Mary of Jesus Crucified, or as she called herself the “Little Arab” or “The Little One”, is the reality of the supernatural world.
She exemplifies the transcendence of the love of God and the activity of the Holy Spirit in the life of the Church. There exists a supernatural world in which devils and angels and God reign, and her life bears witness to this reality. Her life so affirms the transcendence of divine Love. For her, “God is all things, above all and she is nothing!”
Another aspect of the Little Arab is that she manifested in a striking manner the active presence of the Holy Spirit in the Church. It was the Holy Spirit who gave her the relish for contemplation, also communicating to her a vivid consciousness of the presence of God the Father in the word of God and come down to earth through His Son. It was this same exquisite sensibility and refined tact, which enabled her to discover and feel the presence of God in every creature, in every person, and in every event. Everything was a sign for her. Everything was a grace. Everything was the Word of God. In an era when the Holy Spirit was “the divine Unknown,” Saint Mary of Jesus Crucified was His evangelist through her extraordinary devotion to the Holy Spirit.
Learn More: Carmelite Saints and Doctors