On 8 December this year 19 martyrs of Algeria will be beatified in a ceremony in Oran, Algeria. Among them will be seven Trappist monks who were beheaded in Algeria in 1996 by Jihadist extremists.

The story of the Trappist monks of Our Lady of Atlas Abbey has been powerfully told in the film “Of Gods and Men”, directed by Xavier Beauvoix. The film won the grand prize at its premiere at the Cannes Film Festival in 2010.

I saw this beautiful and moving film in the spring of 2011 and wrote about it a number of times on this blog.

Here is a summary of the plot of the film:

Plot Summary

The film “Of Gods and Men” is based on historical events. The characters in the film are real people. Some of the episodes and dialogue have been created to fill out the story.

Our Lady of Atlas is a tiny Cistercian monastery in the Atlas mountains near Tibhirine in Algeria. In the late 1990’s seven Trappist monks live in the monastery supporting themselves by gardening and harvesting honey and selling it in the market. They live in close relationship with the local Muslim villagers to whom they offer medical care and assist in various practical ways.

But Algeria has been caught in a vicious civil war since 1992 between Islamist extremist rebels (“the brothers of the mountain”) and the Algerian government (“the brothers of the plain”). As many as 200,000 people are believed to have died in this conflict.

The villagers around the monastery of Our Lady of Atlas live near the monks with deep respect and love.  Both the villagers and the monks are caught between the government militia and the rebels.

On Christmas Eve 1993 one of the armed Islamist groups invades the monastery demanding medical care and supplies which are refused.

The monks know the terrorists will return and that they are not safe in their monastery. They know the villagers are in equal danger. The brothers must decide whether they should exercise the privilege of their position as foreigners which gives them the freedom to flee or to stay and risk suffering the consequences.

After great struggle and much discussion and prayer, the monks agree to stay in their monastery.

On March 27, 1996, seven of the monks of Tibhirine are kidnapped. On May 21 they are executed.  There are two survivors who were over-looked in the round up at the monastery.


Br. Jean-Pierre (age 87), one of the two survivors has said of the film – “It touched me very deeply. I was excited to review the things that we lived together. But I especially felt a kind of fullness, no sadness. I found the film very beautiful because its message is so true, even if the details are not always perfectly accurate compared to what happened. But it is not important. Essentially, this is the message. And this film is an icon. An icon says much more than what you see. It is a bit like Gregorian chant. When it is well composed, the author has developed a message, and one who sings is even more so, because the spirit works in him. In this sense, this film is an icon. It is a real success, a masterpiece.”

Here are links to some of the pieces I wrote on this film seven years ago: