Dear Editors of Jean Ribault Heritage Society:
I found your web page regarding the Huguenots most fascinating. Your graphics are very impressive as well. Being an Evangelical who came out of Catholicism and being three-quarters French and one- quarter Irish I wish to give you my thoughts on these brave pilgrims. I have read a considerable amount about them and because of my background, they have always been of great interest and encouragement to me.
The Life & Legacy Of The French Huguenots
The motto of the French Protestants called Huguenots was “After The Darkness, The Light!” (Tenebras Lux). To them it was, “In God’s light we see light,” (Psalms 36:9). They believed they had all the spiritual light they needed in Christ alone and in the Scriptures alone.
Their protests against the apostate medieval church brought the divine light of the Evangelical gospel to hundreds of thousands of religious protesters in France. The theological leader of this light brigade was the great French Reformer, John Calvin. His book the, “Institutes of the Christian Religion” caused many of the elitists and brightest in the French upper class to protest against the teachings of the Roman Catholic Church. World historian Will Durant regarded Calvin’s “Institutes of the Christian Religion” as among the world’s ten most influential books.
The Huguenots believed they had all the spiritual light they needed in Christ alone and in the Scriptures alone.
Although the Huguenots were not permitted to worship within towns or at night, nor were they allowed to bear arms, they opened their first Church in Paris in 1555. By 1562, there were approximately two million Huguenots worshipping in more than 2,000 churches throughout France. This was a big deal as it meant that ten percent in the total population were marching to the tune of a different drummer. Calvin’s teaching of salvation through faith in Christ alone was a bright star in a dark sky. Here was the pearl of great price that many were searching for. The frightful chains of ex-communication no longer held them like slaves in chains.
Though their religious influence in high places was tolerated for a while by the Valois Kings, the powerful rival Guise dynasty’s, ‘lust for power’ (folie de grandeur) was not so tolerant. Orwellian clouds quickly gathered and suddenly burst wide open upon the unsuspecting non-conformist Huguenots. The Church hierarchy turned on the Huguenots with a vengeance on a par with that of the pagan emperors Nero, Caligula, Aurelius, and Diocletian.
The Huguenots were soon labeled as heretics worthy only of death. The clenched fists of Church and state would not exclude women, children, and the elderly of France must be religiously cleansed. The fateful night came on March 1, 1562, while 300 Huguenot worshipers were worshiping peacefully in a barn near a little village in Vassy, France. They were attacked by troops under the command of Francis, Duke of Guise. More than 60 Huguenots parishioners were killed and over 100 wounded. Like a lion smelling blood, it was only the beginning of an unholy crusade against all religious protesters (Protestants) A peace treaty followed, but the fragile peace could not hold. After all, it was said in a previous church council that promises to heretics do not have to be kept.
The blood-red tide would rise to its highest level ten years later on St. Bartholomew’s Day. In a three-day purge led by an evil queen who simulated Queen Jezebel of Israel, Catherine de Medici, appeared like Grendel’s mother; a killer angel wanting revenge.
Like a broken dam the flood rushed on for several months pushing its way into twelve different cities. It continued on until in its wake it left behind 70,000 Evangelical Protestant Christians, including two hundred nobles massacred. Rather than being treated like human beings, they were slaughtered like animals for sacrifice. The worse massacre of the century was all done in the name of a Holy Roman Catholic Church because it believed it alone had access to God and to disagree with them, meant death.
This holocaust of the century met the full approval of the Roman clergy. who viewed it as divine retribution on heretics. When the red tide receded Pope Leo XIII ordered the singing of a Te Deum and a medal struck in its commemoration. On one side of the coin can be seen the image of an angel, holding a sword and a cross, standing over the fallen Huguenots with the motto “Huguenot Bloodbath” (Ugonottorum Strages). After this darkest, unchristian and yes Satanic chapter in church history, it is said Philip II of Spain, for the first time in his life laughed aloud.
The famous sonnet of poet and intellectual John Milton rings a deep and solemn tone,
“Avenge, O Lord, thy slaughtered saints, whose bones lie scattered on the Alpine mountains cold, / Even them who kept thy truth so pure of old, / When all our fathers worshipped stocks and stones.”
In 1564 before Jamestown, Virginia and before Plymouth Rock, Massachusetts were even thought of brave Huguenots pilgrims plied the ocean waves from Normandy France set their sails for the new world. They settled in Florida in an area that is now Jacksonville, only to be slaughtered by Spanish forces.
I will not repeat that tragic story which is beyond irony, and which is eloquently told in the accompanying pages.
Another fragile peace would follow under the Edict of Nantes (1589) But it was as fragile as the whims of a church/state government that ruled by decree.
When King Louis XIV ascended the French throne in 1643, the smoldering coals of religious persecution were fanned into red hot flames once again. He went so far as to say, “I am France” and as I speak so shall it be.
In 1685 Louis the Sun-King encouraged by the Jesuits made Protestantism illegal throughout France. He ordered his infamous dragonnades to confiscate Huguenot houses and properties. And forcing as many as would to convert back to Catholicism.
Many tried to escape from their small villages and cross the French border into northern Italy where some Waldensian Evangelicals had earlier escaped to freedom. But like the Jews in the Holocaust he had them rounded up into camps where some 12,000 were left to starve to death.
The Huguenot diaspora was now in full swing. The Huguenots had been bled white. Some 200,000 became refugees forced to flee their homeland for good. They now saw Catholicism as a bloody and treacherous religion, with no hope of reform. Some managed to escape to Lutheran Germany. Some going to Evangelical Geneva and many thousands to the Protestant Netherlands, and England. The minority that remained in France had to worship in secret much like the early Church believers in pagan Rome. It was an Orwellian Oceania where the little flock had only those human and civil rights, dictated to them by the church/state.
Their exodus would prove a financial disaster for France, as the Huguenots made up half of its working class. Many were well educated and skillful tradesmen whose skills improved the economies of every city where they fled.
Huguenots in America
The Huguenots found their promised land in America. Some of its greatest founders would come from its ranks. Heroes like Paul Revere, Alexander Hamilton, John Jay, George Washington, Francis Marion, the Dupont’s, all can trace their family tree back to their Huguenot roots. They left an indelible mark on a new world that has become the greatest bastion of democracy and religious freedom in world history. Few Christians suffered more for their faith than the Huguenots. Their sacrifice passed down to us must never be forgotten.
Thank you for all that the Jean Ribault Heritage Society is doing,