Sunday, April 5, 2009


(Prisonnières huguenotes à la Tour de Constance by Jeanne Lombard)
In 1970, French novelist André Chamson, whose ancestors were Camisards and whose wife was a descendant of one of the imprisoned Camisard women at the Tour de Constance, wrote that the story of Le Tour de Constance (one of two novels he wrote on the subject) showed the power of "the constancy of a woman's heart and the firmness of a human soul."

The Camisards were those post-1685 (following the Revocation of the Edict of Nantes) French Huguenots from the Cévennes region of France who fought (in the War of the Camisards, 1702-1715) a policy instituted by King Louis XIV of France known as dragonnades in which against royalists troops known as dragoons who engaged in billeting and forced conversions to Roman Catholicism. King Louis XIV, who identified himself with the Greek mythological god of the sun, Apollo, was likewise known as the Sun-King for the magnificence of his reign (he built the Palais de Versailles and was a patron of the arts) and used his sun as his royal emblem. He is the king portrayed as the good twin in The Vicomte of Bragelonne: Ten Years Later by Alexandre Dumas (the last chapter of which is entitled The Man in the Iron Mask) and subsequent films based on that story. Despite the myth, this king was responsible for the depopulation (by persecution resulting in death and emigration) of France by an estimated 1 to 2 million Huguenots, who were often well educated merchants, artisans, craftsmen and other professionals, whose loss to French society was incalculable and whose effects are still felt today. The Huguenot diaspora was France's loss and the world's gain.

(The Clandestine Baptism by Jeanne Lombard)
Those Huguenots who remained in the mountainous Cévennes (it was both the land and the people which inspired the pioneering travelogue by Robert Louis Stevenson, Travels With a Donkey in the Cévennes) were the Camisards who, like Scottish Covenanters during the Killing Times, fought against overwhelming forces and impossible odds. They worshiped in field conventicles and caves, and were hunted like animals; many were caught and killed or imprisoned for life. But their endurance is both a testimony and a byword for faith in the midst of unimaginable circumstances.

The story of one such Camisard, a woman named Marie Durand, is legendary. In 1730, at the age of 15 (18, according to some accounts), she was imprisoned at the Tour de Constance (Tower of Constance), a Bastille-like prison Aigues-Mortes, where female Camisards were kept and where, it is said, "[i]n no other prison has 'so much innocence and purity been kept in irons'" (Martin Garrett, Provence: A Cultural History). Her brother Pierre was a pastor of the Church in the Desert, as the French Reformed Church was known after the Revocation, and so her family bore the brunt of persecution, as royal authorities applied pressure on him. Her father and fiance were imprisoned as well. Her father was released in 1743; her fiance was released and banished from France in 1750. Marie, however, was not released until 1768. During her 38-year imprisonment she is said to have written the word Register -- a dialectal version of Resister ("resist") -- on the stone wall in her cell. She refused every offer to capitulate and renounce her faith and suffered her lengthy sentence as a result of stubbornness both on her part and that of her captors.

("Resist" inscribed on her prison cell by Marie Durand)
When she re-entered society and returned to her old house, the world had changed, and the persecution against French Protestants was winding down (Francois Rochette was the last French Camisard pastor of the Church of the Desert to be executed. He was martyred for the faith on February 20, 1762. His last words on the scaffold before his execution were, "La voici l'heureuse journee, etc." (Ps. 118.24)." cf., Rowland Prothero, The Psalms in Human Life, p. 228.) She lived only a few more years outside of the prison that she called her home for Christ. Marie Durand entered her final rest in 1776.

No comments:

Post a Comment