Monday, February 15, 2010

Remarkable Providences

Ever since the Great Deluge of Noah's day, storms and other natural calamities have, in God's providence, altered the course of, or left their mark on, church history. Building on a plan and notes compiled by Matthew Poole, Increase Mather and, later, William Turner, wrote accounts of such "remarkable providences." Here are a few notable examples from the Reformation era that I have compiled in my own studies:

  • On May 21, 1382 a synod meeting in London, convened for the purpose of condemning the articles of faith propounded by John Wycliffe, was shook by an earthquake. Ever since, that convocation has been known to history as the "Earthquake Synod."
  • On July 2, 1505, young Martin Luther, at the time bound for the study of law, was caught up in a frightening thunderstorm while riding a horse on his way back to the University of Erfurt. When a bolt of lightning struck close by, in great fear, he vowed to become a monk, saying: "Help, Saint Anna, I will become a monk." Fifteen days later, he entered the Augustinian Friary, and began the path that would ultimately lead to the Reformation.
  • In the summer of 1565, the French Huguenot colony of Fort Caroline, near what would become Jacksonville, Florida, under the command of René de Laudonnière, had suffered famine and illness before being resupplied, first, by English seadog John Hawkins, and finally, by the great French Huguenot naval commander Jean Ribault. In late August, however, almost at the same time as Ribault's arrival, Spanish admiral Pedro Menéndez de Avilés reached the Florida coast with orders to wipe out the "heretics." After a tentative skirmish, Menéndez sailed south and established a base camp at what would become St. Augustine. Against Laudonnière's advice, Ribault took his fleet of ships and most of the soldiers at Fort Caroline, and pursued Menéndez by sea, threatening in a bold gambit to overwhelm Menéndez's forces at St. Augustine. However, a hurricane struck at that very moment, scattering Ribault's fleet, destroying a number of ships, and leaving hundreds of Frenchman stranded on the shore far south of St. Augustine. Meanwhile, in a bold move of his own, Menéndez led his men on a forced overland march northward to Fort Caroline, calculating that the fort would be weak and unmanned, and vulnerable to a surprise attack during a hurricane. He was right, and he massacred most of the remaining colonists on September 20, hanging them under a tree bearing a sign that said they were executed "not as Frenchmen, but as Lutherans and heretics". Most of the stranded Frenchmen on the south shore were also later massacred the following month, which put an end to the French Huguenot dream of building a colony in Florida.
  • During the Eighty Years' War, the Spanish laid siege to the Dutch city of Leiden, first in 1573, and then again a year later. The Spanish had defeated the forces of William of Orange were strangling Leiden slowly and successfully. The city fathers decided in September 1574 in act of desperation to break the dikes and flood the Spanish army but due to a lack of rain, there was insufficient water to accomplish their design. Finally, storms came in early October that enabled them to break the dikes and flood the Spanish. On October 3, the Spanish lifted the siege and the city was saved. The starving inhabitants were able to eat a dish of Hotchpotch or Hutspot (carrots and onion stew) left behind in haste by the Spanish. William of Orange established the University of Leiden as a gift to the city for its sacrifices during the siege, and to this day, annually on October 3, celebrations are held by the Dutch in remembrance of the Lord's providential deliverance, which include a dish of Hutspot.
  • In August 1588, the 'invincible' Spanish Armada of Philip II threatened to bring the undeclared Anglo-Spanish war to the British seacoast by invading England in retaliation for the execution of Mary, Queen of Scots, the previous year. The fleet had assembled at Gravelines, France, when it was attacked by English fire ships. With the winds against them, the Spanish ships were forced to sail north, while pursued by the English. The Spanish intended to sail around the British isles, but were pushed off course by the Gulf Stream and unusually powerful storms that devastated the armada. With many of its ships having lost its anchors in the Battle of Gravelines, a number of them were lost at sea or forced to run aground off the coast of Ireland, where Spanish forces were slaughtered by the English or died of starvation. Thousands of men were killed, after the remainder of the armada limped home, Philip is reported to have said, "I sent the Armada against men, not God's winds and waves." The English attributed their great victory to the "Protestant Wind," as described in a seal commemorating the event: "Flavit Jehovah et Dissipati Sunt" ("Jehovah blew with His wind and they were scattered").
  • On June 2, 1609, the Sea Venture set sail with six other ships from Plymouth, England, on a mission to resupply the Jamestown, Virginia colony, with colonists and provisions. However, on July 24, the ship ran into a strong storm, possibly a hurricane, separating it from the other ships. After fighting the storm for several days, the Sea Venture ran aground at Bermuda on July 28, 1609, from which the English settlement of this island is dated. All 150 souls on board (and one dog) were saved, but were stranded on the island for nine months. The settlers were forced to salvage the Sea Venture and build two new ships, the Deliverance and Patience, in order to reach their ultimate destination: Jamestown. While on Bermuda, John Rolfe lost his wife and son. Later, he went on to found Virginia's tobacco industry and marry the Indian princess Pocahontas. The arrival of the Sea Venture's settlers helped the Jamestown colony, which was in imminent danger of collapse due to starvation. The story of the shipwreck of the Sea Venture, as recounted by William Strachey, is believed to serve as the origin of William Shakespeare's famous play, The Tempest.
  • In August 1635, as Richard Mather and his family were on board the vessel James, along with one hundred others, fleeing persecution in England and aiming to settle in Puritan Massachusetts, they were overtaken by the Great Colonial Hurricane of 1635. It is reckoned by historians to have been a Category 4 hurricane when it struck Long Island, New York, and a Category 3 when the storm made landfall along the border of Rhode Island and Connecticut, with the eye of the storm eventually passing between Boston and Plymouth, Massachusetts. Many stories are told about this storm, including the tale of how Thacher Island got its name (from the sole survivor, Anthony Thacher, of a small bark, which shipwrecked on that island during the tempest), but the story of the James is perhaps most memorable because of Richard's account, and the fact that his survival led to the founding of the Mather dynasty (Increase was born after his parents' safe arrival in New England). While off the Isles of Shoals, at the border of modern New Hampshire and Maine, the James was buffeted so strongly by what is believed to be the strongest hurricane ever to hit New England, that it was in danger of foundering. The storm was written about by John Winthrop and William Bradford, as well as Richard Mather, who recorded the event in his journal, along with, in later accounts, his future progeny, Increase Mather and Cotton Mather. Richard wrote in his journal for August 15, 1635 (as recorded by Cotton):
"The Lord had not yet done with us, nor had he let us see all his power and goodness, which he would have us take the knowledge of. And therefore about break of day he sent a most terrible storm of rain and easterly wind, whereby we were, I think, in as much danger as ever people were. When we came to land, we found many mighty trees rent in pieces in the midst of the bole, and others turned up by the roots, by fierceness thereof. We lost in that morning three anchors and cables; one having never been in the water before; two were broken by the violence of the storm, and a third cut by the sea-men in extremity of distress, to save the ship and their and our lives. And when our cables and anchors were all lost, we had no outward means of deliverance, but by hoisting sail, if so be we might get to sea, from among the islands and rocks where we were anchored. But the Lord let us see that our sails could not help us neither, no more than the cables and anchors; for by the force of the wind and storm, the sails were rent asunder, and split in pieces, as if they had been but rotten rags; so that of divers of them there was scarce left so much as an hand's-breadth that was not rent in pieces or blown away into the sea; so that at that time all hope that we should be saved, in regard of any outward appearance, was utterly taken away; and the rather, because we seemed to drive with full force of wind directly upon a mighty rock, standing out in sight above water; ao that we did but continually wait, when we should hear and feel the doleful crushing of the ship upon the rock. In this extremity and appearance of death, as distress and distraction would suffer us, we cried unto the Lord, and he was pleased to have compassion upon us; for by his over-ruling providence, and his own immediate good hand, he guided the ship past the rock, asswaged the violence of the sea and of the wind. It was a day much to be remembered, because on that day the Lord granted us as wonderful a deliverance as, I think, ever any people had felt. The sea-men confessed they never knew the like. The Lord so imprint the memory of it in our hearts, that we may be the better for it, and be careful to please him, and to walk uprightly before him as long as we live! and I hope we shall not forget the passages of that morning until our dying day. In all this grievous storm, my fear was the less, when I considered the clearness of my calling from God this way. And in some measure (the Lord's holy name be blessed for it!) he gave us hearts contented and willing that he should do with us and cure what he pleased, and what might be most for the glory of his name; and in that we rested ourselves. But when news was brought us into the gun-room that the danger was past, Oh! how our hearts did then relent and melt within us! We burst out into tears of joy among ourselves, in love unto the gracious God, and admiration of his kindness, in granting to his poor servants such an extraordinary and miraculous deliverance, his holy name be blessed for evermore."
  • When Queen Mary of Modena, wife of James II, gave birth in June 1688 to a son, James (who would later be known as 'The Old Pretender'), all of England feared that the royal succession would become a Catholic dynasty, instead of passing the throne to his daughter Mary, wife of William of Orange. It was then that William began to plan, with the aid of a group of prominent Englishmen known as the Immortal Seven, to invade England and depose James II, thus ensuring that England would remain a Protestant nation. His fleet assembled at Hellevoetsluis that autumn but were prevented from crossing over by the 'popish wind' that for which Catholics all over Europe were praying. However, in October, the southwestly popish wind finally became an eastern Protestant Wind, thus enabling William's fleet to sail to England, bearing the standard of William which read "Pro Religione et Libertate" ("For Liberty and [the Protestant] Religion"), while working against James. William and his fleet landed, after another change in the winds favorable to his cause, at Brixham, England, on November 5 (Guy Fawkes Day, referring to another notable providential deliverance in British history), 1688 and marched toward London. James fled England in December, and Parliament declared that he had effectively abdicated the throne, after which William & Mary were crowned joint rulers of England. The English Bill of Rights then ensured that England would remain Protestant from henceforth.

1 comment:

  1. This post gave me chill bumps!

    Pro Religione et Libertate!!