Friday, March 2, 2012

March 02, 2012

Paris had grown quiet. Men and women still tired from dancing welcomed sleep amid visions of the royal wedding they had just witnessed. Thousands of Huguenot attendees bedded down all over the city. Perhaps now that Marguerite, King Charles’ sister, and Henri, the Huguenot ruler of Navarre, had married, there would be peace between Catholics and Protestants in France. Countless heads dozed peacefully against their pillows.

Then the church bells began to ring.

Men ran swiftly through the streets, sporting white armbands and distinctive white crosses sewn to their caps. They pounded on doors. Children awoke in terror . . . mothers rose from their beds in a flurry while fathers sleepily answered the knocks only to be slaughtered where they stood. None but the perpetrators understood that a massacre of horrific proportions was crafted to follow this most beautiful and deadly wedding. All over Paris, Protestant families awoke to screams and shouts, curses and jeers. Doors were broken down. Blood ran freely. Chains were set up so that none might escape.

Everywhere one looked, there was carnage. A man’s status in life did not matter. Even Admiral Gaspard de Coligny, loved and respected by many, once a mentor of King Charles, was a fatality of this night. From the highest official to the ‘common folk’ who had come only to see the marriage of Henri de Navarre, every Huguenot was in danger.

This painting by Francois Dubois, done between 1572 and 1584,
depicts the horrors of the Saint Bartholomew's Day Massacre.
This sort of scene was enacted all over Paris and beyond.

Rumors would later deflect the blame. Detractors believed the Huguenots were planning an attack, as many of the Huguenot nobles had recently protested certain affairs of state. Many said Catherine de’Medici, the queen mother and formerly King Charles’ regent was to blame. It is currently believed that Charles himself most likely had a part in the decision after Catherine convinced him the Huguenots meant to take his life, though he did not fathom how many would die. There was probably some truth in each rumor. Perhaps the assassins took their marching orders and added their own twists; they ran wild and created even more chaos than was planned. We will never know for sure.

The “Saint Bartholomew’s Day massacre” went on for days. Not only in Paris, but in the countryside and surrounding territories, claiming the Protestant faith meant instant death. The demand for burials was overwhelmingly high. Many broken bodies were thrown into the Seine. The attitude of the day dictated that Huguenots did not deserve burial in sacred ground.

Unfortunately, this is not a fiction story. This event did occur, beginning on the 24th of August, 1572. Though some of the details are guesswork and the number of casualties has fluctuated greatly from historian to historian, the bulk of the account is as accurate as can be expected. The sheer horror of the massacre is difficult to comprehend. The casual attitude that the perpetrators showed toward their victims after the slaughter is nearly as disturbing as the bloodlust these men-at-arms showed during the bloodshed. No one will ever know how many innocent souls lost their lives at this time.

But Protestant Christians can take comfort in the fact that God knows each and every one of those souls. When I was writing this post I thought of Luke 12:7. “Indeed, the very hairs of your head are all numbered.” I realized that the Lord must certainly know the Saint Bartholomew’s Day martyrs. He remembers, loves, and cherishes their sacrifice so much more than we mortals ever could. To God be the glory!

(c) 2012 Joyously Saved

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