Sunday, March 4, 2012

March 04, 2012

The Revocation of the Edict of Nantes

It has long been said that the Holocaust did not happen all at once. There were various changes --- rights revoked, disruptive violence --- over the years, and people became sadly accustomed to those small discomforts. Things came together so slowly that when everything exploded, few were prepared. This is what happened for the Huguenots in October 1685 when the Edict of Fontainebleau was passed. Here is a small sampling of the edict: ("We" likely refers to the "royal we" in this case)

". . . we forbid our subjects of the Reform to meet any more for the exercise of the said religion in any place or private house, under any pretext whatever . . ."

". . . and in consequence we desire, and it is our pleasure, that all the temples of those of the said Reformers situate in our kingdom, countries, territories, and the lordships under our crown, shall be demolished without delay."

These were only a few of the decrees designed to dehumanize Protestants. Most knew something like this would occur, but few imagined the degree of horror. There had been sporadic persecution for years. French Protestants learned the meaning of perseverance and hardship, and yet they pressed on. The Edict of Fontainebleau (also known as the Revocation of the Edict of Nantes, that being an edict that gave French Protestants considerable rights) proved to be one of the most harrowing experiences they would ever face. Huguenots were first killed civilly, then physically.

They were forbidden to practice their faith for any reason, to preach the Gospel, to educate their children in the way they saw fit, and much more. All across France, Huguenot churches were burned to the ground, sacked and desecrated. Dragoons --- King Louis the Fourteenth’s private soldiers, laughingly known as ‘missionaries’ for the way they harrowed their victims --- were billeted in Protestant homes, where they caused immense damage. Huguenots were forbidden to work in most professions.

Anyone discovered to be Protestant might be killed, tortured, or sent to the galleys, which was considered a slow but certain death. Some were burned at the stake in a barbarous punishment many thought had died out in the previous century. There was no way they could remain in France. But they were forbidden to emigrate as well. French agents would actually command authorities at foreign ports to see if Huguenots had escaped aboard ship and to promptly send them back to France. While much of Europe underwent a flowering of art, culture, music, and fashion, French Protestants were living an unshakable nightmare.

It is greatly inspiring that so many Huguenots refused to give up their faith. Just as before, a few simple words and a promise of conversion, would have saved them. But enough refused that it was necessary to undertake a mass emigration. They fled to England, Switzerland, Germany, and even far across the sea to America. The Huguenots were commended for their godly nature and Protestant work ethic, and they were a great boost to the economy wherever they settled. Yet the shadows of persecution must have darkened the rest of their lives.

A few of my own ancestors came to New York and Pennsylvania via an escape route through Switzerland. I often imagine what it must have been like, most likely having witnessed horrors I cannot even begin to comprehend, two young parents and a small child fleeing through the icy mountain passes to a country they prayed and hoped would be the safe home France could never be.

Many of these Huguenots became a staple of American culture, bringing their fine skills and quiet devotion. As always, God turned a horrendous tragedy into a blessed in disguise, bringing multitudes of faithful Christians to a new and promising land. French Protestants passed the test with flying colors. They experienced what some might call the "Refiner’s fire" in its harshest form, yet they retained their faith and refused to give into hopelessness. For this reason, many Americans are intensely proud of their Huguenot heritage, and for good reason.

(c) 2012 Joyously Saved

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