Friday, March 16, 2012

March 16, 2012

I remember when I first heard the story of the Matanzas massacre. I was on my first trip to St. Augustine, Florida, merrily imbibing a variety of tourist stories as I rode around town on the famous Old Town Trolleys. When we were ambling alongside a beautiful crystal-clear bay full of sailboats, the tour guide said this bay was called ‘Matanzas,’ Spanish for ‘slaughters.’ Not the sort of cheery story we’d been hearing. Then she somberly told the story of the French Huguenots who were captured at an inlet fourteen miles south of St. Augustine and put to death because they would not recant their Protestant beliefs.

Stop. Hold the presses.

These were people like me. I’d found it difficult to relate to the Catholic sites that seem to proliferate in St. Augustine due to its Spanish history, and now when I finally heard a story of courageous Protestants, it was a gory tale of death and betrayal. I felt a sudden connection to these men who shared my faith. At the time, doctrinal differences between my Lutheranism and their Calvinism did not matter. They still do not. These were Christians who, like me, believed in faith alone, Scripture alone, grace alone.

I forgot the story for a couple of years. In 2005, a History Channel documentary detailing the conquest of America was released. There was a reenactment of the Matanzas massacre in the "Southeast" portion of the documentary. I saw discrepancies. That this did not happen like that, that particular scene would have been impossible, etc. I was on fire for the story again. I went to Matanzas Inlet on my next trip to St. Augustine, but I could not find the spot. My interest --- and need to witness --- grew. I had a close and personal connection to these martyrs. I wanted to honor them somehow. I wanted to prove they were not forgotten.

Fast forward a few years. There is a constant buzzing in my mind telling me that I am meant to lift up the story of these unknown men. I felt the same sort of connection and solidarity one might feel when researching distant ancestors. I was not going to get out of this one. And I had no desire to. As I saw the lack of documentation regarding the men of Matanzas, I grew more determined. I nearly fizzled out the Internet’s search capacities looking for any photos, any mention of what I might find when I finally went to Matanzas. I found a few photos. Nothing spectacular. But enough to see that the site had been hopelessly hidden.

St. Augustine has a slew of markers detailing every little thing that happened in the city’s long and colorful history. Johnny Weissmuller trained here, railroad baron Henry Flagler slept here, that sort of thing. I remember that very well. But my research proved that it was not the case where Matanzas was concerned. To mark a massacre where nearly 250 Protestants were killed for their beliefs, there is apparently one unassuming state sign over the inlet bridge. There are two small markers, one a billboard type, one a small stone plaque, hidden behind a boardwalk railing at the massacre site. Not exactly the sort of thing people know to look for.

So I decided to make a pilgrimage. I (attempted to) learn some Scripture verses in French. I prepared myself spiritually, and I felt more strongly than ever as if I was meant to remember these forgotten men. I will soon be leaving, and I am admittedly nervous. I have no idea how it will go. It might be pouring rain . . . there might be a plethora of people walking the Matanzas nature trails were the massacre site is located. But one thing is certain: Even if this "pilgrimage" does not go exactly how I planned, I will feel as if I am witnessing simply by being there, remembering, honoring, and vindicating.

I want to close with Revelation 12:11, a verse that always reminds me of these Frenchmen and their sacrifice: "They overcame him by the blood of the Lamb and by the word of their testimony; they did not love their lives so much as to shrink from death."

(c) 2012 Joyously Saved

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