I waited nearly a decade to visit Fort Caroline, the place where French Protestant Huguenots attempted to establish a stronghold in the New World and were mercilessly crushed just a year later. I pored over travelers' photos until I could imagine walking through the gates. I memorized every detail of the National Park Service's reconstructed Fort Caroline. I felt it was a calling, a Protestant pilgrimage that I could make not only for myself but also for my ancestors and for the victims who awoke to cold Spanish steel on the morning of September 20, 1565.
|Fort Caroline seen from a nearby dock|
I visited Fort Caroline near Jacksonville, Florida, this last Tuesday, March 27th. I walked the mosquito-infested trails. I enjoyed the cool breezes and rustic dirt paths. But then I saw it. The sign read, "Fort exhibit closed," and something about being sorry for the inconvenience. "Inconvenience" was not the word. I was numb. Shocked. I had come to Fort Caroline after planning such an event for years. I could not understand the odds. I walked around the outside of the fort walls and felt tears in my eyes. I was crushed.
|Fort Caroline gate showing the current construction|
But now I am finally starting to understand. The Huguenots came to "La Floride" desperately seeking religious freedom, wealth, happiness, and God. They strove so hard. They plotted and planned and dreamed, but they were never allowed to reach the life they struggled for so acutely. They could almost touch it. It was just outside their grasp. But their colony --- and their right to life --- was so brutally crushed that one cannot grasp the pathos of the situation. Like the Huguenots, I had planned and plotted and wanted so badly to come to La Caroline, but just when it was within my reach, my plans were changed, rearranged, and distorted. In a way, allowing me to emphatize with the ill-fated Huguenots of La Caroline and understand their pain meant more spiritually than a problem-free trip ever could have.
My pilgrimage taught me a great deal more than I knew.
|16th century French armor at Fort Caroline's visitor center|
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