Friday, April 6, 2012

April 06, 2012

Huguenots in Flight: The Swiss Border

The Huguenot refugees await nightfall with bated breath, pulse pounding in their ears. They have clandestinely sold their property. Quietly gathered supplies. Prepared themselves and their families for the hardships that lie ahead, and for the death they might expect if their escape is discovered. Jean, the father, willingly if with great difficulty, imagines leaving the only land he has ever known. France has been both joy and heartache, a beautiful country of stunning scenery and venerable old cities, beguiling the Protestants with promises of conversion and thus equal rights. Holding to one’s Protestant convictions and remaining in France means death. Fleeing, if discovered, also means death. Emigration is forbidden.

It is an impossible situation.

Now, in the late 1680s, King Louis has passed his “Edict of Fontainebleau,” also known as the Revocation of the Edict of Nantes. Huguenots have suffered first civilly then physically. There is no way for a Protestant in France to get ahead. He is forbidden to work, to attend services, to provide for his family, to be a citizen in any way, shape, or form. He is dead in the eyes of the state. Anyone suspected of Huguenot leanings is jailed, tortured, or killed outright. Jean continues telling himself that he has made the right decision. His wife silently jostles their baby son on her knee. If they escape, their son will have a chance at a life of freedom. If not, he may become an orphan, destined to live out the rest of his days in a monastery, with a Catholic education his parents would abhor.

They could acquiesce. They could accept Catholicism and regain all their rights as French citizens. They could have their son legitimized in the eyes of the law. They could . . . but they do not. For their faith is so strong, so deep, so abiding, that the thought of abandoning their convictions is a notion worse than death. Jean stands. The night is dark enough, and he and his wife start out with their baby in tow. They manage to make it to the Swiss border, slugging through woodland and mountain passes, days of toil, hardship, and pain. They witness the beauty of the snow-covered Alps and think of God’s mercy and creativity even in such a humbling situation. The parents understand very well that any pain they may undergo on their journey is only a fraction of what they will suffer if they are discovered.

Just as they are preparing to cross over to Switzerland, a refuge for suffering Huguenots since the days of John Calvin, guards step forth and demand an explanation. The young mother tenses with dread. She holds her baby close, attempting to hide him within the folds of her dress and cape. She glances at the strong dark-haired man who is her husband and the father of her child. What will become of him? Though women receive no special favors in these harsh days, men are even more harshly treated. She remains in the shadows and prays silently. The wordless prayers seem deafening to her, and somehow she finds the courage to flee. She can only pray and hope that Jean will somehow reach her. She glances down at the child in her arms, the living legacy of her husband, and tears fill her eyes.

With God’s grace she finds the courage to slip away from prying eyes. Many harrowing days follow. But she never gives up hope. She finds the thought disgusting that her family might risk everything to follow their faith only to lose it now. She gently scratches their large Saint Bernard under the chin and buries her head in his soft brown-and-white coat. Without this “gentle giant” and his inbred navigational skills, she and baby Jacques might be lying along a snowy path with no hope of help.

Then comes the much-hoped-for rendezvous. Jean, bedraggled and worse for wear, stands before her. Somehow he has managed to escape. They stand and stare out over the beauty of Switzerland as it spreads out before them. Switzerland means freedom. Prosperity. Civil rights.  The chance to give their son the life he deserves regardless of their Protestant convictions. Suddenly the hardships of the past few weeks seem meaningless in the face of such awe-inspiring freedom. The Lord has provided. Jean starts forward, staff in hand, and leads his family into a new life.

This story has always inspired me. Though many of the details are fictional, the timeline is factual. I love this story because it is my story. Over three centuries ago, my ninth-great grandparents, French Protestants from the region of Picardy, fled France and the Edict of Fontainebleau to build a new life in Basel, Switzerland. Because of their courage, I am alive. Because of their unbending faith, I myself believe in faith alone, grace alone, for the glory of God alone. I do not know Jean’s wife’s name, but I trust that someday I will.

One thing I do know is that she must have been an amazing lady.

(c) 2012 Joyously Saved

No comments:

Post a Comment

Search This Blog