Sunday, April 29, 2012

April 29, 2012

The Steadfast Faith of Marie Durand

In France there is a city called Aigues-Mortes, and in that city stands a large stone tower that has proudly stood against the centuries. It is called the Tower of Constance. At first glance it definitely does not look like the sort of place where you would want to spend even the minimum amount of time. Tall, rounded, and maddeningly simple, it is dotted with a few small windows here and there and topped by a small turret. You might rightfully guess it was a prison at one point. But for whom? Hardened criminals? Dissenters? Thieves and smugglers?

Women of the Protestant faith.

Many Huguenots, including those who somehow remained alive, spent time in prison, yet the story of Marie Durand is particularly haunting.  Her drama began in 1730. This was considered a ‘modern time’ in world history, an era of elegant music, sophisticated discourse, and courtly manners. The Edict of Fontainebleau was thirty years past. French Catholics imagined that there were no Protestants left in France. But there were many.

One of these was Marie Durand. Her crime was being the sister of a pastor. The guards came just after her wedding and separated her from the quiet, prayerful life she had been accustomed to. This was the point at which many women would have despaired or agreed to adopt the Catholic creed in a desperate bid for freedom. Marie never considered that. She was taken to the Tower of Constance, but she did not droop. She bloomed. She was filled with the spirit of the martyrs, consecrated by the blood of Christ and encouraged by the blood of those who had previously treated their faith as a jewel and placed it above even their own lives. 

Marie encouraged the other women incarcerated at the Tower of Constance, including those who were not being held on account of faith and had been imprisoned for various crimes. Encouragement must have been beyond difficult . . . the tower was a dark and dismal place. It must have reminded the women of legendary castle dungeons of old, complete with stark windows that kept in no heat or chill when each was most needed, fetid conditions, stairways that twisted and turned and seemed to go nowhere, and constant darkness. At any time these women could have confessed their ‘sin’ of practicing the Protestant faith. Perhaps they would have still been held prisoner due to their previous actions, or perhaps they would have been released. At any rate, Marie did not consider it. She remained a proud Protestant.

At least one person at the Tower of Constance seemed to have a measure of compassion. Eventually the prisoners were given a psalm-book. This must have seemed like heaven to Marie. She led the way, a godly woman who would have proudly been a godly martyr if called to be. Though pressure must have come from every side, she absolutely, utterly refused to give up her Huguenot faith. One might ask how long Marie was imprisoned. Five years? Ten?


For nearly four decades she languished in the Tower of Constance. She was only fifteen when she was first placed in darkness . . . at least one of the prisoners was even younger. In 1767 the Prince of Beauveau learned of Marie’s plight and ordered that the prison be emptied of Huguenot women. If he had not done this, then Marie and her prison-mates would have most assuredly died behind bars. The prince’s aide mentions that the women were starved for even the slightest hint of compassion and were surprised that there seemed to be men who cared for their suffering. They had been starved for human kindness, but Christ’s kindness had never left them. It was His constant compassion and care that had carried them through nearly forty years of unimaginable hardship.

Marie Durand never did give up her Protestant faith. There is a portrait of her --- I am uncertain if it is a new creation or a contemporary image --- that shows her as an elderly woman. The signs of imprisonment are evident on her face; her expression is closed from lack of trust, hard due to suffering, but she proudly wears a Huguenot cross that falls down softly against her shawl. I, too, wear a Huguenot cross, for this same reason. Faith. Pride. Virtue. If one looks for a Protestant woman to emulate, to admire, and to use as an example of faith and courage above all, one need look no further than Marie Durand.

(c) 2012 Joyously Saved

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