Sunday, May 20, 2012

May 20, 2012

The Huguenot Temple of Charenton’s Fiery End

Date: November 1685. Engagement: Local mobs versus the Protestant church of Charenton near Paris. Outcome: Too horrific to be believed. Imagine this: On that long-ago day, demonic red-orange flames shot through elegant classical windows and the handsome columned entrance of Charenton temple, astonishing onlookers with an infernal dance along the railings of the finely-carved cupola. There could be few things worse than watching one’s church, a house of God, a place one’s family worshiped so freely, engulfed in flames and horrendously desecrated.

Charenton was the crème de la crème, the model for Huguenot temples. I can imagine standing in numb, disbelieving silence and staring up at the round window over the entrance, watching the flames licking through the opening. Ash must have rained down on skin and clothing before drifting to the ground. This was a burnt sacrifice offered in anything but love. Charenton was one of over five hundred churches obliterated or reused during Louis the Fourteenth’s repression of Protestantism. The same story that unfolded at Charenton was only one of many. Far, far too many.

The temple was constructed in 1621 and, ironically considering its ultimate fate, destroyed by fire. The new temple became one of the most well-known and well-recognized of the Huguenot churches. Architect Salomon de Brosse designed the temple so that over 3,000 worshippers could comfortably fit inside. It was indeed a blessing that so many might pray and hear Scripture in such a beautiful place. The temple of Charenton was a testimony to the civil rights and freedom the Huguenots had enjoyed for the past nine decades. 

Charenton temple sported a Romanesque façade and sides that were somberly festooned with three rows of windows. The back of the temple consisted of a small cupola, a pointed roof, and three rows of windows, the top row being of arched design. Drawings give us a peek at Charenton’s inner beauty. Though the temple was free of statuary and colorful decoration, it was indeed stunning. The room was full of pews, facing toward the altar, facing the sides, facing the back of the temple. There were two levels of open balconies with delicately-crafted spindle railing. These balconies were reached by large winding staircases.

When the flames began to leap, all that engineering would all be gone in a matter of moments.

Fire was not the Charenton temple’s only foe. The Huguenots’ enemies pulled down walls, desecrated whatever remained of the interior, and completely flattened the church to the ground. They stormed through the Protestant cemetery and ravaged old venerable graves while destroying tombstones without care. When the smoke cleared, what was once a beautiful old church and graveyard was a pile of rubble that bore ample testimony to the end result of intolerance, injustice, and persecution.

Perhaps in the 16th century it would have been more expected. That was an era of wars, sieges, massacres, and violent religious upheaval. Yet by the 17th century, French Protestants had been afforded so many rights and privileges that this sudden medievalist attitude toward “heresy” hit them completely out of the blue. They had assimilated. Belonged. Flourished. And now the ugly prejudice of the previous century was rearing its head once more in the most horrific of ways.

Such stories are a physical ache in my soul. Perhaps it is due to my Huguenot ancestry or the proud and long-standing Protestant heritage I claim, but I am personally grieved by this terrible event and its ramifications.  I have long wondered if there is such a phenomenon as ‘ancestor memories’ or if thoughts, feelings, interests, and things of endearment somehow travel through the blood even down through so many generations. I believe it is certainly possible, for I cry for the temple of Charenton just as surely as if I had stood there.

Perhaps my ancestors did.

(c) 2012 Joyously Saved

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