“The Church in the Desert”
After the revocation of the Edict of Nantes in October 1685, Protestants in France found there was a third option besides converting to Catholicism or being killed for their beliefs; they blended quietly into the background, moving outside of the cities and towns, worshiping in the open air and settling in rugged mountainside villages that were easily defensible and where their presence would not easily be detected.
Many Huguenot families escaped to the Cévennes region. They roamed the wild vistas and set up shop in the prehistoric gorges. Many might have seen it odd that such a clandestine lifestyle was still necessary. Sectarian violence was expected of the Reformation-era 16th century and perhaps even the religiously-explosive 17th century, but by the mid 1700s it would seem that the world had entered a time of relative civility.
Yet persecution still raged for the Huguenots in this “civilized” era, with periods of relative peace punctuated by sudden and dreaded raids by successive generations of dragoons. Ministers who were caught preaching the Gospel in the Reformed manner were often hanged or otherwise jailed. The Huguenot pastors of this time were particularly courageous. Though harassment was no longer as widespread as it once was, the possibility of martyrdom was still in existence even throughout the 1750s and beyond, and the Huguenots of the Cévennes were prepared to follow their ancestors’ example.
There were times that the Protestants of Cévennes remembered the Huguenot victories during the Wars of Religion and fought back, such as the rebellion of the Camisards (Huguenots of Cévennes) in 1702. After the “Great Burning of the Cévennes,” which took place in 1703, the Protestants dug deeper into their clandestine pastoral life and continued their wilderness wandering.
Why was this time of hiding known as the “church in the desert”? This was supposedly due to Scriptural references to the Hebrews meandering through the desert sands for forty years. Like the Israelites, God heard, protected, and provided for the Huguenots even during these days of neglect and intolerance. The “desert years” ended in 1787 with the publishing of the Edict of Versailles. Though their troubles were not entirely over, the Huguenots were, for nearly the first time in their existence, finally considered French citizens.
(c) 2012 Joyously Saved