Wednesday, July 4, 2012

July 04, 2012

St. Bartholomew’s Day and the “Miraculous” Hawthorne

The worst part about the St. Bartholomew’s Day massacre, which took thousands of Huguenot lives in Paris and other cities beginning in August 1572, was that it was enacted or at least sanctioned by ordinary people. Not mercenaries. Not corrupt government officials. Not paranoid royals. But by ordinary men, butchers and bakers and candlestick makers, those who might have chatted amicably with ill-fated Huguenots just hours before. They were old men, young men, fathers, brothers, husbands. They were also, as many were in the 16th century, very in-tune to such things as miracles, visions, and signs which may or may not have meant what they believed it to mean.

One such example is the “miraculous hawthorn.” On August 25th, the day after the initial wave of violence against the Protestants in Paris, a hawthorn tree long thought to be barren sprang into full bloom with seemingly no logical explanation. The Parisian townsfolk literally took a break from the massacre to form a procession through the streets so they might go and marvel at the hawthorn. Numb, desensitized to the religious violence for which the 16th century would become so famous, they ignored the heaps of wounded as they thanked God for this miracle. They believed the hawthorn had bloomed as a sign of the Lord’s favor upon the massacre of the Protestants.

They believed He was sending His praise.

Of course, if there was indeed anything miraculous, there is another, more palatable explanation. Who is to say that the barren tree did not suddenly spring into an array of white flowers, the whiteness of purity, as a commemoration for the countless victims whose souls were cleaved from their bodies in that horrendous massacre? What if the blossoms were God’s mourning, the tears of angels, grieving for so many Christian believers slaughtered without pity and without reason? Did that thought give comfort to even one of the joyous Parisians who wondered at the beauty of this sign? Did ragged survivors --- and there must have been so few, who escaped by one means or another --- consider such a possibility? 

However many years that tree stood, it became a pilgrimage destination of sorts, a symbol of the sort of attitude that pervaded France and much of the known world at the time. They might have marveled at its branches and thought of Christ the Judge condemning Huguenot souls, but I choose to think of the above scenario: Of the pure white blossoms symbolizing the innocence of those massacred. It is a new and bold explanation to be sure. But I know in my heart that God would never bless the wholesale butchery of His children. The full truth of the matter will never be known . . .

(c) 2012 Joyously Saved

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