Wednesday, October 24, 2012

October 24, 2012

The Huguenots As Galley-Slaves: Understanding the Galley Experience

By the seventeenth century the Huguenots of France were accustomed to all sorts of persecutions and torments, yet this era, characterized by the reign of the “Sun King” Louis XIV, produced a new kind of martyr: “Death by ship.” Being pronounced a galley slave was considered by many to be a long and tortuous death. Though it may seem kinder than being shot outright or burned at the stake, it had its own horrors.

Imagine it. Men were chained to the oars of a great galley, forced to row in tandem with other unfortunate souls, trapped for hours on end in the dark, shadowy bowels where little if any sunshine ever made its way through the cracks. If they prayed in the Protestant fashion, they were maligned, beaten, or whipped. If they complained, the same. If they shirked, fell asleep on duty, or were otherwise unable to do their work, they were often mercilessly tormented either unto unconsciousness or unto death.

Physical altercation was not the only worries. There was also the possibility of contracting some ravaging illness, which often happened. Infectious diseases spread like wildfire among so many ill and malnourished souls. This is what Huguenot men faced when they were named as galley slaves simply for refusing to recant their Protestant beliefs. So how did the survivors get through? The same way they got through everything else in life. The same way they remained strong, steadfast, and faithful though they were constantly treated as pariahs and slaughtered in their own country. They prayed. They hoped. They trusted.

My 9th-great grandfather Jean fled France in 1685; if he had not, the galley ships might have been his fate. I often wonder what would have happened to him if he had remained in Picardy and stayed Protestant. One of two things, most likely: Imprisonment or death. There was rarely a third option. Even in what might have seemed a more “modern” era full of scientific, musical, and philosophical breakthroughs, Protestants were much-hated. So Jean left. He knew there was no way to get ahead without betraying the faith he loved so well. He knew death and suffering awaited him, his wife, and their infant son. Yet it must have been frightening to travel to Switzerland, a country he likely knew very little about.

In some cases, fleeing is the most courageous thing a man can do.

(c) 2012 Joyously Saved

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