Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Chateau Amboise, an excerpt from HAMMER OF THE HUGUENOTS (and pics)

(The Amboise Conspiracy, 1560, was a disastrous well intentioned effort on the part of Huguenot nobles to secure religious liberty in France. It failed horribly. The River Loire ran red with Huguenot blood and corpses hung from the battlements of the castle pictured below). Here's an excerpt:

Suddenly Maurice halted. His eyes grew wider. A grin gradually spread across his face. Philippe had come to know what that look meant.

Sophie shook her head and groaned. “Another frenzy comes upon him.” 

Eyes sparkling, Maurice signaled for Philippe to stand at one end of the kitchen; he placed himself across from him. “You’ll be the Count Montgomery,” he said to Philippe. “I’m King Henry II—or as was.” Cradling an imaginary lance under his right arm, Maurice snorted and clomped in circles. Feigning to rein in a spirited horse, he continued, “Spurring his charger toward his opponent—” Maurice signaled for Philippe to charge at him with his imaginary lance. “Thundering toward one another, drawing ever closer, their lances poised for the kill, at last they met in the middle with a crash.”

Shaking her head in wonderment at her brother’s antics, Sophie couldn’t help laughing at the two boys now in a heap on the kitchen floor.

Maurice held his wooden spoon as if it protruded from his eye, writhing as if in pain, he continued the story in anguished sounding gasps. “A splinter from my shattered lance has lodged itself deep within my eye, so deep it has pierced my brain.” Then, cocking his legs and lunging forward, he hopped onto his feet and resumed his place at the table. “July 10, 1559,” he said simply, “I died.”

“Amusing, to be sure,” said Sophie “and charming. But I know what you are doing. You are stalling. What happened at Chateau Amboise? I must know.”

Philippe had seen the flashings of light in Sophie’s gray-blue eyes before. It reminded him of the sea on a cloudy day when a bolt of sunlight broke through the clouds for but an instant. At times, they were more like sparks when André the blacksmith’s hammer struck fiercely on his anvil; Philippe had come to know what those flashes meant.

Maurice knew what they meant as well. Tearing off a hunk of baguette, he nodded at his sister. “It is a tragic story; perhaps too tragic for a pretty young girl to hear.”

Sophie placed the back of a hand on her forehead, pretending to fan herself with the other. “I shall do my best not to faint dead away.”

Maurice shrugged. “As you wish,” he said, looking soberly at his sister. “I will tell you what happened at Chateau Amboise. But it is not a pretty tale.”

Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Curator of Musée de Cevennes helps me with Huguenot research

Our gites host, a retired Reformed pastor in the tradition of the Huguenots, set up an appointment for me with the foremost historian in the region, Daniel Travier. After Lionel and I visited the Huguenot cave we returned to St Jean du Gard and had a very helpful time with this man. He took us into his medieval house, low beamed ceilings, and filled with collections of old leather bound books, a vast number of Reformer medallions, many of Calvin, and no computer whatsoever. Strictly old school historian. 

One of the more interesting things I learned is some of the reasons historians offer for why there was such a wide sweeping reception to the gospel in the Cevennes, Monsieur Travier said that one of the reasons is that the people in these rugged mountains are only part time farmers and so generally had a trade of some kind. This meant that they went frequently to markets and fairs, places which were cross roads of ideas. They are also a fiercely independent people who were only loosely under a feudal system, so they had developed habits of independent thinking that didn't mix well with papal supremacy and the absolute authority of the magisterium of the Roman church.

I appreciate these kinds of explanations only insofar as they help us see how God by his sovereign plan brings about the salvation of a large group of people. So far I have come to the settled conclusion that any explanation of the Huguenots that tries to make it seem just like another bid for political independence by an oppressed people group is hugely inadequate to explain why thousands of people would face certain death for their faith in Christ. I've also concluded that there were probably many more Huguenots paying the ultimate price for loyalty to the gospel of grace and King Jesus even than Scottish Covenanters; and Huguenot persecution ground on over many many more years.

This is a big story, one I feel every day very inadequate to tell. Nevertheless, I keep plugging away. Now back at it. Thank you so much, Monsieur Travier! See my YouTube channel for a clip of him telling an animated anecdote about Huguenots in his home town, but it's in French.

Lionel also took me to see the oldest standing Huguenot temple (virtually all of them were torn down by royal RC troops in the wars of religion). It was built in the early 1600s and used chestnut tree timbers for its roof which won't bear weight very far, hence the middle arch dividing the sanctuary down the middle, very unusual.

Montpelier will be where the grand finale of HAMMER OF THE HUGUENOTS takes place

I'm sitting in the cathedral where Viret preached the gospel in the 1560s. It's a sturdy 14th century edifice (1364) originally part of the monastery of St Benoit. Viret who was Swiss was commissioned in Geneva to come to France and proclaim the true gospel of Jesus Christ, and to do so when it was becoming increasingly dangerous., So much so it is not an exaggeration to say that such a commission was almost certainly to end in the martyrdom of the pastor sent. Huguenots had been martyred and massacred already, at Vassy, at Sens, and in various outbreaks in Paris (the first martyr in Paris in 1512). This grand structure  has high ribbed vaulting, a wider feeling nave than many cathedral I have been in. It has Four matching square towers and an odd covered west entrance that was connected to the university and the medical faculty, one of the most famous in Europe then and now. It is twice as long to day as it was in Viret's day, the east end added in the 18th century. Since it was originally a monastic chapel, its north side was an extensive covered cloister, today an inner court to the medical college.

Imagine with me slight, frail Viret stepping into the pulpit (no original pulpit exists today) and opening his Oliveten French Bible (translated by Calvin's cousin) and preaching the all sufficiency of Jesus and his atoning sacrifice and righteousness for sinners. This would have been in the height of the Renaissance, and in the academic capital of the university that surrounds the cathedral. His preaching of the grace of Christ sparked a revival in this city that extended to almost the entire medical faculty, the greatest scientific minds of the day, now converted to Christ by the power of the gospel. It would have been thrilling to have been here on that day and the days following.

Lionel and I went into the medical college and found memorials to professors from the days when he preached here, likely a number of them his converts.

In the third war of religion in France, 1567-1568, royal RC dragoons seized twelve Huguenot pastors, including Viret. They were held in the dungeon of the nearby fort, then seven of them were led out and executed, perhaps by beheading or burning. Viret and four others were temporarily spared, some attribute this to the respect given to the gracious pastor even by his enemies. Meanwhile, a commando corp of the Huguenot army made a daring rescue attempt... Read what happens in THE HAMMER OF THE HUGUENOTS (working title) that I'm writing here in France--even as you read this, in fact.