Monday, July 29, 2013

Underground church--literally: Deep in a cave Huguenots worshiped in and hid out from royal dragoons

Cave Rouville, above st jean du Gard.

I'm sitting on a rock in an ancient grotto high above the Gard valley where Huguenots hid from royal dragoons, and where they worshiped the King of kings. There are soft drips of water into a pool, a massive flow of rock that has accumulated over the centuries, that looks like living rock, liquid, as if it were flowing out of the inner part of the cave. 

The hike here was very hot, lose slabby stones, easy to lose footing on, scrub oak trees and an occasional evergreen shrub. Just when I thought we would never get there, or that the trail, such as it was, would end and we would plummet to the Gard valley far below, the river snaking along far below us, a black hole appeared. It was suddenly cool, and the sound of the cicadas receded into a background noise. I still can hear them, but more muted by the vastness of the cavern.  It is oddly squared off almost as if the ceiling was tooled, but it is a roof made by God himself for a refuge. Here Huguenots, men, women, children, the elderly--hard to imagine as inaccessible as this place is, they would take to the high summits of the Cevennes. 

They had relative safety here. A sentinel vigilantly watching from near the mouth of the cave could easily see the river below, and could keep his eyes glued to the only place dragoons could cross at a bend in the river, where it was wider and they could ford with horses. Even then, royal dragoons intent on halting true worship would have their work cut out for them. It is remote, even dangerous to get here, especially for children and the elderly. Hard to imagine it. I just cleared my throat and the echo jolted me. Lionel sang a psalm in French, 118, to the melody, Toulon. The upside of their desolate condition is that they sang psalms in the best acoustics, made for them by the almighty himself.

I have never written on location in so unique a spot. My imagination takes me back to when footsore worshipers sat or stood or lay in the jumble of rocks that served as pews. There is a large rock set high at the inner end of the grotto used as a pulpit. Even a smaller rock for another pastor to sit on while he waits his turn to proclaim the gospel in this desolate place. Historians tell us that as many as 900 huguenots may have worshiped here at a single service.  I believe it.

There is a cross carved in the stones...


  1. With our tendency to focus on church as a building with heating, ac, stained glass, etc...these believers are a great testimony to what worship means.
    Revelation 12:11 (NIV)
    11 They overcame him by the blood of the Lamb and by the word of their testimony; they did not love their lives so much as to shrink from death.