LOTS OF PICTURES BELOW!
We are leaving the airbnb we have been staying in Caen across the street from the Abbaye aux Hommes, the earliest parts built by William of Normandy in the 11th century, and where he was enshrined. We've had the most amazing view right out our window at this magnificent abbey, and the site of Huguenot conflict and iconoclasm. So what are we to think about zealous Huguenots tearing down statues and desecrating shrines? In The History of the Rise of the Huguenots, by Henry Baird, he explores the problem of iconoclasm and contrasts it with the official papal and royal French policy of destroying human lives.
This is Baird:
In the midst of this universal movement there was one point in the compact made by the confederates at Orleans, which it was found impossible to execute. How could the churches, with their altars, their statues, their pictures, their relics, their priestly vestments, be guaranteed from invasion? To the Huguenot masses they were the temples and instruments of an idolatrous worship. Ought Christians to tolerate the existence of such abominations, even if sanctioned by the government? It was hard to draw a nice line of distinction between the overthrow of idolatry by public authority and by personal zeal. If there were any difference in the merit of the act, it was in favor of the man who vindicated the true religion at the risk of his own life. Nay, the Church itself had incontrovertibly given its sanction to this view by placing among the martyrs those primitive Christians who had upon their own responsibility entered heathen temples and overthrown the objects of the popular devotion. In those early centuries there had been manifested the same reckless exposure of life, the same supreme contempt for the claims of art in comparison with the demands of religion. The Minerva of Phidias or Praxiteles was no safer from the iconoclastic frenzy of the new convert from heathenism than the rude idol of a less cultivated age. The command, "Thou shalt not make unto thee any graven image," had not excepted from its prohibition the marvellous products of the Greek chisel.
It was here, therefore, that the chief insubordination of the[Pg 43] Huguenot people manifested itself—not in licentious riot, not in bloodshed, not in pillage. Calvin, with his high sense of law and order, might in his letters reiterate the warnings against the irregularity which we have seen him uttering on a previous occasion; the ministers might threaten the guilty with exclusion from the ordinances of the Church; Condé might denounce the penalty of death. The people could not restrain themselves or be restrained. They must remove what had been a stumbling-block to them and might become a snare to others. They felt no more compunction in breaking an image or tearing in pieces a picture, than a traveller, whom a highwayman has wounded, is aware of, when he destroys the weapons dropped by his assailant in his hurried flight. Indeed, they experienced a strange satisfaction in visiting upon the lifeless idol the punishment for the spiritual wrongs received at the hands of false teachers of religion.
We have an illustration of the way in which the work of de[Pg 44]molition was accomplished in events occurring about this time at Caen. Two or three inhabitants of this old Norman city were at Rouen when the churches were invaded and sacked by an over-zealous crowd of sympathizers with the "new doctrines." On their return to their native city, they began at once to urge their friends to copy the example of the provincial capital. The news reaching the ears of the magistrates of Caen, these endeavored—but to no purpose, as the sequel proved—to calm the feverish pulse of the people. On a Friday night (May eighth), the storm broke out, and it raged the whole of the next day. Church, chapel, and monastery could testify to its violence. Quaint windows of stained glass and rich old organs were dashed in pieces. Saints' effigies, to employ the quaint expression of a Roman Catholic eye-witness, "were massacred." "So great was the damage inflicted, without any profit, that the loss was estimated at more than a hundred thousand crowns." Still less excusable were the acts of vandalism which the rabble—ever ready to join in popular commotions and always throwing disgrace upon them—indulged. The beautiful tombs of William, Duke of Normandy and conqueror of England, and of the Duchess-queen Mathilda, the pride of Caen, which had withstood the ravages of nearly five hundred years, were ruthlessly destroyed. The monument of Bishop Charles of Martigny, who had been ambassador under Charles the Eighth and Louis the Twelfth, shared the same fate. The zealous Roman Catholic who relates these occurrences claims to have striven, although to no purpose, to rescue the ashes of the conqueror from dispersion.
The contagion spread even to Orleans. Here, as in other[Pg 45] places where the Huguenots had prevailed, there were but few of the inhabitants that had not been drawn over to the reformed faith, or at least pretended to embrace it. Yet Condé, in his desire to convince the world that no partisan hatred moved him, strictly prohibited the intrusion of Protestants into the churches, and assured the ecclesiastics of protection so long as they chose to remain in the city. For a time, consequently, their services continued to be celebrated in the presence of the faithful few and with closed doors; but soon, their fears getting the better of their prudence, the priests and monks one by one made their retreat from the Protestant capital. On the twenty-first of April, word was brought to Condé that some of the churches had been broken into during the preceding night, and that the work of destruction was at that very moment going forward in others. Hastening, in company with Coligny and other leaders, to the spacious and imposing church of the Holy Rood (Sainte Croix), he undertook, with blows and menaces, to check the furious onslaught. Seeing a Huguenot soldier who had climbed aloft, and was preparing to hurl from its elevated niche one of the saints that graced the wall of the church, the prince, in the first ebullition of his anger, snatched an arquebuse from the hands of one of his followers, and aimed it at the adventurous iconoclast. The latter had seen the act, but was in no wise daunted. Not desisting an instant from his pious enterprise, "Sir," he cried to Condé, "have patience until I shall have overthrown this idol; and then let me die, if that be your pleasure!"
The Huguenot soldier's fearless reply sounded the knell of many a sacred painting and statue; for the destruction was accepted as God's work rather than man's. Henceforth little exertion was made to save these objects of mistaken devotion, while the greatest care was taken to prevent the robbery of the costly reliquaries and other precious possessions of the churches,[Pg 46] of which inventories were drawn up, and which were used only at the last extremity.
Far different in character from the bloodless "massacres" of images and pictures in cities where the Huguenots gained the upper hand, were the massacres of living men wherever the papists retained their superiority. One of the most cruel and inexcusable was that which happened at Sens—a city sixty-five or seventy miles toward the south-east from Paris—where, on an ill-founded and malicious rumor that the reformed contemplated rising and destroying their Roman Catholic neighbors, the latter, at the instigation, it is said, of their archbishop, the Cardinal of Guise, and encouraged by the violent example of Constable Montmorency at Paris, fell on the Protestants, murdered more than a hundred of both sexes and of every age, and threw their dead bodies into the waters of the Yonne. While these victims of a blind bigotry were floating on under the windows of the Louvre toward the sea, Condé addressed to the queen mother a letter of warm remonstrance, and called upon her to avenge the causeless murder of so many innocent men and women; expressing the fear that, if justice were denied by the king and by herself, the cry of innocent blood would reach high heaven, and God would be[Pg 47] moved to inflict those calamities with which the unhappy realm was every day threatened.
A few days before Condé penned this appeal, the English ambassador had written and implored his royal mistress to seize the golden opportunity to inspirit the frightened Catharine de' Medici, panic-stricken by the violent measures of the Roman Catholic party; assuring her that "not a day passed but that the Spanish ambassador, the Bishop of Rome, or some other papist prince's minister put terror into the queen mother's mind." But Throkmorton's words and Cecil's entreaties were alike powerless to induce Elizabeth to improve her advantage. The opportunity was fast slipping by, and the calamities foretold by Condé were coming on apace.
In truth, few calamities could exceed in horror those that now befell France. In the south-eastern corner of the kingdom, above all other parts, civil war, ever prolific in evil passions, was already bearing its legitimate fruits. For several years the fertile, sunny hills of Provence and Dauphiny had enjoyed but little stable peace, and now both sides caught the first notes of the summons to war and hurried to the fray. Towns were stormed, and their inhabitants, whether surrendering on composition or at the discretion of the conqueror, found little justice or compassion. The men were more fortunate, in being summarily put to the sword; the women were reserved for the vilest indignities, and then shared the fate of their fathers and husbands. The thirst for revenge caused the Protestant leaders and soldiers to perpetrate deeds of cruelty little less revolting than those which disgraced the papal cause; but there was, at least, this to be said in their favor, that not even their enemies could accuse them of those infamous excesses of lewdness of which their opponents were notoriously guilty.Their vengeance was satisfied with the lives, and did not demand the honor of the vanquished.