Huguenots and St. Bartholomew’s Day

“The time is coming when those who kill you will think they are doing God a service. This is because they have never known the Father or me.” John 16:2-3

My ancestors from Guernsey Island, France were Huguenots (French Protestants). Following is an account of Saint Bartholomew’s Day Massacre, one of the most horrible days in the history of Christianity, when an estimated 70,000* Huguenots were murdered just for being Protestants.

“In Paris on August 18, 1572, there were hopes for peace between the warring Catholics and Protestants. On this day a royal wedding between the Protestant king Henry of Navarre and the Catholic Margaret of Valois brought together the two hostile factions. Margaret was the sister of young King Charles IX of France and the daughter of Catherine de Medici, the powerful Queen Mother. Protestant and Catholic nobles who had fought each other for ten years turned out for the celebration. Thousands of Protestants came to Paris for the wedding. The festivities lasted for days.

Calvinism had come to France in 1555. Soon there were two thousand French Reformed Churches, and nearly half of the population had embraced the Reformed faith. French Protestants became known as Huguenots.

Fighting broke out in 1562 with the massacre of Vassy, in which twenty-three Huguenots were killed and one hundred wounded. The Huguenots fought back in three successive “wars of religion.” Between 1562 and 1572 there were eighteen massacres of Huguenots, five of Roman Catholics and thirty assassinatons.

While Catherine the Queen Mother was planning her daughter’s wedding, she had also been plotting the assassination of Admiral Gaspard de Coligny, a popular French war hero who had become a leader of the Huguenots.

On August 22 the assassination attempt failed. This ignominious plot so soon after the royal wedding threatened to embarrass the royal family. Near midnight the following night the twenty-two-year-old French King, brother of the bride, shouted to his mother in a fit of rage, ” If you are going to kill Coligny, why don’t you kill all the Huguenots in France, so that there will be no one left to hate me.”

Following this impetuous directive, Catherine ordered the murder of all the Huguenots leaders currently in Paris, including those who had attended the wedding. The massacre began August 24, 1572, which was St. Bartholomew’s Day. The gates of the city were closed so that no Huguenot could escape. Admiral Coligny was murdered first as he knelt in prayer.

Many of the Huguenot nobles who were guests at the royal wedding were lodged at the Louvre. They were called into the courtyard and shot one by one as the appeared. King Charles watched approvingly.

During the night the homes of Paris Huguenots had each been marked with white crosses. Before daybreak messengers were sent throughout the city screaming, “Kill! Kill! The king commands it.” A murdering frenzy fell on the whole city. Whole Huguenot families were taken into the streets and murdered. Unborn children were cut from their dead mother’s bellies and smashed on the pavement. The dawn of St. Bartholomew’s Day revealed thousands of martyred Huguenots.

But the savagery was not without cost to the king, Charles IX soon began having nightmares about the massacre. In less than two years at the age of just twenty-four he was dying. His last days were plagued with visions of his victims. “What bloodshed, what murders!” he cried to his nurse. “What evil counsel have I followed? O my God, forgive me! … I am lost!”

Reflection: The St. Bartholomew’s Day Massacre was one of the worst days in the history of Christ’s Church. But Jesus warned that another day is coming that will be worst than this day. Are you ready for it if you live to experience that future awful day?

“For that will be a time of greater horror than anything the world has ever seen or will ever see again.” Matthew 24: 21

(Source: The One Year Christian History – E. Michael and Sharon Rusten (2003))

Dear Reader: The Pocket Bible Handbook by Henry H. Halley states the following concerning the Roman Catholic Pope’s reaction to the Massacre:

“There was great rejoicing in Rome. The Pope and his College of Cardinals went, in solemn procession, to the Church of San Marco, and ordered the Te Deum to be sung in thanksgiving. The Pope struck a medal in commemoration of the Massacre; and sent a Cardinal to Paris to bear the King and Queen-Mother the Congratulations of Pope and Cardinals.”

* Pocket Bible Handbook -Henry H. Halley (1954)

Shocking isn’t it! Done all in the name of God! But what about you? Are you ready to meet your Maker. Are you at peace with God through Jesus Christ? For all have sinned and come short of the glory of God. We need a Redeemer. For by grace are you saved through faith, and that not of yourself, not of works lest any man should boast. No church can save you. It is by Christ alone, by faith alone, through grace alone, to the glory of God alone. Cry out to Him now while there is still breath in your lungs. May you be ready.

Carl