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Posts Tagged ‘Catholic Church’

I1413374964-8-origmagine each day wrapping your hair up in a lovely bun and then slipping a very tiny bible into your chignon?  Odd?  Well, there was a day when many young Christian women hid their bibles this way! In September 1685, in France, all Bible reading was forbidden and Christian homes were subject to search. French Protestants known as Huguenots were forced to keep their scriptures hidden and to worship in secret. I was privileged to get a little glimpse into the lives of this courageous minority on a recent visit to Provence, France while visiting with ICCP of Aix-en-Provence. While staying there with a gracious 93 year-old Huguenot gentleman, a Monsieur D’Cazenove, we were able to visit the Musée du Désert, where this fascinating and inspiring history is kept alive. And indeed it’s true that Huguenot women hid their very tiny bibles in their chignons!

This tiny bible measures just one inch high yet is very legible. Huguenot women hid them in their chignons.                                                                                   From Le Musée du Désert, Cevennes, France

The Huguenots were the fruit of the tide of the Reformation coming to France in the mid 16th century, and were devoted to reforming the church and the political institutions of their times.  Many noble and highly intellectual families joined this movement, but in a majority Catholic country where the Church was all powerful, persecution was inevitable. The most notorious incident occurred on St. Bartholomew’s Day, 1572, when thousands of Huguenots were in Paris to celebrate the wedding of Henry of Navarre (a Huguenot) to Marguerite de Valois (a Catholic). The young King Charles IX, under the sway of his powerful mother, Catherine d’ Medici, ordered the massacre of all Huguenots.  Thousands died in Paris that day and tens of thousands all across France.

When Henry IV, a Huguenot known as Le Bon Roi–the Good King, came to the throne, he passed the Edict of Nantes (1598) granting religious freedom to Huguenots–one of Europe’s first IMG_2727documents to protect this fundamental right. However, 80 years later, King Louis XIV revoked the Edict of Nantes, and Huguenots were harassed out of all educated professions, arrested, tortured and imprisoned, their lands and properties confiscated.  Louis XIV  issued countless warrants for the arrest of Huguenots who refused to convert to Catholicism.  At left are just a few of King Louis’s numerous warrants persecuting Huguenots.  In these samples, agents of the King are instructed to destroy all the Huguenot churches, extinguish and suppress  their colleges, arrest their midwives, and to obtain their declarations as to whether they will convert  or die as Protestants.

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This barrel converted into a pop-up pulpit, but looked like an ordinary barrel when not in use.

It was particularly during this period that Huguenots became very creative in finding ways to worship in secret.  As a large majority lived in the Provence region, where there are thick forested areas and many caves and grottoes, the Huguenots often met secretly in caves to worship.  A home church or a church meeting in a factory might have a convertible pulpit, that when not in use looked like an ordinary wooden barrel, but converted quite ingeniously into a pulpit by a clever system of levers.  Goblets for communion wine could be converted to appear as ordinary looking candlesticks, and picture frames were designed so that bibles could be hidden between the mirror and the back of the frame.

Despite these subterfuges, countless Huguenots were arrested, tortured and put to death.  Over 5000 men were forced to slave on the galleys of the King, choosing that grim fate over giving up their faith. Marie Durand was arrested at age 19 and spent 38 years imprisoned because she refused to violate her conscience.

Remarkably, despite these tremendous hardships, the Huguenot people were known as the “people who sing.”  Their secret IMG_2802worship services were marked by their joyful singing of the scriptures set to music, particularly the psalms.  When I question our host, Monsieur d’Casenove, about this fact, he slips quietly into his centuries-old chateau and reemerges quickly holding an ancient book in his hand.  It is a psalmer, a very old book of the psalms set to music.  When I ask him how old it is, he turns to the copyright page, and the book had been printed in the 1550s.

The history of the Huguenot people is a rich, varied, and inspiring history of a people who fought, suffered, and died for freedom of conscience.  It is a history that has some bearing on American history too.  In my next post I will explore what Huguenot history has to do with Paul Revere, George Washington, and the Marquis de Lafayette!

 

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The chateau of Monsieur d’Casanove in the Cevennes region of France, an area rich in Huguenot history.

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Happy Valentines Day and an early Happy Birthday to Galileo!  It is a historical fact that the Valentine we celebrate today was martyred by the Roman Emperor Claudius II (known as Claudius the Cruel), on February 14, circa the year 278.  Though much of Saint Valentine’s history is clouded by legend, the story that seems most likely, is that Claudius was intent on keeping his Roman soldiers celibate in order to enforce strict discipline and keep the troops from pining for their families while stationed far from home. He therefore banned all engagements and marriages for the troops.  As a priest, Valentine, could not abide this order and continued to perform weddings for the secret lovers. When this was discovered by Claudius, Valentine was arrested and sentenced to death.  While in jail, he is said to have healed the daughter of the jailer, who was blind, and before his execution sent her a note inscribed, “From your Valentine.” A sweet and simple children’s book about Saint Valentine that you may enjoy is Robert Subuda’s Saint Valentine.

Tomorrow, February 15th is the birthday of Galileo, and it was on February 13, 1633 that Galileo was brought to Rome to answer charges of heresy for believing that the solar system was not geocentric (revolving around the earth), but rather, was heliocentric (revolving around the sun).  The Roman ecclesiastics could not abide such an outrageous idea, which somehow seemed to upset their notions of man’s importance at the center of the universe.  The Catholic authorities forced Galileo to renounce his beliefs and sentenced him to live the rest of his life under house arrest.

But this, of course was toward the end of his life, and by that time, Galileo had not only substantiated through careful astronomical observations that the earth did indeed revolve around the sun, but he had also  invented a thermometer, a geometric compass, a compound microscope,  and a pendulum clock; he perfected the astronomical telescope, measured the rotation of the sun, and designed a way to test precious metals.  He wrote laws about falling bodies and floating bodies.  He was also a lover of art and an accomplished artist himself.  He played the lute and enjoyed working in his garden.  Galileo was truly a Renaissance man.

I had the distinct privilege of working with Jeanne Bendick on her delightful biography of Galileo, featured here.  Jeanne Bendick, who is best known for her hugely popular book, Archimedes and the Door of Science, applies her fun and whimsical way with words and illustrations to the remarkable life of Galileo.  In honor of Galileo’s birthday, pick up a copy of this book and discover the life of one of history’s most curious, inventive and courageous men.

When the church authorities forced the kneeling Galileo to renounce that the earth revolved around the sun, it is said after his forced confession, that the aged man struggled up from the floor and whispered, “Eppur si muove,”–which means, “and yet, it does move.”

“I do not believe that the same God who has endowed us with senses, reason, and intellect, has intended us to forego their use.” –Galileo Galilei

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Researching the early Middle Ages for an upcoming seminar, I came across this interesting tidbit which I thought you might enjoy.  It is a serendipitous connection with the ancient world of Aesop, in particular Androcles and the Lion, early Medieval history and the world of contemporary children’s books!  It is a fairly well-known and accepted fact that fables and fairy tales are adapted and transmogrified (don’t you love that word?) which means changed in appearance or form, sometimes in a bizarre way, by every culture that grows to know and love them. Aesop is told and retold by successive generations in a manner that reflects that generation’s worldview, beliefs, struggles, hopes, and dreams.

Aesop’s Tale of Androcles and the Lion involves a Greek slave who runs away from his master, comes upon a lion lamed by a thorn in his paw, removes the thorn and then the lion and Androcles live for a time in the den of the lion; here the lion brings Androcles fresh meat each day.  Later both the slave and the lion are captured and Androcles is sentenced to death in the amphitheater–where like may other unfortunates, he will die as sport of hungry lions.  But, in this case the lion happens to be Androcles’ friend, and despite his hunger he refuses to harm his friend, and rather fawns over him.  The astonished crowd demands the prisoner’s release and both Androcles and the lion are spared.  The moral of the story is that “Gratitude is the sign of noble souls.”

After the dawn of Christianity, the tale was told in much the same way except that Androcles is now a Christian, rather than an escaped slave, and is condemned to die for his faith in the Roman coliseum.  The ending is quite the same, with the grateful lion refusing to devour his friend and both of them being spared.  Later the same tale is appropriated by the Catholic Church and in this case the kind thorn-remover is St. Jerome (327-420).  Now, St. Jerome is an important figure in the Church as he was the first to translate the Greek New Testament into Latin, and ultimately the entire Bible from Hebrew into Latin.  This version is the Latin Vulgate edition and is still used today.  He is famous also for being an eyewitness to the Visigoth sacking of Rome, where he lamented, “My tongue sticks to the roof of my mouth and sobs choke my speech.”  The painting at right is by Italian Renaissance artist, Niccolo Catalonia and is entitled, “St. Jerome in his Study.”  In the Jerome version of the lion tale, after the lion is helped by the saint, he remains at the monastery as a protector and pet and often even helps with household chores–the moral I suppose that “he who does not work shall not eat.”

Finally, that brings us the most contemporary edition of this tale–Andy and the Lion by James Daugherty. You may recognize Daugherty’s name as he is also author of The Landing of the Pilgrims, The Magna Charta, Poor Richard and Of Courage Undaunted–all excellent books.  But he is best known for his version of the Androcles tale. In every way this rendition is the most quintessentially American it could possibly be–involving a barefooted but benevolent American youngster who helps a lion that has escaped from a circus (where else?) and features the sort of kind-hearted, simple folks of small town life.  It is nostalgic to read, even if you’ve never lived in this type of rural setting, and is a rendition of which I think, even Aesop would have approved.  The moral of this story is “kindness remembered, or the power of gratitude.”

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