Thursday, 30 October 2008

Marie Durand

Today is Reformation Day. It is 491 years since Martin Luther nailed his 95 theses on the door of Castle Church, Wittenburg. This event is now considered to be the start of the protestant Reformation (though its roots go further back than that). The truths for which the Reformers contended were bitterly contested from the very beginning, and in the centuries that followed thousands of men and women suffered imprisonment, torture and execution for their faithfulness to those truths.

Today, in honour of Reformation Day (and inspired by a brief reference in John Piper's talk at True Woman conference) I want to tell the story of one of these. Her name was Marie Durand.

Born in 1715, Marie Durand was a Huguenot (a member of the Protestant church in France). Huguenots were fiercely critical of the Catholic church, and as a result, faced persecution from the time of the Reformation. The most significant event was the St. Bartholomew's Day massacre, in August 1572, when between 30,000 and 100,000 Huguenots were killed across France. By the time Marie Durand was born, the Edict of Fontainebleau in 1685 made it illegal to be a Huguenot, and persecution was once again increasing.

Marie Durand's brother brother Pierre was a Protestant minister and the Protestant church held meetings in their home. Because of this, in 1728, the authorities turned their sights on the Durand family. At first, because they were unable to arrest Pierre, they imprisoned her father. Before he was taken, he married her to a man named Matthew Serres in the hope she would be safe with him. The plan failed. In 1730, at the age of 15, Marie Durand was arrested, and soon after Matthew was taken too.

Marie was taken to The Tower of Constance. There, the female prisoners were kept in the upper room with little light and air. It was a place where heretics were kept and tortured and many died. The only thing the authorities asked her to do in order to be released was to abjure her Huguenot faith. All she needed to do was to say the word “J’abjure.” But she couldn't bring herself to do it. Instead, she inscribed the word Register (Occitan for Resist) on the walls of her prison cell.

An article in Glimpses of Christian history describes the life she led during the years she spent in the tower:
Although just fifteen, she became the tireless Christian focus of the Tower, and remained the spiritual leader of the prisoners for thirty-eight years. She nursed the ailing, wrote letters for those who could not write, and (after a psalter was allowed) read psalms aloud each evening. She encouraged her fellow-prisoners to sing Huguenot hymns. Not all the women were Christians. Some were crude. But the prisoners knew her family; they sympathized with her youth and they respected her for her piety. All were blessed through her.

In 1767, after 38 years in the tower, she was released. Her father, brother and husband were dead.

The life of Marie Durand, and her commitment to the truths of the Reformation, remind me of the preciousness of what I believe. Her one word slogan - Resist! - is not only a stubborn assertion of the individual conscience in the face of religious persecution, but also (and far more importantly) a hymn to the praise of Christ. When we defend the gospel of grace we are bearing witness to the truth that our salvation is to the glory of God alone. When we suffer for that gospel we are suffering not merely for an idea but for Christ himself, and showing that he is worthy not only of our words but of our lives.

This piece is posted as a contribution to the Reformation Day Symposium at

The Wonder of Idiotic Perserverance;
Marie Durand;

Marie Durand Released at Last
Marie Durand - Wikipedia
Images from Wikipedia.


Megan said...

My husband is descended from Huguenots who fled persecution and emigrated to South Africa. They have proudly retained memory of this over centuries.

Cathy McKay said...

We can be so lazy with the legacy we are beneficiaries of. Thankyou for the post Nic.

mattnbec said...

Thanks for telling us her story. Very encouraging. Praise God for Marie Durand.

emma said...

thanks nic. i stumbled across the tower 'by accident' when i was living in france - very sobering. hard to imagine such courage. i hope and pray my love for jesus would run that deep (not that i want to be tested on that...!!!). thanks for reminding us of her wonderful, brave, brave example.

Anonymous said...

Marie's story is unfortunately fairly typical of life down here in Cevennes 300 years ago. For some, the 'War' seems like only yesterday and bigotry is still rife.

I do not glorify the Huguenots struggle, but I also never wish for it to be forgotten. That's why we launched some hiking tours on the theme of The Camisard War that can help Protestants and Catholics re-live the events via a hiking tour with The Enlightened Traveller in Cevennes France.

Rachael said...

Thanks, Nicole.

Anonymous said...

Marvellous article on a virtually unknown giant of our faith, every Reformed Christian should know of Marie. The story of the Huguenots is fantastic. The annual Assembly of the Desert in the Cevennes is facinating. You'll like these 2 weblinks. I've also recently read a book by Jean Marteilhe The Huguenot Galley-slave: Autobiography of a French Huguenot Galley Slave, well worth purchasing. It explains what he and many others endured instead of recanting his faith.