Marie Durand (1711-1776) was a Huguenot heroine of the 18th Century who was imprisoned 38 years for her faith in the Tower of Constance in Aigue-Mortes (near Montpellier) in Southern France. French Protestant believers had suffered pursuit and persecution ever since 1685 when King Louis XIV revoked the Edict of Nantes. The Edict of Nantes, passed in 1598, had given the Huguenots the right to freely practice their faith. But with its revocation 87 years later, intense persecution began.
Women were thrown in prison because the Catholic king viewed all Protestants as rebels. Thousands of Huguenots were martyred during this perilous time, chased by the king’s dreaded forces across the wild, rock strewn landscape of southern France, and had to worship in caves or in desolate fields. Women even hid communion cups and small bibles in the hair to take to clandestine meetings. When captured, pastors were often killed or subjected to torture. Young women were forced into nunneries while men were enslaved as oarsmen on huge galley ships.
How bad was Marie Durand’s incarceration? Here is a firsthand account by the aide-de-camp of Prince de Beauveau, the Governor of Languedoc. Over the protests of King Louis XV, the Prince indignantly released the captives shortly after taking charge of the district that held the Tower of Constance at Aigue-Mortes.
We found at the entrance to the tower an assiduous doorkeeper. He led us upward by dark and tortuous stairways, and at length opened for us with great noise a frightful door, over which one almost read the inscription of Dante, “All hope abandon, ye who enter here.” I have no colors with which to paint the horror of a spectacle to which our eyes were so little used, a picture hideous and at the same time touching, a picture of which the interest was only increased by disgust. We saw a great circular apartment, destitute of air and of daylight, and in that great room forty women languishing in misery, infection, and tears. The governor could scarcely contain his emotion, and for the first time, without doubt, those unfortunate women perceived compassion on a human face. I see them still, at our sudden entrance, like an apparition, all falling at his feet, deluging them with their tears, striving to find words, but able only to express themselves in sobs; then, when emboldened by our sympathy, recounting their common griefs. Alas! Their only crime was that of having been instructed in the same religion as that of Henry IV. The youngest of those martyrs was more than fifty years old. She was only eight years old when she was arrested, because she had gone to a preaching service with her mother, and the punishment was lasting still.
“You are free!” were the words uttered by a loud voice, but a voice trembling with pity, and I was proud that it was the voice of the governor. But, as the most of them were entirely without resources, without experience, without family or friends, these poor captives, astonished by liberty, ran the risk of new misfortunes, and their deliverer at once made provision for their needs.
These brave women scratched “RESISTER” on the rim of the pit in the prison; a word that they prayed would embolden all who suffer for our faithful Savior. “The LORD helps me, I will not be disgraced. Therefore have I set my face like flint, and I know I will not be put to shame.” (Isaiah 50:7)