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St. Bartholomew’s Day Massacre

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Definition:   The slaughter of over 100,000 unarmed French Protestants (Huguenots) within three weeks in 1572. Two years earlier the Huguenots were granted freedom of worship within certain localities in France. The slaughter began in Paris, where leaders of the Huguenots were gathered in support of the king of France against a likely war with Spain. The king’s mother, Catherine de Medici, was related to the Papal Nuncio (ambassador) to France. She asked him to tell the Pope that “he would soon see the vengeance that she and the king would visit” on the Huguenots. She convinced the king to kill the assembled Protestant leaders. The royal troops then began a slaughter which spread to the outlying towns of France. Upon hearing of the massacre, Pope Gregory XIII ordered a special jubilee in celebration. He commissioned that a medal be struck showing an exterminating angel smiting the Huguenots with his sword.

Discussion: For centuries, Christians who would not submit to the authority and doctrines of Catholicism were persecuted. In 1207, Pope Innocent III proclaimed a crusade to exterminate the Albigenses of Southern France. Over 60,000 were slaughtered in the town of Beziers. In 1540 King Frances I, having entered into a treaty with the Pope, took action to stem the tide of Protestantism. He revoked the edicts of toleration, and replaced them with orders granting the magistrates power to hunt down Protestants and those who offered them shelter. Many Huguenots, including John Calvin, were forced to flee France. Waves of persecution continued. In 1598 the Edict of Nantes offered respite, but in 1660 King Louis XIV cracked down, excluding all Protestants from public office. Public worship was forbidden, and Protestant ministers were given 15 days to convert to Catholicism or leave France. Protestant churches were torn down. But Jesus says that those who are persecuted for the sake of righteousness are blessed. They are to rejoice and be glad (Mt. 5:10-12). Catholic persecution can cause temporal troubles, but provides eternal blessings to those who suffer Her wrath.

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