This is a very well-crafted story of an extended family of Huguenots caught up in the frenzied and irrational persecution under King Louis XIV after he repealed the Edict of Nantes in 1685. It is based on a true incident, in which smuggled documents from sympathisers in Holland are salvaged from a shipwreck near Rochefort on the west coast of France.
The Pastors of the Religion Prétendue Réformée, or R.P.R., have been forced to emigrate to Le Refuge, i.e. Holland, Great Britain, the New World or wherever they are welcomed or tolerated. Those Huguenots who refused to comply with the royal demand to renounce their Protestant faith, like Lydie’s fiancé, have been sent as slaves to the galleys or executed; those who remained had to sign an abjuration of their faith and are known by the political and ecclesiastical hierarchy as ‘New Catholics’.
The harsh living conditions, exacerbated by ruthless dragonnades, in addition to random taxes and fines, are described very graphically. We come to know and love elderly grandmother Anne, her children François, Madeleine, Élie, Lydie and Zacharie, and their families with all their fears and yearnings. The tension builds up whenFrançois’ 15-year old daughter is removed from her family and interned in a convent, to ensure she is brought up in the ‘true faith’, and several houses are ransacked in search of Bibles, Psalmodies or religious tracts. Élie experiences pangs of conscience when he is compelled to have his young son baptised in the Catholic Church and to decorate his house for the Corpus Christi procession, which he feels is an abomination.
Various contradictory missals from exiled Pastors provoke moral torment for those who long to remain faithful, and Élie’s arrest and incarceration in deplorable conditions highlights the misery of these persecuted believers.
I must admit it was a struggle to persevere through this dated French text, but the language is rich and eloquent. I was a bit disappointed that the story ended so abruptly, with too many unresolved issues.