Sunday, May 16, 2010

Hanging Around

One of the things you notice about Montpellier is that, although the buildings are old, they're all pretty much the same age. There's a reason for that, some of which happened here:

Just another of the nice old houses, this one belonging, apparently, to someone of some stature because of its huge door and imposing facade. And yes, the guy was definitely somebody, as the plaque on the front indicates:

For the French-impaired, this says "In 1561, Jean Bocaud, regent of the University, became the first Montpellierian to ask for an expulsion of Huguenots." Huguenots were French Protestants, and the woods were thick with them in this part of France. The King, however, may have been 500-some miles away in Paris, but he was up to his neck in debt -- financial, spiritual, and military -- to the Pope. M. Bocaud got his way, but much of the center city burned, and the Cathedral was trashed in the process. In the end, the Protestants who lived made it to Berlin (a lot of them: the Kaiser was a Protestant and looking to increase the population to raise Prussia's profile) and Britain and even the United States: I grew up not far from a town in New York called New Rochelle where a lot of them settled. So when you see that most of the listed buildings here all date from the 17th through 18th centuries, that's why.

Not that the fires of Montpellier stopped burning. The other day I was wandering around the Esplanade and came upon this lovely little memorial:

Again, for the French-impaired a rendering of that first paragraph: "Here, on the Esplanade of Montpellier, 34 Protestant pastors or preachers were hung, broken on the wheel, or burned alive after the revocation of the Edict of Nantes." A list, with the dates of execution follows, from three guys who died in 1690 all the way up to poor Étienne Teissier in 1754. It goes on to say that after the Revolution, Article X of the Declaration of the Rights of Man and Citizens made freedom of religion part of French law.

There are a few other interesting things in this park, and I'll snap them one of these days. I'm just amazed it took me this long to find this quiet, but horrifying monument.

EDIT: Boy, does my French need work. Translating the plaque on the Hôtel Boquet, I got a crucial word wrong. What M. Boquet did was to request burial as a Huguenot. In other words, he was a force for tolerance, not one of the bad guys. Thanks to Olivier (in the comments) for pointing this out.


  1. "\"In 1561\".*the Kaiser was a Protestant and looking to increase the population to raise Prussia's profile"
    Well, I'm horrified! Shortly before waging the 30 years' war on the poor catholics in Austria the prussian Kaiser did smth to increase his population, to prepare his kaiserreich for war. To the disadvantage of the french. What did the american president say to that? Balance of power and splendid isolation and all that. But wait. that were the brits ... History is so cute just a litte confusing.

    But nonetheless, your descriptions of Montpellier sounds like it's a town worth visiting.

  2. With all due respect you royally screwed up the translation. "à demander une inhumation huguenote" means "to ask to be interred as a huguenot", i.e., without the ceremonies of the catholic rite. He can hardly have been calling the Very Christian King to come down on the heretics since he was one of them!

    In 1561 Montpellier was already a huguenot stronghold but the Edict of Nantes was still 30 years in the future and his request was thus a very bold one. His interment degenerated into a major hourvari that left a trace in the memoirs and archives of the time (and thence in Google). It was a major step in the self-affirmation of Montpellier as a huguenot town; indeed the Edict of Nantes would make it one the designated "villes de sûreté protestantes". I guess that is why this plaque is memorializing his interment.

  3. Wow, I really *did* screw that up! Thanks for the correction. I'll do an edit tomorrow directing folks towards that.

    Still a lot of history to learn around here, and the local museums sure don't make it easy.

  4. How tragic was the revocation of the Edict of Nantes-- not just for Protestants but for the entire nation! Forced "conversions;" torture and death (including burning at the stake, breaking on the wheel, hangings) for many who refused; the exile of hundreds of thousands who managed, by the hardest, to escape the lands of refuge--all of this deprived France of much of its haute Bourgeoisie. The victorious Jesuit-dominated Roman Catholics would not even tolerate the deepened Catholic spirituality of Pascal and his fellow Jansenist Catholics, branding them heretics. So France was left with no choice between deism/atheism and full-blown, Tridentine, ultra-orthodox Thomism.
    Hence the French Revolution (1789ff._ was a revolt against the Church itself, which aligned itself always with the royalty and the nobles). For 150 years the University of Montpellier was a major educational institution of the Huguenots, with its theology department's being condemned by the heavily, traditional Roman Catholic theological faculty of le Sorbonne (Paris), as well as its medical college's being condemned by the physician-professors of the same.
    Montpellier's venerable (and, for long, Protestant) medical college, where the very famous Huguenot doctor Sir Theodore de Mayerne (1573-1655), who was royal physician not only to King Henri IV of France but also to King James I of England, pioneered in the treatment of illness with medicines and drugs, rather than relying on primitive methods dating from ancient times, that the University of Paris clung to as much as did the Sorbonne's theology college cling to Thomism.
    Dwyn Mounger, Knoxville, Tennessee (U.S.A.)


Site Meter