Letters On A Cold Stone Floor

The snow fell mercilessly that year and brought with it not only the cold but also floods. The Tour de Constance was dank and wretched even at the best of times but the winter floods made it unbearable to live in. The women in the prison moaned for relief but little was forthcoming. Seated in a corner with a small wooden box on her lap Marie Durand rifled through the pile of letters that she kept there. She found the one she was looking for and carefully opened it. She had read it so many times that it was well worn and beginning to fray at the edges. She wanted to read it now for comfort.

It was a letter from her fiance Matthew, written so long ago that the ink had faded and the paper yellowed. Her fingers traced over the familiar lines that she knew by heart;

“My Darling, I write these lines to assure you of my regard and to testify my extreme sorrow at our separation. I could neither eat nor drink till your father cheered me by the hope of a speedy reunion and of good days yet to come for you and me. I sigh for the moment when we three shall see one another again and I assure you that I have the honor to be your most affectionate servant, Matthew.

Even though she had read the letter so many times, the tears always came. Matthew had held out hope for happy days but that hope had been in vain. She had no news of what had become of him or Papa but she had heard that her brother, Pierre was dead. Captured and killed by the King’s men.

Marie leaned back against the cold stone wall and closed her eyes against the memories that flooded her whenever she read one of the letters in the box.

The Dying Sounds Of Memories

The secret Huguenot church service she had attended when she was just 8. Pierre had been officiating. That had been the last time they had been together as a family. The soldiers had broken down the doors. Papa had grabbed her and run. Pierre too had managed to escape but Mama had been taken captive.

Then there was the news that Pierre had chosen to be ordained as a Huguenot pastor despite the Royal Decree that had been passed two years before. The Royal decree stated that anyone who was ordained as a Huguenot pastor would be hunted down and put to death. That hadn’t mattered to Pierre, God’s calling was stronger, mattered more.

Then Papa had been arrested because he was the father of a Huguenot pastor. Pierre had found out about it and written an angry letter of condemnation to La Deveze, the King’s lieutenant who had arrested Papa.

The letter had only provoked La Deveze to retaliate. He had sent men to their home in search of her and she had been arrested as well. Charged with being the sister of a Huguenot pastor. Two years later she had gotten word that Pierre had been captured.

The only link she had left to her family was through the letters she wrote to Pierre’s daughter Anne. She had nothing else.

Not For Sale

“Have you thought about how you will respond?” Marie’s eyes flew open at the whisper in her ear. It was Pierre’s mother-in-law, Isabeau.

Isabeau had been imprisoned in the tower shortly after Marie had arrived. They had formed an alliance of sorts, though Isabeau had not been a fan of her brothers.

Marie shook her head. “I will not yield,” she said simply, looking steadily into Isabeau’s eyes. “I won’t let them break me”

Isabeau was quiet as she contemplated what Marie had said.

“Do you remember the inscription on the door? What you see when you are first brought here?” she asked finally

Marie nodded “all hope abandon ye who enter here” she recited dully.

“If there is no hope here, then why would you not want to accept the offer to leave? To find Matthew? And your father? They may still be alive”

“The state doesn’t decide when and where we have hope Mama Isabeau” Marie said shaking her head and furrowing her brow. “I will not recant my faith in exchange for freedom. I won’t do it”

“Why not?”

“Because my faith cannot be sold so cheaply!”

“You consider your freedom worthless?”

Marie shook her head in exasperation “No, but I value my faith in God more than I do my freedom. Being free of imprisonment alone cannot give me hope Mama Isabeau but my faith in God can, even in the confines of this wretched tower and I will not exchange that for anything”

There was a long pause before Marie continued. “When they brought me here I could have recanted. I could have denied my faith and my brother but I chose not to because I know who I have believed. The most valuable thing I have in this world is my faith in God and I will not barter that”

“So you would die in this tower, an old maid”

“I would. If that was my only choice.”

“Why won’t you choose freedom child?”

“Because we aren’t free” Marie cried “How can you talk about freedom when the King dictates what you can and cannot believe? There is no freedom in a country where your conscience is governed by the state! Where it is bought and sold for the price of a mass. I would rather be confined to this tower and free in my soul than find myself walking outside of this tower and chained to the dictates of the state. My conscience belongs to God and I choose that freedom over all else”

Resistez!

In 1745, Lieutenant Lenain, the King’s intendant, visited the Tour de Constance and interviewed each of the 33 prisoners. All of them except 8 chose to recant their faith in exchange for their freedom. Among the 8 that refused were Marie Durand and Isabeau Sautel. The 25 who recanted were released and began a long and rigorous re-education process that would help them turn away from the Protestant religion altogether.

Eleven years later the Protestants in Vivrais region of France petitioned Louis XV to release the prisoners. In their petition they wrote the following;

What can we say, sire, to bring before you the touching and strange spectacle of a company of women shut up for life in a hideous prison where some have vegetated for thirty years and this only for worshipping God?

The petition fell on deaf ears.

At some point during her imprisonment in the tower, Marie scratched the words “Resistez!” into the rim of the refuse hole. It was the keynote of her life. Resisting the encroachment of her basic right to freedom of conscience. She refused to yield and she refused to be broken. She had experienced something better and she would not barter it away.

Marie Durand was finally released on the 14th of April 1768. She walked away from the tower broken in health but unbroken in spirit. She had quietly resisted for 38 years.

Do the roots of your experience with Jesus run deep enough to produce that kind of resistance?

Citations and Further Reading

  • White, E.G. (1888) – The Great Controversy
  • Tylor, C. (1893) – The Camisards
  • Culp, K.A. (2010) – Vulnerability and Glory: A Theological Account

Suki Goonatilleke lives in Melbourne, Australia with her husband and two daughters. She is passionate about winning people for Jesus and has served in full-time ministry at Gateway Adventist Center. Her current ministry endeavors include being a stay-at-home mom by day and writer by night.