The Huguenots refer to the French Protestants who followed John Calvin’s teachings in the 16th and 17th centuries. They suffered religious persecution because of their faith. A French martyr named Jean Vallière was burned in Paris in 1523. Due to persecution, most Protestants fled from France to Protestant countries such as Switzerland, Wales, Denmark, Sweden and England, among other states. However some of them remained in France, but they practiced their faith calmly.
History of the Huguenots
The rise of the Huguenots can be traced back to Martin Luther. Martin Luther was a professor of theology at the University of Wittenberg. He was also a Catholic monk. During his preparation for one of his lectures, he came across the biblical scriptures in Romans 1: 17 which states “… the just shall live by faith”. His eyes were opened to realize that contrary to Roman Catholic doctrine, Christians are forgiven sins having faith in God and being saved. He also began to read the Scriptures on his own, unlike most Catholics who let the priests read and interpret the Bible for them. Subsequently, Martin Luther obtained religious enlightenment. He challenged the teachings and doctrines of the papacy that led to his excommunication from the church.
The Protestant Reformation spread from Germany to France. The name “Huguenot” referred to the French reformers. Rather than following the general Lutheranism associated with Martin Luther, they followed the teachings of John Calvin giving rise to Calvinism. Similar to Lutheranism, the doctrine of Calvinism also encouraged individual salvation and individual reading and interpretation of the Scriptures. In a short time, many Frenchmen from the north of France abandoned the Catholic to become Protestant. In turn the Roman Catholic accused the Protestants of heresy and pronounced an edict for their extermination. Despite the decree, Protestantism has grown with many people joining their numbers. By 1952 there were about two million Huguenots. In 1562, the French religious wars began following the killing of the Huguenots 1200. Many years later, in 1598, the edict of Nantes concluded the wars of religion. The edict gave the Huguenots some religious freedom.
Today, around 2% of the French population is made up of Protestants. Those who live in Alsace (north-eastern France) and in the Cévennes (southern France) still consider themselves Huguenots. In Australia, some French Australians call themselves Huguenots. There is a body known as the Huguenot Society of Australia that encourages them to continue to practice their culture and their beliefs. There is also a Huguenot community in the United States. They have headquarters in New York and a broad membership throughout the nation. One of the most active Huguenot congregations meets in Charleston, South Carolina. They perform their services in English. However, once a year, there is an annual French service conducted entirely in French. The service takes place on 2nd or 3rd Sunday after Easter to commemorate the edict of Nantes. In 1985, President François Miterrand extended the apology to the Huguenots for the massacres that took place in French history.