…and in a way which illustrates the spirit of the time. The practice of divination which once employed the writings of Virgil for reading the fates of the future, changed to the Psalter. In doing so, one might say David took his place above the Sibyl (the ancient Greek prophetess).
So it was, that when Clovis, the founder of the French monarchy, whose name in the form of Louis was handed down to so many kings, was marching southward from Paris, in A.D. 507, to meet the formidable Visigoths in battle. Anxious to forecast the result, he sent messengers to consult the shrine of St. Martin of Tours, the oracle of Gaul. They were told to mark the words of the psalm chanted, when they entered the church. It turned out that They were verses 39, 40, of Psalm 18 and encouraged Clovis to take the steps in battle which proved decisive in French history. Here are verses 39-40:
‘I have wounded them that they were not able to
rise; they are fallen under my feet.
‘For thou hast girded me with strength unto the
battle; thou hast subdued under me those that rose up
For a very different purpose, and to point the way to a nobler victory…
The words from verses 17-19 were sung upon the scaffold by four sons of the Huguenots, many centuries afterwards:
‘He delivered me from my strong enemy, and from them which hated me: for they were too strong for me. ‘They prevented me in the day of my calamity: but the Lord was my stay. ‘He brought me forth also into a large place; he delivered me because he delighted in me.’
They were sung by the last martyrs of the desert…
…Francis Rochette, and three brothers of the name of Grenier, who suffered as late as 1762, under the reign of Louis XV. Rochette was executed first,and exhorted his companions to endure to the end. “Die a Catholic” the executioner said. ‘Judge,’ Rochette answered, ‘which is the better religion, the one which persecutes, or the one which suffers?”
The youngest of the brothers Grenier, who was only twenty years of age, held his hands before his face during the tragic scene. The other two looked on with unmoved countenance. They embraced one another, and commended their souls to God. The eldest first laid his head on the block. When the turn of the youngest came, the executioner, moved with pity, said, ‘You have seen your brothers perish; change your religion that you may be spared’ ‘Do your duty,’ the young man said, and his head was severed from his body.
The words of De Pressense about this period are worthy of quotation: ‘In the land warmed by the burning sun of the South, planted with the pale and sad-coloured olive, the stones cry out, for they have been watered by precious blood; and they proclaim the unconquerable fidelity of our fathers to their faith.’
Near to Nimes, in a solitary spot, there is to be seen the cave where the assemblies of the desert were held. The height is pointed out where the sentinel was placed who had to announce to the worshippers the approach of the dragoons of Louis XIV. At Nimes itself, the tomb of Paul Rabaut, the reorganizer of the persecuted and scattered churches of the eighteenth century, was lately discovered. It was transported to the centre of the Cevennes, near the house of the celebrated Cevenol chief, Roland, who, more than once, with a handful of brave mountaineers, put to flight the army of “the great monarch.” That house has been rebuilt by subscription and it remains a monument of one of the most heroic struggles ever maintained for liberty of conscience.
The town of Aigues-Mortes, built by Saint Louis, on the model of Damietta, after his return from the first Crusade, has not been touched by modern civilization. It remains what it was in the thirteenth century, behind its bastioned walls, on the brink of a dark stagnant water. All is sad and silent. Here is the famous tower of Constance, which served as a prison for the Protestant ladies who refused conversion to Catholicism.
Some remained nearly forty years in this sepulcher, without seeing or hearing from a single friend. Such captivity is worse than all deaths of torture, worse than to be cast, like Blandina, to perish by the teeth of lions. The names of those holy women may now be read on the walls of their prison, and the old Psalms of the French Reformation were for centuries sung from time to time by the children of the Huguenots who visit the spot.