Marie Durand – Prisoner for the Faith

In 2017 my wife and I visited the Tower of Constance in Aigues Mortes in the south of France. It was a sobering experience to ponder the suffering of Huguenot women who had been imprisoned there, some for decades. Perhaps Marie-Durand is the most well-known. In her tower prison there is an inscription engraved in stone— “REGISTEZ” (resist in French regional dialect). It is not known if Marie wrote this. In any case, she remains a symbol of steadfast faith and resistance against State repression and religious persecution, at that time when the French State and the Catholic Church were united in their intolerance and coercion. Marie Durand is not widely known outside of French Protestantism. She was the daughter of Étienne and Claudine Gamonet, a deeply Protestant couple forcefully converted to Catholicism following the Revocation of the Edict of Nantes in 1685. The Gamonet’s children were forced to attend Mass and catechism and received a clandestine Protestant instruction. Marie had an older brother, Pierre. When the Reformed Church reorganized in 1715, Pierre at the age of sixteen assisted the leaders. He was later consecrated to the ministry in 1726. 

On January 29, 1719, Étienne was arrested by the king’s soldiers during a secret worship service at which Pierre was preaching. Pierre escaped to Switzerland. His mother Claudine Gamonet was imprisoned at the citadel of Montpellier and their home destroyed.[1] Pierre later returned to France to preach and married the sister of a friend who had been condemned to the king’s galleys. The authorities arrested Pierre’s father in 1729. He was imprisoned for fourteen years before being released and died in 1749 at ninety-two. 

Marie, at the age of fifteen or sixteen, against the advice of her brother Pierre, married Mathieu Serre in 1730, a man twenty-five years her senior. Shortly after their secret marriage both Marie and Mathieu are arrested. Mathieu was taken to the fort of Brescou and released twenty years later. Marie was imprisoned in the Tower of Constance at Aigues-Mortes in southern France. Since 1720 the Tower had been reserved for women and for children born to prisoners. When Marie arrived, she joined twenty-eight women, mostly prophetesses. Marie, imprisoned for being the sister of a pastor, spent thirty-eight years there in unimaginable conditions. Apart from children born there, she was the youngest captive. 

In spite of the execution of her brother Pierre in 1732, Marie rose to lead the other women, and wrote letters for herself and for the other women to receive help or to stay in contact with their families. These letters, of which about fifty have been found, have contributed to her renown in providing detailed information about life in the Tower of Constance and the faith of the prisoners. Marie was liberated April 14, 1768 and returned to her natal village, Bouschet-de-Pranles where she died in 1776, aged and infirm beyond her years.[2] Her suffering for the faith, her refusal to recant her beliefs serve as a reminder of the price our Protestant forbearers paid for their refusal to submit to State and Church coercion.  It is also a warning about the price we might pay if either the State or religion refuse to recognize the freedom of conscience.  

[1]. Krumenacker, Marie Durand, 80.

[2].  Krumenacker, Marie Durand, 81–82.

Leave a Reply