On this day, December 26, 1767, the day after Christmas, thirty-six prisoners, some of them sick and broken, stumbled out of the Tower of Constance. Among them was Marie Durand. She had been in the tower thirty-eight years.
The Tower of Constance stood on swampy land near the Rhone River, in Aigues Mortes, France, not far from the Mediterranean Sea. Built by Duke Philip the Bold, the tower was designed in imitation of Jerusalem architecture. The stronghold also served as a lighthouse, with a lantern in the top-most tower, known as "the beacon of Charlemagne."
During the French Civil Wars between Protestants and Catholics following the Reformation, the tower fell into Protestant control. But in 1632 Louis XIII regained it. King Louis XIV converted it to a women's prison.
The female prisoners were kept in the upper room. A little light and air came through narrow windows. In the center of the floor was an opening onto the guardroom below. The authorities saw this as the perfect place to hold and torture those they considered to be heretics. But at least one prisoner refused to yield. Inscribed on the wall is the slogan "Register," meaning "Resist!"
In 1730 a fifteen-year-old Huguenot girl was arrested and taken from her home in Bouchet-de-Pransles. Her name was Marie Durand; her crime was to have a brother who was a Protestant minister; they held Protestant meetings in their home. Pierre Durand was known as the "Pastor of the Desert," a reference to the mysterious woman described in Revelation 12:6.
Unable to lay hands on Pierre, the government arrested Marie's father in 1728. Before he was taken to prison, Etienne Durand married his young daughter to Matthew Serres, whom he hoped could protect her. Marie's arrest separated the young couple. Matthew was soon imprisoned with his father-in law at a fort. In 1732, Pierre was captured and hanged.
When Marie entered the Tower--so cold in Winter and so hot in Summer--it was as if a ray of sunshine had penetrated its darkness and despair. Although just fifteen, she became the tireless Christian focus of the Tower, and remained the spiritual leader of the prisoners for thirty-eight years. She nursed the ailing, wrote letters for those who could not write, and (after a psalter was allowed) read psalms aloud each evening. She encouraged her fellow-prisoners to sing Huguenot hymns. Not all the women were Christians. Some were crude. But the prisoners knew her family; they sympathized with her youth and they respected her for her piety. All were blessed through her.
Marie wrote to churches and government officials with appeals for improved prison conditions. Her appeals were even relayed to the philosophers Voltaire and Rousseau. Thanks to Marie's efforts, the prisoners were allowed a copy of the Psalms and permitted to take air on the rooftop. She never recanted her faith.
Disgusted with prison conditions, the governor of Languedoc ordered the captives released despite the objections of King Louis XV. After her release, Marie returned to her childhood home. Her husband and father were dead. An Amsterdam Walloon church supported her for the rest of her life. She died in 1776.
- Lambert, Nadine. "Marie Durand." http://www.protestants.org/faq/histoire/htm/ durand.htm
- "Marie Durand (1712-1776)." http://www.protestants.org/faq/histoire/htm/ durand.htm
- Snyder, Ann. Personal notes from an article in The Young Reformer, Issue 11.
- "Tower of Constance." http://www.eglise-reformee-fr.org/contents/his-musees.html.
Last updated June, 2007