Resistez! The French word for resistance is crudely etched into the rim of a refuse hole in the Tower of Constance. Tradition has it that the word was inscribed by Marie Durand, a young Huguenot imprisoned in the Tower for her faith. She was an activist before the concept existed and the source of her activism was a fierce commitment to Jesus.
Marie was born in 1711 in the hamlet of Bouchet du Pransles in the Vivarais region in France. Her family was Huguenot, French Protestants who embraced Calvinism and could trace their Lineage back to the great Protestant hub of Geneva. Unfortunately for the Durand family, they lived at a time when it was not only unpopular but also unsafe to be a Protestant in France.
In 1685 Louis XIV of France had revoked the Edict of Nantes which had been signed into law in 1598 by the Huguenot King Henry IV. The Edict ended a protracted and bloody war between the Huguenots and the French Catholics and granted the Huguenots considerable legal rights and freedoms which they had not enjoyed up to that point. By revoking the Edict Louis XIV placed these Protestants in a crucible of sorts and many of them were killed or imprisoned. Those who evaded capture left France in droves and found refuge in nearby Switzerland or as far afield as South Africa and the Carribean. Those who remained were forced to practice
The Durand family had chosen to remain in France and by doing so were under constant threat of being killed and imprisoned. Before long Marie’s mother Claudine was arrested and imprisoned for attending a secret Protestant service, she died shortly thereafter leaving behind her husband Etienne Durand and her two children Marie and her brother Pierre. Pierre chose to become a Huguenot pastor, preaching in fields, caves or homes. He played a crucial role in the work of the Huguenot churches in the Vivarais region.
In 1728 Marie and Pierre’s father Etienne Durand was arrested and killed. Then in 1532 Pierre was arrested and put to death as well. Shortly before Pierre’s arrest, Marie was married to Matthew Seres. However, about a month after their wedding Matthew was imprisoned as well. Not long after Marie herself was arrested and imprisoned for being the sister of a Huguenot preacher and an active member of a Huguenot congregation. She was nineteen years old and newly married at the time of her arrest.
She was taken to the Tower of Constance where she was to spend the next 38 years of her life behind a large door inscribed with the words “All hope abandon, ye who enter here”. The prison was a circular stone room with a six-foot circular hole at the top which let in a small amount of air and light as well as snow and rain. Food came through a similar hole in the floor. Freezing through winter and sweltering through summer Marie and the other women imprisoned in the tower languished there for nearly 40 years, enduring the harshest and most unsanitary conditions imaginable.
However, though only a young girl of 19 Marie Durand refused to be broken by her circumstances and she rose up to be a leader among the women in the Tower. She encouraged them to preserve hope and faith in God even amidst the squalor and wretchedness of their surroundings. She led them in prayer and song, advocated improvements in their living conditions and actively petitioned the authorities for a book of psalms to be given to all the women.
The story of Marie Durand is so compelling because it portrays the indomitable spirit of a young woman, who, in the face of terrible oppression and injustice, chose to shape her circumstances instead of allowing them to shape her. The tool she used to accomplish this task was her unwavering and unyielding faith in God. It proved to be the sharpest implement she ever wielded. It was also the only effective tool she had at her disposal. The same tool is available to us, may we be unafraid and unashamed to use it.