February 12th, 1732
The cold night air whipped mercilessly across Pierre Durand’s face as he rode down the sinewy dirt road. He had chosen his route with care. He knew they had renewed their efforts to find him, they had even increased the bounty on his head to 4000 livres. The situation had become untenable to support a wife and family so he had sent Anne to Lausanne and the children had been placed in the care of friends. They had had no other choice. His father had been arrested and imprisoned as had his sister and brother-in-law, all because they were related to him.
He had chosen to ride at night despite the obvious dangers. The countryside was covered in deep snow and the roads were hard with ice. But those dangers were insignificant compared to the more pressing dangers that lurked around every corner. He couldn’t afford to be arrested, he had much work still unfinished. He rounded a bend in the road and came in view of the familiar chestnut grove. A pale silvery moon had turned the landscape into a quiet wonderland of glimmering snowy dunes, sitting like quiet sentries on either side of the road. Pierre pulled on the reins and slowed the horse down to a walking pace. The chestnut grove signaled a descent in the road and he needed to navigate it with care.
As he began his descent through the thick wedge of trees his mind ran over the cause of his trip. He needed to confer with his friend and mentor Jacques Roger. The matter was urgent or else he would never have attempted to cross the Rhone. The sharp crackle of a twig breaking underfoot jerked him to attention. He pulled gently on the horses’ reins, bringing the animal to a complete halt and sat listening.
Figures began to melt into the cold pools of moonlight just in front of him. Disengaging themselves from the murky shadows they stepped forward with their torches held high and it was then that he realized that he was surrounded.
“Pierre Durand” one of the men stepped forward and held up his torch right next to Pierre’s face. “It had been a long time”
The young Huguenot looked down at him, calmly, almost serenely. “Yes, Monsieur Deboz” he said in a soft, measured voice, “It has”
“I did not think we would find you so soon” Deboz continued a small smirk playing across his lips. “I hope you will come with us without protest”
Pierre slowly dismounted his horse and faced Deboz with his hands raised. He had an armed shotgun inside the traveling bag that was slung over the horse but he made no move to reach for it.
“I have known this day would come,” he said softly, staring Deboz right in the eye. “I will go without a fight”.
April 22nd, 1732
It was raining. Pouring out of the darkened skies in silvery sheets that beat down on the soft cool earth. Pierre looked up at the sky for a brief moment, allowing the cold spring rains to pelt his face. He savored the sensation, knowing it would be one of his last. When he opened his eyes he took in the long procession ahead of him and the crowds of curious onlookers that lined the small dirt path. Many had come to catch a glimpse of the famed captive; the elusive Pierre Durand, preacher of the desert. They had come not only to catch a glimpse of him but also to watch him die. They wanted to know how a Huguenot preacher would face death.
His mind went back to the brief trial that had taken place a few hours ago and curled around the final response he had made to his prosecutors; “I do not believe that it was ever the king’s intention to forbid his subjects to worship God according to their conscience”
In many ways, this was the keynote of the Huguenot resistance; freedom of conscience. It was this principle that men like Court, Roger, and Cortiez, his mentors, and brother in arms, had fought so hard to preserve. The King had no right to inform the conscience of his subjects. In so doing he was presuming to assume authority that belonged to God alone. Freedom of conscience was paramount to the Huguenot struggle. It was why he had chosen to stay when so many others had left. It was why he had chosen to duck and dodge every bounty and bullet they had hurled at him while continuing to preach.
Freedom of conscience was the right of every French subject. Pierre Durand’s martyrdom was evidence that it was a right that was blatantly being denied.
The rain soaked through Pierre’s wig and ran in little rivulets down his neck, soaking into his already drenched clothes. He decided to sing. If they had come to see how a Huguenot preacher died, then he wanted to be sure he made himself an example.
With his hands and arms bound and a rope slung around his neck, Pierre Durand began to sing psalm after psalm as he made his way to the gallows. But the authorities didn’t want a serene Huguenot, singing his way to the grave. They gathered a troupe of eleven drummers who joined the procession and began to drum loudly, in an attempt to drown out Pierre’s voice.
It didn’t matter. He sang anyway. All the way to the gallows. All the way to his last breath.
Pierre’s friend Lassange managed to escape into Switzerland where he made his way to Lausanne to break the news to Anne. “God gave him to me,” she said softly, tears pooling in her eyes “and he has taken him away, His will be done”
Pierre Durand was buried in an unmarked grave in Montpellier, France. He died with a conscience that was captive to God alone and with the fierce hope of eternity in his heart. He was 32 years old.