The year is 1562 in Catholic France and the Huguenot (Protestant) population is growing rapidly. As the Huguenots influence grew so did the Catholics hostility towards them.
Inevitably, a series of religious conflicts ensued, known as the Wars of Religion (1562-1598). During this time many Huguenots fled France, predominately after the 1570 St Bartholomew’s Day massacre in Paris, and relocated to Protestant European nations where they were accepted and allowed to worship freely.
With the aim to promote civil unity, King Henry IV of France issued the Edict of Nantes (1598). This Edict (or law) granted Huguenots the right to practice their religion without persecution from the state.
However, by the 1680s, after renewed religious warfare and with no mind for religious tolerance, King Louis XIV revoked the Edict of Nantes and ordered the destruction of Huguenot churches and schools. As a result over the next two decades a large number of Protestants — estimates range from 210,000 to 900,000 — continued to leave France. By the early 18th century nearly three-quarters had been killed or submitted.
After the death of Louis in 1715 the persecution of Protestants began to diminish. It officially ended in 1787 with the Edict of Versailles, commonly called the Edict of Tolerance, signed by Louis XVI. Two years later, with the Declaration of the Rights of Man and Citizen of 1789, Protestants gained equal rights as citizens.
These religious persecutions of Protestants in Catholic Europe during the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries led many Huguenot refugees to escape and settle in England. With them they brought their expertise; which included the ability to produce a high in demand lighter cloth. The industry prospered and Canterbury subsequently became a major English centre of silk weaving.
An enduring memento of this great religious struggle is this late 17th century Bible.
In 1685 when the Edict of Nantes was revoked, a family of French Protestants from La Rochelle left France in an open boat and drifted for many days until they landed on Guernsey. Their prized possession, this Bible, survived the journey, and was subsequently given to the church at Canterbury.
The La Rochelle Bible is on loan from the French Protestant Church, Canterbury Cathedral.
Location La Rochelle, France
Material Paper and leather
Find me in Sixteenth and Seventeenth Century Canterbury Room, Canterbury Heritage Museum