On our last day in Meaux, we visited a church founded by martyrs. The modest Reformed church, or “temple” in French, seems jarringly plain compared to the soaring Gothic cathedrals we’ve visited in the past few days. The building dates from the mid-19th century, as most Protestant churches in France do. Most of the earlier buildings were destroyed.
The congregation, however, claims to be the oldest in France (or what was France at the time of John Calvin). It was founded in 1546.
At the time, a delegation from the fledgling congregation visited Strasbourg, an independent city, to find out how they should choose a leader. Based on the advice of the Strasbourg Protestants, they chose a man named Pierre Le Clerc to lead them.
Later that year, on Oct. 7, Pierre Le Clerc and 13 other Protestant men were burned as heretics in the town square.
What must it have been like to start a church and face such tragedy a few short months later? What would it have been like to persevere, knowing what the consequences might be?
Today, the names of those 14 men hang at the back of the little church. The church itself houses a small and struggling congregation; it no longer has a full-time minister of its own. Yet the members we met spoke with great passion about the history and legacy of their little piece of the wider church.
At the back of the building, between the two plaques bearing the martyr’s names, are the words “Dieu est amour” meaning “God is love.”