On August 10, 1557, the French suffered a crushing defeat at the hands of Phillip II’s Spanish forces in Saint-Quentin during the long Hapsburg-Valois War. The Battle of Saint-Quentin did more than discomfit the French Army: it threw fuel on the fire of France’s vicious heresy trials. In the aftermath of Saint-Quentin, the Parliament of Paris sought to make an example out of the Huguenot rebels who surely were the cause of France’s defeat. One such example was a young noblewoman, Phillipine de Luns. J.I.Good’s brief biographical sketch of this saint stands as a testimony of the power of God’s Word and Spirit to equip the church to endure hardship.
A martyr woman was this Reformed saint, for the female sex furnished its quota of martyrs for our faith. She was born at Gascogne, France. Of her youth we know nothing. At an early age she was married to a noble gentleman named Von Graberon. She went with him to Paris, so as to join the Reformed church there, of which he was an elder. Often the Huguenots would assemble themselves in her house, and the neighbors would hear them singing Psalms as they were not allowed to have a church in the city. But soon her husband died, and in 1557 she was left a widow at the early age of 23. Soon after her husband’s death, September 4, 1557, she met with four hundred French Reformed in a hall in the street of St. Jacques behind the university. There they celebrated the Lord’s Supper, and the minister preached on the words of the institution in First Corinthians, eleventh chapter.
But at midnight, as they wanted to go home, they heard terrible noises outside. The mob evidently wanted to burst in the doors, for the fanatical people believed that these
Huguenots had been the cause of the defeat of the French army at St. Quentin, and they had gathered large quantities of stones to throw at them as they came out of the Reformed service.
While the enemy was making outcries outside the house, the Reformed within became greatly frightened. The elders urged them to become quiet, and then asked them whether they would choose to stay there until the light of the morning would make it safer for them to go home, or whether they desired to fight their way that night through the armed crowd outside, and thus escape. Many men reached for their daggers and determined to force their way out, and thus many escaped. But many others, among them Phillipine, had to remain behind. And when the day dawned, they were arrested. As they were led forth, the crowd fell upon them and abused them fearfully. With clothing torn into shreds and full of the mud thrown on them, they were led to prison.
In this terrible prison Phillipine remained a whole year. Often she was heard singing the twenty-fifth and the forty-second psalms. Priests often came to her to try to bring her back to the Catholic faith, but she always came out victor in their attacks. Once one of them asked her: “Do you believe that the wafer at the communion is the true body of our Lord?”
She replied: “How could He, who filled heaven and earth, be contained in a piece of bread, which mice could eat and cobwebs pollute?” Her testimony for Evangelical truth was so firm that they put her into closer confinement. Heretofore she had been permitted to see her sister, but after this she was sentenced to solitary confinement.
From this time the course of the law was hastened, for the Romanists found there was no hope of converting her back to Rome. And besides, the judge wanted to convict her so as to get a share in her estates. Meanwhile Calvin from Geneva was urging the Protestant princes of Germany to use their influence with the French, so that these prisoners might be spared. But their intercession came too late. She was brought before her judges for trial.
Phillipine’s ordeal was quite severe, but her answers were based on the Bible. She was asked: “Do you believe in the mass?”
She replied: “About this sacrament I will believe only what is found in the Old and New Testaments. I have not yet found there that the mass is from God.”
“Will you receive the wafer?” “No; I will receive only what Christ has sealed.”
“How long is it since you confessed to the priest?”
“I do not remember, but I do know that I have daily made confession to my Lord. Other confession is not commanded by Christ, for He alone has the power to forgive sin.”
“What do you believe about prayer to the Virgin and to the saints?”
“I know no other prayer than that which our Lord taught to His disciples. To Him we must go, and to no other. The saints in paradise are happy, that I know, but pray to them I will not.”
“Do you observe fasting on Friday and Sunday?”
“No, because it is not commanded in the Bible.” They then tried to argue with her about it by saying “that the Church required fasting, and even if non-fasting were not sinful in itself, it would become sinful because the Church forbade it.”
Very ably she replied: “I do not believe in any other commandment than that Christ gave. And nowhere in the New Testament do I find that power is given to the pope to rule the Church.”
But they argued, “The spiritual and worldly powers are ordained of God, and should be obeyed.”
She answered: “The Church has no other authority in it than that of Christ.”
“Who taught you this?”
“The Old and New Testaments.”
Like her Saviour at His temptations, she answered them out of the Word of God. On September 27, 1558, she was sentenced to death. An old man, Clivet, and a young man, Gravelle, both elders of the Reformed Church, who had been arrested at the same time that she had, were sentenced to die with her. All three were tortured severely, and after torture they were thrown into the chapel of the courthouse. There they waited for their deliverance from this imprisonment of earth to the freedom of heaven. As usual, the priest came to try to convert them back to Catholicism before they died, but the priest’s efforts were all useless. They laid aside their garments of sorrow and put on their best clothing, because they said they were going not to a funeral, but to a wedding, and they wanted to be ready to meet their bridegroom, the Lord Jesus Christ. They were then placed on wagons and taken to the place of execution. Clivet, who had been a schoolmaster in the country districts and whose picture had once been burned by the Romanists, bore his Christian testimony boldly to the bystanders as the wagon rode along.
A priest said to Phillipine that she should confess to him. She replied: “I continually confess in my heart to my Lord and am certain of the forgiveness of sin.” Some of the councilors bade her take a wooden cross in her hand, saying as an argument that Christ had bade men to carry the cross. She, however, refused in the least to do any homage to Rome, but replied that Christ indeed bade us bear the cross, but He did not refer to a wooden cross outside of ourselves, but to a cross within us in our souls.
Gravelle was asked by a priest in what manner he was to die. He replied: “That I will die, I well know; but how it matters not, for I well know that God will stand by me in every pang.” Because he so nobly bore testimony for Christ, his enemies urged that his tongue be cut out. He, therefore, quickly offered it to the executioner, so willing was he to suffer for his Lord. “I pray you, pray for me,” were his last words.
Then came Phillipine’s turn. As she was asked to offer her tongue to be cut off, she offered it joyfully. She said: “I care not if my body suffer, why should I care for my tongue.” At the Place Maubert they were all burned at the stake. The two men were burned alive. Phillipine, after they had burned her face and feet with torches, was strangled, and then her body was burned, too.
“The blood of the martyrs is the seed of the Church.” Not without fruit was the death of Phillipine. Just as Stephen’s death prepared for Paul’s conversion, so the brave testimony of these martyrs spread Protestantism. For in the following year the French, or Gallican Confession of Faith was drawn up, and this was publicly recognized by the French court in 1561. If our Reformed forefathers and foremothers could suffer so much for our faith, how we should love our faith; and like them, be willing to deny ourselves, in order that it might be spread abroad to save the world for Christ!