The Story of Marie Durand
The Tower of Constance was the perfect place for a prison. With its six-metre-thick walls rising high above the heavily fortified French town of Aigues-Mortes which itself was surrounded by salty marshes. Escape from the Tower was nearly impossible.
The year was 1730 and Marie Durand’s crime was to be the sister of a Huguenot Pastor who encouraged others to read the Bible for themselves. Young Marie also believed each individual was able to have a personal relationship with the risen Christ – and for this she was sent to the Tower.
Marie was nineteen years old when she was imprisoned in the infamous Tower of Constance.
During her incarceration Marie Durand prayed with her fellow prisoners, shared Bible promises, and wrote messages of encouragement smuggled out to believers who themselves were being pursued by the French authorities.
Once every week a priest would visit Marie and ask her a simple question: “Do you renounce your belief that a person is able to read the Bible on their own, and therefore do you accept the teachings of the Catholic Church as the only true church?” If Marie would only say “yes” to that one question she would be freed from her cold, dark cell and returned to her family. But every week Marie’s reply was the same – “No” – and so in prison she remained enduring the most degrading conditions.
Marie Durand would be a prisoner in the Tower of Constance for thirty eight years.
On a cold January day in 1767 Prince de Beauvau accepted an invitation for a tour of the Tower and what the Prince saw appalled him. The conditions of the prison and the depravity of the guards distressed him so deeply he went directly to the court of King Louis XV and pleaded for the women to be released. Marie was eventually allowed to return to the home of her birth where she died only a few years later, prematurely aged from her life in captivity.
Today, if you visit the eight-hundred-year-old town of Aigues-Mortes and climb the circular steps up the Tower of Constance to the top level, very little remains to tell a visitor it was once an infamous prison. But on the floor, towards the centre of the circular room that once held faithful women in chains, is a single French word carved into the stonework by Marie Durand and her fellow prisoners.
Marie Durand’s faith in Christ – and that one word she left behind – has inspired persecuted and oppressed Christians for two hundred and fifty years. And may her story inspire us today.
About this blog: Pastor David Riley is a Christian minister residing on the Gold Coast in Australia. This article is from his “Reverential Ramblings” series – which you can subscribe to by clicking “follow” on this website.