This Day in History -- Slaughter of the Huguenots

The Church of St. Germain-l'Auxerrois, where the bell signaled the start of the massacre

The Church of St. Germain-l'Auxerrois, where the bell signaled the start of the massacre

Very early on the morning of August 24, 1572, the bell of Paris' Church of St. Germain-L'Auxerrois began to toll, signalling the start of the greatest religious massacre in European history.  Fired by fanaticism, superstition and blood-lust, Catholic mobs roamed the streets, killing Huguenots of all ages and both sexes.  The murders continued unabated for three days in Paris, and then spread to the provinces where the slaughter continued for months.  As was brilliantly related here, persecution and pogroms against the Huguenots were to continue intermittently for many more years. 

King Charles IX had a trusted advisor in a Huguenot admiral, Gaspard de Coligny, but Coligny made the mistake of getting on the "enemies list" of the king's mother, Catherine de Medici. On August 22, an attempted assassination wounded Coligny, who then went to the 22-year-old Charles to warn him not to trust his mother, who lusted for power.  Later the same day, the weak Charles told his mother about this conversation, and Coligny's fate was sealed.  Catherine persuaded him that Coligny had to die.  "Kill the admiral if you want," said Charles hysterically, "but you also have to kill all the Huguenots, so that not one is left to reproach me.  Kill them all!  Kill them all!  Kill them all!"

Many of the leading Huguenots were in Paris for the August 18 wedding of Charles' sister, Margaret of Valois, to Henry of Navarre, heir to the throne of Navarre and a Huguenot.  At around 2:30 a.m. on the 24th, Admiral Coligny was murdered in his bedroom, his body desecrated, and then the general slaughter ensued.

"When the news of the massacre reached Rome, the exultation among the clergy knew no bounds. The cardinal of Lorraine rewarded the messenger with a thousand crowns; the cannon of St. Angelo thundered forth a joyous salute; and bells rang out from every steeple; bonfires turned night into day; and Gregory XIII, attended by the cardinals and other ecclesiastical dignitaries, went in long procession to the church of St. Louis, where the cardinal of Lorraine chanted a Te Deum. . . . A medal was struck to commemorate the massacre, and in the Vatican may still be seen three frescoes of Vasari, describing the attack upon the admiral, the king in council plotting the massacre, and the massacre itself. Gregory sent Charles the Golden Rose; . . .'"--Henry White, The Massacre of St. Bartholomew, ch. 14, par. 34, quoted in Great Controversy, pp. 272-273.

The medal that Pope Gregory the XIII had made to commemorate the massacre

The medal that Pope Gregory the XIII had made to commemorate the massacre

The atrocious Charles IX died less than two years later, not quite reaching his 24th birthday before succumbing to tuberculosis.  At times during his descent to the grave, he bragged of the extent and thoroughness of the massacre.  At other times he lamented that he could still hear the screams of the murdered Huguenots.  He alternated between blaming himself--"What blood shed! What murders!  What evil counsel I have followed! O my God, forgive me... I am lost! I am lost!"--and blaming his mother--"Who but you is the cause of all of this? God's blood, you are the cause of it all!"