[This background information is translated from SHPF Protestant Bulletin 1906. (See P.325-347)]

Travelling from Paris to Charenton

In this Merian skyline of 1654, two travellers are seen leaving Paris
on the road to Charenton which is located off to the left.
The Bastille stands directly above them.
Click to enlarge.
[#34-Le Temple is the old Knights Templar fortress which later became the prison
where Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette spent their last days in the 1790's.]

Merian Map, 1615, showing the Bastille at left. Click to enlarge.
Toward the east, in the far distance (upper center) is the first temple at Charenton that was burned down in 1621.
Two years later it was replaced by a second Charenton temple that was torn down in 1685.
The bridge in the foreground above Notre Dame is Pont Tournelle near Porte St. Bernard
- the place where Huguenots boarded little passenger boats to Charenton.
Other embarcation places were Arsenal, the area along the river amongst the trees parallel
to the Bastille, and the area behind Notre Dame.

Length of the trip and the length of our stay.
I - Attacks at the gates of the city
II - The road on foot. Rambouillet. The valley of Fécamp
III - By carriage. Lavish transport and hired cars. Anecdotes by Tallemant and others
IV - By boat. Water coaches and row boats. Friction along the banks whilst singing of the Psalms. The return.
V. - The praises of Charenton. A sermon during the Fronde.


You Muses who are looking for something to do
Abandon your mountain;
Let's go on a sojourn
To take in the air of the countryside...
We'll join the pilgrims
Who I've seen at the Pont Marie
Marching onward like the Mathurins
Toward the coasts of Barbary.
Let's find out if they belong to that herd
Of new Reformed folk;
Without even having to touch them
We'll soon know what's on their mind;
"Dear brothers, would it be alright
To walk with you for a while outside the city?"
"Yes, of course, come with us;
You're most welcome!"

The author of these quatrains was a Catholic doctor named Rostagny who described Charenton shortly before the Revocation [see Bulletin 1893 P.77 and following). We will go there likewise, but as they did in the past: by following the 'pilgrims' on the various roads that led to the temple.

The protestants of Paris today have the choice between 70 places of worship (at least); and if they do not go there on foot they can also go by various means of transport put at the disposal of the public at frequent intervals, and at minimum cost, by land, subway (under the earth), on the water, and even in the air. There are handsome taxis, buses, trams, automobiles, the metro, and to go to the temple one arrives in only a short time ... and one lingers there for only a short time!

All of this was much different at the beginning of the XVII century. There was no regular means of public transport, and no place of worship in the same city. To go to the temple one had to leave Paris. It took one a long time to get there, and he also stayed there for a long time. It was six leagues to go to Grigny in 1599 (site of the first protestant temple), and five leagues to Ablon from 1600 to 1606 (the place of worship that was replaced by Charenton).

It was necessary to start at dawn and to return at dusk. Even after 1606 it still took a full day to go to Charenton on Sunday to attend the morning and afternoon services. On Thursdays at least a half-day was required for those who attended worship and catechism. On days of fasting there was even more happening than on ordinary Sundays: three services were held, at 9:00, 12:00, and 3:00 pm. So one stayed at Charenton from eight o'clock in the morning to six o'clock after partaking of a supper.

As the crow flies, the distance from the Bastille to the old temple is only six kilometers, but in reality it takes at least two good leagues by following the various winding roads from Paris to Saint-Maurice (Charenton). Of the three or four thousand people who often met at the temple, the greater part, I think, came on foot. The roads were also followed by a few people on horseback, a few sedan-chairs, and a number of carriages. Finally several hundreds of worshippers went via boat on the Seine.

Part I - Troubles Along the Way

The first and last stage of the journey - going and returning through the gates of the capital - wasn't always an easy thing to do. For us, citizens of the XXth century, the suspicious eye of the employees at a toll booth is nothing more than a formality compared to the dangers faced by the Protestants of the past. Today, in 1906, the Paris police will intervene to protect those who want to go to a worship service in the same way that they're obliged to protect those who want to go to work.

The first Sunday when preaching began at Saint-Maurice, on August 27, 1606, Henri IV sent archers and police officers in order to constrain the people to his wishes. Three weeks later, the civil lieutenant and the keeper of the guard post received the order to post themselves along the avenues to Charenton, the gate and Rue St. Antoine, for the departure and arrival of those of the RPR [reformed religion] returning from their devotions and prayers, but they hesitated to enforce this order because the authorization at that place hadn't been verified or registered at Chatelet. They were referring to the Parlement [court of law]. The royal court decided that it would deliberate the matter but that, in the meantime, the civil lieutenant had to obey the wishes of the king.

The Bastille in 1615 located next to the Saint-Antoine Gate
which led out to the Charenton road.

At the end of this month of September 1606 the same civil lieutenant had a quarrel with the criminal lieutenant, at the Saint-Antoine gate 'over a gallows that was needed to prepare for the punishment of the seditious who would injure or intimidate those who were returning from the preaching at Saint-Maurice.' The keeper of the guardhouse, meanwhile, said that he would erect two gallows: one for the one, and the other for the other!

Even during the war of the Fronde the following ordinance was proclaimed:

'By order of the marshals of the merchants and aldermen of the city of Paris, the captains and other officers commanding the guards at the city gates of Saint-Antoine , Saint-Bernard , Saint-Victor and Saint-Marcel , and other places, are to let pass through these gates and the return whether by carriage, horse, or on foot, all those of the RPR [reformed religion] who will travel tomorrow to Charenton, without giving them any hindrance or preventing them in any way, and offering them aid and comfort should the need arise. Declared by the city hall this 3rd day of April 1649.'

Part II - The Road on Foot

The Parisian protestants - all those on the right bank and a large number on the other as well - passed through the Saint-Antoine Gate, located on the current position of the Bastille right next to the hotel which the Protestant architect A. du Cerceau built from 1614 to 1630 and which was inhabited by Sully (at # 143 rue Saint-Antoine , with another facade on the Place Royal, today called the Place des Vosges). Sully was in 1606 the governor of the Bastille which was a fortunate thing for the Parisian protestants. The protestant artisans who were numerous in the Faubourg (district) of Saint-Antoine , enlarged the number of urban dwellers who by groups went east on the Rue de Charenton (now the Rue de Reuilly) or a westerly road between Paris and Geneva (today known as the Rue de Charenton in Paris, and the Rue de Paris in Charenton). Along this route few vestiges remain of these olden days.

However, on the right, the Rue de Rambouillet still retains for three centuries a name more associated with its history in letters than that of protestantism which many people are unaware of. This Rue de Rambouillet was bordered on the north-west by a large garden extending from the Rue de Charenton to the Rue de Bercy adjoining a beautiful house located a little further away. There you'll find the Rue de l'Hotel and (traversing the former courtyard) the Rue de Charolais along which are the shops serving the P.L.M. railway. Less famous than the other hotel, de Rambouillet (on the Place du Carroussel), the latter was without doubt more sumptuous. Nicolas de Rambouillet, lord of Lancey and of Plessis-Franc , had amassed a considerable fortune from five large farms. A Mazarinade attributed to him and his associates, who were formerly 'beggars and downtrodden folks', more than six million pounds.

The best society frequented this 'beautiful house' in which the letters of Conrart were discussed. Mr. de Rambouillet was for a long time an elder at the church of Paris and Jean Daille (a pastor at Charenton) dedicated to him a volume of his sermons [his third volume of Sermons on the Epistle to the Colossians published in 1648.] His step-daughter was later to receive a somewhat different literary tribute by Madame de la Sabliere.

At #236, 298, 302 on the Rue de Charenton, the older homes have probably seen the carriages of Mr. Rambouillet go by among the groups of Huguenots. The Rue de la Breche aux Loups [Wolves] reminds us that men were not the only things that were feared when one approached from the Bois de Vincennes. Then we ascended an imposing side to the north of which the Rue de Fécamp and the blind alley of the Allee de Fécamp retain the name of a small valley where much caution would have been taken by our forefathers in the XVII century.

Here for example, at the time of the destruction of the first temple, is what Duplessis-Mornay wrote on October 2, 1621 to his secretary Marbault:

'The general public tumult of the city would assail us on Sunday on our return from Charenton, and feelings were running high from outside of the Saint-Anthoine Gate all the way to Charenton where, along the road of the same name, more than thirty thousand people gathered, either to witness the sedition or to see what would happen there at Charenton which we departed in full freedom and from which we remained together on our path.

The evil could easily have been prevented if it had been suppressed since amongst all this riffraff only a few had swords. The others were armed with nothing more than stones and pieces of vines. All this throng consisted mostly of drifters, lackeys and coachmen. We had taken for our safety some guards at the residence of monsieur, the first president at Charenton and those of Mr. Arnauld [who lived in the chateau adjacent to the temple]. Mr. de Montbason was on the road, the keeper of the guardhouse at Des Fontis, and the provost marshal of De L'Isle with their archers, the civil lieutenant with commissioners and the constables of Chastelet up to the Saint-Anthoine Gate. Stones were thrown down at us in the Valley de Fecan which lies below and where the path narrows to half its normal width. Mr. de Montbazon thought that by his presence, and being in a carriage, he could suppress the assault, so he mounted a horse but gained nothing by his entreaties. The keeper of the guardhouse first thought to kill a few but the others weren't in agreement. Mr. de Montbazon led a troupe that he accompanied right up to the Saint-Anthoine Gate but there was even worse rioting from there to the Saint-Jean cemetery.

Those who decided to separate tumbled into bad streets because no relief from the rioting had been prepared. And this relief, for the most part, was very dangerous because the archers actually inflamed those they should have been suppressing. Besides, those that took seriously their obligation to conduct safe passage through the use of excessive blows did nothing to dispel the tumult which didn't die down until it reached the St. John's cemetery, and even there several rejoiced at this evil. Those who would have wanted to suppress the situation would have sent instructions to the captains of their quarters via valets who only wanted the same mayhem themselves. It's a miracle of God that in such horrible confusion the destruction had been relatively minor.'

[The first temple (1607-1621) at Charenton was burned down in 1621 by mob action. The fury described here in October is probably when it happened. Two years later the second temple (1623-1685) was built by the same architect using materials dismantled from the temple at Ablon which was much farther away from Paris than Charenton. Then the second temple was torn down in 1685 following the revocation of the Edict of Nantes.]

Saint-Antoine Gate as it looked 50 years later in 1671
The Bastille, on the left, was torn down in 1789 during the French Revolution.

Adrien Crommelin in the Bastille

Adrien (Andre) Crommelin, a banker, was the son of Adrien Crommelin and Susanne Doublet who were married at Charenton in 1641. He and his wife Marie Le Maistre [who was the daughter of Jacques Le Maistre and Jeanne Crommelin] must have passed the Bastille occasionally on their way to worship at Charenton never thinking Adrien would some day spend time in the Bastille for being a Protestant. However, this happened on December 5, 1685. He was imprisoned for five months during which time he abjured. He was eventually released, returned to his home town of Saint Quentin, and then fled to Holland.

5 December 1685
Adrien Crommelin, son-in-law of Lemaistre, banker,
was arrested this evening and put in the Bastille.

Adrien Crommelin was kept under surveillance after his
release for fear that he might flee to Holland.
"29 April 1686
Thort, a merchant of brandy who runs a store, of the R.P.R. (Protestant) faith, who lived near la Grève, and who fled to Holland last January, had left several effects in the hands of Crommelin, banker, also of the R.P.R. faith. Crommelin has now abjured his religion and has recovered his friend's effects, and now it is said that he is preparing to leave in two or three days for Holland, and that he sent his daughter ahead, who awaits him in Saint-Quentin. This Crommelin lives on the rue de la Chanvrerie, on the side of the rue des Précheurs. It has a square door, which is the second door on the left while leaving the 'Halle' (market place) - the third room, next to a large door where the carters reside. It is Noblet who delivered this news to me, one of Thort's debtors who Crommelin has been chasing and who told me that this Crommelin received letters daily from Thort who is now at The Hague."

Adrien Crommelin's home in Paris on Rue de la Chanvrerie.
Click to enlarge.

At the time of his arrest he was living on the Rue de la Chanvrerie which no longer exists, but the next street, Rue des Précheurs, still does. A nearby landmark, Eglise St. Leu, also still exists today. It would be a very wearisome journey to travel to Charenton on foot from where they lived, therefore we must conclude that Adrien and Marie Crommelin would likely have travelled to Charenton in a river boat as did visitors to Rachel Tacquelet (mother of Daniel Crommelin) who lived at #30 Rue Bussy (Buci).

Charenton Road (yellow) next to (brown) Bastille [upper left] at Porte Saint-Antoine (pink).
Residences of Adrien Crommelin (red) and Rachel Tacquelet on Rue Bussy (blue) near the center of Paris.
Huguenots boarded and disembarked on river boats at Pont Tournelle and Arsenal (green)
and at "Le Terrain" (green) behind Notre Dame Cathedral (orange).

In calmer times, they might still be attacked, especially in the vicinity of the Bois de Vincennes, by vagrants who displayed one notable characteristic: the beggars who accosted us on the road to Charenton only did so in the name of God and of Our Lord, never in the name of the Blessed Virgin or the Saints.

The roads were very bad, almost impassable in times of rain and frost, which did not deter some brave souls, men and women, from making the two leagues journey [8 km; 5 miles] on foot going and returning. The great scholar Casaubon wrote at the end of 1607 in his 'Ephemerides' (Journal) on the 10 Kalendes days of January: We all decided to go to the temple with my sister and the little children, hoping to reach our destination. Because the weather is very harsh with extreme cold, I am not without worry for my poor wife who will, like the others, God willing, make the trip on foot. And the next day, 9th day of Kalendes (formerly Christmas Day on the old calendar): As a result of the fatigue of yesterday I could do almost nothing today.

At this same time the minister Chamier wrote in his journal (23 Dec. 1607): Sunday we shivered at Charenton during the Last Supper, having very bad weather because of the snow, ice and wind. Upon our return, at Saint-Antoine des Champs, I fell and injured my foot so badly that I had to be helped into Mme de Chatillon's carriage and stayed home all of Monday and Tuesday. (Protestant Bulletin 1854 P. 462)

Casaubon begged 'God's pardon' when he was prevented from going to Charenton: After the excessive cold comes the melting of snow and such a great thaw that we couldn't gather for the assembly... Give us, O Lord, the possibility to carry out this duty and to taste this blessing. A half-century later the daughter of a friend of Casaubon, Marguerite Mercier, who married Mr. d'Espeisses, boss at the Hotel du Roi, noted the same thing in his book of thoughts: I went on foot because it was freezing.

Part III - The Road by Carriage

A few ladies made the trip in a sedan chair carried by porters. Some men, but few enough it seems, went on a horse and sometimes with added paraphernalia: M. de Vignolles, president at the chamber of the edict of Castres, went to Charenton in a horse and carriage with two pages going on foot behind him.

Those who went in a cart were not numerous during the first years. Sully, at first, had no carriage although he was Superintendent of Finance. He went to the Louvre on a horse and saddle and he had a carriage only when he became the grand commander of the artillery. King Henry IV didn't want him to have one... Arnaut was the first city employee to have one because married men had gotten them before him. Later, coaches became quite common.

At the beginning of the XVII century, having a carriage was quite a luxury, as it was at the beginning of the XXth century to have an automobile. Moreover many of these carriages, having no glass windows, had what resembled tapestries instead; there was little comfort in the upholstery. Francois Tallemant said that one of the reasons given by some people to abjure was that when they went to Charenton in the family carriage they always had to sit by the door on the side of the wind.

Some characters never miss an opportunity to attract attention. Such was the Scot, Duncan, sieur of Cerisante, member of the Aulic Council and resident of Sweden (who died in 1648). He arrived in a well-decorated carriage emblazoned with his coat-of-arms, drawn by four horses, and attended by three servants. Some came in carriages drawn by six horses. Two young Dutch folks noted with satisfaction in their journal, It went so well that for the first time we also decided to hitch our horses together. Then there was the following line: The sieur Daille (pastor) delivered a very moving sermon which edified us greatly.

On the road, sometimes there were speed races between great lords: With six bad, small horses Pardaillan wished to pass everybody on the Charenton road. He passed the Count de Roucy (Francois de La Rochefoucauld) who on this day had only four horses, but they were good. The coach of the Count eventually managed to pass Pardaillan but, by an unprecedented extravagance, Pardaillan mounted on the horse that his page was riding, and while galloping past the coach of Count de Roucy he jeered, 'at least I have the pleasure to be the first one back in Paris!'

This may have been typical of the kind of highjinks that went on all along the Charenton Road. Still, in some deserted places there might have been as many risks as travelling on foot. A Catholic gentleman, the Count de Guiche, was passionately fond of a young Protestant widow, Ms d'Harambure. He sent a captain of the guards named La Salle to pay the people of the lady to facilitate her being abducted on the Charenton Road. She was told of the plot by her faithful staff and then gave to each of them as much as he did. Then she returned to Guiche the money that he had given them. His uncles, Tallemant and Rambouillet, revenue administrators of Cardinal Richelieu, then went to talk to Ms d'Aiguillon. She told the cardinal to inform Count de Guiche that if La Salle had abducted this woman it is he who would have taken her! One hardly expects to see the great cardinal assuming the role of go-between for a minor domestic incident on the road to the temple of Charenton!

More and more one saw on the road an infinite number of carriages. A lot of people, without owning one themselves, were able to hire one with a driver, or at least owned a carriage but rented the horses. Such was a great Protestant lady whose maiden name was Clermont d'Amboise. She was reduced to going to Charenton in a hired carriage because her husband, a Catholic, Mr. Coismare, took such a dim view of her need that she didn't want to take his horses.

Mme Espeisses' diary recalls the trip made in August 1657, with master Jaque, a renter of horses, who lived on the Rue de la Mortellerie in Huaume. He serviced Charenton every Sunday for a year, plus 6 other days, for a stipend of 450 pounds.

Often less fortunate friends were invited to ride along in one's carriage to Charenton. Casaubon for example, wrote in January 1608: Yesterday my wife was invited to get a ride to the temple today, but because she didn't feel well and resented the extreme cold so much, we decided that this morning I would take her place so that her malaise wouldn't worsen. I was therefore picked up rather early. In the car were the excellent Arnauld ladies. As soon as I stepped out of my office, I was numbed by the intense cold. With difficulty I climbed into the car and then felt that my feet were frozen. Onward we went out of the city but we weren't able to get very far. The cold was so intense, and the glacial wind was so biting, that even the horses weren't able to go any further. We therefore turned back without reaching our destination, and I became the object of a lot of attention by the kind people who accompanied me when they saw the extent to which I was frozen. So here I am home again and I cannot resist sending you, O Eternal God, this prayer. Please find it good to provide a day more hospitable for the free practice of my pure religion, and a day when the exercise of worship is less difficult!

The pastors were also invited to travel in the carriages of their parishioners, and they sometimes came to find themselves - quite unexpectedly - in unwelcome company. Such was the day when Daille, in the carriage of Mr. de Cheanilles, heard the grim views of a young girl that were quite improper. The minister, added our chronicler, expressed his views in a terrible way.

If Tallemant, des Reaux, and other chroniclers preserved for us these incidental anecdotes about the people who travelled to Charenton, there should be no doubt that the vast majority of Protestants travelled the road with a great deal of contemplation. Those who travelled on foot hardly dared to sing the Psalms, and those few who sang in a carriage did so in a low voice so that the driver wouldn't be able to hear.

Arriving at the village of Charenton at the place where the schools are now (the only old home remaining being Rue de Paris # 17) one could enter Saint-Maurice either by the higher road which passes behind the temple of 1606 and the chateau, or descending as today to the great street leading to the post office and to the bridge. Without crossing the Marne, and going along the small arm of the river, one arrives at the place of the old water mill near the foot of the small turret which existed until the end of the XIX century. Beyond this the Consistory arranged the Pave or access road to the temple. It is this route from the bottom end that was most often followed after 1623 with the building of the second temple.

The road described above, to the south of the Bois de Vincennes, was shorter but now you could also skirt along the right bank of the Seine once the Mail or Palmail (quai Henri IV) was built after the moats and ditches of the city had been filled up. Thus you could now pass by Rapee, Bercy, Conflans, and Carrieres along the riverside route to Charenton.

On the other side of the river, many Protestants of the faubourg Saint Germain des Pres and others in the south of Paris, if they didn't cross the river Seine by one of the bridges of the city, followed the routes on the left bank and left through the Portes Saint-Bernard , Saint-Victor, Saint-Marceau, Saint-Jacques, which today correspond to the east end of the Boulevard Saint-Germain, the Rue des Ecoles, Rue Descartes, and Rue Malebranche. Here were scenes similar to those that occured at the Porte Saint-Antoine [where the Bastille was]. Arriving opposite Carrieres (via the road to Ivry) one could cross the Seine River because there was no bridge upstream of Paris until one reached Corbeil.

Part IV: The Trip by Boat

In general a family would rent on Sunday morning, between six and seven o'clock, a small boat or otherwise booked passage on a larger boat which had a canvas covering. They departed mainly from the Port de la Tournelle, the Port Saint-Bernard (downstream of the bridge of Austerlitz which still is today a port for passenger boats) on the left bank, and the Port de la Arsenal on the right bank, and Saint-Louis Island or de la Cite at the point called Le Terrain. Today, being backfilled, it is the gateway called La Morgue.

The departure and return were done with no less difficulty than that encountered by those who travelled on roads. A secretary of the king, a Huguenot, named Courtaut, lived expressly on the Ile Notre-Dame in order to pick up the stones that lay along the quai for fear that they might be used to throw at the boats which were returning from Charenton. Thus he was considered to be rendering a great service to the Church.

As Rostagny quipped:

Let us get inside this boat
For us to go on the River Seine...
It reminds me, seeing this water,
Of the damned that Caron led.

Another satirical poet also describes with little sympathy the departure of Protestants around 1661:

Since it is so bad on land
Seek your fortune on the waters.
Where are all these little boats going?
Are they sailing for England?
Are they in fact bound for Dunkirk,
Or, perhaps Lake Geneva?
Are they going fishing for mackerel?
(Or for who knows what?)
No, this fleet of scruffy black sheep
Is on its way to hear the preaching at Charenton!

As it took too long to navigate upstream using oars alone, the boats were drawn by men while the larger coach boats were drawn by horses which walked on towpaths along the shore as we see today the barges being hauled along the canals in the North.

This portion of Merian's Map (1615) of Paris showing:
Porte St. Bernard and Pont Tournelle (above the spire of Notre Dame) where Huguenots boarded little boats to Charenton.
'Le Terrain' at the rear of Notre Dame
and on the opposite shore the 'Arsenal' area where boats were also boarded.
Also little boats being hauled upstream toward Charenton by 4 strong men along the towpath.
On the right, various portes such as P. St. Bernard, P. St. Victor, P. St. Marcel that took Huguenots living on the left bank to the river side.
The little bridge to the left of Pont de la Tournelle is Pont Marie.

The Ephemerides of Casaubon recall for us a few of the sudden misfortunes that befell those who made the crossing on water:

We left this morning - my wife and I accompanied by our eldest son, Jean, and Meric, our next oldest, and my sister to go out and hear the two sermons at Charenton and to return immediately thereafter by boat. We arrived at the port when it was not yet even seven o'clock, but already nothing was available except for a small boat in quite bad condition and not even with a cloth covering like they usually have. We hesitated on what we should do, but the desire to fulfill our religious duties overtook us and we boarded this boat, or rather this wreck - the only ones who dared to do so. The boatman took the rope and set the boat in motion on the river. So began our frail voyage. Already the greater part of the path was gained when a larger boat, similarly being hauled by two strong horses along the towpath, caught up to our vessel and caused it to shake and lurch violently from side to side. How much thy powerful assistance, O God, was necessary, and how much we felt it! The front of their boat came upon us, collided with it, and caused our boat to sink...

They were quickly hauled out of the water by the passengers of the larger boat, but Casaubon lost a Book of Psalms that his wife had given him during their marriage, twenty years earlier:

I was holding it in my hand when the accident happened because I loved this memento, and my wife, according to her usual custom, had started singing two psalms shortly after we got into the boat. We had already finished the 91st and we were now at verse 7 of the 92nd Psalm when the shock occurred. The precious volume fell from my hands along with a Greek New Testament which I managed to retrieve shortly after it had become soaked... Since I was occupied in giving aid to my wife I couldn't attend the first service but at least I attended the second. We sang, as usual, a psalm before the sermon. I usually participated in the singing of the faithful, and the earlier events of the day induced me all the more to glorify the name of the Lord in all things. Preparing to sing I reached into my pocket for my psalter and then realized the loss I had suffered. Already the congregation had started singing before I could take part. I looked around for a neighbor whose book would enable me to follow, and having cast my eyes on that of a young man in front of me I was able to sing along. However, the psalm being sung was the 86th and my eyes fell first on these two lines of the 7th verse:
In the day of my trouble I will call upon thee: for thou wilt answer me.

I thought immediately of this word by Saint Ambrose: 'This is the very book of Psalms that each one who listens or reads it is impressed and sees its applications as though they had been written especially for themselves!'

Accidents of this kind were quite frequent. The Mercury of 1627, in a few lines addressed to the duke of Rohan informed him that, upon hearing the noise coming from the loss of a boat on the river Seine, the minister threw off his robe and left the pulpit, leaving unfinished the sermon that he had begun.

Then in 1657 a small boat loaded with people capsized because of a line that the boatman had run into because the fog had reduced his visibility. A woman who was fished out of the water at Pont Marie, though dead, was still clutching her Book of Psalms.

A disaster much more considerable by the number of victims involved took place on January 18, 1654, and Loret's Rhyming Gazette gives us this account:

[One can imagine the discomfort of sitting motionless in an open boat toward evening for more than two hours in the biting cold of mid-January...]

A disastrous accident, we're told,
Happened near Charenton,
Because by a misfortune without precedent
On Sunday during the return from this temple
Several R.P.R. (reformed Protestants)
Were suddenly sunk
In the depths of the river.
Happy were those who remained behind
And could not enter the boat
Which came apart under the heavy load
As it carried 73 people
Of whom only 16 could be rescued...
Two young lords of Gascogne (Biscay)
Objectively reported,
That the gentle Pardaillans boys,
Descendents of brave ancestors,
By their unlucky stars,
Also succumbed in the disaster;
Which will cause great mourning to their papa,
But their guardian managed to escape.

On the following Sunday, Drelincourt preached a sermon regarding this incident dedicated to sieur de Pardaillan, marquis de Mirambeau. [See Bulletin 1889 - P.484] Such things occurred often in the same place - around the confluence of the Marne and Seine rivers. This inspired Rostagny to write a biting quatrain:

The Marne River, river of renown,
Often takes revenge on the Huguenots,
Prefering to lose them and their name,
Than carrying far this motley host.

After passing under the Charenton bridge on the road between Paris and Geneva, the boats followed the small arm of the river (today a canal) and passed by the watermill [Moulin de la Chaussee] whose foundations still exist today. This led to the following pun which refers to pastor Pierre Dumoulin [Du Moulin]:

If the mill [Dumoulin] causes
His servants to die near the entrance,
Be careful when you die
Where the flow of the watermill will carry you.

Romanticized view of Charenton's old watermill as portrayed by Francois Boucher.
Click to enlarge.

The Moulin de la Chaussee (watermill) at Charenton today
still stands on its original foundation stones

One finally arrived at the landing place or jetty of Charenton temple (in the XIX century it was the site of a public laundry facility). Several steps led up to the front yard, just below an area planted with trees which stood before the temple.

Before arriving, the Huguenots might have sung the song that expressed their joy and endearment - a song which Charles Read attributed to pastor Dumoulin himself [See Protestant Bulletin 1889 - P.486]:

O Charenton, dear hamlet,
That every eye
Sees along the water's edge
Of the mighty river Marne,

Where, on the day of rest,
The Son of God calls
To His faithful bride
To reveal His purposes...

Blessed is Charenton
To have amongst its thatched cottages
And its golden sand
The Prince of prophets...

And by their sacred songs
Of sovereign beauty
Rejoice all thy fields
Along the shores of the Seine...

In little boats
Which carry us on the Seine
We will drink to the waters
Of life where Christ leads us.

When the reformed folk were coming and going to Charenton by water, said Elie Benoit, they usually began to sing (psalms) when they had passed by the tenement houses along the edge of the water which were adjacent to Paris, and they continued in that part of the river which flows in front of the villages of Bercy, Conflans, Carrieres, because on one side there were no houses nearby, and on the other there were some large islands which prevented their songs from being heard by the inhabitants of these places even if they tried to. Singing the Psalms in boats was prohibited by an ordinance of 1681.

Sometimes Catholics also took passage on the boats in order to argue with the Protestants. This method was used mainly by P. Veron, the famous debator who was appointed to be the parish priest of Charenton. I go to Charenton every Sunday of the year, winter weather permitting. He wasn't quite as brave as Casaubon who in the boats which carried the worshippers there and back, went along expressly to talk with them, i.e. for a period of more than two hours...

P. Veron said, I found in these boats around thirty people, and more than sixty when they returned. Because I selected the largest boat they all hastened to the one I was sitting in. At first some began to sing in order to prevent me from speaking, but eventually they stopped and were eager to hear what I had to say. We communicated during the whole trip. During the return journey I repeated the preaching I had heard and wrote to the temple the views of each. Some agreed with me and some objected...

After having been thus challenged during their journey, the passengers in the water coaches were no better greeted at their landing spots as those pious folks who arrived at the city gates, having gone on land. Again, let us hear Rostagny [See Bulletin 1893 - P.274]:

Finally we are back!
I see the Pont de la Tournelle
From which everyone throws stones from its tower
Singing scornful songs against you;
Children dressed in rags
Throwing whatever they had to test you,
Shouting: 'Huguenots!' 'Infidels!'
'Go back to Charenton, you miserable beasts!'

Today's Pont de la Tournelle

Part V: Closing Thoughts in Praise of Charenton

'Go back to Charenton, you miserable beasts!' cried the rabble, and the protestants, while returning in the night to their homes along the somber narrow streets in the dark could repeat the last few stanzas of In Praise of Charenton:

As the Ark was
Saved from the flood
When God rescued it,
So his Church is a refuge,
That too will be saved.
When God receives his Church -
The faithful few
Gathering near Sodom;
Thus God will hold
Charenton, under his wing...

Yes, artisans and great lords, scholars and beautiful ladies, all Protestants of the XVII century loved and praised Charenton in spite of all the difficulties, or rather because of the difficulties they experienced during their departure, travel, and return because in the distance the Word of God awaited them which was to give them renewed strength to face a new stage on the road of life. They loved this little town of Charenton and they also loved the big city of Paris while referring to it as Sodom and Babylon.

The great preacher Jean Daille expressed well the feelings of Protestants in Paris at this time, (and I think I can also say for those of our time) when he preached on a Sunday in June during the troubles of the Fronde. His text was: Pray for the peace of Jerusalem.

It is a great blessing of God, my brothers, one which we could never thank Him adequately enough, that for so many years He has given us, and continues to give us, the freedom to assemble in this place with the permission of the powers that govern our state; to exercise here His service purely, and to be educated and consoled by the hearing of His Holy Word. There isn't a foreign visitor to this place who doesn't admire this assembly and who doesn't take for himself the most illustrious lessons of God's providence ...

'Pray for the peace of Jerusalem'. First and foremost the Church of Jesus Christ is our Jerusalem... But there is another one that we must love tenderly - it is our France and the city where we live... They too are as great as Jerusalem, they too are conveniently and richly endowed, full of an infinite number of people with beauty and magnificence in all things. France is the mother of the arts and letters, the first amongst nations, the glory of the Occident... And, although the greater part of its people are contrary to our beliefs, it will be after some great resistance that they will eventually recognize us as citizens... If there is exercised here great rigors against our profession of faith through the fighting and suffering of the witnesses of God, they have made this country more valuable through the blood that has consecrated it, and where they have become like trophies of victory by the noble evidence of their unshakeable constancy. Let us love therefore, dear brothers, ardently and sincerely both one and the other Jerusalem which we put before you, namely the Church and the great nation where God has planted it and preserves it so miraculously.

If Jean Daille was able to so effectively invite his listeners to keep piously the remembrance of their ancestors, so we, in turn, should honor the memory of those men and women of faith in the XVII century - we Parisien Protestants of the XX century, by loving and serving as they did the Church, Paris and France.

Jacques Pannier 1906

For more information, refer to A Protestant Guide to Paris by Carol Larrey.
[English version.]