The Huguenot Cross: lucky charm for Protestants in France

There are two shapes of Huguenot crosses that you may come across more often than the others.

The first corresponds to a Maltese cross accompanied by a vial containing a drop of anointing oil. The second also shows us a Maltese cross, but this time with a dove hanging on its underside.

This particular cross appeared in France during the second half of the 17th century and quickly became one of the most widespread religious symbols in the country.

It would, in all likelihood, be an artisan goldsmith who created it as we know it today. It would have found its inspiration in a long tradition of French military insignia dating back several centuries... but we will talk about all of that later in the article.

Contents :

France and Christianity: description of the Huguenot cross

What is the history of the Huguenots?

Development of Protestantism in France

Growing tensions between Catholics and Protestants

Religious wars and consequences

The flight of the Huguenots

The fate of French Protestants abroad

Concretely, what connection with the Huguenot cross?

Maystre: an exceptional goldsmith

Huguenot cross and military order

A more romantic legend

Wooden medallion engraved with the Huguenot cross.

France and Christianity: description of the Huguenot cross

The thing is clear to anyone who looks at it: the Huguenot cross is full of symbolism.

This emblem is made up of four fleur-de-lys (those which decorate the standards of the kings of France) whose petals are open. Each petal, sometimes also called an arm, has two rounded points at its ends.

The central part of the design is superimposed on the Maltese cross, a type of Christian cross characterized by its four branches similar to arrowheads which unite at their sharpest end. Let us also specify that the four branches here are of the same length. If you want to have more information about this symbol, you can refer to this Maltese cross badge.

There are actually a whole bunch of symbols that offer meaning to the Huguenot cross. For example, we can cite:

  • The fleur-de-lys (of which you will find several lucky charms linked to it here ) is the eternal symbol of France. Concretely, these are the coats of arms of the kings who reigned over the country for centuries. Present everywhere at the time, Protestants could not ignore this close link with their country.
  • In addition, the lily itself is often associated with values ​​of purity and charity.
  • The four branches (or for some the four petals), by their identical size, could represent the four evangelists whose importance is intended to be equal in the Bible.
  • We can count eight rounded points at the ends of the cross. This would be a representation of the eight beatitudes described in the Holy Books.
  • Each lily flower has three petals. This is often seen as an expression of the Trinity. We see once again here the attachment of the French people to their faith.
  • Three petals multiplied by four lilies gives us the number twelve. Some specialists see this as a nod to the twelve apostles of Jesus Christ.
  • When we look more closely, the position of the fleur-de-lis and their shape can evoke a very particular shape: that of the crown of thorns, an allegory of the suffering that Christ endured on the cross.
  • In Christian tradition, the dove represents the Holy Spirit or sometimes also the direct intervention of the Lord on earth. In times of religious persecution, the dove was sometimes replaced by a tear (to show the pain that some Protestants endured). Some sometimes describe the dove as a guide, an advisor for Christians who may feel lost in their faith.
  • You have probably already noticed: the intersection of the fleurs-de-lis with the branches of the cross form four hearts. This shape is the symbol of the fidelity that must exist between two spouses, but also more broadly of the love that we must show to our neighbors. It should be noted that the famous French reformer John Calvin had previously used the heart as his personal seal and, by extension, that of the movement which had launched it.

Several Christian symbols appreciated by French Protestants.

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What is the history of the Huguenots?

The origin of the term “Huguenot” is still quite obscure today. We know that this is the name given to Protestants present in France in the 16th century. In all likelihood, this word would have been created by their enemies and its meaning would therefore have been pejorative... initially at least.

In fact, the impact of the Protestant Reformation was really felt across Europe around the start of the 16th century. Historians speak of a truly spectacular shock wave which had a lasting impact on the thinking of European societies. Among its greatest protagonists, we can cite men like the German Martin Luther or the Frenchman John Calvin.

The consequences of this new thinking on France were extremely serious. In a remarkably short time on the scale of human history, Protestantism managed to penetrate all ranks of society, in particular those of literate urban artisans and the lower nobility. All this had dramatically serious consequences from a human point of view: there were no fewer than eight civil wars in France between the years 1562 and 1598. This is what historians call the wars of religion.

It is therefore obvious that the subject deserves our attention in more detail. That’s good, that’s what we’re going to do here.

If the subjects of Protestantism and the Reformation interest you, you will like the rest of this article... but also undoubtedly the different Christian lucky charms that we have found for you.

Protestant worship where a believer recites a prayer booklet.

Development of Protestantism in France

Protestantism was quickly adopted by members of the nobility, by the intellectual elite and by certain professions, such as those in medicine or law. There were of course French Protestants among the peasantry, but they were proportionally fewer in number.

Some see this as the expression of the most cultured part of society, the most capable of making a critical and informed judgment on the religious question. For others, it will rather be proof of an obvious conflict of interest that certain social classes had when it was a question of possible despoliation and decline in influence of the Roman Catholic Church.

Whatever the case, the fact is that Protestantism in France demanded above all greater religious, and therefore political, freedom (the two areas being deeply entangled with each other at the time).

In a few years, certain French houses achieved a certain notoriety as “leaders” of the Protestant movements. In this regard, we can cite the houses of Navarre, Valois and Condé, but also important figures from the established bodies such as Admiral Coligny. Some specialists on the issue often point out that, contrary to popular belief on the issue, a significant number of military officers also claimed to be part of the Reformation.

If there was one woman who stood out from the others, it was Marguerite d'Angoulême. Often described as "the modern woman", she was an important supporter of the Huguenots in France. Sister of King Francis I, many believe that her influence helped the Catholic sovereign to cast one of the most lenient views of his time on Protestant Christians.

Several Christian symbols.

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Growing tensions between Catholics and Protestants

This state of affairs allowed Huguenot churches to develop rapidly. At their first synod in 1559, fifteen different churches were represented. In 1561, some two thousand churches sent representatives.

Initially, therefore, the Huguenots were largely protected by François I because of their often influential status and their major contribution to the economy and finances of the crown of France.

However, you should know that nearly 90% of French people at the time remained loyal to the Catholic Church and its institutions... which were determined to retain their power.

Throughout their existence, the status of the Huguenots therefore passed from royal favor to popular persecution, and vice versa. (It should be noted that the degree of violence they had to endure depended greatly on the regions where they were located.)

In short, the situation was explosive: clashes between Catholics who remained faithful and Protestant Huguenots were inevitable. Civil war broke out and the bloodshed began.

By the 1560s, the clashes had worsened to the point where the country was on the brink of collapse. A woman, great queen for some and terrible murderer for others, then marked a turning point in history. Catherine de Medici would sponsor the terrible massacres of Saint-Barthélemy's Day.

Fresco in a book by the Huguenots of France.

Religious wars and consequences

In 1589, Henri IV of Bourbon, king of Navarre and Protestant, inherited the French throne after the death of his three cousins ​​from the Valois dynasty, the sons of Catherine de Medici. This did not prevent religious wars from continuing.

In 1593, with a view to easing tensions, Henry IV publicly converted to Catholicism. Five years later, the civil wars ended, and the king published the Edict of Nantes which granted the Huguenots, his former coreligionists and comrades in arms, considerable privileges, including more or less generalized religious freedom.

This therefore put an end to the conflicts, yes, but also marked the attachment of the Protestants to France, once again becoming loyal subjects of the crown.

This situation could have continued and the hatchet never been dug up, but this was unfortunately not the case: after a century of religious freedom, the Huguenots of France saw the Edict of Nantes being revoked by King Louis XIV. Listening to some of his advisors who described the Protestants as a dangerous religious minority with growing sprawling power, the king decided to do everything to maintain his absolute authority.

Calvinism, Lutheranism, Gallicanism: all of this was therefore considered heresy, and therefore logically had to be repressed. The French Huguenots were then ordered to renounce their faith and join the ranks of the Catholic Church.

They were even forbidden to leave French soil under penalty of death. The Sun King even went so far as to order his approximately 300,000 soldiers to hunt down heretics and confiscate their property. These still famous troops were nicknamed the dragonnades.

Caravel from the 18th century, like those of American immigrants.

The flight of the Huguenots

To the great surprise of the authorities of the time, an impressive number of Huguenots nevertheless fled, often at the cost of their lives. When fugitives were captured, they were most often executed (sometimes very summarily). A significant portion were used as slaves on the ships of the French fleet in the Mediterranean.

Christian charity obliges, killing women and children would have been frowned upon by the population. Despite some excesses of unspeakable barbarism, most of the children were sent to Catholic convents.

From the beginning of the 16th century until 1787, a total of hundreds of thousands of Huguenots left their homes to go to other countries that were more tolerant from a religious point of view. Here's another article that talks about their exile, if you want to delve into the subject in more depth.

As writer Esther Forbes said in “Paul Revere and the world he lived in”:

France had opened its own veins and shed its best blood when it emptied itself of the Huguenots, and everywhere, in all the countries which would receive them, this astonishing strain behaved like yeast. »

Historians estimate the number of men and women who left to settle in the Netherlands, Germany, Switzerland and Scandinavia at 200,000. Some Huguenots even went so far as to join the court of the tsars in Russia, where their qualities as artisans received a warm welcome.

It is interesting to note the influence that this diaspora had. The first really significant wave of colonization in South Africa was, for example, composed of French Huguenots. Between 50,000 and 60,000 individuals emigrated to Great Britain.

Figurine of a French colonist.

The fate of French Protestants abroad

Due to the political climate of the time, in a Britain highly suspicious of the policies of Louis of the English being no less disruptive to the internal affairs of the eldest daughter of the Church than showing humanism.

However, as certain historical traces of the time show us, the Huguenots sometimes had to suffer a certain distrust from the local population, who saw them as a threatening presence for their jobs, their culture, their morals and their customs.

For at least half a century, the Huguenots thus remained a minority apart from the rest of the population. They often held positions in banking, commerce and printing. This particular position gave rise to anger among certain sections of the population who accused them of secretly using their influence to impose their political ideals.

A community without ties, the Huguenots of all Europe were particularly quick to emigrate to a new land where everything seemed possible: the Americas. Whether they came from England but also from Holland or directly from France, they constituted a very important part of the successive waves of immigration which populated the continent.

The states of Massachusetts, New York, Pennsylvania, Virginia and South Carolina in particular saw a significant community of Protestants of French ancestry settle.

Just as the French intelligentsia and cultural avant-garde experienced a painful loss with the departure of the Huguenots, the American colonies saw an impressive amount of gray matter arrive at them.

The French actually provided the American continent with excellent physicians, educated scholars, and quality craftsmen. George Washington himself, hero of the American Revolution, was a grandson of a Huguenot on his mother's side.

This presence in America was also felt in another way on the old continent...

In 1787, the date of the victory of North American independence, the Marquis de Lafayette, impressed by the fact that so many leaders of the revolution were of Huguenot origin, persuaded Louis XVI and the French Council to adopt a new edict of tolerance guaranteeing religious freedom in France.

It is true that this subject is rarely discussed in the history lessons that public schools provide. Here is a work by the historian Jacques Houdaille which supports and confirms all these remarks.

Military decoration with a Huguenot cross.

Concretely, what connection with the Huguenot cross?

We now know, in broad terms, the history of the Protestant Reformation in France. But what connection does all this have with the Huguenot cross?

To understand this, the analysis of the symbols of this Christian cross that we did at the beginning of the article provides us with some keys to understanding. The dove in particular has been used in France for centuries as a representation of the Holy Spirit.

Besides this, it is important to understand the importance that military decorations had at this time for the French people. Faced with a pyramid state where generals and high-ranking members of the army held certain reins of power, receiving an honorary medal was synonymous with moving up the ranks in society.

By its shape, it is therefore commonly accepted that the Huguenot cross results from the fusion of these two elements.

There are a whole bunch of more or less folkloric stories and legends about its creation. Two of them, however, undoubtedly more likely than the others, form the official hypotheses.

The first is based on the supposed rejection of Protestants vis-à-vis the Latin cross, and their need to find their own symbol.

The second shows us the link that once existed between French Protestants and the king. According to her, the Christian cross we are talking about would be nothing other than the expression of a sign of attachment to France, despite the oppressions that certain tyrannical sovereigns may have put in place.

Two very different theories, but both plausible... We will now present all of this to you in more detail.

Goldsmith artist who created the first Huguenot cross.

Maystre: an exceptional goldsmith

Here is the first theory we just told you about.

Some sources tell us that the Huguenot cross was created around 1688 by a French jeweler named Maystre. If the artist decided to create this work, it was in fact to respond to a very specific need.

Protestants of the time harbored an intense distaste for the Latin cross (the most widespread form of cross, the one you are probably most familiar with). Rejecting certain dogmas of the Catholic Church against which they had revolted, they nevertheless accepted the Maltese cross which they considered as a symbol of chivalry and moral purity.

If we add to this the true love they had for the concept of the Holy Spirit (especially at the beginning of the Reformation and at the time of persecution), we understand how the Huguenot cross created by Maystre could have had such success.

Thus, the development of this symbol would not come so much from a deep faith as from an opportunism which certain artists were astutely able to demonstrate.

Several military decorations on a cap.

Huguenot cross and military order

According to some, the cross we are talking about is nothing more and nothing less than the culmination of a long tradition of military decorations.

According to this theory, it all started with the Maltese Cross. Initially used by the Knights Hospitaller of the Order of Saint John, an organization directly descended from crusaders who left to defend Christianity during the Crusades of the Middle Ages, this particular form of Christian cross enjoyed a certain popularity in Europe.

For example, similar motifs decorated the coats of arms of the nobles of Toulouse and Languedoc as early as the 12th century. This form quickly entered sacred art, which earned it a place still visible today in architecture in particular.

On December 31, 1578, Henry III, eager to prove that he was a good Christian, decided to found the Order of the Knights of the Holy Spirit. Naturally, only Catholics could aspire to the privilege of joining this organization.

If we are talking to you about it, it is quite simply because the insignia of the order corresponded to a Maltese cross, suspended from a blue ribbon. At the center of the cross of the Holy Spirit was a dove, with the motto “By the head and by the Spirit.”

The Huguenot cross would then have been created as a sign of recognition among French Protestants from the 17th century, being modeled on the insignia of the Order of the Holy Spirit. According to the proponents of this hypothesis, it would not be a question of a desire to be associated with this Catholic order but rather a proof of respect and love towards a man about whom we have already spoken to you in this article. : King Henry IV of Navarre.

A great defender of religious freedoms and publisher of the Edict of Nantes, it was thanks to this man that Protestants began to wear the Huguenot cross as we know it today.

Shadow of a couple kissing in front of the sea.

A more romantic legend

To end this article on a slightly lighter note, we will now briefly present to you a popular legend which explains to us in its own way the meaning of the Huguenot cross.

A young Protestant couple one day decided to unite in secret. On the day of the wedding, two of the couples were captured by the royal guard. A choice was therefore imposed on them: they had to (re)convert to the Catholic faith or die in the flames of the stake.

They refused to renounce the ideals of the Reformation and chose to perish together in the fire. It was therefore on the very day of the wedding that, singing psalms together, the lovebirds left to join the afterlife.

Hearing the mix of pleas and prayers, a local blacksmith was emitted and decided to create a symbol so that we would never forget the tragic story of these young people who left too soon. The Huguenot cross was born.

author picture(Cyril Gendarme)

Discover the author: Cyril Gendarme

Cyril Gendarme is a writer whose website "The Lucky Door" ("La Porte Du Bonheur" in French, his native language) has become a reference in the field of esotericism. Born in Belgium, Cyril has been attracted to the mysteries of the world since he was a child. When his interest in occultism was awakened, a particular subject caught his attention: lucky charms.

After years of study and in-depth research on esoteric traditions from around the world, Cyril decided to share his knowledge with the public through the internet. In 2019, he launched "The Lucky Door," a website dedicated to exploring lucky charms, magical symbols, and esoteric arts.

The Lucky Door is much more than just a showcase for those curious about magic, divination, or tradition. It is the result of Cyril's passion for researching and understanding the mysteries of the universe. Every piece of information available on the site testifies to his dedication to sharing his knowledge of the most hidden symbols and their unique powers.

In addition to his online work, Cyril regularly organizes workshops and conferences in different countries. His presence on social media is also highly appreciated, where he offers personalized advice and happily answers questions from his community.