Taken from Christian Heroines – Just like you – by Catherine Mackenzie
Here is an extract from my latest book: Chistian Heroines – Just like you.
Marie’s family was a well known Protestant or Huguenot family. Often worship meetings were held in the Durand home. They lived in Bouchet-de-Pransles and her brother Pierre was a minister. He was in fact being pursued by the authorities – but was successful in avoiding their clutches.
Imprisoned for Life
Perhaps it’s not much effort for you to imagine that you’re fifteen years old – but perhaps this is an age that you haven’t reached yet – or that is long gone. However, try for a moment to picture what it was like for a fifteen year old girl in the 1700’s. You are living in France and you are just at the beginning of your adult life. You have many things to look forward to. Your parents are planning your betrothal and soon you will be starting a home and family of your own. Perhaps you hope that you will live close to your family and friends. You probably have all sorts of plans for your future, but languishing in prison for thirty-eight years certainly isn’t one of them. It would not have been part of Marie Durand’s plans either! However, Marie Durand lived at a time in France where a Huguenot wasn’t allowed to make plans unless those plans involved submitting to the King.
However, as the search continued Marie’s father realised that it wasn’t just Pierre that was in danger. The whole Durand family could be thrown into prison.
Quickly he arranged for Marie to be married to Matthew Serres.
‘This marriage may save you from arrest,’ he told his young daughter. ‘It is my hope that your husband will be able to protect you.’
In the year 1728, not long after the marriage Marie’s father was arrested. In 1730 Marie and her husband were also put in jail. It was the beginning of what would be a long prison sentence. However, it was one which Marie put to good use.
She was incarcerated in The Tower of Constance which stood on some swampy ground near the Rhone River, in Aigues Mortes not far from the Mediterranean. During the wars between the Protestants and Catholics that followed the Reformation the tower had fallen into Protestant control. However, in 1632 Louis XIII regained it and it was eventually turned into a women’s prison.
The conditions were dreadful. All the female prisoners were kept in an upper room and only a little light and air was allowed in through some very narrow windows. During the winter the tower was freezing cold but during the summer it was boiling hot. However when Marie entered the tower she was like a breath of fresh air to the destitute criminals. Even the most hardened recognised Marie as a truly pious young girl. They may not have trusted in her God at first, but they did believe that Marie was different. They respected her for that.
For the next thirty-eight years Marie organised what was needed for the prisoner’s physical and spiritual well being. She nursed the sick and wrote letters for the illiterate. She read out loud to those who couldn’t read for themselves and encouraged everyone to join in with the hymns that she loved to sing.
Marie was thankfully allowed to send letters out of the prison. Frequently she would send letters to churches and government departments pleading for improved prison conditions. Some of her requests were granted and throughout her time in prison she remained firm in her faith in Christ.
Eventually the prison conditions at The Tower of Constance became so infamous that the governor of Languedoc ordered that the captives should be released. The king objected strongly but soon Marie and the others were set free.
It was a different world that she entered from the one that she had left as a fifteen year old girl. She was now fifty-three years old. Her husband, her father and her brother were all dead. For the rest of her life she was supported by other Christians who cared for her until her death in 1776.