Les Cigalois of St. Hippolyte du Fort
Updated: Jan 22
Madame fought back tears, but the deep well of emotion that was their cause would not be contained. "Our grandfathers… the previous generations fought each other––Catholic and Protestant. But this! This is Protestants separating from each other." She turned away and sought composure as my own tears rose.
"Here we are crying by the tomatoes," I said as we stood at the vegetable stand in the Open Market. Encouraged by her shaky smile, I continued, "Our community just spent twenty-four hours praying and worshipping. We prayed for the churches here in St. Hippo. We prayed for unity."
Photo of St. Hippolyte today. Catholic church spire on the right, Protestant "temple" on the left behind the town hall's clock tower.
Raw pain broke forth, and she turned away. Not before I saw grief mixed with a whisper of hope. The two Protestant churches in our town had recently suffered a painful conflict. Thankfully, the situation has improved since that conversation. In fact, the two pastors, the Catholic priest, and my husband and I, as leaders of the Youth With A Mission base, meet once a month for prayer. We've also enjoyed several events serving together recently.
St. Hippolyte du Fort's churches:
Catholic church- built in 1687
Evangelical Reformed Church:
Reformed church- "Le Temple"–one of the two largest in France:
As Madame mentioned, history in this town and region is full of division and betrayal, going back centuries. When the Reformation spread from Germany into western Europe, arriving in France in the 16th century, there was great suspicion and distrust between Catholics and Protestants. It's hard for us to imagine a time when there was only one form of Christian church. It was a radical concept then, and two rounds of "Wars of Religion" resulted.
My historical fiction novel, Though Darkness Descend: The Huguenot Resistance Series, Book 1, takes place during this conflict. King Louis XIV sent an army of dragoon soldiers to our region to suppress the Huguenots (French Protestants) at the end of the 17th century. Our little town, then called St. Hippolyte de la Planquette, was a bastion of stubbornly faithful Huguenots. All but a handful of the 4000 inhabitants were Huguenot, as was typical throughout the Cévennes region. You can discover the rest of that story in my new book if you're interested.
Ebook available now: www.amazon.com/dp/B09NM8ST2G
Paperback coming in February!
The resistance of the Huguenots to the King's tyranny is inspiring and relatively unknown except among their descendants. During World War II, one of the early members of the Resistance was a woman of Huguenot ancestry. Inspired by the courage of her forbears, especially Marie Durand, who scratched "Résister" into the floor of her prison during her 38-year incarceration, she suggested the name for the nascent movement. It stuck!
Since the French Revolution and the resulting "Rights of Man" document, a plurality of religions legally exist in France. This document also legalized the separation of church and state, which had not previously existed. King Louis XIV's motto was: "One king, one law, one faith."
Thankfully, today there is peace and acceptance between the Catholics and Protestants. A few years ago, I spoke at an afternoon club in our town about my research findings for the book. There I was, sitting in a room with French people from both churches, and it was my job, an American!, to tell them what I found out about their history, which involved them killing each other back in the day. Needless to say, I was more than a little nervous. As they're all very kind people and friends with one another today, it went well. I think, I hope!
You may have noticed the word Cigalois in the title of this blog. That is what we call people from St. Hippolyte du Fort today. Several origin stories attempt to explain why–besides the fact that saying "St. Hippolytans" sounds weird!
All versions of this story involve cicadas, the cricket-like insects that sing their hearts out around here during the summer months. The town's website says that legend has it that a bet took place between the inhabitants of St. Hippolyte and nearby Sauve. The villagers of Sauve claimed their neighbors could not catch a cicada. Easy, thought those from St. Hippolyte. Our trees are bursting full of them!
When the people of St. Hippo proudly presented their catch, the Sauvains declared them losers of the bet as real cicadas don't 'sing.' In reality, only the male cicada sings, and apparently, they'd only managed to catch females.
St. Hippolyte lost the bet, but the name Cigale for men, and Cigaloise for women, stuck and endures to this day!
Throughout the Cévennes and Provence, you can buy fabric featuring cicadas, plus ceramic versions, some even duplicate the chirping sound. I find the singing of the cicadas charming, a lovely part of summer. But, I do not enjoy the artificial version at all!
Another humorous version of the Cigalois(e) name goes like this: Blanche de Castille, Queen of France in the 13th century (!), passed through St. Hippolyte. She tried to rest under a tree, but could not sleep due to the incessant chirping of the cicadas. The inhabitants of our little town were thereafter known as Cigalois/Cigaloise.
A note about being Cigale/Cigaloise. One of my favorite people here is around 80 years old. Her parents were from St. Hippolyte, but she was born in a nearby town where her father worked at the time. She tells me that other villagers often remind her she is not Cigaloise as she was not born here. Interesting! And a little sad.
Of course, I wasn't born here either and will always be a foreigner. I'm ok with that, and for the most part, the townspeople accept us warmly. Many find it fascinating that we chose to live here and are interested in learning why. And even more surprised to find out it was entirely God's idea.
We are incredibly thankful to be here, in this historical place, in a historic home. I am often greeted by name on my daily walks and often stop to chat with neighbors. I'll write more about this in a future blog because there are so many stories to tell!
La vie est belle!