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    Chapter 7

    Valangin—Guillemette de Vergy—Farel goes to the Val de Ruz—The Mass interrupted—Farel dragged to the River—Farel in Prison—Apostles and Reformers compared—Farel preaching at Neufchatel—Installed in the Cathedral—A Whirlwind sweeps over the People—The Idols destroyed—Interposition of the Governor—Triumph of the Reformed

    At the distance of a league from Neufchatel, beyond the mountain, extends the Val de Ruz, and near its entrance, in a precipitous situation, where roars an impetuous torrent surrounded by steep crags, stands the town of Valangin. An old castle, built on a rock, raises its vast walls into the air, overlooking the humble dwellings of the townspeople, and extending its jurisdiction over five valleys of these lofty and severe mountains, at that time covered with forests of pine, but now peopled by the most active industry.HRSCV4 622.1

    In this castle dwelt Guillemette de Vergy, dowager-countess of Valangin, strongly attached to the Romish religion and full of respect for the memory of her husband. A hundred priests had chanted high mass at the count’s burial; when many penitent young women had been married, and large alms distributed; the curate of Locle had been sent to Jerusalem, and Guillemette herself had made a pilgrimage for the repose of the soul of her departed lord.HRSCV4 622.2

    Sometimes, however, the Countess of Gruyere and other ladies would come and visit the widow of Vergy, who assembled in the castle a number of young lords. The fife and tambourine re-echoed under its vaulted roofs, chattering groups collected in the immense embrasures of its Gothic windows, and merry dances followed hard upon a long silence and gloomy devotion. There was but one sentiment that never left Guillemette—this was her hatred against the Reformation, in which she was warmly seconded by her intendant, the Sieur of Bellegarde.HRSCV4 622.3

    Guillemette and the priests had in fact reason to tremble. The 15th August was a great Romish festival—Our Lady of August, or the Assumption, which all the faithful of the Val de Ruz were preparing to keep. This was the very day Farel selected. Animated by the fire and courage of Elijah, he set out for Valangin, and a young man, his fellow-countryman, and, as it would appear, a distant relation, Anthony Boyve, an ardent Christian and a man of decided character, accompanied him. The two missionaries climbed the mountain, plunged into the pine forest, and then descending again into the valley, traversed Valangin, where the vicinity of the castle did not give them much encouragement to pause, and arrived at a village, probably Boudevilliers, proposing to preach the Gospel there.HRSCV4 622.4

    Already on all sides the people were thronging to the church; Farel and his companion entered also with a small number of the inhabitants who had heard him at Neufchatel. The reformer immediately ascended the pulpit, and the priest prepared to celebrate mass. The combat began. While Farel was preaching Jesus Christ and his promises, the priest and the choir were chanting the missal. The solemn moment approached: the ineffable transubstantiation was about to take place: the priest pronounced the sacred words over the elements. At this instant the people hesitate no longer; ancient habits, an irresistible influence, draw them towards the altar; the preacher is deserted; the kneeling crowd has recovered its old worship; Rome is triumphant Suddenly a young man springs from the throng,—traverses the choir,—rushes to the altar,—snatches the host from the hands of the priest, and cries, as he turns towards the people: “This not the God whom you should worship. He is above,—in heaven,—in the majesty of the Father, and not, as you believe, in the hands of a priest.” This man was Anthony Boyve.HRSCV4 622.5

    Such a daring act at first produced the desired effect. The mass was interrupted, the chanting ceased, and the crowd, as if struck by a supernatural intervention, remained silent and motionless. Farel, who was still in the pulpit, immediately took advantage of this calm, and proclaimed that Christ “whom the heaven must receive until the times of restitution of all things.” Upon this the priests and choristers with their adherents rushed to the towers, ran up into the belfry, and sounded the tocsin.HRSCV4 622.6

    These means succeeded: a crowd collected, and if Farel had not retired, his death and Boyve’s would have been inevitable. “But God,” says the chronicle, “delivered them.” They crossed the interval that separates Boudevilliers from Valangin, and drew near the steep gorges of the torrent of the Seyon. But how traverse that town, which the tocsin had already alarmed?HRSCV4 622.7

    Leaving Chaumont and its dark forests to the left, these two heralds of the Gospel took a narrow path that wound beneath the castle: they were stealing cautiously along, when suddenly a shower of stones assailed them, and at the same time a score of individuals,—priests, men, and women,—armed with clubs, fell furiously upon them. “The priests had not the gout either in their feet or arms,” says a chronicler; “the ministers were so beaten, that they nearly lost their lives.”HRSCV4 622.8

    Madame de Vergy, who descended to the terrace, far from moderating the anger of the priests, cried out: “Drown them—drown them! throw them into the Seyon—these Lutheran dogs, who have despised the host!” In fact, the priests were beginning to drag the two heretics towards the bridge. Never was Farel nearer to death.HRSCV4 623.1

    On a sudden, from behind the last rock that hides Valangin in the direction of the mountain, there appeared “certain good persons of the Val de Ruz, coming from Neufchatel” and descending into the valley. “What are you doing?” asked they of the priests, with the intention no doubt of saving Farel; “put them rather in a place of safety, that they may answer for their proceedings? Would you deprive yourselves of the only means in your power of discovering those infected by the poison of heresy?”HRSCV4 623.2

    The priests left off at these words, and conducted the prisoners to the castle. As they were passing before a little chapel, which contained an image of the virgin, “Kneel down,” said they to Farel and Boyve, showing them the statue; “prostrate yourselves before Our Lady!” “Farel began to admonish them: “Worship one God alone in spirit and in truth,” said he to them, “and not dumb images without life or power.” But they, continues the chronicle, “greatly vexed at his words and his firmness, inflicted on him so many blows, that he was covered with blood, which even spirted on the walls of the chapel. For a long time after the traces of it might still be seen.”HRSCV4 623.3

    They resumed their march—they entered the town—they climbed the steep road that led to the esplanade where Guillemette de Vergy and her attendants waited for the “Lutherans;” so that, continues the chronicle, “from beating them thus continually, they were conducted all covered with filth and blood to the prisons, and let down almost lifeless into the dungeon (croton) of the castle of Valangin.” Thus had Paul at Lystra been stoned by the Jews, drawn out of the city, and left for dead. The apostles and the reformers preached the same doctrine and suffered the same treatment.HRSCV4 623.4

    It may perhaps be said, that Farel and Boyve were too violent in their attack; but the Church of the Middle Ages, which had fallen back into the legal spirit of Judaism, and into all the corruptions that flow from it, needed an energetic opposition to lead it again to the principle of grace. Augustine and St. Paul reappeared in the Church of the sixteenth century; and when we read of Boyve rushing in great emotion on those who were about to worship the bread of the mass, may we not recall to mind the action of St. Paul, rending his clothes, and running in among the people, who were desirous of worshipping “men of like passions with themselves?”HRSCV4 623.5

    Farel and Boyve thrust into the dungeons of the castle, could, like Paul and Silas in the prison at Philippi, “sing praises unto God.” Messire de Bellegarde, ever ready to persecute the Gospel, was preparing for them a cruel end, when some townsmen of Neufchatel arrived to claim them. Madame de Valangin dared not refuse, and at the demand of the Bernese even instituted an inquiry, “to put a good face on the matter,” says a manuscript. “Nevertheless the priest who had beaten Farel most, never after failed to eat daily at the lady’s table, by way of recompense.” But this was of little consequence: the seed of truth had been sown in the Val de Ruz.HRSCV4 623.6

    At Neufchatel the Bernese supported the evangelical citizens. The governor, whose resources were exhausted, sent deputies to the princess, “begging her to cross the mountains to appease her people, who were in terrible trouble in consequence of this Lutheran religion.”HRSCV4 623.7

    Meantime the ferment increased. The townspeople prayed the canons to give up the mass: they refused; whereupon the citizens presented them their reasons in writing, and begged them to discuss the question with Farel. Still the same refusal!—“But, for goodness’ sake, speak either for or against!” It was all of no use!HRSCV4 623.8

    On Sunday, the 23rd of October, Farel, who had returned to Neufchatel, was preaching at the hospital. He knew that the magistrates of the city had deliberated on the expediency of consecrating the cathedral itself to the evangelical worship. “What then,” said he, “will you not pay as much honor to the Gospel as the other party does to the mass? And if this superstitious act is celebrated in the high church, shall not the Gospel be proclaimed there also?” At these words all his hearers arose. “To the church!” cried they; “to the church!” Impetuous men are desirous of putting their hands to the work, to accomplish what the prudence of the burgesses had proposed. They leave the hospital, and take Farel with them. They climb the steep street of the castle: in vain would the canons and their frightened followers stop the crowd: they force a passage. Convinced that they are advancing for God’s glory, nothing can check them. Insults and shouts assail them from every side, but in the name of the truth they are defending, they proceed: they open the gates of the Church of our Lady; they enter, and here a fresh struggle begins. The canons and their friends assembled around the pulpit endeavor to stop Farel; but all is useless. They have not to deal with a band of rioters. God has pronounced in his Word, and the magistrates themselves have passed a definitive resolution. The townspeople advance, therefore, against the sacerdotal coterie; they form a close battalion, in the center of which they place the reformer. They succeed in making their way through the opposing crowd, and at last place the minister in the pulpit without any harm befalling him.HRSCV4 623.9

    Immediately all is calm within the church and without; even the adversaries are silent, and Farel delivers “one of the most effective sermons he had hitherto preached.” Their eyes are opened; their emotion increases; their hearts are melted; the most obstinate appear converted; and from every part of the old church these cries resound: “We will follow the evangelical religion, both we and our children, and in it will we live and die.”HRSCV4 624.1

    Suddenly a whirlwind, as it were, sweeps over this multitude, and stirs it up like a vast sea. Farel’s hearers desire to imitate the pious King Josiah. “If we take away these idols from before our eyes, will it not be aiding us,” said they, “in taking them from our own hearts? Once these idols broken, how many souls among our fellow-citizens, now disturbed and hesitating, will be decided by this striking manifestation of the truth! We must save them as it were by fire.”HRSCV4 624.2

    This latter motive decided them, and then began a scene that filled the Romanists with horror, and which must, according to them, bring down the terrible judgment of God on the city.HRSCV4 624.3

    The very spot where this took place would seem to add to its solemnity. To the north, the castle-walls rise above the pointed crags of the gloomy but picturesque valley of the Seyon, and the mountain in front of the castle presents to the observer’s eye little more than bare rocks, vines, and black firs. But to the south, beneath the terrace on which this tumultuous scene was passing, lay the wide and tranquil waters of the lake, with its fertile and picturesque shores; and in the distance the continuous summits of the higher Alps, with their dazzling snows, their immense glaciers, and gigantic peaks, stretch far away before the enraptured eye.HRSCV4 624.4

    On this platform the people of Neufchatel were in commotion, paying little attention to these noble scenes of nature. The governor, whose castle adjoined the church, was compelled to remain an idle spectator of the excesses that he could not prevent; he was content to leave us a description of them. “These daring fellows,” says he, “seize mattocks, hatchets, and hammers, and thus march against the images of the saints.” They advance—they strike the statues and the altars—they dash them to pieces. The figures carved in the fourteenth century by the “imagers” of Count Louis are not spared; and scarcely do the statues of the counts themselves, which were mistaken for idols, escape destruction. The townspeople collect all these fragments of an idolatrous worship; they carry them out of the church, and throw them from the top of the rock. The paintings meet with no better treatment. “It is the devil,” thought they with the early Christians, “who taught the world this art of statues, images, and all sorts of likenesses.” They tear out the eyes in the pictures of the saints, and cut off their noses. The crucifix itself is thrown down, for this wooden figure usurps the homage that Jesus Christ claims in the heart. One image, the most venerated of all, still remains: it is our Lady of Mercy, which Mary of Savoy had presented to the collegiate church; but our Lady herself is not spared. A hand more daring than the rest strikes it, as in the fourth century the colossal statue of Serapis was struck. “They have even bored out the eyes of Our Lady of Mercy, which the departed lady your mother had caused to be made,” wrote the governor to the Duchess of Longueville.HRSCV4 624.5

    The reformed went still further: they seized the patens in which lay the corpus Domini, and flung them from the top of the rock into the torrent; after which, being desirous of showing that the consecrated wafers are mere bread, and not God himself, they distributed them one to another and ate them At this sight the canons and chaplains could no longer remain quiet. A cry of horror was heard; they ran up with their adherents, and opposed force to force. At length began the struggle that had been so much dreaded.HRSCV4 624.6

    The provost Oliver of Hochberg, the canons Simon of Neufchatel and Pontus of Soleilant, all three members of the privy council, had repaired hastily to the castle, as well as the other councillors of the princess. Until this moment they had remained silent spectators of the scene; but when they saw the two parties coming to blows, they ordered all “the supporters of the evangelical doctrine” to appear before the governor. This was like trying to chain the winds. Besides, why should the reformers stop? They were not acting without legitimate authority. “Tell the governor,” replied the townspeople haughtily, “that in the concerns of God and of our souls he has no command over us.”HRSCV4 624.7

    George de Rive then discovered that his authority failed against a power superior to his own. He must yield, and save at least some remnants. He hastened therefore to remove the images that still remained, and to shut them up in secret chambers. The citizens of Neufchatel allowed him to execute this measure. “Save your gods,” thought they, “preserve them under strong bars, lest perchance a robber should deprive you of the objects of your adoration!” By degrees the tumult died away, the popular torrent returned within its channel, and a short time after, in commemoration of this great day, these words were inscribed on a pillar of the church:—L’An 1530, le 23 Octobre, fut Otee et abattue L’Idolatrie de Ceant Par Les Bourgeois.HRSCV4 625.1

    An immense revolution had been effected. Doubtless it would have been better if the images had been taken away and the Gospel substituted in their place with calmness, as at Zurich; but we must take into consideration the difficulties that so profound and contested a change brings with it, and make allowance for the inexperience and excesses inseparable from a first explosion. He who should see in this revolution its excesses only, would betray a singularly narrow mind. It is the Gospel that triumphed on the esplanade of the castle. It was no longer a few pictures or legends that were to speak to the imagination of the Neufchatelans: the revelation of Christ and of the apostles, as it had been preserved in the Holy Scriptures, was restored to them. In place of the mysteries, symbols, and miracles of Popery, the Reformation brought them sublime tenets, powerful doctrines, holy and eternal truths. Instead of a mass, void of God, and filled with human puerilities, it restored to them the Supper of our Lord Jesus Christ, his invisible yet real and mighty presence, his promises giving peace to the soul, and his Spirit, which changes the heart, and is a sure pledge of a glorious resurrection. All is gain in such an exchange.HRSCV4 625.2

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