Reviewed by:
  • Lumière des martyrs: essai sur le martyre au siècle des Réformes
Lumière des martyrs: essai sur le martyre au siècle des Réformes. By Frank Lestringant . ( Études et essais sur la Renaissance, 53). Paris, Champion, 2004. 277 pp. Hb €39.00.

The topic of martyrdom during the early modern period has recently been the focus of several important studies, particularly since the publication of Brad S. Gregory's Salvation at Stake (Harvard, 1999), a groundbreaking study that attempted to provide a cross-generic synthesis of the subject; it continues to generate intense critical debate. It is therefore timely that Frank Lestringant has gathered together revised versions of articles produced between 1991 and 2003 under the title Lumière des martyrs. In period, chapters cover the beginnings of the Reformation to the Revocation of the Edict of Nantes; the subjects range from early Huguenot martyrs to friars murdered by pirates in Brazil. Despite the apparently disparate nature of its scope and chronology, two major themes underpin, and unite, the different sections. First is the notion that 'les protestants finissent par combattre les catholiques sur leur terrain et en se servant de leurs propres armes'. Vivid martyrdom scenes are a commonplace of Counter-Reformation art; yet, as Lestringant points out, the first illustrated Catholic martyrology only appeared two decades after Foxe's Acts and Monuments. The appropriation of a culture of martyrdom is all the more remarkable since the Council of Geneva originally vetoed the use of the term in 1554, believing it indistinguishable from relics and hagiographic excess. For Lestringant, the manner in which the early Protestant martyrs faced their fates is reflected in the sombre garments they wore, this vestimentary difference exemplifying 'la nudité de la cause exprimée dans une parole dont l'origine est antérieure à toute institution humaine'. The attachment to the 'Cause' allowed persecuted religious minorities to transcend the apparent victory of their oppressors: 'Seule la Cause les rend intelligibles et, en un sens que ne peut concevoir d'emblée l'entendement humain, leur donne un début d'explication.' Lestringant's second underlying thread is his refusal to view the sixteenth-century fascination with martyrs as 'une attirance morbide de caractère sadomasochiste'. [End Page 386] The visual depictions of martyrdom owe much to the martyrology marking out a new genre, a fusion of the historiographic and hagiographic. As Lestringant reiterates, 'il n'est pas de martyr sans martyrologie'.

The development of theatre and advances in anatomy are suggested as factors contributing to the growth in illustrated martyrologies. In an incisive chapter on Richard Verstegan's Théâtre des cruautés des Heretiques de notre temps (1588), Lestringant analyses how the engravings are manipulated (different events and geographies are sometimes seamlessly merged into one scene) to achieve the maximum impact on the Catholic readership. Although recognizing Verstegan's talents in this respect, Lestringant persuasively, yet ruthlessly, undermines the martyrologist's status by demonstrating that he substantially plagiarized an earlier work by Matthieu de Launoy (1579). The bibliography contains succinct comments on standard editions and variants; a notable absence is Eamon Duffy, whose work, with its close reading of source material and obvious sympathy to individuals unwittingly caught up in political events, has many affinities with Lestringant's own methodology, albeit dealing with the other side of the Channel, and confessional divide. Lestringant argues that it is the Huguenots, above all, who developed and nuanced the contemporary interest in martyrdom, a focus that would be absorbed within post-Tridentine spirituality. This readable and impressive study is an indispensable guide for the investigation of martyrdom in early modern culture.

Paul Scott
University of Kansas

Additional Information

ISSN
1468-2931
Print ISSN
0016-1128
Launched on MUSE
2007-01-10
Open Access
No
Back To Top

This website uses cookies to ensure you get the best experience on our website. Without cookies your experience may not be seamless.