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Martyrdom Of John Calas








We pass over many other individual martyrdoms to insert that of John
Calas, which took place so lately as 1761, and is an indubitable proof
of the bigotry of popery, and shows that neither experience nor
improvement can root out the inveterate prejudices of the Roman
catholics, or render them less cruel or inexorable to protestants.

John Calas was a merchant of the city of Thoulouse, where he had been
settled, and lived in good repute, and had married an English woman of
French extraction. Calas and his wife were protestants, and had five
sons, whom they educated in the same religion; but Lewis, one of the
sons, became a Roman catholic, having been converted by a maid-servant,
who had lived in the family about thirty years. The father, however, did
not express any resentment or ill-will upon the occasion, but kept the
maid in the family and settled an annuity upon the son. In October,
1761, the family consisted of John Calas and his wife, one woman
servant, Mark Antony Calas, the eldest son, and Peter Calas, the second
son. Mark Antony was bred to the law, but could not be admitted to
practise, on account of his being a protestant; hence he grew
melancholy, read all the books he could procure relative to suicide, and
seemed determined to destroy himself. To this may be added, that he led
a dissipated life, was greatly addicted to gaming, and did all which
could constitute the character of a libertine; on which account his
father frequently reprehended him and sometimes in terms of severity,
which considerably added to the doom that seemed to oppress him.

On the 13th of October, 1761, Mr. Gober la Vaisse, a young gentleman
about 19 years of age, the son of La Vaisse, a celebrated advocate of
Thoulouse, about five o'clock in the evening, was met by John Calas, the
father, and the eldest son Mark Antony, who was his friend. Calas, the
father, invited him to supper, and the family and their guest sat down
in a room up one pair of stairs; the whole company, consisting of Calas
the father and his wife, Antony and Peter Calas, the sons, and La Vaisse
the guest, no other person being in the house, except the maid-servant
who has been already mentioned.

It was now about seven o'clock; the super was not long; but before it
was over, Antony left the table, and went into the kitchen, which was on
the same floor, as he was accustomed to do. The maid asked him if he was
cold? He answered, "Quite the contrary, I burn;" and then left her. In
the mean time his friend and family left the room they had supped in,
and went into a bed-chamber; the father and La Vaisse sat down together
on a sofa; the younger son Peter in an elbow chair; and the mother in
another chair; and, without making any inquiry after Antony, continued
in conversation together till between nine and ten o'clock, when La
Vaisse took his leave, and Peter, who had fallen asleep, was awakened to
attend him with a light.

On the ground floor of Calas's house was a shop and a ware-house, the
latter of which was divided from the shop by a pair of folding-doors.
When Peter Calas and La Vaisse came down stairs into the shop, they were
extremely shocked to see Antony hanging in his shirt, from a bar which
he had laid across the top of the two folding-doors, having half opened
them for that purpose. On discovery of this horrid spectacle, they
shrieked out, which brought down Calas the father, the mother being
seized with such terror as kept her trembling in the passage above. When
the maid discovered what had happened, she continued below, either
because she feared to carry an account of it to her mistress, or because
she busied herself in doing some good office to her master, who was
embracing the body of his son, and bathing it in his tears. The mother,
therefore, being thus left alone, went down and mixed in the scene that
has been already described, with such emotions as it must naturally
produce. In the mean time Peter had been sent for La Moire, a surgeon in
the neighbourhood. La Moire was not at home, but his apprentice, Mr.
Grosle, came instantly. Upon examination, he found the body quite dead;
and by this time a papistical crowd of people were gathered about the
house, and, having by some means heard that Antony Calas was suddenly
dead, and that the surgeon who had examined the body, declared that he
had been strangled, they took it into their heads he had been murdered;
and as the family was protestant, they presently supposed that the young
man was about to change his religion, and had been put to death for that
reason.

The poor father, overwhelmed with grief for the loss of his child, was
advised by his friends to send for the officers of justice to prevent
his being torn to pieces by the catholic multitude, who supposed he had
murdered his son. This was accordingly done, and David, the chief
magistrate, or capitoul, took the father, Peter the son, the mother, La
Vaisse, and the maid, all into custody, and set a guard over them. He
sent for M. de la Tour, a physician, and MM. la Marque and Perronet,
surgeons, who examined the body for marks of violence, but found none
except the mark of the ligature on the neck; they found also the hair of
the deceased done up in the usual manner, perfectly smooth, and without
the least disorder; his clothes were also regularly folded up, and laid
upon the counter, nor was his shirt either torn or unbuttoned.

Notwithstanding these innocent appearances, the capitoul thought proper
to agree with the opinion of the mob, and took it into his head that old
Calas had sent for La Vaisse, telling him that he had a son to be
hanged; that La Vaisse had come to perform the office of executioner:
and that he had received assistance from the father and brother.

As no proof of the supposed fact could be procured, the capitoul had
recourse to a monitory, or general information, in which the crime was
taken for granted, and persons were required to give such testimony
against it as they were able. This recites, that La Vaisse was
commissioned by the protestants to be their executioner in ordinary,
when any of their children were to be hanged for changing their
religion; it recites also, that, when the protestants thus hang their
children, they compel them to kneel, and one of the interrogatories was
whether any person had seen Antony Calas kneel before his father when he
strangled him; it recites likewise, that Antony died a Roman catholic,
and requires evidence of his catholicism.

But before this monitory was published, the mob had got a notion that
Antony Calas was the next day to have entered into the fraternity of the
White Penitents. The capitoul therefore caused his body to be buried in
the middle of St. Stephen's church. A few days after the interment of
the deceased, the White Penitents performed a solemn service for him in
their chapel; the church was hung with white, and a tomb was raised in
the middle of it, on the top of which was placed a human skeleton,
holding in one hand a paper, on which was written, "Abjuration of
heresy," and in the other a palm, the emblem of martyrdom. The next day
the Franciscans performed a service of the same kind for him.

The capitoul continued the persecution with unrelenting severity, and,
without the least proof coming in, thought fit to condemn the unhappy
father, mother, brother, friend, and servant, to the torture, and put
them all into irons on the 18th of November.

From these dreadful proceedings the sufferers appealed to the
parliament, which immediately took cognizance of the affair, and
annulled the sentence of the capitoul as irregular, but they continued
the prosecution, and, upon the hangman deposing it was impossible Antony
should hang himself as was pretended, the majority of the parliament
were of the opinion, that the prisoners were guilty, and therefore
ordered them to be tried by the criminal court of Thoulouse. One voted
him innocent, but after long debates the majority was for the torture
and wheel, and probably condemned the father by way of experiment,
whether he was guilty or not, hoping he would, in the agony, confess the
crime, and accuse the other prisoners, whose fate therefore, they
suspended.

Poor Calas, however, an old man of 68, was condemned to this dreadful
punishment alone. He suffered the torture with great constancy, and was
led to execution in a frame of mind which excited the admiration of all
that saw him, and particularly of the two Dominicans (father Bourges and
father Coldagues) who attended him in his last moments, and declared
that they thought him not only innocent of the crime laid to his charge,
but an exemplary instance of true christian patience, fortitude, and
charity. When he saw the executioner prepared to give him the last
stroke, he made a fresh declaration to father Bourges, but while the
words were still in his mouth, the capitoul, the author of this
catastrophe, and who came upon the scaffold merely to gratify his desire
of being a witness of his punishment and death, ran up to him, and
bawled out, "Wretch, there are the fagots which are to reduce your body
to ashes! speak the truth." M. Calas made no reply, but turned his head
a little aside, and that moment the executioner did his office.

The popular outcry against this family was so violent in Languedoc, that
every body expected to see the children of Calas broke upon the wheel,
and the mother burnt alive.

Young Donat Calas was advised to fly into Switzerland: he went, and
found a gentleman who, at first, could only pity and relieve him,
without daring to judge of the rigour exercised against the father,
mother, and brothers. Soon after, one of the brothers, who was only
banished, likewise threw himself into the arms of the same person, who,
for more than a month, took every possible precaution to be assured of
the innocence of the family. Once convinced, he thought himself obliged,
in conscience, to employ his friends, his purse, his pen, and his
credit, to repair the fatal mistake of the seven judges of Thoulouse,
and to have the proceedings revised by the king's council. This revision
lasted three years, and it is well known what honour Messrs. de Grosne
and Bacquancourt acquired by investigating this memorable cause. Fifty
masters of the Court of Requests unanimously declared the whole family
of Calas innocent, and recommended them to the benevolent justice of his
majesty. The duke de Choiseul, who never let slip an opportunity of
signalizing the greatness of his character, not only assisted this
unfortunate family with money, but obtained for them a gratuity of
36,000 livres from the king.

On the ninth of March, 1765, the arret was signed which justified the
family of Calas, and changed their fate. The ninth of March, 1762, was
the very day on which the innocent and virtuous father of that family
had been executed. All Paris ran in crowds to see them come out of
prison, and clapped their hands for joy while the tears streamed from
their eyes.

This dreadful example of bigotry employed the pen of Voltaire in
deprecation of the horrors of superstition; and though an infidel
himself, his essay on toleration does honour to his pen, and has been a
blessed means of abating the rigour of persecution in most European
states. Gospel purity will equally shun superstition and cruelty, as the
mildness of Christ's tenets teaches only to comfort in this world, and
to procure salvation in the next. To persecute for being of a different
opinion, is as absurd as to persecute for having a different
countenance: if we honour God, keep sacred the pure doctrines of Christ,
put a full confidence in the promises contained in the holy scriptures,
and obey the political laws of the state in which we reside, we have an
undoubted right to protection instead of persecution, and to serve
heaven as our consciences, regulated by the gospel rules, may direct.





Next: An Account Of The Inquisition

Previous: From The Revocation Of The Edict Of Nantes To The French Revolution In 1789



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