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

led, 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


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


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.