Understanding The Merindol Massacre and Provence’s Dark Religious History
Plenty of villages in the Luberon Valley lay claim to les plus beaux villages de France (the most beautiful villages in France), and many of those proudly display Villages Fleuris (flowering villages) emblems on local street signs. Enchanted by weather-worn scenes of charming hilltop hamlets and gently numbed by a glass of chilled local rosé, it would be easy to overlook the Merindol (French spelling: Mérindol) during your visit to Provence. Don’t!
Situated on the edge of the leafy Luberon massif, Merindol’s population is barely more than 2,000 people. To access the town’s centre exit from the D973, an efficient road artery that crosses the Luberon. This roadway skirts several small villages and links the larger centres of Cavaillon and Pertuis, respectively known for their juicy orange melons and tri-colour wine production.
Tribute to its Dark Past
Sadly, Merindol is known for a 1545 massacre.
Vaudois or Waldenses were the common names of a Christian reform movement, initially based out of Lyon in the 1170s. Peter Waldo or Valdo, a prosperous Lyonnais merchant, sold his belongings and began preaching the benefits of focusing on core Christian beliefs. The underlying foundation for this association was a return to a lifestyle of simple needs and devotion to God, as outlined in the Gospel of the New Testament.
The Vaudois gained advocates in Provence, during an era that coincided with the rise of the Catholic Church’s power in France. In 1215, reacting to the perceived threat to the economic power base of the Catholic Church declared the Vaudois religious heretics. Between 1309 and 1378, a period when seven influential Catholic Popes resided in Avignon, this Vaudois reform movement was, at best, an annoyance.
Tensions rose between the two religious factions. The Vaudois began to hide their activities and seek defensive positions in fortified towns of the Luberon Valley. On November 18, 1540, the influential Parliament of Provence, located in Aix-en-Provence, issued the “Arrêt de Mérindol” (Stop Merindol). Despite numerous appeals King Francis I confirmed the judgment in early 1545, and in April the Vaudois attack occurred.
Baron Jean Maynier d’Oppède (President of the parliament of Provence) and Antoine Escalin des Aimars (a military commander) led the aggressive incursions. Their troops set deliberate fires destroying homes and wreaking havoc in the Valley. It was a senseless slaughter with far-reaching results. There were thousands of Vaudois deaths, a minimum of 23 villages reduced to rubble, and any captured survivors subjected to torture.
Merindol was a pile of ashes.
Today, Merindol is a thriving, quiet hamlet which pays tribute to its dark chapter. There is a small private museum containing archival information on the Vaudois in the Luberon and beyond.
La Muse (website)
Rue de la Muse
Tel: +33 (0)4 90 72 91 64
Walk uphill to the remains of the ancient village. A faded sign marks the path – proceed at your own risk. Appropriate footwear is highly recommended and ruins from the tenth century are not fit for scaling.
From the initial signpost, it is about a 10-minute walk uphill to the site of the original hamlet. Not much remains other than a few wall sections of crumbling, rough fieldstone on a rocky outcrop. Spend a peaceful moment on the summit enjoying the commanding view of the Luberon Valley and the Durance River. Absorb the pastoral view and take a moment to acknowledge the Provence’s dark history.
Explore the streets and alleyways of the Merindol. The iconic limestone construction of the buildings is in keeping with the that of neighbouring villages in the Luberon. Visit the Sainte-Anne church (XVIII century) with its unique bell-shaped bell tower a “bulbe Sarrazin” registered as a historical monument.
There is easily accessible hiking from Merindol with the GR6 and GR97 trails passing near the village.
This article was adapted from the original text published on Ginger and Nutmeg.