July 25, 2014

“Paris is worth a mass.” (“Paris vaut une messe.”)

From 1562 to 1598, a series of bloody wars was waged in France between Catholics and Protestant Huguenots, collectively called “The French Wars of Religion.”

This particular series of European religious conflicts ended with the Edict of Nantes, which was essentially a truce providing some basic religious freedoms to both Catholics and Protestants.

The Edict of Nantes was issued in 1598 by King Henry IV and it’s one of the reasons why he became popularly known as “le bon roi Henri” — “the good king Henry.”

Nine years earlier, Henry had became the legal heir to the throne, after King Henry III was assassinated by a fanatical Catholic monk.

Henry IV was a Huguenot, like his predecessor, when he inherited the crown.

And, although most of the country accepted him as King, many Catholics refused to recognize his authority — especially in the vitally important, Catholic-controlled city of Paris.

Henry decided to try to break the political and religious logjam and reunite the country by converting to Catholicism.

He did so in a very public ceremony at the basilica of Saint-Denis in Paris on Sunday morning, July 25, 1593.

That day, according to legend, he told a friend “Paris vaut une messe.” (“Paris is worth a mass.”)

This famous quote (sometimes given as “Paris veult une messe”) was not actually recorded at the time. It was attributed to Henry IV years later and is probably apocryphal.

However, Henry clearly did embrace the basic idea. He felt it was worth converting if it meant he could gain control of Paris and unite the country under his rule.

Henry’s conversion and his Edict of Nantes did unite the country and bring an end to the French Wars of Religion — but not to religious fanaticism.

In 1610, good King Henry IV was assassinated in Paris by the Catholic zealot François Ravaillac.

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