Protestantism in France

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The Eglise reformee de l'Annonciation, Paris P1040908 Paris XVI rue Cortambert ndeg19 temple de Passy-Annonciation rwk.JPG
The Église réformée de l'Annonciation, Paris

Religion in France 2017 (Pew Research Center) [1]

   Catholicism (60%)
  Protestantism (3%)
  Other Christian (1%)
   Irreligion (28%)
  Other/don't know/refused (8%)

Protestantism in France has existed in its various forms, starting with Calvinism and Lutheranism since the Protestant Reformation. John Calvin was a Frenchman, as well as numerous other Protestant Reformers including William Farel, Pierre Viret and Theodore Beza, who was Calvin's successor in Geneva. Peter Waldo (Pierre Vaudes/de Vaux) was a merchant from Lyons, who founded a pre-Protestant group, the Waldensians. Martin Bucer was born a German in Alsace, which historically belonged to the Holy Roman Empire, but now belongs to France.


Hans J. Hillerbrand in his Encyclopedia of Protestantism claims the Huguenots reached as much as 10% of the French population on the eve of the St. Bartholomew's Day massacre, declining to 7-8% by the end of the 16th century, and further after heavy persecution began once again with the revocation of the Edict of Nantes by Louis XIV.

Protestants were granted a degree of religious freedom following the Edict of Nantes, but it ceased with the Edict of Fontainebleau. The Protestant minority was persecuted, and a majority of Huguenots fled the country, leaving isolated communities like the one in the Cevennes region, which survives to this day.

Today, Protestants in France number at over one million, representing about two to three percent of the country's population. A renewed interest in Protestantism has been brought by numerous Evangelical Protestants, while the membership of Calvinist and Lutheran churches has stagnated; many of the latter two confessions have merged into the United Protestant Church of France.

Major groups

Protestantism in 16th-century France.
Controlled by Huguenot nobility
Contested between Huguenots and Catholics
Controlled by Catholic nobility
Lutheran-majority area (part of the HRE) Protestant France.svg
Protestantism in 16th-century France.
  Controlled by Huguenot nobility
  Contested between Huguenots and Catholics
  Controlled by Catholic nobility
  Lutheran-majority area (part of the HRE)


A Christian sect or movement, sometimes characterized as proto-Protestant, organized around the teachings of Peter Waldo, a wealthy merchant of Lyon who lived in the 12th century. The Waldensians later moved to Northern Italy, where they experienced near decimation from Catholic authorities until the Reformation, when they affiliated with the Calvinists and other Reformed Christian groups of Switzerland, Germany and France. In the Duchy of Savoy, the Waldensians frequently faced persecution when "Sun King" Louis XIV of France put the dukes under pressure to eradicate all Protestant presence across his borders during the Savoyard–Waldensian wars (1655–1690). The group still exists in Italy, Germany, Brazil and the United States.


The Huguenots of the Reformed Church of France were followers of John Calvin, and became the major Protestant sect in France. A large portion of the population died in massacres or were deported from French territory following the Revocation of the Edict of Nantes in 1685. Today, the Huguenots number about one million, or about two percent of the population; They are most concentrated in southeastern France and the Cévennes region in the south. The Calvinist congregations in Alsace and Moselle are organised as the Protestant Reformed Church of Alsace and Lorraine (EPRAL).


The Lutheran church at Giromagny Giromagny, Eglise lutherien.jpg
The Lutheran church at Giromagny

Lutherans formed a minority among the overall French Protestants. Their congregations were strengthened by Lutheran immigrants, mostly settling in economically prosperous places. With the French conquest of German-speaking regions along the Rhine beginning in the 17th century, the Kingdom acquired significant Lutheran populations. Under Napoleonic religious legislation of 1801 and 1802 also French Lutheranism was reorganized forming the Église de la Confession d'Augsbourg de France, established as a nationwide synod and body. It renamed as Evangelical Lutheran Church of France in 1906. In 1872, the Protestant Church of Augsburg Confession of Alsace and Lorraine (EPCAAL) had branched off, competent since for most Lutheran congregations in Alsace and Moselle.


In a study regarding the various religions of France, based on 51 surveys held by the IFOP in the period 2011-2014, so based on a sample of 51.770 answers, there were 17.4% of Protestants in the Bas-Rhin, 7.3% in the Haut-Rhin, 7.2% in the Gard, 6.8% in the Drôme and 4.2% in the Ardèche. In the other departments this presence is residual, with, for example, only 0.5% in Côte-d'Or and in the Côtes-d'Armor. [2]


Reformation in France

French Wars of Religion (1562–1598)

"The Expulsion from La Rochelle of 300 Protestant families in November 1661"; by Jan Luyken Expulsion from La Rochelle of 300 Protestant famillies Nov 1661 Jan Luiken 1649 1712.jpg
"The Expulsion from La Rochelle of 300 Protestant families in November 1661"; by Jan Luyken

Huguenot rebellions (1621–1629)

Significant decline under Louis XIV

Under his rule, the Edict of Nantes which granted rights to Huguenots was abolished. The revocation effectively forced Huguenots to emigrate or convert in a wave of dragonnades. Louis XIV managed to virtually destroy the French Protestant minority, which had survived more than 150 years of wars and persecution under previous French kings.

Further persecution

Persecution formally stopped with the Edict of Versailles in 1787, although it was not until the Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen of 1789 that Protestants were fully emancipated.

Napoleon and Protestants

Later establishments

The Protestant psalter, 1817 Psautier protestant 1817.jpg
The Protestant psalter, 1817

In 1927 some congregations of EPCAAL branched off and established a separate Evangelical Lutheran church and synod for France and Belgium. Many Evangelical Protestant currents would be established in France in the post-WWII period, many of which are part of charismatic or Pentecostal movements. These movements often succeeded older and smaller movements that were largely indigenous or established through the efforts of European, mainly British, Evangelicals.

Apology to the Huguenots

In October 1985, to commemorate the tercentenary of the Revocation of the Edict of Nantes, Francois Mitterrand as president of France formally apologised to the descendants of Huguenots around the world for past governmental persecution of their forebears. [3] At the same time, a special postage stamp was released to honour the Huguenots. In a recognition of sorts of their formerly abused rights, the stamp states that France is the home of the Huguenots ("Accueil des Huguenots").

A new rise of Protestantism

While Protestantism is declining in much of Europe, [4] [5] France may be an exception, [6] where it now is claimed to be stable in number or even growing slightly. [6]

Protestants form a minority of 3% in France. Various churches shaped by Evangelicalism have been the main reason behind the current rise of Protestantism in the country, while Calvinists and Lutherans are declining, and in 2013 large parts of these groups merged into the United Protestant Church of France.

In 2019, it was reported that a new Evangelical church is built every 10 days and now counts 700,000 followers across France. [7]

See also

Related Research Articles

Reformation Schism within the Western Christian Church in the 16th century

The Reformation was a major movement within Western Christianity in 16th-century Europe that posed a religious and political challenge to the Catholic Church and in particular to papal authority, arising from what were perceived to be errors, abuses, and discrepancies by the Catholic Church. The Reformation was the start of Protestantism and the split of the Western Church into Protestantism and what is now the Roman Catholic Church. It is also considered one of the events that signify the end of the Middle Ages and beginning of Early modern period in Europe.

Edict of Nantes 1598 decree granting religious freedom to Huguenots by King of France Henry VI

The Edict of Nantes was signed in April 1598 by King Henry IV and granted the Calvinist Protestants of France, also known as Huguenots, substantial rights in the nation, which was in essence completely Catholic. In the edict, Henry aimed primarily to promote civil unity. The edict separated civil from religious unity, treated some Protestants for the first time as more than mere schismatics and heretics and opened a path for secularism and tolerance. In offering a general freedom of conscience to individuals, the edict offered many specific concessions to the Protestants, such as amnesty and the reinstatement of their civil rights, including the right to work in any field, even for the state, and to bring grievances directly to the king. It marked the end of the French Wars of Religion, which had afflicted France during the second half of the 16th century.

Huguenots Religious group composed of Calvinists from France

The Huguenots were a religious group of French Protestants who held to the Reformed, or Calvinist, tradition of Protestantism. The origin of the term is uncertain, but was in European use by the 16th century. Hugenot was frequently used in reference to those of the Reformed Church of France from the time of the Protestant Reformation. By contrast, the Protestant populations of eastern France, in Alsace, Moselle, and Montbéliard, were mainly German Lutherans.

French Wars of Religion Period of conflict between French Protestants (Huguenots) and Catholics (1562–98)

The French Wars of Religion were a prolonged period of war and popular unrest between Catholics and Huguenots in the Kingdom of France between 1562 and 1598. It is estimated that three million people perished in this period from violence, famine, or disease in what is considered the second deadliest religious war in European history.

Waldensians Christian movement

The Waldensians, Vallenses, Valdesi or Vaudois) are adherents of a proto-Protestant church tradition that began as an ascetic movement within Western Christianity before the Reformation.

Edict of Fontainebleau The Edict which revoced the Edict of Nantes

The Edict of Fontainebleau was an edict issued by French King Louis XIV and is also known as the Revocation of the Edict of Nantes. The Edict of Nantes (1598) had granted Huguenots the right to practice their religion without state persecution. Protestants had lost their independence in places of refuge under Cardinal Richelieu on account of their supposed insubordination, but they continued to live in comparative security and political contentment. From the outset, religious toleration in France had been a royal, rather than popular, policy.

An edict of toleration is a declaration, made by a government or ruler, and states that members of a given religion will not be persecuted for engaging in their religious practices and traditions. The edict implies tacit acceptance of the religion rather than its endorsement by the ruling power.

Camisard 18th Century Huguenots battling the Kingdom of France

Camisards were Huguenots of the rugged and isolated Cévennes region and the neighbouring Vaunage in southern France. In the early 1700s, they raised a resistance against the persecutions which followed Louis XIV's Revocation of the Edict of Nantes, making Protestantism illegal. The Camisards operated throughout the mainly Protestant Cévennes and Vaunage regions including parts of the Camargue around Aigues Mortes. The revolt broke out in 1702, with the worst of the fighting continuing until 1704, then skirmishes until 1710 and a final peace by 1715. The Edict of Tolerance was not finally signed until 1787.

The Dutch Reformed Church was the largest Christian denomination in the Netherlands from the onset of the Protestant Reformation until 1930. It was the foremost Protestant denomination, and—since 1892—one of the two major Reformed denominations along with the Reformed Churches in the Netherlands.


The Dragonnades were a French government policy instituted by King Louis XIV in 1681 to intimidate Huguenot (Protestant) families into converting to Catholicism. This involved the billeting of ill-disciplined dragoons in Protestant households with implied permission to abuse the inhabitants and destroy or steal their possessions. The soldiers employed in this role were satirized as "missionary dragoons".

Protestantism originated from the Protestation at Speyer in 1529, where the nobility protested against enforcement of the Edict of Worms which subjected advocates of Lutheranism to forfeiture of all of their property. However, the theological underpinnings go back much further, as Protestant theologians of the time cited both Church Fathers and the Apostles to justify their choices and formulations. The earliest origin of Protestantism is controversial; with some Protestants today claiming origin back to groups in the early church deemed heretical such as the Montanists.

Reformed Church of France Main Protestant denomination in France until merger in 2013

The Reformed Church of France was the main Protestant denomination in France with a Calvinist orientation that could be traced back directly to John Calvin. In 2013, the Church merged with the Evangelical Lutheran Church in France to form the United Protestant Church of France.

Antoine Court

Antoine Court was a French reformer called the "Restorer of Protestantism in France." He was born in Villeneuve-de-Berg, in Languedoc, on 27 March 1696. His parents were peasants, adherents of the Reformed church, which was then undergoing persecution. When 17 years old, Court began to speak at the secret meetings of the Protestants, held literally "in dens and caves of the earth," and often in darkness, with no pastor present to teach or counsel.

Huguenot Church United States historic place

The Huguenot Church, also called the French Huguenot Church or the French Protestant Church, is a Gothic Revival church located at 136 Church Street in Charleston, South Carolina. Built in 1844 and designed by architect Edward Brickell White, it is the oldest Gothic Revival church in South Carolina, and has been designated a National Historic Landmark and listed on the National Register of Historic Places. The congregation it serves traces its origins to the 1680s, and is the only independent Huguenot church in the United States.

A shared church, simultaneum mixtum, a term first coined in 16th-century Germany, is a church in which public worship is conducted by adherents of two or more religious groups. Such churches became common in the German-speaking lands of Europe in the wake of the Protestant Reformation. The different Christian denominations, share the same church building, although they worship at different times and with different clergy. It is thus a form of religious toleration.

Edict of Versailles

The Edict of Versailles, also known as the Edict of Tolerance, was an official act that gave non-Catholics in France the access to civil rights formerly denied to them, which included the right to contract marriages without having to convert to the Catholic faith, but it denied them political rights and public worship. The edict was signed by King Louis XVI on 7 November 1787, and registered in the Parlement of Paris during the Ancien Régime on 29 January 1788. Its successful enactment was caused by persuasive arguments by prominent French philosophers and literary personalities of the day, including Anne-Robert-Jacques Turgot; Étienne François, duc de Choiseul, Americans such as Benjamin Franklin and especially the joint work of Guillaume-Chrétien de Lamoignon de Malesherbes, minister to Louis XVI, and Jean-Paul Rabaut Saint-Étienne, spokesman for the Protestant community in France.

Protestant Reformed Church of Alsace and Lorraine

The Protestant Reformed Church of Alsace and Lorraine is a Calvinist denomination in Alsace and northeastern Lorraine, France. As a church body, it enjoys the status as an établissement public du culte.

Protestant Church of the Augsburg Confession of Alsace and Lorraine

The Protestant Church of the Augsburg Confession of Alsace and Lorraine is a Lutheran church of public-law corporation status in France. The ambit of the EPCAAL comprises congregations in Alsace and the Lorrain Moselle department.

Paul-Henri Marron

Paul-Henri Marron was the first Reformed pastor in Paris following the French Revolution. Born in the Netherlands to a Huguenot family, Marron first came to Paris as the chaplain of the Dutch embassy. Protestants in France had been prohibited from worshipping openly since the Revocation of the Edict of Nantes in 1685. The Edict of Tolerance in 1787 gave non-Catholics the right to openly practice their religion. Marron was recruited to lead the newly tolerated Protestant community of Paris, a task he accomplished through the French Revolution, several imprisonments, the Napoleonic Wars, the Bourbon Restoration and into the July Monarchy.


  1. "Being Christian in Western Europe" (PDF). Pew Research Center. 2018. Archived from the original (PDF) on 2019-08-02. Retrieved 2020-02-07.
  2. Fourquet, Jérôme; Le Bras, Hervé (2014). "La religion dévoilée" (PDF). Jean Jaurès Fondation: 71. Archived from the original on 2017-04-11.CS1 maint: bot: original URL status unknown (link)
  3. "Allocution de M. François Mitterrand, Président de la République, aux cérémonies du tricentenaire de la Révocation de l'Edit de Nantes, sur la tolérance en matière politique et religieuse et l'histoire du protestantisme en France, Paris, Palais de l'UNESCO". 1985-10-11. Archived from the original on 30 June 2015. Retrieved 11 March 2013.
  4. Peter B. Clarke; Peter Beyer (2009). The World's Religions: Continuities and Transformations. Taylor & Francis. p. 510. ISBN   978-1-135-21100-4.
  5. Halman, Loek; Riis, Ole (August 6, 2003). "Religion in a Secularizing Society: The Europeans' Religion at the End of the 20th Century". BRILL via Google Books.
  6. 1 2 Sengers, Erik; Sunier, Thijl (August 6, 2010). "Religious Newcomers and the Nation State: Political Culture and Organized Religion in France and the Netherlands". Eburon Uitgeverij B.V. via Google Books.
  7. "Focus - Evangelical churches gaining ground in France". France 24. July 12, 2019.

Further reading