The religious tensions of the sixteenth century regularly threatened to lead to warfare. The French Wars of Religion arose from the rapid growth of Calvinism within France during the 1550s, which was secretly encouraged and resourced from Calvin’s Geneva. Geneva covertly supplied reformed pastors and preachers to cities and congregations throughout France. Safe houses, complete with hiding places, were established in the deep valleys of Provence, set a day’s journey apart. An underground network, similar to that employed by the French Resistance during the Second World War, allowed pastors from Geneva to slip across the ill-defined frontier into France.
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By 1562, the number of fully established reformed congregations in Calvin’s native France had risen to 1785. Calvin’s ideas proved particularly attractive to the French nobility. By the 1560s, more than half of the nobility were Protestant. (The term “Huguenot” was now widely used to refer to French Protestants.) As Calvinism grew in importance, so did hostility towards its presence in France. The outbreak of hostilities is traditionally dated to March 1562, when the Duke of Guise massacred a Huguenot congregation at Wassy. A later atrocity of August 1572, in which possibly 10 000 French Protestants were killed, came to be known as the “Saint Bartholomew’s Day Massacre.” The French Wars of Religion dem- onstrated the severe damage to social cohesion that resulted from religious conflict.