Protestantism in France

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Protestantism in France has existed in its various forms starting with Calvinists and Lutherans 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 of France.

Protestants were granted a degree of religious freedom following the Edict of Nantes, but it ceased with the Edict of Fontainebleau. Protestant minority has been 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 over one million, or about two percent of the country's population. A renewed interest in Protestantism has been brought by numerous Evangelical Protestants, rather than stagnating Reformed and Lutheran confessions which since 2013 have been largely contained to the United Protestant Church of France.

Major groups[edit]


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. The group still exists in Italy, Germany, Brazil and the United States.


Areas controlled and contested by Huguenots are marked purple and livid on this map of modern France. Lutheran area in the east belonged at the time to the Holy Roman Empire.

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).


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.[1]


Reformation in France[edit]

French Wars of Religion[edit]

Significant decline under Louis XIV[edit]

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[edit]

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[edit]

Later establishments[edit]

In 1927 some congregations of EPCAAL branched off and established a separate Evangelical Lutheran church and synod for France and Belgium. Many Evangelical Protestant sects would be established in France in the post-WWII period, many of which would derive their liturgical styles from North American evangelical charismatic or Pentecostal movements.

Apology to the Huguenots[edit]

In October 1985, to commemorate the tricentenary of the Revocation of the Edict of Nantes, Mitterrand gave a formal apology to the descendants of Huguenots around the world.[2] At the same time, a special postage stamp was released in their honour. The stamp states that France is the home of the Huguenots ("Accueil des Huguenots"). Hence their rights were finally recognised.

A new rise of Protestantism[edit]

While Protestantism is declining in much of Europe,[3][4] France may be an exception,[5] where it now is claimed to be stable in number or even growing slightly.[5]

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.[6]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Jérôme Fourquet, Hervé Le Bras (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)
  2. ^ "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. Retrieved 11 March 2013.
  3. ^ Peter B. Clarke; Peter Beyer (2009). The World's Religions: Continuities and Transformations. Taylor & Francis. p. 510. ISBN 978-1-135-21100-4.
  4. ^ 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.
  5. ^ a b 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.
  6. ^ "Focus - Evangelical churches gaining ground in France". France 24. July 12, 2019.

Further reading[edit]

  • Dagon, Gérard. Petites églises de France. [S.l.]: Édité par l'auteur; [S.l.: Printed by] M. Hagondange, 1977. N.B.: Concerns non-Catholic Christian groups and also non-Christian religions in France.
  • Mehl, Roger. Le Protestantisme français dans la société actuelle: 1945-1980, in series, Histoire et société, n'o 1. Genève: Éditions Labor et Fides, 1982. Without ISBN

External links[edit]