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On this date more than 425 years ago, one of the bloodiest episodes of the Reformation era began in Paris: The Saint Bartholomew's Day Massacre. Following the assassination of their leader, Admiral Gaspard de Coligny, thousands of Huguenots (French Calvinists) who had gathered in the city for a royal wedding were slaughtered by their religious and political enemies. These excerpts from a report by Filippo Cavriana, a Mantuan physician in the service of French queen Catherine de Médicis, offer horrible details:

"Cossein, the Gascon commander, the German Besme, a former page to [Catholic party leader] Monsieur de Guise, Hautefort, the Italians Pierre Paul Tossinghi and Petrucci, went with a numerous troop to the house of the Admiral [Coligny], whom they had orders to kill. They broke down the door and went up the stairs. At the top of it they found a kind of makeshift barricade, made of chests and benches hurriedly heaped together. They thrust their way into the room, found eight or ten servants, whom they killed, and saw the Admiral, standing at the foot of his bed and dressed in a furred gown.

"The day was only just dawning and things could barely be made out. They asked him, 'Are you the Admiral?' He replied that he was. They rushed at him and covered him with insults. Besme grasped his sword and made to plunge it into his bosom. But he cried out, 'Ah, young soldier, have pity upon old age!' Vain words.

"With one stroke Besme laid him at his feet: they fired two pistols straight into his face and left him lying there lifeless. The whole house was given over to pillage. Meanwhile some of these men appeared on the balcony and said, 'He is dead.' Those below, Guise and the others, would not believe it. They asked him to be thrown ...

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August 2001

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