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Méreaux

 
 

The Méreau
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The méreau (plural méreaux) is a circular token which the Huguenots used in France from the 1550's to the mid 19th century. During holy communion an elder would give, before the service, a  méreau  to each parishioner who qualified to receive the sacrament. The others, who did not attend catechism  regularly or had been admonished by the consistory, would not receive a mereau. During the service each individual would hand his mereau to an elder standing next to the communion table before receiving bread and wine.

In approximately 1561 Calvin wrote a "letter to the faithful in France" in which he stronly urged them to use the mereaux. The use of such an attendance token consequently became common practice and for more than 200 years it served as a token of adherence to the persecuted religion and its rites as well as a secret symbol of the solidarity of the faithful.


Front- and back of the Méreau used by the Church of l'Agenais, 16th century.
The front depicts Christ, dressed as a shepherd tending his flock.

In the 1680's, during the large scale royal persecution of Huguenots, the mereaux were used as an identification device to detect any Roman Catholic spy. Huguenots had to show their méreuax when they entered the Church as proof of their membership of the Protestant church. After the revocation of the Edict of Nates many Huguenot churches continued to use it, also in countries outside of France by Huguenot refugees, including the Threadneedle Street Church in London where it was in use until 1692.

Even in later times its use continued. The Order of the Colloque du Bordelais, on December 17th, 1754, Art. 7, XVII, reads: "Since we must be very careful and take precautions, each member will be given a particular mark or cachet to be handed over at the place of assembly. Those who are without them will not be admitted at the holy offices".

The méreaux were normally circular, except those used in Nimes which were oval. The sizes differed, but normally it was about 30 mm (1¼ inches) in diameter. Also the names, motifs and inscriptions varied locally because of different moulds used to coin them. In Poitou they were known as marques, in Languedoc marreaux, and in Angoumois marrons. Most of them were made out of lead or pewter (piouter), but sometimes they were made in leather, wax, or even glass.

As far as the motif is concerned, they were of two kinds: "le type au berger" (shepherd type, shown above, and "le type à la coupe" (cup type), depending on the design depicted on the head side. On the méreau shown above Christ is depicted as a shepherd, with a staff in His left hand, holding a trumpet in His right hand. Two fig trees, one on either side of Christ, with a cross and banner are also shown. A flock of sheep, symbolising His followers, is shown at His feet.

The back side of the méreau shows an open bible, which is usually opened at St. Luke chapter 12, verse 32: "Have no fear little flock; for it is your Father's good pleasure to give you the kingdom". Above the Bible is a symbolic shining sun and six stars.

Acknowledgement: Huguenot Society of South Carolina

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All text and images on this website are © Copyright 1998: HC Viljoen and the Huguenot Society of South Africa

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