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Huguenot mereau mereux1The Huguenots used a special coin — a méreau (pl. méreaux) — to identify themselves during persecution.

The photos and source material, except where otherwise indicated, is from the Huguenot Society of South Africa.

In the 16th century, however, a church elder gave one to each adult in good standing with his church. This meant that he could approach the Lord’s table and receive Communion. Whether the méreau was devised by John Calvin or he only strongly encouraged its use is unclear.

Méreau is derived from the Latin merere, to deserve or to merit, hence its original context. In the 1550s, Calvinism became the Protestant denomination in France. A decade later Calvin wrote a letter Huguenot mereaux mereux2to the ‘faithful in France’ urging them to use this token of merit. Those who missed catechism class or were under church discipline did not receive one.

This no doubt came in part not from a bullying Calvin but from Paul’s letters to the Corinthians about resolving conflicts between church members and their congregation. Two examples are 1 Corinthians 5:1-5 and 2 Corinthians 5. The idea is to encourage people to mend their ways, if at all possible, not keep them out permanently.

In the 1680s, around the time of the Revocation of the Edict of Nantes, which occurred in 1685, the Huguenots began carrying these tokens as a means of identifying themselves to one another and at church. They were mentioned in a 1754 document (italics in the original):

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“.

They continued to be used in France until the mid-19th century.

Even once the Huguenots began leaving France, they continued using méreaux in their host countries,

including the Threadneedle Street Church in London where it was in use until 1692.

Méreaux were generally round; those from Nîmes were oval. They were coin-sized and, whilst often made from lead or pewter, were also fashioned from glass, wax or leather.

Names also differed according to region:

In Poitou they were known as marques, in Languedoc marreaux, and in Angoumois marrons.

Designs were one of two, depending on the region and what moulds were on hand:

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.

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