The expression « désert » refers to the period between the Revocation of the Edict of Nantes (1685) and the French Revolution (1789).
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Why the "desert" ?
In 1598, to put an end to the Wars of Religion, Henri IV signed the Edict of Nantes which accorded freedom of worship to the Protestant Church. Less than a century later, Louis XIV revoked the edict, forcing the Protestants, known as Huguenots, to flee the country or go into hiding. Numerous Huguenots fled and sought refuge in Switzerland, Germany, the Netherlands and Great Britain, but many, strongly attached to their roots, remained in the Cévennes. A large number of these underwent a ‘fake’ conversion to Catholicisim to avoid persecution. But pastors gradually got organised and services were held in secret in caves or deep in the forest. Louis XIV stepped up repression, demolished Protestant churches, sent pastors into exile, closed the borders to prevent Huguenots from leaving France and imposed Catholic teaching on children. Women who refused to renounce their faith were imprisoned and men were sent to the galleys. In Cévennes, some 3,000 « Camisards » rebelled and stood up to almost 25,000 king’s soldiers for 2 years. Among the Camisard leaders were the emblematic Rolland and Cavalier.
The Musée du Désert, an account of life in the Cévennes