Gassiot Latourrette becomes a minister and establishes Osse, Bearn (now Osse-en-Aspe, France) as a permanent base for the Protestant Reformed Religion

Note: It is recommended that this story of Gassiot Latourrette becoming a minister at Osse be read in conjunction with Madame Giberte Gaubil’s short history of Osse Protestantism on this site. Also, see the Chronology of Gassiot on this site.

Osse, Bearn (now Osse-en-Aspe, France) is a unique village in the heart of a Pyrenees mountain valley. It became a Protestant stronghold in 1569 after Huguenot forces loyal to Jeanne d’Albret, Queen of Navarre and Viscount of Bearn, expelled the Catholic armies of Charles IX which had briefly occupied Bearn. Protestantism in Osse, as the state religion of Queen Jeanne III d’Albret, had roughly 50 years to establish itself.

In 1620 Louis XIII, the son of Henry IV (The famous Huguenot Henry of Navarre) and grandson of Queen d’Albret, occupied the capital of Pau, united Bearn and Lower Navarre with France and restored Catholicism as the state religion. This began a long period of repression and persecution of Bearn Protestants which finally led to the Revocation of the Edict of Nantes in 1685 by Louis XIV.

Osse was likely the last village in Bearn to resist conversion, resulting in a force of dragoons arriving in late September of 1685 to threaten a small group of Protestants refusing to publicly abjure. Included on Tapie’s list of September 2, 1685 of “indomitable? Protestants in the Aspe valley, all Osse villagers, who refused to convert to Catholicism was Marguerite Latourrette, the wife of David who is identified as the abbe laique d’Osse (the lay abbot of Osse- a title inherited by a purchase in 1605). Based on circumstantial evidence David and Marguerite (also known as Magdeleine) were the parents of Jean Latourrette who came to New York City in October 1687 with Pastor Pierre Peiret and his family from Osse.

Legend has the villagers, as before when threaten by invading armies, disappearing into the mountains. This began a period of more than 100 years of the faithful practicing their religion clandestinely in their homes and in the surrounding mountains, and burying their dead under houses and barns, until the Edict of Tolerance in 1787. The Temple Bethel, destroyed in April of 1686, was rebuilt and dedicated on August 4, 1805. On August 7, 2005 the village celebrated the 200th anniversary of its reconstruction with a rededication service. The entire village, Catholics and Protestants, participated in the rededication and the associated ceremonies. The degree of tolerance and harmony among the villagers surrounding this celebration was amazing. (See the author’s Jean Latourrette and Pierre Peiret: Huguenot Refugees, Their Roots in Osse, Bearn, 2006, Ch. 2, p.43, footnote 39)

How does one explain the history of Osse when the other villages in the three mountain valleys of Bearn (Aspe, Baretous and Ossau) remained overwhelmingly Catholic? As noted by Professor Chareyre, the Protestants were at least 50 percent of the Osse population on into the 17th century, while in other valley villages they constituted less than 10 percent, even before 1685. (See Philippe Chareyre, “Nouvelles Recherches sur Le Protestantisme a Osse-en-Aspe,? CEPB, Bulletin 38, December 2005, pp. 4-5.) One of the factors which made Osse different was the ministry of Gassiot Latourrette, whose birth has been estimated between 1535 and 1540. More likely it was closer to the earlier date, given that Gassiot appears to be well-established in Osse by 1563 when he was examined favorably and appointed minister of Aspe valley, in which Osse is located, at the first Protestant synod of Bearn held on September 20 in Pau. Presiding over the synod was Raymond Merlin who had been sent from Geneva by John Calvin to Jeanne d’Albret to assist in establishing the Reformed religion in Bearn. (David M. Bryson, Queen Jeanne and the Promised Land: Dynasty, Homeland, Religion and Violence in Sixteenth Century France, Brill, 1999 p. 156). In addition to appointing and assigning 40 ministers to locations in Bearn, the synod drew up the first Discipline ecclesiastique du pays de Bearn, consecrating the incorporation of Jeanne’s sovereign realm as the Reformed religion. (Bryson, op. cit. p. 156)

How Gassiot Latourrette was converted to the Reformed religion is a matter of speculation. In her short history of Osse for the 200th anniversary in 2005, Madame Gilberte Gaubil mentions as a possible source Gerard Roussel (1500-1550), who with the support of Marquerite of Navarre became the Bishop of Oloron in 1536. (Gilbert Gaubil, Bethel Bicentennial of the Reconstruction of the Temple in Osse-en-Aspe, 2005, p. 1) Roussel was an advisor to Jeanne d’Albret’s mother, Marguerite of Navarre, and then to her husband King Henry II of Navarre. Although Roussel had evangelical sensibilities and introduced some of the reforms associated with Protestantism, he straddled the two religions and gained Calvin’s displeasure for his failure to embrace the Reform movement. Marquerite of Navarre, the sister of King Francis I of France and therefore princess of France, was a remarkable woman who is known for her intellect, political and literary skills and as the author of Heptameron which established her as one of the premier French female writers of the Enlightenment. The Heptameron remains one of the best known and most popular of old French tales. Although, during her lifetime (1492-1549) she did not break with Catholicism, as did her daughter Jeanne d’Albret, she was an evangelist for religious change and was in contact with a wide range of evangelists, including John Calvin.

David M. Bryson’s describes the legacy of her mother Marquerite to Jeanne d’Albret as “a profound attraction to and sympathy for humanist thought, religious reform, and individual liberty.? (p. 76). From her father Henry II of d’Albret her legacy was his control and effective governance of Bearn. (Bryson, op. cit.p. 76)

As background, the reader is encouraged to look at and

For a more extensive treatment of Jeanne d’Albret’s reign as queen, see David M. Bryson, Queen Jeanne and the Promised Land: Dynasty, Homeland, Religion and Violence in Sixteenth-Century France, Brill, 1999.

When her father Henry II of Navarre died in May of 1555 Jeanne III d’Albret and her husband Antoine de Bourdon became the sovereigns of Navarre and Bearn. Antoine is frequently described as weak, vain, unstable, and easy to manipulate. In his quest to re-establish the Kingdom of Navarre, after Upper Navarre was occupied by the Spanish in 1512, he was willing to sacrifice anything to gain his political interests. On the other hand, Jeanne exhibited strength and leadership in a Bearnais culture which permitted female sovereignty. (See below the discussion of the role of women in the Protestantism of Osse.)

By 1557 Calvin, working from Geneva, had turned to Navarre and Jeanne III d’Albret and Antoine du Bourdon as his hope to unify southern France, the crescent from La Rochelle through Guyenne and Languedoc to Lyon, to the cause of the Reform religion. Several preachers came to Bearn and Navarre from Guyenne and Geneva to the royal household at Nerac. Calvin at first assumed that he could persuade Antoine to convert and be his knight to establish a Reformed religious state in France, but eventually he turned to Jeanne who converted on Christmas day in Pau in 1560. Thus, Calvin had his champion in Jeanne III d’Albret. Jeanne d’Albret became the sole sovereign queen of Navarre and sovereign dame of Bearn with the death on November 17, 1562 of Antoine from wounds suffered in battle at Rouen. By a letter of January 20, 1563, Calvin urged Jeanne to make the Reform religion compulsory in her realm. (Bryson, op. cit., pp 152-153) Four years of peace followed the Edict of 1563 which allowed Jeanne to publish a number of ordinances on the “liberty of conscience? and to respond positively to a call to send ministers throughout Bearn. (See Bryson, op. cit., pp. 156-171)

Although we do not know exactly how Gassiot was brought to the evangelical cause which had resulted in Jeanne d’Albret’s conversion at Christmas in 1560 to the Reformed religion, we know that he grew up as a young man in the early years of the Enlightenment as it penetrated Bearn and precipitated a re-examination of Catholic orthodoxy. Also, we know it was a time when the cause of evangelical reform had won over the house of d’Albret, the sovereign of Bearn, and Jeanne d’Albret was moving to make Bearn a Reformed religious state. The immediate cause of his decision to become a minister of the Reformed faith was no doubt the tour of Bearn by Raymond Merlin to identify and rally qualified people to fill the void of Reformed ministers, noted at the time. A letter of July 25, 1563, less than two months before the first synod was held, indicates Merlin only had to tour Bearn, to call on "those whom God had graced with serving at the church to decide to minister in it". And since then, it could not be objected "the lack of ministers". (Quoted from Victor Dubarat, Le Protestantisme en Bearn et Au Pays Basque, 1895, p. 255.)

Thus, as noted below, it is in 1563 that Gassiot was already one of the elites of the Aspe valley who had come over to the evangelical movement and was recruited by or offered his services to Merlin and his Queen to be a minister.

As a result, a number of prospective ministers came to the first synod in 1563, Latourrette among them. From the record of the 1563 synod we have:

« M. Barsalonne, Tenarnaud, Basse, La Torrette, Escout & Formalagues ont esté ou?s & examinez & trouvez suffissans pour exercer le ministère, & ont esté esleus & envoyez aux lieux nommez cy dessus. »

« M. Barsalonne, Tenarnaud, Basse, La Torrette, Escout & Formalagues have been heard and examined and found adequate to practice the ministry, and have been elected and sent to the places named above.»

There were 40 ministers listed on a


“A catalog of all the ministers of this country and the places to which they have been sent?

(Citations from the records of the synods, here and below, are the courtesy of Professor Philippe Chareyre, President of CEPB, Pau, France.)

with M. La Tourrette being assigned to the Aspe Valley. (Note: In the action recorded in 1563 he is listed as La Torrette.)

By the Colloque d’Oloron(Colloquium of Oloron) on September 5, 1565, he is listed as the minister of Osse as M. Latorrette. At the Synod of Pau in March 1564 a minister was assigned to “Borse? (Borce) in the Aspe valley, thus placing a second minister in the valley. However, that assignment was not filled.

The Borce ministry was eventually taken up in 1592 by Jean Codures, a nephew of Gassiot, born in Osse. Borce is about 7 miles south of Osse on a mountain side of the narrow Aspe gorge. Codures was the minister at Borce 1592- 1596 and then at Osse after Gassiot’s death from 1596 to 1613. Borce was the home of Bernard de Sallefranque, a noble loyal to the Queen Jeanne d’Albret, which explains why the synod sought to place a minister there. When the Catholic churches and villages were burned by D’Arros in 1569, Lescun and Borce were spared.

Note: Codures is also found as Codure and Coutures in various records. (In the Pau Archives, E 1663, 1617-1620 reference is to emprunt de 4000- a loan of 4000- francs by Jean Coutures, minister of the church at Osse.)

With the exception of Gassiot Latourette and Jean Codures both of whom were born at Osse, one of the reasons the Reformed religion did not penetrate the three mountain valleys in Bearn was the harsh climate and difficult living conditions in these valleys. As a result, there was reluctance on the part of the Protestant ministers to be placed in the Aspe, Baretous, and Ossau valleys. These pastors preferred the board, fertile Piedmont area north of the Pyrenees. As already noted Gassiot was the only minister placed in the Aspe valley by the synod in 1563. In 1564, it appears that the synod of March 13 would place Arnaud Barsalonne in Borce, in the narrow upper valley several miles south of Osse for the entry reads:

Synode de Pau 13 mars 1564

« Au colloque d’Oloron seront adioustez deux ministres, l’un en Aspe au vilage de Borse, & ce sera M. Barsalonne si ainsy est que M. Etchard soit ministre en la valée de Barétous, & l’autre à Gurs, lequel ledit colloque cherchera. »

« At the Oloron colloquium will be added two ministers, one in Aspe, at the village of Borse, and it will be Mr. Barsalonne, if it so happens that Mr. Etchard be selected for the Baretous valley, and the other at Gurs, whom the said colloquium wil be seeking. »

and, indeed, we find Guicharnaud Etchart at Montory in 1564 and then at Arette in 1565 in the Baretous valley. (Albert Sarrabere, Dictionnaire des pasteurs Basques et Bearnais, XVI –XVII siecles, CEPB, 2001, p. 120). Arnaud Barsalonne is not at Borce, but at Theze 15 miles north of Pau after 1564 with his widow authorized a pension there in 1677. (Sarrabere, p. 50) It is likely Barsalonne refused to go to Borce.

Instead Albert Sarrabere tracks Jean Morlanne as the first appointee to Borce a decade later by the synod of December 15, 1574 in Pau. Demonstrating the difficulty of finding qualified ministers for the mountain valleys, Morlanne reached Borce with a checked past. He was rejected to be a minister by the synod of 1567. Passing his examination in 1568, he was named to Saint-Gladie, but suspended for drunkenness at the synod of 1569. His repentance was doubted at the 1571 synod. The synod of 1574 names him to Borce but he is deposed by the synod of 1576. Sarrabere summarizes the experience with Morlanne as follows :

« Ivrogne ordinaire qui est cause qu’il jure quelquefois renie Dieu et diables et bat sa femme »

« Ordinary drunk which is the cause that he swears sometimes, denies God and devils, and beats his wife »

(Sarrabere, p. 197)

In his review of the history of Protestantism in Osse, Professor Chareyre cites three more examples of ministers refusing to go into the mountain valleys or seeking placement elsewhere. Rev. Jean Touya was designated to go in the Aspe Valley, probably Borce, and was condemned by the Synod in 1567 for saying "that he had heard it was barbaric country and therefore he wouldn't go.? (Chareyre, p.3) He is named instead to the Baretous valley in 1568, but assigned to Navarrenx (29 miles west of Pau) in 1569 and finally to Monein (about 14 miles west of Pau) in 1570 where he remains for over 30 years.(Sarrabere, p. 248)

Another minister Pierre Lacaze or Casa requested in 1568 to be removed from Laruns in the Ossau valley “for the impracticality of the place which was bad for his complexion." (Chareyre, p. 3) In 1569, when the people of the mountains are taking up arms to defend Catholicism as Bearn is retaken by the armies of Queen Jeanne d’Albret, he is imprisoned, voices conversion, and then is censured by the synode of October 10 1569 in Lescar. At the synod of 1570 he is named to Montaner (about 27 miles east of Pau) and remains there for over 25 years. (Sarrabere, p. 149)

Deep in the Ossau valley at Bielle, the pastor Pierre Nogues expressed his desire to be assigned to Navarrenx. It appears he may have been at Bielle for about a year before being assigned to Oloron in 1569 and staying there at least until 1684. (Sarrabere, p. 202 and p. 274) The reason several ministers indicated a desire to be assigned to Navarrenx was its importance as a fortress and refuge on the western frontier of Bearn. The medieval fort had been rebuilt with massive walls by Jeanne d’Albret’s father, King Henry II of Navarre, to withstand attacking cannon fire and designed to provide sweeping fields of fire for the defenders. As such it played an important role in the survival of Protestantism in Bearn under Jeanne and her daughter Catherine.

Sarrabere’s record of the pastors elected to the mountain valleys over the years shows that Osse in the Aspe Valley was the only ministry that lasted until the Revocation in 1685. The other location in the valley at Borce had only two ministers: Morlanne, 1574-1576, and Codures, 1592- 1596. Thereafter, Osse was the only site in the Aspe valley below Oloron, 16 miles to the north. (Note: Oloron, now Oloron-St. Marie, is at the confluence of the Aspe and Ossau rivers flowing out of the two valleys.) In the Ossau valley, Laruns like Borce, survived only to 1596. Bielle lasted until 1646 and Arudy to 1668 when it was closed by orders of King Louis XIV. In the Baretous valley, the ministry there closed with the death of the last minister Eusebe Barromeres in 1643.

According to Professor Chareyre what was unique about the Aspe valley was the existence of intellectual and political elites who early on espoused the cause of the Reformed religion. He mentions Bernard de Sallefranque of Borce and Lescun, the Minvielles and the Latourrettes. He identifies them as lay abbots. (Abbe laique Note: See description of David Latourrette on this site which describes David’s role as abbe laique d’Osse. In his 2005 article, it is obvious that Chareyre does not know that the Latourrette family came into the possession of the title after 1605 and, therefore, they were not lay abbots at the time of Gassiot’s appointment as a minister in 1563.)

The ministries of Gassiot Latourrette (1563-1595) and his nephew Jean Codures (1596-1613) had their roots in Osse, with both being native born and perfectly in tune with the customs and life of the village. Unlike the other ministers sent into the valley, they were not outsiders. Chareyre describes Gassiot as “fully integrated into the civilian life in the region, raising horses, including arbitrating conflicts between Osse and Borce.? Moreover, their two ministries stretched over a 50 year period from 1563 to 1613 and included most of the period of 1569 to 1620 when they used St. Etienne, formerly the Catholic Church, for their worship services.

Gassiot was an accomplished equestrian and was known for raising horses. Thus, to the villagers of Osse he was one of them and lived among them earning his own living. By marriage Codures had a very special relationship with the Reformed faith as his spouse, Marie Loustau (Lostal), was the daughter of the minister of Lembeye, Pierre Loustau (Lostal), who was martyred at Lescar in April of 1569 when Catholic armies briefly occupied Bearn. That year Osse had its own martyr for the faith in Miramond Loustau, wife of Pierre Apoey, who was related to Pastor Loustau of Lembeye.

In addition to the back-to back ministries of Latourrette and Codures at Osse over a period of 50 years between 1563 and 1613, what other conditions have been cited as factors in the persistence to today of the Reformed religion at Osse, when the mountain valleys remained Catholic?

In her short history of Osse Protestantism, found on this site, Madame Gaubil identifies a number of factors to explain why the Reformed religion persisted in the village after the Edict of Nantes was revoked in 1685 and the number of Protestants remained about half the village for the next hundred years until the Edict of Tolerance in 1787. Many of the factors she idendifies are from a theory about the ferce independence and moral character of mountain people advanced in the 19th century to explain the persistence of the Reform movemnet in Osse.

Quoting Madame Gaubil’s explanation for the longevity of the Reform religion at Osse, we have “At this time (in the 18th century after the Revocation of the Edict of Nantes), we estimate that about half of the population of Osse persist in their firm religious belief. The condemnations are far fewer than in the Piedmont because the Catholics in the village show a lot of tolerance. Here are some facts explaining these two phenomena:

  • religious worship is very personal in the high mountain communities and this is reflected in the organization of the Reform religion,
  • the spirit of mutual aid of the community: an Osse villager would not betray another Osse villager to outside authorities, especially because the Aspe Valley people strongly resent the encroachment of the royal power on their autonomy.
  • the blood relation (at different levels, but real) among all the Osse people,
  • the role of the Laclède family which seems to intervene often to help the villagers. The pursued Protestants go discreetly to knock on the doors of the Laclède (a prominent Catholic family in nearly Bedous) castle, for help,
  • maybe some money agreements with the Jurats or with the priest who is content with showing up only once in a while, except for one priest in 1725 who complains about the reticence of the "new converts",
  • "Why disturb them if they do not cause any public disorder?" asked a Jurat. The question seems to be repeated often at the time.
  • the federating role of the non -religious patrimony.?

(Citation: From Madame Gaubil history of Osse Protestantism, noted above.)

On the other hand, Professor Chareyre believes the theory of the “natural genius of the mountain people,? reflecting the independence and solitary of the mountain people identified in several of Madame Gaubil factors do not provide a coherent explanation for the survival of Protestantism in the village of Osse. “Indeed, what applies to Osse can not be applied to all of the Aspe valley or to the other Béarn valleys. After 1596, there is no mention of a pastor at Laruns nor at Borce; in the Ossau valley, that of Bielle disappears in 1646, and the church still alive at Arudy was destroyed by the edict of 1668. Only the one of Osse remains a real structure until the formal revocation of the Edict of Nantes.? (Chareyre, p. 4. Also, it appears that the creators of the theory of the “natural genius of the mountain people? did not have the benefit of recent research, as did Chareyre, that only about 10 percent of the mountain population was actually attracted to the Reform religion with the vast majority staying with Catholicism even during Queen Jeanne d’Albret’s rule after 1569.)

Then, what are the factors to which Chareyre points? This author has added additional information to Chareyre’s briefly stated explanations about the leadership of elites, the length of time of the commitment to the Reformed religion, the special cohension of the mountain people (Madame Gaubil’s point), and the role of women in the practice and maintenance of the faith.

First, as already identified, is the early and sustained involvement of local elites in favor of the Reformation. Here, Gassiot’s ministry is decisive.

Second, the long period over which the Reformed at Osse had a minister. In the first fifty years from 1563 to 1613 there were two ministers, Gassiot Latourrette and Jean Codures, both born in Osse. They were followed by 16 ministers down to Pierre Peiret, 1677-1685 for a total of 122 years of contunity of the Reform mission. Chareyre also notes that Osse is the only mountain community, and almost the only one in Bearn, to have kept a register of the consistory (minutes of the meetings with the minister, elders and deacons and with the heads of families).The registers of 1665-1685 are an invaluable source of information about the Protestants of Osse and the Latourrette family. (The registers are labelled in translation “Acts of the Consistory of the Church of Osse: May 16, 1665.? This register includes many references to David Latourrette who signs as “notaire? and Jean Latourrette who is called "Tourret."

After 1685, the Reformed of Osse went underground and the written record does not pick up again until 1758 with a register titled "Etat des pauvres de paroisse d’Osse, 1758- 1808" (State of the poor of the parish of Osse, 1758-1809) which covers, in the years before the Edict of Tolerence in 1787 and the French Revolution what is called the Desert period when the parishioners met in the mountains above Osse with itinerant ministers. A new register was created in 1805 (April 8) with the reconstruction of the temple Bethel which was dedeciated on August 4, 1805. This register runs until January 20, 1855. The Latourrette name appears frequently in both of these records and the last page of the 1805-1855 record has a signature "Latourrette/notable."

Of interest relative to the point of the Reformed of Osse maintaining their commitment to the faith is an entry in the 1805-1855 record that in 1830, 145 years after the Revocation of the Edict of Nantes in 1685, there are 83 families with 356 members of the Reformed religion in Osse. In 1665 the census of Osse indicated 75 families with at least 375, possibly 400 members. Clearly, the Protestants of Osse had maintained their religion in 1830 inspite of 210 years of repression after Bearn became part of France and was made a Catholic state in 1620.(See Cadier, Le Bearn, pp. 140-1, John E. La Tourette, Pastor Pierre Peiret and Jean Latourrette in America, 2008, p. 86, ft. 6 and the 1805-1855 registers)

After Pastor Peiret was forced to flee in 1685 there wasn’t a minister until the Desert period began in Osse in 1758. After 1758 there were eight ministers during the Desert period and until today 21 ministers after the reconstructed temple was dedeciated in 1805.

Third: Chareyre agrees with Madame Gaubil that there is a special cohension in the mountain valleys and, except for external interference, there was no lasting conflict between the two religions. This is evident in the harmony between the people of Osse today, but one must point out that France is now largely a secular state with very low church attendance among Catholics.

Fourth: Chareyre points to the special role that women played in the Reformed religion from Miramond Loustau who was martyred at Osse in 1569 to the life of Marie Blanque. See the story about Marie Blanque, included in the short history of Osse Protestantism on this site, who composed and sang songs of grief and lament at funerals, the most famous being the one she sang at the funeral of her lover who was a Laclede and Catholic from Bedous while she was a Protestant. This practice made her famous among Protestants because it was against the wishes of the Catholic authorities. Beyond this, it should be mentioned that women always played an important role in the life of the Protestant church. They were always afforded a good basic education up to age 13 and were taught to be able to read the Bible and write their names, in contrast to the high degree of illiteracy among the Catholic women.

Women also had a special role in Bearn. From the 8th century to the French Revolution in 1789, the Fors de Bearn prescribed the family structure of Osse, as well as its political, economic and social aspects. Although the oldest son was the heir to the family’s property, the heir was the oldest daughter if there were no sons. In this case, the heiress would maintain the family surname and property with her husband assuming her name. A woman also had the right annually to a full accounting of her dowry from the husband and usually the property of the marriage if the husband pre-deceased her.

Fifth: Osse was not isolated and maintained contact with other Protestant churches throughout its history. The primary contact was by means of the routes of transhumance as far as Bordeaux, where the domestic animals were taken to winter and then brought back for summer pasture. There were also what is called the Béarnaise trade circuit which included the cheese route within Bearn to Sauveterre and Orthez.

We have laid out the foundation of Protestantism in Osse and the role played in its establishment by Gassiot Latourrette, as minister from the first synod in 1563 to his death on April 8, 1595. We have seen that his nephew Jean Codures followed him until 1613 and, therefore, for 50 years the Reformed faith was firmly cemented in the village.

There is yet another story of what happened after the Revocation of the Edict of Nantes in 1685 and what role David Latourrette and Jean’s older brother Jacob may have played to sustain the faith through the years to 1758 when the Desert period began in Osse with itinerant ministers and meetings in the mountains. This is a period of 73 years or 3 generations when the Reformed faith was maintained in Osse underground. This topic will be explored in future research.