When Calvin and Farel were expelled from Geneva in 1538, Calvin began preaching in the French church in Strasburg, where Jean and Idelette attended services. How curious they must have been to hear Calvin, who was already well known for writing the Institutes of the Christian Religion. Convinced of the Reformed truth, Jean and Idelette soon left the Anabaptists and joined Calvin’s church. There they acquired a love for Scripture and its central place in worship. They also enjoyed the clear preaching, pastoral care, and warm friendship of their leader.
At this time, Idelette was already exhibiting a strong commitment to Christ and a teachable spirit. Instead of resenting Calvin’s stern policy against the Anabaptists, she read the Institutes and learned to appreciate Calvin’s devotion to the Word of God. She and her husband attended many of Calvin’s daily Bible lectures. They were also very hospitable to Calvin. Calvin enjoyed their friendship and considered them, as they called themselves, his disciples. He admired “the simplicity and sanctity of their lives.”
Jean Stordeur’s death was a profound blow to Idelette. Not only did she miss her dear husband, but she had no way to support herself and her children as a widow. However, shortly after Stordeur’s death, Bucer asked Calvin, “What about the gentle Idelette?” Though Calvin had formerly thought of Idelette as a dear sister in Christ, he now began to reconsider that relationship. While working hard to expand the Institutes from six chapters to seventeen, he must have periodically had Bucer’s question “Why not Idelette?” echoing in his mind. After all, the woman was godly, kind, and intelligent. Though she was a few years older than Calvin, she was strikingly youthful-looking and attractive. Machiel van den Berg noted that “the extroverted Farel expressed his astonishment that she was such a pretty woman!” Ultimately, though, it was the evident fruit of Colossians 3:12 in Idelette’s life that impressed Calvin, who pursued godliness in every aspect of his life.
Calvin had enjoyed Idelette’s hospitality both before and after her first husband had died. Those visits increased when Calvin formally began to court Idelette. A few months later, on August 17, 1540, Calvin married Idelette, taking her and her children (a son and daughter) into his home. Friends came from near and far to attend Calvin’s wedding.
Idelette was quiet, unassuming, cheerful, and yet sober. Theodore Beza, Calvin’s first reliable biographer, called her a most choice woman—“a serious-minded woman of good character.” Although she was petite and suffered from poor health, Idelette devoted all her strength to educating her children. Idelette’s faithfulness amid the hardships she faced indicated her meekness and humility. These responses did not mean that she was weak or fearful, however. Following Christ on the path of suffering takes great strength and courage, and Idelette submitted patiently to God’s various providences.
To make room for Idelette and her children in his little home in Strasburg, Calvin had to let two of his renters go. Letting these sources of revenue go was a significant sacrifice for Calvin, considering his meager salary, but he appears to have made it gladly. Only weeks after he was married, he wrote to Farel about how pleased he was with his new wife. As van den Berg writes, Calvin “clearly found marriage a special experience of joy.” Van den Berg goes on to say that their “marriage was more than simply a rational agreement; it became a true and solid bond of love and loyalty. The quiet and patient Idelette was an exceptionally suitable friend-in-marriage.”
Shortly after he married Idelette, Calvin went to Regensburg to attend a theological debate. While he was gone, the plague hit Strasburg. One of Calvin’s closest friends, Claude Feray, died from it. Calvin worried about Idelette, who took refuge outside the city. He wrote, “Day and night my wife is in my thoughts, now that she is deprived of my counsel and must do without her husband.” Eventually Calvin could not take the worry anymore; he left the debate early to return to Idelette.
Idelette and Calvin stayed in Strasburg for less than a year before Calvin was called back to Geneva to continue his great work as a Reformer. The stress of this decision weighed heavily on him. Calvin’s letters from this period indicate that he was very happy in Strasburg and did not want to return to Geneva. He wrote to Farel, “I dread throwing myself into that whirlpool I found so dangerous.” While we have no account of Idelette’s thoughts and feelings at that time, the couple decided to move to Geneva in response to the will of God. Idelette’s daughter, Judith, accompanied them, while her son remained in Strasburg with relatives.
While the Genevan city council provided a beautiful parsonage for Idelette and Calvin at the top of the Rue de Chanoines—it had a little garden and a magnificent view of Lake Leman and the Jura mountains on one side and the Alps on the other—Calvin received only a salary of about $200 per year, twelve measures of corn, and two casks of wine. Though the resources at her disposal were very modest, Idelette gladly opened up her home to numerous refugees and frequently extended hospitality to Calvin’s friends, such as Farel, Beza, and Pierre Viret, who all highly respected her.