In 1697, at Salon-de-Provence, there was a young blacksmith named Francois-Michel, who lived happily with his forge, his anvil, his wife and his four children. Although he was a relation of Nostradamus on his mother’s side, he had never felt himself drawn to either the bizarreries of occultism or to the prestiges of magic.
He was a tall, ordinary fellow, jovial and smiley, who had conserved a resolute allure after his passage in the Grignan Cavalry Regiment. Very pious, he sometimes went to pray inside a little chapel situated outside the town, on the road to Marseille.
One evening while he was coming back from his devotions, he found himself, according to Saint-Simon who reports this story, “invested by a great light near a tree”. Very surprised, he stops and suddenly sees a beautiful, blonde woman appear, dressed in white, with a flaming torch in her hand.
The blacksmith is extremely moved: he is asking himself if this is the Virgin Mary.
No. After a moment, the apparition speaks in a gentle voice and introduces itself:
“Francois-Michel, I am Queen Marie-Therese… I was the spouse of King Louis XIV and I died fourteen years ago…”
Francois-Michel, afraid, wants to flee, but the ghost holds him by the shoulders:
“Don’t be afraid, I do not want to hurt you… I come to announce, in the name of God, that you must go to Versailles to speak to the King. To prove to him that your mission is of divine origin, you will tell him this which he is the only one to know: thirty years ago, he was hunting deer one day when he met a supernatural being who made his horse rear and who asked him to renounce his scandalous life… Now, listen carefully…”
The blacksmith, half-fainting with fear, nods his head. The ghost continues in a suave voice:
“I am going to give you the message that you must carry to the King. But be very careful: you must communicate it to no-one else. If you disobey, or if you neglect to go through with your mission, you will be punished by death… Before you, I have addressed myself to three Salon inhabitants. The first revealed what I had confided to him to his wife. He died immediately at her feet. The second who, he too, revealed my secret, is also dead, as well as the third. A similar fate is reserved for you if you reveal my words to any other but His Majesty…”
Francois-Michel, who had learnt of the mysterious deaths of three inhabitants of the town, his neighbours, in the preceding days, promises to be discrete.
Then, the Queen’s ghost leans over and tells him in a soft voice what he must say to Louis XIV, in the name of the Lord.
Then it disappears and the blacksmith finds himself alone in the night, beside the tree, asking himself if he had dreamt it or if this spectre, whose perfume is still on his jacket, really did appear to him…
After a long moment of reflection, he returns home, persuaded that he had been the plaything of an illusion and decided to speak to no-one about this adventure.
But two days later, as he is passing by the same spot, the spectre appears again to him and tells him the same thing, before adding:
“Careful, Francois-Michel, I know that you have doubts about me… How can one doubt the word of a dead person? You know that dead people don’t lie. Even more so when that person is a Queen of France…”
No-one had ever told the blacksmith that dead people didn’t lie, but it seems to him that it is quite logical, and he is ashamed of his doubts… Then, he receives the order to go to tell the Intendant de Provence what he had seen. The Queen’s spectre says to him:
“You will tell him that I have ordered you to go to Versailles, and I am sure that he will give you what you need to pay for your trip…”
This time, Francois-Michel is convinced. But Saint-Simon tells us “floating between fear of punishments and the difficulties of the execution”, he hesitates to undertake the arrangements.
Another week goes by, during which he tergiverses with himself. But one evening when he is passing near the chapel, the Queen appears to him again. She is not smiling: her eyes are glittering, her voice is hard, her tone is threatening.
A ghost is already very impressive. An angry ghost is terrifying. Francois-Michel trembles and swears that he will obey.
In fact, two days later, he goes to Aix to find Le Bret, the Intendant of the province, who receives him privately. Francois-Michel tells him that he has met the ghost of Queen Marie-Therese, who had died fourteen years before, and that the Queen has ordered him to go to see the King at Versailles, and that Intendant Le Bret would give him the money for the trip. The Intendant finds this attempt to extort money from him very amusing and rather ingenious, but a bit silly all the same…
“But I swear that it is all true. I saw this ghost three times near the Saint-Anne Chapel.. Just like I see you, Monsieur… It spoke to me. And I have a mission to accomplish with the King…”
Intendant Le Bret is now convinced that he is dealing with an illumine. Francois-Michel guesses what he is thinking.
“I’m not crazy, Monsieur l’Intendant, make enquiries about me.”
This tall young man of thirty-six with a clear gaze and flourishing health does not in fact appear to be deranged. Le Bret is perplexed.
“Give me a few days. I’ll think about it.”
And, very intrigued by this story, he orders an investigation of Francois-Michel from the Lieutenant-general de Salon, the following day.
A report is soon on his desk. In it can be read that the blacksmith is a highly respected man in his town, with a healthy body and mind, and is known for his good sense.
So, the Intendant convokes Francois-Michel, makes him repeat all the details of the apparition, and finally – as extraordinary as this may seem – gives him the money necessary for the trip.
On the evening of 9 April 1697, Francois-Michel arrives at Versailles and books into an inn. He is scarcely inside his bedchamber when, suddenly, the ghost that he knows well, thanks him for having obeyed it and gives him a few pieces of friendly advice for succeeding in his mission. This time, the ghost is charming! It tells him:
“You will doubtless have a few difficulties in obtaining a private audience; but beware of discouragement, and above all do not let anyone know of your secret if you don’t want to die instantaneously…”
To be continued.