The Curate puts himself on the side of the authorities, and stops giving exorcisms. On 30 September 1860, he climbs to the pulpit, contemplates his congregation for a long moment, then solemnly tells them:
“Brothers, Friends!… I confess my error before you: the illness which strikes us does not come at all from the devil… It is a disease whose causes are purely natural!…”
His words are covered by frightful clamours, and he has to duck to avoid flying prayer books. Around thirty furies want to attack the pulpit.
Abbot Pinget and his vicar, assisted by all the Municipal Council members, have a lot of trouble getting everyone to calm down. They have to brutally dislodge the possessed clinging to the pulpit so that the curate is able to finish his sermon…
The sous-prefet’s initiative has however borne fruit. The police patrols the streets, and all those who lose control in public are locked up. The illness recedes a little, but continues to simmer inside homes.
Then, at the beginning of the year 1861, a Swiss citizen, who says that he is a magnetiser, arrives in Morzine. He promises to heal everyone, asking only that they co-operate with him. He assures them that, if they help him, they won’t regret it…
One night, he leads a good part of the inhabitants, armed with pitchforks and axes, to a little chapel in ruins, seven kilometres away. The crowd, preceded by torches, soon arrives on foot at this edifice, which a Morzine curate, Abbot Corbin, had had built in the past. The strange magnetiser declaims:
“It is you, Corbin, you fiend, who are the cause of everything!”
Assisted by a woodcutter, he disembowels a black dog on the chapel steps. He then rips out its liver which he stabs eighteen times with a sabre. Incantations and cabalistic formulae accompany this unbewitchment while the peasants dig a hole in the centre of the chapel. The magical liver is buried in the hole.
As can be imagined, this nocturnal ceremony so troubles people’s minds that, the very next day, a dozen new cases of delirium are declared.
Those among the Morzinois who succeed in keeping a steady head then decide to flee the epidemic by selling their pastures and their houses. Alas, no buyers present themselves…
This is when Monsieur de Persigny, the Minister for the Interior, himself, takes things in hand. He sends to Morzine Rector Cousteries, Inspector General of the Service for the Mentally Deranged, with full powers.
Three weeks later, a real war dispositive has been put in place. Gendarmes patrol the village all day, a special infirmary functions and a whole infantry detachment is brought in to be lodged with the inhabitants.
The possessed are scattered around in all of the surrounding villages, some as far away as one hundred kilometres. The State largely participates in the cost of the installation. The length of Mass is reduced, and all those who make an exhibition of themselves, or spread false rumours, are imprisoned. The doctor, who prescribes only natural remedies, writes:
“The arrival of our troops in Morzine produces an effect more marvellous than all the exorcisms.”
All goes so well that, in 1863, the illness can be considered definitively over. The sick are returned to their families and those who still have a few slight relapses are treated with bromide.
To celebrate the healing of the Morzinois, and also put a final end to this story, it is then decided to have Monsignor the Bishop come with his prestigious decorum… Some prominent people worry a bit about it, but others, led by the prefet, consider that this would be a sort of proof which would attest to the inhabitants’ recovered health.
The Bishop has no sooner set foot in the parish, than already eighty frantic creatures climb onto tombstones, scream and writhe around the church, before attacking it, with the aim of hurting the Prelate. They clamour:
“Wolf of a bishop! We must rip out his eyes. He does not have the power to cure the girl. Non! He can’t chase the devil out of the girl.”
In an instant, the whole village explodes in convulsions. Bodies arched, frothing at the mouth, big sticks in hand, which are used to give continuous beatings to the river, the women scream and tear out their hair.
Those who are in the church leap on the Bishop who receives kicks and punches which make him spill the holy oils on the floor… One possessed woman even manages to tear off his episcopal ring.
These strange faithful then beg him to heal them. Warned by the disastrous effects of the exorcism, a few years earlier, the Bishop refuses… In the departement, there is consternation, for everything has to be started again from zero. The gendarmes, the troops, riflemen and infantry, re-occupy this citadelle of Satan and, once again, the curate is changed.
The sous-prefet then has an idea. Isn’t boredom the best soil in which to grow devils? he askes himself as he strides through the dull little streets of the town. The Municipal Council then decides to raise a magnificent marching band, at great expense. It will keep all the inhabitants busy, because those who aren’t part of it will be able to come to see the rehearsals.
In great pomp, under the direction of Chief Roch, it performs its first concert at Christmas. This particular year, Abbot Valentin decides to celebrate a Mass hardly longer than a military march.
The Mission is cancelled in February 1865, and the soldiers finish cleaning the bed of the stream which is, in places, a real cesspool.
Gradually, everything goes back to normal. There is a slight relapse in 1870, another three years later. The road which should have connected Morzine to Thonon ages ago, is at last finished…
To be continued.