Archive for October, 2010


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.

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The Winter of 1857 has been long and very hard in Haute-Savoie.  When, at last, in mid-March, the days start to lengthen a little, and the remaining ice on the banks of the Leman begins to melt, the Savoyards are greatly relieved.  Morzine, in the arrondissement of Thonon-les-Bains, has particularly suffered.  The little Alpine town of 1,500 inhabitants has been cut off from the rest of the world for nearly three months.  So, in the tightly bunched little houses whose slate rooves are caving in, in some places, under the weight of the snow, the minds of the Morzinois have been very much turned in on themselves.

Monsieur the Curate does what he can to chase away any deviating thoughts.  This year, he has zealously prepared his little girls, with particular care, for their First Holy Communion.  On the eve of the great day, around five o’clock, little Peronne leaves the church, where she has been to Confession…

In the afternoon, she had run alongside the torrent to watch the water being engulfed inside the last tunnels of ice.  One of her little friends had almost been swept away after slipping.  Peronne had rushed to her and succeeded in pulling her out of there.

Has this incident strongly marked her?…  Around five o’clock, when she comes back to the Sisters of Saint-Vincent’s school, she collapses on her bench.  She is taken to her home unconscious, and only wakes up three hours later….  As if nothing had happened.  But, the following Sunday, at Mass, she falls again into her strange sleep, emerging this time only in the afternoon.

In the first days of May, Peronne and her sister Marie are guarding sheep.  They are found lying in the grass, both plunged into a deep lethargic sleep, as if fused to each other.

Soon, the sickness progresses in both little girls.  Now, before falling into catalepsy, they are taken with convulsions.  They blaspheme, and proffer all sorts of horrors while throwing their arms in the air.

The attacks are now happening even at school.  During their convulsions, they scream that demons have taken possession of them.  They look fixedly at the sky, stretch out their arms, as if to receive something which is going to fall from the sky.  They then mime the movements of someone opening a letter and reading it.  Over the pages, their expression goes through different degrees of anxiety, joy, terror…

At last, they claim that the three demons who are installed in their bodies are called the Miser, the Thief and the Woodcutter.

And now, the illness of the little sisters is becoming contagious.  Suddenly, in the small room heated by a big woodburning stove, one little girl stands up, spinning her arms like propellers.  Another, when questioned, is unable to hear, and for days, can only communicate by signs.  Another one again becomes a somnambulist in full daylight, while her neighbour twists herself with pain on the ground, because seven devils have suddenly entered into her stomach.

In other words, the peaceful school of the good Sisters of Saint-Vincent is transformed into a lunatic asylum…

But, that’s not all.  Respectable mothers are also struck by the disease.  Jeanne Boraz, a woman of thirty, mother of four children, opens the sabbath by letting out pitiful cries, before collapsing in convulsions.

The Mass of the Festival of the Assumption, usually joyful and meditative, this time resounds with the cries of the possessed.  As soon as the Kyrie is heard, little girls and grown women convulsing make a deafening noise.  The poor curate can shake his sprinkler as much as he wants;  Holy Water on heads has the same effect as flaming pitch.

The one and only doctor in Morzine, Doctor Buet, is rapidly out of his depth.  At the end of May, he alerts the authorities.  It’s the Sardinian carabiniers who investigate because, in 1857, Savoie is not yet attached to France.  Doctor Tavernier, a doctor from Thonon, armed with an Official Mission Order, is also sent to the scene.  He goes first of all to the school, where he witnesses a complete pot-pourri of satanic manifestations.

It’s very impressive, and Doctor Tavernier just jots down in his notebook for that day that, after their attacks, the possessed little girls appear to wake up from a dream.  Their mothers do too.

He concludes that it is a collective delirium, which will only propagate if the sick people are not isolated.  Even if it doesn’t deliver the nature of the illness which is attacking the Morzinoises, this diagnosis is at least very reasonable.  But the inhabitants refuse to listen.  They say that little Marie and little Peronne have been touched by a witch from Gets, and that that is the origine of this generalized diabolical possession.

On top of that, Julienne Perot, who is suddenly endowed with the gift of prophecy, assures that the whole village is going to suffer from it.

It is whispered as well that it is a defrocked priest, now living in Geneva, 70 km away from there, who is responsible for this bewitchment.  The good curate of Morzine then decides to take the devil by the horns, as it were.  He distributes exorcisms all over the place, which of course only reinforces the generalized psychosis.

It is now 1860 and the number of possessed, having since become subjects of the Emperor, is over one hundred and fifty.  Alerted by this disturbing progression, Napoleon III’s Government sends to Morzine, on an Extraordinary Mission, Doctor Arthaud, from Lyon.  He has no trouble in convincing himself that the lugubrious spectacle, which the Morzinois see every day, is playing a determining role in the extension of the illness.

With the Government’s agreement, the sous-prefet of Thonon then decides to strike a decisive blow:  he is going to have thrown into prison all those who wriggle around in convulsions.

To be continued.

Doctor Jean-Rene Lambert, who lived in different parts of the Congo from 1930 to 1939 wrote about something in his Souvenirs which has several points in common with the story of Charlemagne and the magic ring.

Doctor Lambert has just treated a young man called Mumba for enteritis.  The young man has fainted, and the doctor has handed him over to his young wife, Mayi, whom the boy made fall in love with him via a magic stone which he carries on him at all times.  The doctor continues his story.

“Mumba had hardly left before I found on the ground the stone that had been given to him by the sorcerer.  It must have slipped from his belt.  I was going to run after him to return it, when I had the idea of attempting an experiment, and I put the stone in my pocket.  We would see if this object had any power.  The answer came without delay.

“The next morning, I discovered, with the astonishment that can be imagined, Mayi crouched in front of my door, looking at me tenderly.  Greatly embarrassed by this little black girl in love, who didn’t want to leave me, I hurried off to give back the stone to Mumba, and all returned to normal…  But I was able to see for myself the extraordinary effects of this object prepared by a sorcerer whose knowledge – the thing being proven to me once more – was far greater than my superficial white doctor’s knowledge.”

Docteur Lambert says “once more” because, elsewhere in his book, he recounts that he had been able to see the magical powers of certain sorcerers over rain, wind and storms.

***

Most explorers will tell you that in certain traditional civilizations – which certain ethnologists still scornfully call primitive civilizations – there are initiates capable of using forces which are unknown to us.  In New Caledonia, for example, numerous cases of Canaques of both sexes being “emboucanes” through sorcerers, and made amorous, are still cited today…

***

So, it is possible that Charlemagne was also “emboucane” by a Carolingian sorcerer endowed with the same powers as the Congolese nyanga or the Canaque magicians…  Who knows?

***

Mosaic from Saint-Jean-de-Latran, in Rome, dating from the end of the VIIIth Century. We see that the Carolingian Emperor, Charlemagne (Charles I of the Francs), did not wear a beard, in spite of the legend that says that he did. He wore only a moustache.

The Carolingian Emperor Charlemagne

Charlemagne had fallen in love with Archbishop Turpin.

And, from that moment on, he followed him everywhere, declared that he could not live without him, looked at him with passionate eyes, caressed his hands and called him “my gentle doe”…

Frightened, the prelate ran to barricade himself inside his chamber, took off the German lady’s ring which he had imprudently slipped onto his finger, and tried to think what to do.  He knew that if the magic object were to fall into the hands of unscrupulous people, the Emperor, blinded by a new passion, would risk being led to perform the most senseless acts…

And, in the end, Turpin went out and threw the ring into the lake.

Then, Charlemagne fell in love with the lake.

And his passion was so great that he could be seen walking by it for whole days at a time, talking to his beloved.  He said to those close to him:

“Nothing is sweeter to me than to be near it.  Look how amiable it is!”

And, so as not to be separated from it, he had the town of Aix-la-Chapelle built on its banks.  This town became his residence, and he asked to be buried there when he died…

***

This story was believed for five hundred years.  When Petrarque, who had heard it in Aix, reported it in his Lettres familieres, it seems that a slight doubt crossed his mind.  But only a slight one…  He believed it, like everybody else.

***

It was believed because it was about Charlemagne.  The people always has a tendency to magnify those whom it admires and to make them heroes of legends, endowed with supernatural powers.  It seemed normal to them that Charlemagne, whose exploits marvelled crowds, had played a role in a fairy story.  There are other examples.  In 1821, thousands of people refused to believe that Napoleon was dead:  Napoleon could not die…  They accused the English of spreading false rumours:  legends circulated and it was said that he had escaped from Sainte-Helene, that he was in America, that he was going to return…  The people believed him to be supernatural.

Another more recent example:  it was said of General de Gaulle that he was especially lucky, that bullets could not harm him, that he couldn’t have an accident.  Such a person already has a special aura.  Therefore, it was quite normal that Charlemagne’s contemporaries, for whom he was an exceptional being, were able to believe the story of the magic ring.

***

Another hypothesis is that the story is true.  Ethnologists and explorers report things about objects endowed with magical powers that are used by certain sorcerers in Amazonia, Australia or black Africa.  In particular, there is the witness statement of Doctor Jean-Rene Lambert, who lived in different parts of the Congo from 1930 to 1939.  Let us look at the extraordinary story that he relates in his Souvenirs.  We can see that it has a few points in common with that of Charlemagne…

“One day, a young man from the village came to find me in the hut where I was giving my consultations.  I knew him from having treated his panaris a few months beforehand.  His name was Mumba and he could have been about twenty-five years old.

“I asked him what he was suffering from.  He lowered his head like a guilty person and remained mute.  I am not a patient person:

“”Well, answer me,” I said to him.  “If you come to see me, it is because you are ill.  Where are you suffering?”

“As he continued in his silence, I shook him:

“”Listen, I have no time to waste.  Tell me what’s wrong with you, or go away!”

“Then I heard this astounding sentence:

“”Give me something to make her love me!…”

“Understanding that I had to change my tone of voice, I gently and affectionately interrogated him, and he confided to me that he loved a young girl in the village, whose name was Mayi, that she didn’t want him and that he was very unhappy.

“Not knowing what to say, I advised him to be patient.  He shook his head:

“”No, if I wait, she will love another.  Help me, Doctor, give me one of your little bottles.”

“I explained to him that none of my little bottles could make a woman fall in love, and that, also, I knew of nothing in this world that had that power.  He looked at me, very astonished.

“”Then, I’ll ask the nyanga,” he said to me with a sigh.

“The nyanga was a sort of sorcerer.  A few days later, Mumba came back to see me.  He was smiling.

“”Now she is going to love me,” he told me.  “The nyanga gave me this stone which I must carry on me day and night.”

“He showed me a little stone engraved with mysterious signs.

“”It will attract Mayi to me!…”

“The fine boy’s confidence was both so absolute and so touching that I didn’t want to cast any shadow on it by my white man’s scepticism.

“A few more days passed and Mumba visited me again.  This time, he was radiant:

“”It’s done,” he told me.  “Yesterday, she came to join me while I was near the river…  Since then, she hasn’t left me…  Look!”

“Outside, Mayi was waiting, with a submissive air.  When Mumba left me, she ran towards him with an ecstatic smile and tenderly caressed his shoulders.

“From then on, they were always seen together and they married.

“However, one day, Mumba came to consult me.  He was suffering from atrocious intestinal pain.  I had him undress, examined him, diagnosed enteritis and gave him a few remedies.

“”Drink that and go home to bed,” I told him.

“He dressed, stumbling with pain, and fell to the floor in a fainting fit.  I picked him up and handed him over to Mayi who was waiting outside.”

To be continued.

The Carolingian Emperor Charlemagne on a mosaic at Saint-Jean-de-Latran, in Rome, dating from the end of the VIIIth Century.

We know that Charlemagne was a great ladies’ man.  As he aged, his taste for women and girls became even more pronounced and he fell completely in love with a German princess, whose name, unfortunately, History has not retained.

Petrarque, who reports the facts, tells us that he was so in love that he neglected not only the affairs of the kingdom, but also the care of his own person.  He could be seen roaming around his palace heaving great sighs, his arms dangling and his eyes fixed on the German lady.  His clothes were rumpled, his fingernails black, his hair dirty and, he, who had never worn a beard, forgot to shave…  In other words, love was making him pitiful.

His entourage watched him in great astonishment.  Violent, red-blooded, sensual, Charlemagne was not in the habit of wilting away over a young lady.  In general, he was a lot more expeditive.  Everyone remembered what he had done to the gentle Amalberge.  One day, while this amiable young girl was walking in the palace corridors, Charlemagne, who had conceived a great passion for her, saw her.  Taken with the sudden desire to violate her on the spot, he threw himself on her and furiously crushed her against him.  Panicked, the young virgin managed to escape and ran to take refuge in a chapel where she knelt before the altar.  Charlemagne had followed her.  He entered the holy place, bounded on his prey and seized her with such violence that he broke one of her arms.  Rather ashamed, he bowed his head and apologised.

He was about to call for help.  But Heaven did not give him time.  The Holy Virgin, whose statue was close by, performed a miracle and knitted the two parts of the damaged humerus together.  Charlemagne, very impressed by this intervention, no longer dared display his ardour;  he bowed to the young girl, left the chapel in as dignified a way as possible and went for a little walk to cool off.

This adventure had marked people’s minds.  To the point that, when Amalberge died from a bad furuncle, the Church, who always gives credit where credit is due, considered that, to resist Charlemagne’s advances, she must have needed supernatural courage, and declared that the young girl must have been a saint.  She was canonised…

The Emperor was the first to kneel before her statue and pray to her…

Remembering these times when Charlemagne was so enterprising with the ladies, rapid in his conquests and precise in his gestures, the members of his Court shook their heads:  the great Charles was not the same.  He looked unhappy, he stumbled around, a dazed look on his face.  He seemed exhausted.

For weeks, thinking of his young German girl, the Emperor was literally consumed, refusing delicious foods, pushing away pitchers of fine wines, showing no interest in the curvy charms of the palace ladies…

One day, at last, the young girl who was the object of so much passion, accepted his attentions, and Charlemagne was once again bright-eyed, with a fresh complexion, a sprightly step, shining hair, and a well-trimmed moustache…  But he still didn’t interest himself in the affairs of State, for, from morning to night, he was with his ravishing mistress.  They were seen swimming together, prancing around on little Hungary horses, playing chess, and kissing each other on window-seats.  In other words, he could not stand to be separated from her for even a second.  He seemed bewitched…

After a few months, the young woman suddenly became ill, took to her bed, and died…  The whole Court then hoped that Charlemagne would consecrate himself energetically to the affairs of the Empire, to help him forget his pain.  Not at all.   He still refused to be separated from his dead beloved, just as he had while she was alive.  He refused to have her buried.  Worse, he wanted her to be installed on a parade bed, dressed in her most beautiful gown, wearing sparkling jewels.  All day, he remained beside her, talking to her, telling her anecdotes, discussing palace events.  At night, he came to lie down beside her.  In the morning, he embraced her passionately and made extravagant speeches to her.  One morning, the officers and the guards heard him address the cadaver, whose state of corruption was starting to be frightful, saying to it in a joyful tone:

“My gentle one, my beautiful wild rose, Spring is beautiful this morning.  And you are ravishing…”

They were dismayed.

Finally, Archbishop Turpin, prelate of Cologne, became worried.  Thinking that the Emperor’s disorder and his mad passion for a cadaver were due to some spell, he decided to investigate.  And, one evening when Charlemagne had gone out, he penetrated the chamber where the dead woman lay, searched her clothes, minutiously visited her body, and ended up finding, under the deceased’s tongue, a stone set in a ring.  Persuaded that this was the cause of the spell, he took the jewel away with him.

A short time later, Charlemagne returned, looking different, which surprised his entourage.  Petrarque tells us that he seemed to have woken from a deep sleep, and looked at everything with astonishment.  Then he went into the chamber, and was heard to yell:

“Why is there a cadaver in my bed?  It must be buried straight away.  Its odour is disgusting!”

And, without bothering any more with this dead woman whom he had so loved, he left the palace and went, as if pushed by a supernatural force, to the home of Archbishop Turpin.  The prelate welcomed him enthusiastically, and asked to what he owed the honour of such a visit.  Charlemagne declared that he loved him.

To be continued.

The first part of Elisabeth de Ranfaing’s life is marked by sexual repression aggravated by hysteria.  Among the many studies consecrated to her, is that of the great French neurologist and psychiatrist, Jean Lhermitte.  In Mystiques et Faux Mystiques, he firstly concludes that all those who had seen Elisabeth de Ranfaing suspended in the air had been victims of hallucinations or trickery.  His argumentation is, however, limited to considerations of a purely scientific order:  absence of any verifiable document establishing the reality of the levitation phenomena, comparison with the trickery of Indian fakirs making spectators believe that a child is able to climb a rope that they have thrown into the air:  in fact, this trick does not resist photographic testing, which proves that the witnesses were toys of a creator of illusions… which is in itself a pretty good trick.

In fact, Lhermitte explains most of the exceptional gifts of this saintly maniac by the faith of the witnesses, exorcists, doctors or other believers…  The people present at these seances are so convinced of their prodigious character that they are ready to believe the miraculous thesis for which Elisabeth has prepared them in advance.  The doctor writes that, apart from the fact that

“hysterics are endowed with remarkable gifts of observation and intuition comparable with that of animals when it is a question of fooling, of deceiving, of mystifying”,

this shows that the young woman was highly intelligent, which is also solidly established by the rest of her life.

***

Generally, the great hysterics are also mentally retarded.  When their attacks are over, they fall into a state of apathy, or even stupor, which is typical of certain types of insanity.  During the attacks, they often exhibit a lot of indecency or scream absurdities.

This is not the case with Elisabeth, who, in her comportment, remains always strangely decent and professes, in diverse languages, subtle theological truths…

From 1626, she becomes the prestigious founder of a religious order the “Refuge”, dedicated to repentant prostitutes and girls locked up on the King’s order (lettre de cachet) for their immoral lifestyle.  She is surrounded by a real mystical court, frequented by numerous prominent Jesuits, which forms the heart of a secret congregation.  Its members communicate with each other via a coded language, which is hidden from the superior religious authorities.

Thanks to the famous medals blessed by Elisabeth, the Refuge collects enormous sums of money and soon develops branches as far away as Provence which she administers with authority and competence.  At the same time, the congregation of the “medallists” undertakes, at her instigation, a secret campaign for the regeneration of the Church, notably installing the reiteration of baptism:  we are now in total heresy!…  The illuminism of the group was also centred on the sexual problems which had for so long devastated the heart and body of their inspirer.  All of Elisabeth’s disciples said that they were persecuted by succubus demons whose exploits, seen as “mortifications”, were commented in detail by the congregation’s adepts.

Suddenly, in 1644, at the end of a long enquiry by the ecclesiastical authorities, the “medallist” priests are ordered, under threat of excommunication, to break off all ties with Elisabeth de Ranfaing.  Rome’s judgement annihilates all the dreams of the Refuge’s founder, who survives only a few months after her disgrace…

***

Jean Vartier, in a book consecrated to Elisabeth’s case, maintains that, not only did she do nothing to save Doctor Poirot from the stake, but that her biographers were unable to find that she had cried one tear of regret over the ashes of the one who had loved her passionately and disinterestedly…

***

This attitude may seem strange for a saint.  But it is difficult to judge in terms of the absolute.  Andre Breton says that

“everything leads us to believe that there exists a certain spiritual point from where life and death cease to be seen in contradiction with each other”.

Effectively, what could the existence of poor Poirot weigh against the formidable challenge that this mystical woman had set for herself, for the carnal part of her being?  Until her death, which came early, no-one could have accused her of having the least complacency for her body.  We may find this excessive, even sick.  Elisabeth’s contemporaries judged it differently.  When she died, thousands of Lorraine people, persuaded of her sainthood, tried to tear a little piece of material from the deathbed which, by the way, gave off an exquisite odour.  From her heart, locked up in a silver reliquary, a balsamic liquid seeped for a long time, and appeared to operate many miracles.

Her cause of beatification was started and the miracles were corroborated.  It was the excesses of the “medallists” which finally prevented her from being a new Catherine of Sienna or an Angela of Foligno…

Her mortuary mask, of troubling beauty, is still visible at the Maison de Secours in Nancy.  It is next to the washing beetle which she used to beat the prostitutes who hesitated to whip themselves as hard as she did herself…

***

Monsignor the Bishop of Toul is remembering how the young, gifted Doctor Poirot had tried to seduce a saint and had been burnt alive for it.  He continues the story, as seen through his eyes.

At the sight of several men about to start eating some food, which they are taking from a basket, during a pilgrimage to Saint-Mont, half-an-hour’s walk from Elisabeth de Ranfaing’s home, the saint suddenly realises the meaning of the premonitory dream that she had had the previous night:  a great multitude of strong, robust men were dragging her to a barbaric altar, dedicated to Cupid, and had obliged her to kneel before this lascive god.  Among her torturers, she had perfectly recognized Doctor Poirot, who, once more, said that he loved her with a platonic love, inseparable from the veneration that he had for her as a saint.

The widow’s friends tried to persuade her that the men were not going to eat her alive, but, pale and trembling, she rushed into the chapel to reiterate her vows of eternal chastity, at the feet of Mary.  She came out again one hour later, for she had to eat.  Poirot was there, radiating malevolent joy, complimenting her, worrying about her pallor, advising her not to drink only water, in other words, acting like a real succubus demon, ready to descend onto its prey.  He is also the one who, with fake courtesy, distributes a piece of salted pork to everyone.

He had hidden a philtre under the pork…  Elisabeth had hardly tasted it than she felt herself to be bewitched and suffered the

“inexplicable torment of seeing her mind filled with thoughts, and her heart with feelings, of affection for the person for whom it horrified her to have them”

as her historiographer d’Argombat wrote.

From this cursed day, she knew no rest.  She could cry as much as she wanted, become desperate, run through her apartment like a madwoman, the image of the charming doctor pursued her.  When, at the end of her tether, she had him called, she first went into her boudoir to clean herself up a bit or to pinch her cheeks that dismay had paled.  She immediately pulled herself together, whipped herself until she bled, and begged her confessor to tie her to the column of her bed until “her tongue and her heart were in accord”.

Luckily, Poirot had no idea of the trouble he had caused.  Otherwise, he would have forced his perverse talent to take advantage of her.  Meanwhile, he had the nerve to diagnose that his victim had “the mother illness”, which in Lorraine parlance, meant “hysteria”.  Luckily, Pichard, his colleague and vigilant enemy, recused this sacrilegious diagnosis and spoke of possession in the form of a “uterine furor, erotic and true love madness”.

As her pain augmented, the saint conveniently remembers that several months beforehand, she had accidentally met Poirot, and that he had thrown into her face “a smelly breath where the spell was enclosed”.  From the magical piece of salted pork to a poisoned burp, the family was beginning to have enough, and some courageous relatives proposed killing the tempter.  The saint begged them to let her suffer a little more.  She was bearing up well under the repeated exorcisms that were having more and more difficulty in shoring up her courage.

At the end of her strength, she at last consents, in March 1621, to give the name of her tormentor during an exorcism.  It is, of course, Poirot, who, present at the seance, pretends to be astounded.  In vain, he cooks up the cowardly project of fleeing the duchy.  The good Duke Henri II has him arrested.

The Extraordinary Commissionaries charged with judging him knew full well the long suffering endured by Elisabeth because of this fiend, and promised to be diligent.  They shaved him from head to toe and sounded him everywhere with long needles.  Satan in this man knew so well how to hide that no diabolical mark could be established with certainty.  His fingers were crushed in screws, he was stretched on a ladder, a thousand sufferings were inflicted on him, with no result…

It was also in vain that an attempt was made to make the Devil say again the name of his accomplice, through the saint’s mouth.  The Evil One didn’t want to do it again, for, he said, it made him die to denounce his henchmen.  The exorcist reminded him that he had already done it once, but to no avail… the Evil One indicated that the first time he did it in spite of himself, because the Virgin Mary, who also had her entries into Elisabeth’s soul, had forced him to do it.  How can you reason with the Devil?…

Poirot, in any case, is locked up in a nice, humid cell until, in March the following year, a woman, that some said was ill, but who was more likely a witch, reveals that he had been a marvellous sabbath companion for her.  Out of nowhere, here at last was good proof which allowed the saint to be freed of him without delay.  As early as the 7 April, the sentence falls and the two miserable people, dressed in gowns steeped in sulphur which would not make their demise any more agreeable, but allowed the people of Lorraine to smell the proximity of Hell, expired in flames…

This fire also consumes whatever was still unsure in Elisabeth’s faith, traversed by too many influences and uncertainties.  Soon, she would be authorised to take the habit, to found and direct a powerful charitable institution and, after another time of trials and also denigration, she will perform many miracles, attested by thousands of Lorraine inhabitants, who file past her physical remains…

To be continued.

On 31 May 1621, in the Jesuit noviciate chapel in Nancy, Madame Elisabeth de Ranfaing, a saint possessed by devils, is about to perform.  She has invited Monsignor, the Bishop of Toul.  He is in the front row, surrounded by canons, scholars and Jesuits.  Father Sebastien Beudot, the lady’s ordinary confessor, and Father Francois Poire, her extraordinary confessor, are also there, both rather nervous as usual, just before the raising of the curtain on the performance which they consider each time to be a grande premiere.

They say, as they slip a medal into the pocket of the faithful – in exchange for a modest donation –  that if the devils attack their penitent so much, it is because God has permitted that she bear this cross to test her exemplary conduct.  The medals had been put into the care of Elisabeth’s guardian angel, and are directly blessed (with no intermediary) by the Holy Trinity.  They procure so many indulgences that there are fewer and fewer fools in Lorraine to deprive themselves of them.

The devils have no sooner started to work on the saint, than everyone present is convinced that the spectacle, this time, will outdo anything that has been seen previously…

To begin, the beautiful Madame de Ranfaing’s neck swells to the point that her head appears to be directly fixed onto her body.  Doctor Pichard, who is watching, has, like everyone else, the impression that the devil is stretching her body so much that it appears longer by a good foot and a half.  Gradually, the saint’s gracious face blackens, her mouth foams and her

“sparkling eyes rolling and turning extraordinarily”

are a difficult sight for everyone.

Suddenly, Elisabeth falls to the ground and starts to wriggle like a snake.  Not for long, for an invisible force pulls her abdomen into the air while her feet and hands continue to touch the floor.  The devil then puts her into a symetrically opposite posture, so that it is now her abdomen which serves as the resting point.

Suddenly, the prelate and the good fathers see her climb up a column which supports an adjoining chapel, using only one arm.  Having arrived at the balustrade, she supports herself on it with her left leg and the rest of her body is suspended in space for long minutes.  The spectators hold their breath and let out a few exclamations, when, without notice, the evil one lets her fall from a height of seven feet.  Supple, like a Pont-Neuf acrobat, she makes gentle contact with the alley’s tiles.

The devil is very careful not to impudically expose any part of the saint’s body.  Throughout the performance, her numerous layers of clothing remain closely stuck to her body.

This circumstance  is in accordance with the saint’s character.  She is the widow of a drunk who was fifty years old when he married her, against her will.  The very young Elisabeth swore at the death of her brutal husband, who had given her six children, never to denude herself, even only down to her petticoat.  Her chastity is such that she refuses to embrace her companions or go to any place where she could find herself in masculine company.

She even avoids touching her own body, and of course does not look at it, even though a breast ulcer, which she hides, makes her suffer a lot.  The smell of an appetising meal makes her vomit and she always keeps on her body a secret nasty odour to chase away the devil’s attacks.

This possessed saint is the most beautiful widow in Lorraine.  Monsignor the Bishop, his face congested, listens to the cries, which could easily be those of sexual orgasm, coming from the lady, and provoked by the devils Belzebuth, Boineau, Leviathan and Asmodee.  At the same time, Sir Sarrazin, lawyer at the Court of Saint-Michel, collects the “whiteish matter, phlegmatic, foamy” spread over the tiles of the choir, that the possessed woman lost through her mouth when the stole was placed on her.  Apart from the fact that it is a precious relic, the zealous public servant counts on using it to get confessions from the most hardened witches and wizards…

Now it is in Latin that Elisabeth addresses her auditory.  Not one of those amateur Latins used by certain possessed creatures, incoherent phrases repeated without understanding their meaning.

The widow’s discourse rolls on theological subjects of great diversity, and a Doctor in Sorbonne who asks her a question in Cicero’s language is greatly mocked because he made a grammatical error.  Today, she also answers questions asked in Greek, Italian, German and even in Hebrew…

At the end, everyone in the chapel belts out the Cantique of the Month of Mary.  This causes an intolerable suffering to the poor saint who instantly rolls on the ground, drenched in the holy water poured over her.

Very knowledgeable, Doctor Pichard explains:

“Now, Madame’s matrix has become vagabond and errant through the epigastrium and the hypogastrium…”

Monsignor finds Pichard to be a serious doctor, unlike the young scoundrel that he had had burnt last month, because he had conceived the infamous project of courting the possessed woman…

The Poirot case was a nasty business but, thanks to the heroic sanctity of Madame, it had very quickly ended…   The young doctor, excellent at his profession as it happened, had tried to make the widow fall into the devil’s trap, through invitations that the saint had been able to avoid at the price of great pain.

Considering, with culpable unconciousness, that Elisabeth was spending too much time praying, Poirot had had her invited on a pilgrimage to Saint-Mont, half-an-hour on foot from her home.  She had accepted, on the express condition that only her companions would be there.  This legitimate wish had not been respected, and, arriving at the summit of the Hill with her eldest daughter, the saint had been inflicted with the sight of several men taking a snack out of their basket.

To be continued.

King Philippe-Auguste of France on a seal

Ingeburge of Denmark, Queen of France

Finally, after nine months of stubbornness, the King gave in to Rome, and sent away Agnes.  But he didn’t take back Ingeburge.  He had her locked up in a tower, near Etampes, where she would live in frightful conditions:  sleeping on a straw mattress amongst rats, covered in vermine, shivering with cold…  She remained like that for twenty years…  Twenty years because the King believed that he had had his laces tied…

And then, one day in 1214, Philippe-Auguste, who needed military aid from his ex-father-in-law, the King of Denmark, thought that it would be diplomatic to release Ingeburge.  He even went, himself, to collect her …

When she saw him appear in her cell, Ingeburge fell to her knees and kissed his hand, saying:

“My lord, my lord!”

In twenty years, she had had time to learn French.

The Queen had always hoped that this moment would arrive.  She cried, clutched the King’s arm, and tried to kiss him;  but, a chronicler tells us,

“Philippe-Auguste could not bring himself to do it the first day…”

Doubtless, he was still afraid for his virility…

The next day, Ingeburge once more became officially Queen of France.  And, as if nothing had happened, she lived with the King, her beloved lord, for ten years…  Ten happy years, for Philippe-Auguste had at last succeeded in untying his laces…

***

The laces in question were those used to fasten breeches.  They were iron-tipped, more or less like today’s shoelaces.  So, if a man was said to have had his laces tied (or knotted) it meant that he couldn’t undo the front of his pants, so couldn’t perform sexually.

***

Because men refused to believe that the problem came from themselves, the mentality of the time made them believe that it was the work of a demon or a witch/wizard.  Those who were accused of tying laces were tried and burnt alive…  The accused were usually women.  It was said that they did it to punish unfaithful men, or those uninterested in their charms.  In the XVIth Century, the number of men affected by impotence was so great that, in some provinces, marriages were celebrated in secret to escape these spells, and the Church included special prayers against knotted laces in its rituel…

***

There were many recipes for knotting laces.  Here’s one taken from a magic rituel of the time:

“Take the sex of a recently killed wolf;  take it to the front of the house of the man that you want to make impotent;  call this man by his name.  As soon as he answers, tie the wolf’s sex with a lace of white thread…  The man will have his laces knotted…”

There are many other recipes.  In Alsace, in the XVIIth Century, the witch or wizard, during the marriage ceremony, in the church, made three knots which, in virtue of the law of similarity, was supposed to tie the virile member of the young husband.  In Berry, the witch or wizard buried the heads and skins of snakes under the spouses’ doorstep.

***

At this epoch, people used love philtres, so it was normal to also employ magic to disunite couples.  The greatest minds have believed in these things.  Paracelsius, Rabelais and Montaigne, among others, absolutely believed, and Ambroise Pare wrote:

“There is no doubt that there are sorcerers who knot laces at the time of marriage to prevent the cohabitation of the spouses on whom they want to wreak nasty vengeance to sow discord, which is the true profession and office of the Devil…”

The tying of laces is a very old spell.  The Greeks and Romans called it “ligature”.  Plato, Herodote, Virgil and Ovid allude to it.  Those who did it used a little wax figure representing the victim which they wrapped in cords while pronouncing conjuration phrases.  It was a sort of bewitchment…

There were also strange recipes for untying the laces.  For example, it was recommended to wear a ring into which the right eye of a weasel had been set…  Or – Pliny gives us this recipe – rub wolf grease around and on the bedroom door.  But some exorcisms were even stranger.  Certain rituels advised men touched by the spell, to write seven times on a new parchment the psalm Eripe me de inimicis meis and attach it to their right thigh.  In some provinces, the “knotted” husband had to urinate through the hole in the lock on the door of the church where he was married.  Elsewhere, this act of unbewitchment was done through the wedding ring while saying In nomine Patris…  In Poitou, the conjuration ceremony became acrobatic:  the spouses who were victims of tied laces lay down naked on the floor.  The husband then kissed the big toe on his wife’s left foot while she kissed the big toe on her husband’s right foot.  They then had to make two signs of the cross together, one of them with the left hand, the other with the heel of the free foot…

***

People were known to tie laces up until World War II.  There are probably still some in country regions even today.

***

All historians seem to agree that Philippe-Auguste’s failure to perform was caused by his great emotion provoked by Ingeburge’s beauty.  It is well-known that there are some women so beautiful that they take your breath away and tie your laces…

***

King Philippe-Auguste of France on a seal

Ingeburge of Denmark, Queen of France

In the Spring of 1193, Philippe-Auguste became engaged to Princess Ingeburge, daughter of King Knut of Denmark.  The young girl soon arrived in Amiens, where the King awaited her.  As soon as he saw her, he was smitten.  He had never met such a beautiful, gracious, desirable woman.  Knowing that he would be unable to wait until the next day to make her his wife, he told her, through an interpretor, that he wanted their marriage to take place immediately.  Ingeburge blushed and lowered her eyes, as the King took her arm and, followed by the people,  hurried her off to the cathedral, where a prelate had been urgently convoked.  After a rapid benediction, the King announced that the Coronation of the new Queen would take place the next day.

While he was addressing the crowd, Ingeburge was being undressed by the ladies of the Court who perfumed her body.  Then she went to bed, and Philippe-Auguste entered the nuptial chamber.  Hurriedly undressing, he lay down beside Ingeburge and pulled her into his arms.

Things did not happen at all in the way that the Princess had vaguely imagined them.  At first, the King held her tightly against him, and Ingeburge had the impression that he was waiting for something to happen.  Something which was evidently not happening, for she heard him sigh several times.  Worried, she tried to guess what could be upsetting her husband, but found nothing.  A long moment passed, punctuated with sighs and nervous gestures.  At last, the King tore himself away from her in anger, leaped from the bed and started to pace around the bedroom.  Ingeburge watched him, puzzled.  Thinking that he was perhaps timid, she smilingly beckoned him to come back to her side:  the King went back to bed.

Ten minutes later, he was up again, striding around the room, furious.  Ingeburge had only an approximative idea of what should be a wedding night;  however, she understood that this one wasn’t quite normal.

Suddenly, the King went pale and hurled:

“I’m bewitched!  My laces have been tied!…”

The young girl, who did not understand French, cowered against the wall, terrified.  Eventually, she fell asleep.  When she awoke the next morning, she was as pure as she had been on leaving Denmark.

Early in the morning, the sovereigns were taken to the cathedral for the Queen’s Coronation.  Among the rites was the Unction with holy oils on the bare breast.  But, when the Archbishop untied Ingeburge’s tunic to display her plexis, a cry was heard in the cathedral.  The Archbishop turned around and saw the King in a complete attack of nerves.  He was shaking, gesticulating and crying out.  Several ecclesiastics immediately surrounded him to hide him from the crowd, and belted out some very loud hymns.

After the ceremony, while the city feasted, Philippe-Auguste admitted to the Archbishop of Reims that he had been taken with a sudden repulsion for Ingeburge.  He was sure that she was bewitched.  She had made him impotent.  She had tied his laces.  She had to return to Denmark…

The prelate, who, very curiously, seemed to know a lot about the problem, tried to explain to the King that too great a desire, too great a fatigue, or too good a meal were perhaps causes of his failure.  The King insisted that Ingeburge had to go.  She had tied his laces.

He had her locked up in a convent that same evening.  One month later, he visited her there to try, for the last time, to make her his wife.  This last attempt had been advised by his uncle, the Archbishop of Reims, who had added:

“Go, my son, and remember that the whole of France has its eyes fixed on you…”

This was perhaps not the wisest thing to say.  Philippe-Auguste was aware that his people, informed by indiscrete domestics, knew about his lamentable wedding night, and the thought that France would have its eyes fixed on him while he was alone with Ingeburge, was not going to help him find his virility.  However, he went to the convent where the unhappy eighteen-year-old Queen was imprisoned.  He was seen to enter, a serious expression on his face.  One hour later, he came out again, in a state of extreme nervousness.  His face streamed with perspiration;  his hands trembled.  The knights present, the priests, the nuns were all unhappy for him.  He announced that there was nothing he could do.  The woman had bewitched him.

The next day, the King’s new failure was known and discussed.  Of course, no-one agreed on the causes of the royal weakness.  Some said that Ingeburge had the skin of a lizard;  others, fish scales on her abdomen.  But most people accused the poor girl of being a lace-tier, in other words, a witch…  This made the Danish students furious, and gigantic fights broke out in Paris.

After five months, a Council, composed of unscrupulous barons and prelates, meeting in Compiegne, pronounced the annulment of the royal marriage and Ingeburge was taken back to her convent where she was treated odiously.  She would remain there for years without understanding the reason for this imprisonment…

Then, in 1196, Philippe-Auguste decided to re-marry.  He chose the beautiful Agnes de Meranie.  Their wedding night was, of course, closely watched by the domestics, and the people waited to see if the King “could”, or if the spell which had affected Ingeburge would stop him from consummating his new marriage…  But the following day, a reassuring rumour ran through Paris:  the King could!   He was no longer bewitched!

His subjects rejoiced, saying that this news would have a very good effect in other countries.  In Rome, the news was very badly received.  The Pope, who had not accepted the annulment of the marriage, demanded the immediate removal of the new spouse, considered a concubine.  Philippe-Auguste refused.  So, the Pope excommunicated France:  the churches were closed, religious services suspended, and the dead were no longer buried according to the rites.  The unburied bodies started piling up along the roads, making the air stink and creating a risk of epidemics.

To be continued.

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