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.