Archive for June, 2011

Emperor Franz-Josef’s knife-wound gives rise to thirty health bulletins in ten days, a spectacular fainting fit by Archduchess Sophia, and a no less spectacular increase in imperial popularity.  The first assassination attempt against a Habsburg…  And Franz-Josef had been saved by his uniform.  A symbol…

Princess Sophia, Archduchess of Austria.

Calmer. having been elevated even higher in her role of mother to an emperor whom God had protected from a knife, Sophia invites her sister Ludovika and her niece Helena to Bad Ischl for the middle of Summer.  Princess Ludovika, Duchess in Bavaria, is in Heaven, occupied in the preparation of a new wardrobe for her very obedient daughter, and her husband Max manages to avoid undertaking this trip which bores him.  Finally, prepared by a thousand pieces of advice, lessons and insinuating remarks, Helena mounts into the ducal travelling coach with her mother, who has not forgotten her salts, her powders, her bottles of mineral water, not to mention two fans and her prayer book emerging from a pile of clothes and feminine underwear.  At the last minute, she has decided that Sissi will travel with them.  For clothes, Sissi has only a hastily-made voile dress.  It doesn’t matter, Sissi is still only an untamed little girl to whom the family mondanities will do a world of good…

On 16 August, the coach stops before Hotel Austria, a modest house on the esplanade, near the thermal establishment.  Ludovika has reserved rooms there.  They are one-and-a-half hours late.  This is unfortunate, for the Duchess and her daughters are supposed to meet the Emperor this same evening.  Ludovika, nervous, complains loudly about her luggage not arriving, her migraine headache and that of Helena, and has her travelling clothes brushed.

Princess Ludovika, Duchess in Bavaria.

The solemn hour arrives.  It is also time for tea.  Quickly, the mother and her daughters descend to the hotel’s salon.  The Emperor will be arriving soon, he is always of exact punctuality.  He has even arrived early;  for Franz-Josef has a great need to relax.  Since Schwarzenberg’s death, the young Emperor is assailed with problems which he has to solve personally.  Going to Bad Ischl is to enjoy a sort of entr’acte in this pretty, peaceful city, with its theatre, its casino, its cafes.  And then there is this cousin of whom his mother has spoken.

Four o’clock in the evening.  Helena is officially presented to her cousin.  Her curtsy is faultless.  Slightly behind her, Sissi does what she can with hers.  Franz-Josef observes Helena while the two mothers embrace.  Nene is a very pretty young lady, slim, tall and excessively shy.  The Emperor smiles.  He is interested, nothing more.  His gaze alights on Sissi.  What a contrast!  Sissi is at that blurry frontier between childhood and womanhood.  She has beautiful hair done in bands off her forehead.  Her hazel-brown eyes are like velvet.  The imperial cousin stares.  His brother notes that his “face is radiant”.  Sissi, embarrassed, reddens, as she feels her first uneasiness under a man’s insistent gaze.

The Viennese pastries and the tea rite allowing no delay, the two families pass to the table.  As arranged, Sissi is placed at the end, the place of children with their governess.  But Franz-Josef no longer takes his eyes off her, even though he exchanges flat, courteous words with Helena.  In this late afternoon, in the to-ing and fro-ing of teapots, plates and silverware, Archduchess Sophia doesn’t yet know that she has lost her first battle;  her son’s conjugal destiny is escaping her control.  What the two mothers – two sisters – had plotted, what the Chancelleries were envisaging with benevolence, is collapsing before the most unforseeable of all reactions, love at first sight.

Emperor Franz-Josef of Austria.

Franz-Josef’s second brother, Karl-Louis, aged twenty, has seen these looks and understood everything.  The next day, he announces to his mother that Franzi prefers Sissi to Nene.  Sissi?  That child?  Impossible!  The Archduchess has hardly dismissed this eventuality than Franz-Josef appears, in excellent humour, and declares to her:

“Sissi is delicious!”

The Archduchess, floored, gives him the reasons for her disapproval:  a child, a girl who loves Nature, the forest, too much, who does whatever she likes, who has no manners, who has little instruction…  And then she is not yet sixteen…  While Helena is educated, serious, prepared for her task.  Her son does not want to hear anything about Nene.  Sophia insists, and uses all her authority.  But the Emperor acts like an emperor:  he decides on his own.  Worse, he decides against his mother’s advice.  Love has transformed the boy who turns twenty-three in twenty-four hours.  The first consequence of Sissi’s entrance into his life is an act of disobedience to his mother.

So, when the discussion turns nasty, his mother employs ruse.  Suddenly, she says that there is no urgency, that they need time to reflect.

“No-one is asking you to become engaged immediately,”

she adds, forgetting that only yesterday she had wanted to marry off the master of Austria as fast as possible.

But the master is now impatient:  he has already left to look for Sissi, whom he is sure to see anyway at the family luncheon given by Ludovika that same day.

The luncheon begins very badly for the Emperor, for Sissi isn’t there.  She has been relegated, with her governess, to a little room next to the dining-room.  She is plunging with rage into her hors-d’oeuvre.  Next-door, at the main table, Helena, who has tried to appear more to her advantage than the day before, tries to follow a banal conversation with Franz-Josef.  But his mind is elsewhere.  Just before dessert, composed of chaussons aux pommes, the sound of raised voices arrives at the main table.  Sissi has answered back her governess, furious at being kept away and, doubtless, miffed at being treated like a little sister who is just accompanying the fiancee.  The Emperor asks his aunt for permission to invite Sissi to the main table.  Delivered and triumphant, the Princess enters, red with anger and confusion, to be greeted with one of those silences of which the families at the table have the instantaneous secret.  She arrives with an impatient step and comes to make her curtsy, without any gentleness.  Her very white skin, her auburn hair, and her eyes “full of dreams”, raise her to the rank of an apparition.  At fifteen, Princess Elisabeth in Bavaria is seductive.  Already.  All her life, she will seduce.

To be continued.


In Summer 1848, Princess Ludovika, Duchess in Bavaria, accompanied by her daughters Helena and Elisabeth, and two of her sons, had met her sister, Archduchess Sophia of Austria, at Innsbruck.  Franz-Josef and two of his brothers had accompanied their mother.  Sissi and Franzi had seen each other for the first time, but a whole world then separated them.  Firstly, age:  he was almost eighteen, she was only ten.  Then, the preoccupations of a State on the verge of crumbling.  His mother kept telling him that the future reposed on his shoulders, the time for childish games was over.  The boy was grave, and looked without any particular interest at this little cousin with the round cheeks, and her hair done in bands in the Bavarian fashion, not really pretty, but whom everyone adored.  On the other hand, his brother Karl-Louis, who is only fifteen, stops dead in admiration before Sissi.  And any pretext is good to gather a bouquet and choose fruit for her.  The young girl is delighted at receiving all these little attentions.  The separation is made that much sadder.  Karl-Louis grabs his pen and writes to his cousin who has gone back to Possenhofen.  He even sends her a rose and, in a revealing gesture, a ring:  Karl-Louis is in love.  Totally, sincerely, definitively…  On her floral writing paper, she thanks him.  And her kind letter is also accompanied by a ring.  Karl-Louis has no doubt that such a gift represents a vow.  But Sissi is still only a little girl, a forest princess, a rosebud.  Adorable and already adored, but with no constraints.

Five years later, in the middle of August 1853, Sissi has become a young lady obliged to keep quiet and not move, in the family travelling coach which has left Salzburg for Bad Ischl.

Her mother’s project is simple:  she wants to marry her daughter Helena to her nephew Franz-Josef.  And her sister, in Vienna, completely agrees with this idea.  Having already given an emperor to Austria, Sophia is now actively looking for an empress.  European politics are then essentially a family matter, a succession of alliances and rivalities.

Emperor Franz-Josef of Austria.

His first official portrait shows the young Emperor in his favourite clothes, the uniform.  He had been a soldier, receiving his baptism of fire against the Sardes, at the Battle of Santa Lucia on 6 May 1848;  he will remain a soldier all his life.  With a white tunic embroidered with red and gold cord, red pants with gold bands, gilded belt, he wears the colours of Austria.  His right hand at his waist, the left fist on some battle plan, Franz-Josef wears a sabre.  With his auburn hair, full lips, and long,slim face, he is beautiful.  His body, very slim, is thought fragile and delicate.  However, his energy is astounding.

The liberal varnish has quickly fallen away and national claims have clashed with terrible repression.  Prince Felix of Schwarzenberg, a very firm diplomat at the head of the Government, is very clear:

“We can be clement later.  For the moment we need to go on hanging for a while.”

The Italian uprisings have been put down, but it is in Hungary that the repression has been the worst.  By order of the Tsar, three hundred thousand Russian soldiers have crushed Hungarian resistance.  Nicolas I did not act only out of love for Austria, but out of fear that Poland, in turn, might rise.  The President of the Council had been shot and thirteen generals had died at the end of a cord.

Franz-Josef had asked that the right of grace be used, and prescribed that any capital condemnation firstly be approved by his Cabinet.  Certain Austrian generals having forgotten this procedure, Franz-Josef had the courage to remove them from their functions.

The infernal machine of repression in Italy and Hungary bloody the first months of Franz-Josef’s reign.  Sequestrations, confiscations, executions, imprisonments, no-one escapes the counter-revolution, not even aristocrats who had dared to rise against Vienna.  Schwarzenburg resumes his political  opinions:

“The basis of Government is strength, not ideas.”

The Croatians, the Czechs, the Hungarians, the Bohemians, the Lombards, the Piemontais and the Venitians had had too many ideas, or rather they had had only one:  to be free.  But the fragile Viennese monarchy considers these foyers of revolt as too numerous to be spontaneous.

On 4 March 1849, Franz-Josef promulgates a Constitution.  This text recognizes only one State, Austria;  Hungary is integrated as Crown Land, while Lombardy and Venetia become provinces.  The nationalisms are not calmed, they are gagged.

In Vienna, Franz-Josef presides his first Council of Ministers on 17 August 1851.  A sort of unofficial triumvirat directs Austrian affairs:  Franz-Josef reigns, Schwarzenberg governs and old Chancellor Metternich, the “coachman of Europe”, advises the Emperor, who consults him frequently.  The Archduchess rules her precious son’s life.  His marriage has become an obsession.  For there is nothing like the image of happiness for consolidating a monarchy, particularly if it is convalescent.  The Archduchess looks at the great European families.  An Hungarian?  Out of the question!  How could the Austrians forget the insurrection of Budapest?  How could the Hungarians forget the execution of the President of the Council of Ministers?  A little farther North, an alliance with Prussia could give Austria a certain weight against a faraway, but substantial Russia.  Franz-Josef is attracted to Princess Anna, the King’s niece.  She is twenty-two, he likes her, but the tractations come to nothing with the impossibility for Princess Anna to renounce her Protestant religion.  Sophia then looks toward the West, close to Austria, the other side of the Tyrol, toward Bavaria.  She looks at her sister Ludovika.

Politically, Bavaria is sure.  Bavaria is Roman Catholic, like Austria;  Bavaria is threatened by Prussia, like Austria.  An alliance between the Wittelsbachs and the Habsburgs could be very useful in the role that Austria plays at the heart of the Germanic Confederation.  Archduchess Sophia remembers her niece Helena, beautiful and above all reasonable, the perfect young lady.  She would be an ideal empress who would not overshadow the great lady of the family.

The Archduchess is on the point of writing to her sister to ask for news of her daughter Helena, Nene for the family, when an assassination attempt plunges Vienna into stupefaction.  On 18 February 1853, a little after half-past-noon, an Hungarian, armed with a knife, rushes towards Franz-Josef, who is busy watching troop exercises.  A woman’s cry makes the sovereign turn his head, the blade slides between the collar of his uniform and the metal buckle of his tie.  Another few centimetres and the Emperor would have been dead with his throat cut.  In the confusion that follows, Franz-Josef cries out to the brave passer-by who, with his own aide-de-camp, has brought down the struggling aggressor:

“Don’t kill him!”

To be continued.

Elisabeth’s childhood unfolds simply, Winter in Munich, Summer in the country, there where the Bavarian plateau gently rises up to the tops of the Alps at the Austrian border.  Possenhofen, an old castle bought by her father in 1834, is a rectangular building in red stone.  Flanked by stables and a chapel, surrounded by a park and magnificent rose-gardens spread along the grey waters of Lake Starnberg, this venerable home is not at all refined.  The farm is next-door to the house, looked after by domestics who are part of the family.  Along with horses and dogs, the dogs being the real owners of the armchairs, in a peaceful, united family atmosphere, Possenhofen is a children’s paradise.  Everyone calls it affectionately “Possi”.  The children too have nicknames.  Karl-Theodore is Gackerl, Helena becomes Nene, Mathilda is Moineau, Max Emmanuel is Mapperl.  As for Elisabeth, she is called Sissi.

Maximilien, Duke in Bavaria.

Of these years 1840-1848, we must remember the very great liberty enjoyed by the children of Max and Ludovika.  They see their parents continually evolving with an absence of manners and distances which contrasts with the inevitable coldness in numerous great families.  Sissi is raised in ignorance of constraints.  She watches for her father’s arrival and invades his study where he attempts to awaken weary inspiration, with an applied pen.  Poetry is the Wittelsbachs’ secret pleasure.

Princess Ludovika, Duchess in Bavaria.

Charged with Sissi’s education from 1846, Baroness Louise Wulffen, a governess quickly overrun, observes that she is the most dreamy, the most tender and the most distracted of the eight children.  Paradox:  she is also the most scrupulous with what she loves.  The only part of her timetable that she respects is breakfast with her mother, at eight o’clock at the latest.  Then lessons go to two o’clock.  Without doing it on purpose, the Duke saps the governess’ authority, messing up the programmes and the timetable.  Very soon, he has felt that Sissi’s real studies are life around her.  He has understood that her secret companions are called the wind, flowers, stars.  He has noticed that the horses receive her first secrets, and the dogs her first caresses.  The laxism of this father has been strongly criticised for not preparing Sissi to become Elisabeth.  On the contrary, he knew how to assure her a happy dawn of life.

Max is happy to find in this spontaneous character, who doesn’t calculate, an avalanche of enthusiasms which explode into a ball of life.  Too bad if her instruction is reduced, and her manners ordinary.  Too bad if she isn’t gifted for music.  In vain, she martyrises a piano.  On the other hand, she has a passion for writing.  Very early, she expresses grave sentiments and emotions.  Max decides that Sissi should follow her preferences in order to blossom.  He does nothing to stop her.  Sissi grows up in freedom.

The Napoleonic tempest had shaken the Austrian Empire in different ways.  For five hundred and seventy-five years, the Habsburgs had been at home along the Danube, writing the History of Central Europe with the idea, already greatly advanced, of a multinational State.  At the Congress of Vienna, the congress of revenge on Napoleon, Austria recuperated, among others, the Tyrol, the Saltzburg region, and obtained Lombardy as well as Venetia.  For thirty years, Austria had known stability.  Peace and economic development for some, immobilism and the stifling of nationalities for others.  Emancipation was refused to the Hungarians, to the peoples of Bohemia and Italy, for emancipation would have meant dislocation.

In March 1848, revolutionary fever arrived in Austria.  After bloody clashes, the Vienna Court had to take refuge at Innsbruck, the capital of the Tyrol which was faithful to the monarchy.  Budapest and Milan rose up and Venice even wanted to proclaim a republic.

The restoration of Austrian authority, that is to say, order, passes obligatorily by the re-establishment of imperial prestige.  But Emperor Ferdinand, weak, suffering from worrying attacks of nerves, has no prestige.  Since the time when, as the young Prince and Heir, he wandered the corridors, clutching his aides-de-camp, and stammering, his state had worsened.  The epilepsy from which he suffered, was still an ill that was very badly known.

Theoretically, it is his younger brother, the Archduke Franz-Karl, who should wear the crown.  Alas, he is not very brilliant.  His timidity, his lack of character and concentration, eliminate him.  The Austrian problem is therefore, firstly, a family problem.  While the nationalism storm rumbles and Vienna is the echo-chamber of Paris, who has chased out Louis-Philippe, the only possible candidate is his son Franz-Josef.

The Emperor’s nephew is eighteen and the nervous illness has luckily spared him.  His manners are perfect, his allure is beautiful and his judgement healthy.  His mother, the Archduchess Sophia, is a Wittelsbach, sister of the King of Bavaria and of Ludovika.  Authoritive, strict, a true leader, endowed with an energy which was lacking in her husband.  Since the birth of her eldest son on 18 August 1830, she has been thinking of taking her revenge on this poor husband, so “absent”.  This son, to whom she inculcates very early the precepts of order and rigour, this boy whom she educates in the hate of chaos and laxity, she calls Franzi.  With him, the time has come to install upon the Habsburg throne a healthy, well-balanced sovereign.  The Emperor’s youth will rejuvenate the Empire.

On 2 December 1848, Emperor Ferdinand abdicates, then Archduke Franz-Karl, his brother, renounces his rights.  It is eight o’clock in the morning.  Before an assembly of high dignitaries, Franz-Josef kneels and asks his uncle to bless him.  The old Emperor still has enough strength to say to his successor:

“May God bless you.  Remain simply courageous and God will protect you.”

An impressive silence follows this advice.  The new Emperor is eighteen-years-old, but, in a few seconds, he has aged.  Pale, hugging his mother, he will say, a few hours later:

“Adieu, my youth!”

A crushing mission is now his.  So begins a reign comparable in importance to those of Louis XIV and Queen Victoria.  His mother does not hide her relief.  At the beginning of her marriage, she had declared:

“I am not happy, I am satisfied”,

a cutting remark which was a vow.  She is now relieved and venged, her son is Emperor.  Her son enters into History, but this day is her triumph.  In her white moire gown, the Archduchess glows with pride.  In her hair, pink flowers alternate with diamonds.  Around her neck, she wears a necklace of turquoises and diamonds that her husband had given her for the birth of Franz-Josef.  And she is draped in a red scarf with gold embroidery.  In extremis, the trembling monarchy is saved and Austria has a new master whose obsession, which will go as far as blindness, is resumed in one word:  duty.

To be continued.

In the afternoon of Wednesday 15 August 1853, a travelling coach, which has left southern Bavaria, is rolling towards the little Austrian city of Bad Ischl, in the heart of the Salzkammergut, where the exploitation of salt has given its name to Salzburg.  The Alpine summer is luminous.  The forest decor is reflected in the serene emerald of romantic lakes, and over the last thirty years, the town’s Summer visitors have been growing in number.  Around 1820, a Vienna doctor had established the therapeutic properties of the saline waters.  A symbol of commerce, salt has now been promoted to a symbol of health.  High Society goes to take the waters.  Bad Ischl has become a thermal centre, a holiday destination and a place of rendez-vous for the Gotha.

However, the travelling coach is not carrying curists.  It belongs to Maximilien, Duke in Bavaria, the head of the younger branch of the House of Wittelsbach.  Maximilien, the King of Bavaria’s uncle, is not in his coach.  As usual, he has delegated his wife, Ludovika, who is preparing for an important family meeting.  Having left from Possenhofen, her less than luxurious residence on the banks of Starnberg Lake, thirty kilometres South of Munich, the Duchess is travelling simply with two of her daughters, Helena and Elisabeth, as well as a chambermaid.  Their baggage follows in a second coach.

Helena is nineteen, with regular features and a serious air which is almost grave.  She is slim, beautiful, but langorous.  And of great piety.  She is very much her mother’s daughter.  Elisabeth, aged fifteen, tall and ravishing, exudes gaiety and love for life.  And lack of discipline.  She is truly her father’s daughter.

At the Rosenheim relay, Elisabeth had been unable to resist the urge to water the horses herself.  Familiarly addressing the coachmen, she had drawn a glacial remark from her mother.  And, having wet her feet with a falling bucket of water, she is the only one to have laughed.  For the rest of the trip, Elisabeth needs to behave and not draw attention to herself.  In the middle of this August 1853, it is not she who counts in the family, but her sister, the very demure Helena.

Helena carries the hope of a return to greater things.  Her mother, daughter of the Palatine Elector Count who was to become the first King of Bavaria, had been born Princess of Bavaria.  By her marriage to her cousin Max, she has been more or less retrograded to the rank of Duchess in Bavaria, carried by the younger ducal branch.  Ludovika has also seen her sisters contract more prestigious unions than her own.

Maximilien, Duke in Bavaria.

Her husband, the excellent Max, is not a conventional man.  He is passionate.  About freedom for a start, particularly his own.  Despite his appearances in top hat and his very great culture, he is rarely seen in Munich, where he has no official function.  Town bores him, mondanities depress him and protocol suffocates him.  He really only lives in the country, blossoming in the sharp air of the Alps.  He disappears into the forests, taken up with his hunting and his fishing.  His long hours on horseback are punctuated by halts in all the inns of southern Bavaria.  In traditional costume – leather shorts, felt jacket, hat with brush – he joyfully raises his glass with the peasants, then takes off to climb a mountain.

If he is not roaming around the Bavarian countryside, he is travelling in Greece, Turkey and Egypt.  Drunk with joy in discovering the impressive vestiges from the times of the Pharaohs half-buried in the sand, Max plays the sitar at the top of the Kheops pyramid.  And, upon his return, he publishes a Voyage in the Orient which is greatly remarked.  But his arrival in Munich is even more remarked:  he had brought back from Cairo four little black boys whom he wants to have baptised.

Comments and criticisms leave him indifferent.  When he puts on his general’s uniform – the function is mostly honorary – it’s a disagreeable obligation.  Military and public servant conversation seem very dull to this joyful traveller.  However, one would be mistaken in considering him to be a rustic peasant, fattened with delicatessen meats and litres of beer.  On the contrary, he is a clever psychologist and, at forty-five, he has a slim, very young silhouette.  He is small, racy, with a wide forehead and a sensual mouth.  His modest fortune is melting, for he disdains any idea of a budget.  He doesn’t count, he lives.

In twenty-five years of marriage, he has given eight children to Ludovika, but leaves her to raise their five daughters and three sons on her own.  He’s a fascinating father…  when he is there.  His wife feels tender indulgence for him, his children idolize him.  He knows all the secrets of Nature.  And he dresses horses to dance the quadrille in a ring that he has had built.  He shoots well, and he sings.

His favourite child is uncontestably the third one, Elisabeth, his second daughter.  She was born in Munich, on a Sunday, on Christmas Eve in 1837, at forty-three minutes past ten in the evening, in a palace in the Ludwigstrasse, very close to the royal residence.

A kingdom of fervent Catholicism, Bavaria considers this precious Christmas present as a gift from Heaven.  The child’s godmother, who is also her aunt, is Queen Elisabeth of Prussia.  She therefore receives the same first name.  She is hardly delivered, than Ludovika hears the midwife who, as is the custom, is presenting the child in the white boudoir next to her bedroom.  All are ecstatic, they cluck.  And they point out that a little tooth is already piercing the baby’s gum.  Like Napoleon…  An exceptional sign.  They underline that, born on the same night as the Saviour, the Princess will be a person of peace and happiness.

To be continued.

It has been said that the exceptional conservation of these bodies must come from the particular composition of the soil or the air at the place of burial.  Unfortunately, this explanation is not possible…

If we have another look at one of these cadavres exquis, we can see that, in the case of the little girl at Brive, the authorities had proceeded to a general exhumation of a whole part of the cemetery.

The collection of tombs situated around that of the young dead girl were in a state of total ruin.  Hers had not been spared and was in no way different from the others.  It was in a lugubrious pile of overturned gratings, fallen tombstones covered in moss, pieces of coffin, humus, fragments of bone falling into dust, that the little dead girl was found, miraculously preserved.  Her eyes were wide open and she looked as if she was smiling.  Her white dress was slightly stained by a few traces of earth and humidity…

Anyway, it is enough to see that the remains of certain very rich Americans sheltered inside several metallic coffins, one inside the other, do not resist one day longer to normal corruption.

If it were possible to preserve bodies from putrefaction by using hermetic containers, men would have been doing it for a long time now.  The Egyptians notably, who had perfected the techniques of embalming bodies, over a period of three thousand years.

As for the composition of the soil, it doesn’t explain anything either.  It is enough to see what happened to the bodies placed in Father Chabrel’s crypt.

This hypothesis is even less credible in certain cases where quicklime was added to the soil in which the dead were buried…

For example, when Francois-Xavier dies on 2 December 1552, his body is put into a big box which is packed with quicklime.  This was done so that, the flesh being consumed quickly, the bones could be taken rapidly to Goa.

When, on 17 February 1553, the coffin is opened to recuperate the bones, the body is found perfectly preserved.  The face notably, which had been covered with a thick layer of quicklime, was fresh with a slight vermilion tint “as can be seen in people who are asleep” say the minutes drawn up at the time.

One hundred and sixty years later, it is in the same state, and when they want to detach the right arm to send it to Rome, light red, very fluid blood escapes from it.


These two little Sicilian girls, who died over two centuries ago, are in an astonishing state of conservation.

Although Francois-Xavier is one of the greatest Christian saints, the conservation of his body is not a very exceptional thing, for in 1727, in the Quebec Hospital tomb, the perfectly conserved cadavers of five nuns who had died in 1707 were discovered reposing in quicklime.

In the same way, the body of Saint Teresa of Avila was buried in a very deep grave which was then filled with a mixture of limestones and damp soil.  It is true that, as she was the reformer of Carmel and one of the greatest Spanish spiritual writers, we are again in the presence of an exceptional saint.

The tribulations and avatars of her remains are also extraordinary.  It is to be remembered that her body exhales, from the first months following her inhumation, extremely pronounced perfumes of violet, iris and lily.

When the grave was re-opened eight months after her death, a cadaver whose clothes had been completely dissolved is discovered.  The body is entirely covered with a light green froth but is perfectly intact.  It bathes in a sort of balsamic oil that the cadaver slowly exudes and which is the origin of these suave odours.

In 178 years, the cadaver is many times exhumed, exhibited, put in a shrine, and several times mutilated to take relics from it.  Examined carefully too, by all that Christendom counts in scholarly doctors and hagiographers…  It escapes all corruption, and the saint even conserves the extra weight that she carried naturally.

In certain places, the body presents the real aspect of life:  when pieces of cloth are applied to it, they are immediately tinted bright blood red.  This phenomenon of tissular osmose appears particularly inexplicable.


This photograph of the Sicilian crypt was taken in 1900. Since that date, the bodies suspended upright, which date from the XVIIIth Century, have not changed.

Among this race of living-dead, the saints can appear to be better represented than others…  This is not certain.  Let us just say that people were a lot more interested in those who passed for saints than in the others.  With the evident goal of religious edification.  And it is also for this reason that incorruptible bodies seem to us to be miracles, in the Roman Catholic sense of the word.

Once again, examples are fairly numerous of preserved cadavers not having received Catholic Unction or not belonging to people professing this sainthood faith.

During the pontificate of Sixtus IV (1471-1484), the body of a young, very beautiful blonde girl was discovered under the Appian Way.  The body is almost entirely immersed in a sort of dark brown maceration, and had been buried there necessarily before the construction of the Appian Way in 312 before the present era.

Closer to us, in 1960, an English taxi-driver discovers at Rhyl, Wales, the cadaver of a woman dressed in a floral dressing-gown and pink pyjamas…  standing in a cupboard.

The apartment had not been occupied for twenty years, and the taxi-driver was in the process of repainting it to live there.  The cadaver of this woman, a certain Mrs Alec Knight, was in a perfect state of conservation.  The Police made enquiries and concluded that she had been assassinated…  twenty years earlier.


If the lady’s cupboard had emitted light intermittently, like Father Chabrel’s tomb, she would have been discovered sooner.  These luminous phenomena are absolutely inexplicable, even though they appear in two cases at least of “living-dead” people.

In the case of Father Chabrel, the Region’s Prefet himself notices the phenomenon, and it is he who convinces the monks, at first sceptical, of its reality.

A similar case is evoked in the book by J. Moschus, Le Pre spirituel.  Roman peasants discover a kneeling Anachorete monk in a cave situated on a mountain.

They had climbed the mountain because, for several months, luminous signals had been coming to them from the cave.  When they approached, they saw that the hermit was dead.  He had written this last message on a paper placed next to him:

“I, humble John, died at the fifteenth indiction.”

By a calculation made thanks to the ecclesiastical comput, they determined that this man had died over seven years before.  However, his physical appearance seemed to indicate that he had only just died.


There are a certain number of living-dead among animals.  On 23 June 1851, three workers were deepening a well near the Bolis Station.  At a depth of nineteen metres, they came to an enormous silex which they had to break.  Between two pieces of perfectly dense, homogenous rock, there is a cavity, and inside this cavity, perfectly filling the whole volume, there is a toad.  The rock appears as if it is moulded onto it and…  it is alive.  The Academie des Sciences examines it.  A Commission of four scholars give an account of the event, and the toad survives until 11 August the same year.

In 1862, some miners in Newport discover, in a block of coal twenty centimetres thick and two metres long, another living toad.

The block of coal was found two hundred metres deep.

Living lizards have been found in limestone quarries, at Lux and at Talbott, Indiana.  Having no ocular globes, they were a curious copper colour.  They survived only a few minutes, but had been there, according to scholars, for a few tens of thousands of years.


Once again, no explanation.  Except that death, in spite of what we know of it, is surely not quite what we think.

The presence of fresh blood on some cadavers seems to indicate that certain constituting elements of blood, as yet unknown, are apt to reproduce themselves almost indefinitely after death.

Unless we retain the thesis of Robert Amberlain who believes – and cleverly attempts to prove it – that the living-dead, whoever they are, are also always at the same time…  vampires.  Who survive by regularly going to visit the jugulars of people living close to their tombs…


In 1932, at Brive, it has been decided that the oldest part of the cemetery is to be destroyed.  Under the stones worn down by humidity and mould, only a few bones reduced to dust are being found.

Suddenly, the workers cry out…  In a tomb, over one hundred years old, they have just exposed the integrally conserved body of a very young girl.  The skin is fresh, the members supple, and she appears to smile in her white dress.

Is this a forgotten saint?

Some research is done, and it is learnt that she is quite an ordinary young girl, who had died more than a century ago.

With the permission of the authorities, another tomb is raised for her.  And since then, she continues her strange deathly sleep which defies death.


The body of Claudine de Montjoie (known as Saint Claudine) who died in 1620 at the age of 18, is still mysteriously conserved.

Even closer to us, in 1959 in Milano, when the body of the great Italian poet Manzoni, who died in 1873, is examined, it is discovered to be absolutely intact.  All those who look at it are overwhelmed by his face of extraordinary purety.

The incorruptible remains of Manzoni, the immortal author of the Fiances, are exhibited for a few hours in a glass coffin, for the opening of the world congress on Romanticism, both a well-chosen occasion and a symbol…

Therefore, we could say that it sometimes happens that saints, religious minds, young girls or poets can vanquish death for centuries in the mystery of their tombs.  The thing that connects them is mysticism, or poetic exaltation, which can also even appear, in the absence of any written work, in young, pure beings…


Reality obliges us to revise this judgement.

Some cadavers have been found in this state, after having been dead for several thousands of years.

In 1973, in the Hunan province, the body of a fifty-year-old woman, who had died in the IInd Century before our era, was found.

The description made of the cadaver’s state by the Professors of the Institute of Medicine in Hunan totally corresponds to those established by the Professors who had dealt with the case of Father Chabrel.

We are completely ignorant of who this woman could be, and the criteria for incorruptibility evoked above cannot apply to her…  Without them being excluded, however.


In Palermo, in the famous Capucin Crypt where thousands of intact bodies repose, certain cadavers appear to smile at the visitors. The particularly dry air in these catacombs seems to be at the origin of the phenomenon.

A journalist from the Nouvelles Caledoniennes investigated a mysterious affair in March 1977.

“An absolutely prodigious phenomenon has recently been discovered in the Noumea cemetery during an exhumation.

“It was on Wednesday 9 March at 2 p.m.  To make room in a tomb, the funeral enterprise of the place was proceeding with the opening of the coffins to remove the bones and place them in a box of small dimensions, which leaves more space for future inhumations.

“To conform with the Law, some family members – Mr and Mme Lesaint, from Ouemo – and some police representatives were present at the operations, as well as Mr Honore, undertaker in tombs  The transfer of the bones had been taking place in a perfectly normal fashion when the moment came to open the leaded coffin of Mr Theophile Lestelle.  As soon as the lid was taken off, the people present started in stupefaction;  not one bone!  Instead, a body in an excellent state of conservation, dressed in the suit with which it had been dressed for burial.  And then, an odour.  A curious odour, rather disagreeable.

“Fascinated, the witnesses observed the cadaver.  The hair was all there, the body, in a perfect state of conservation, seemed to have dried in a certain measure, the shroud was just a bit yellowed, as well as the cushion on which the defunct’s head rested.

“These details were given to us by Mr Lesaint himself.  Quite shaken by such a sight, Mr Lesaint was, however,  able to remain calm.  Mme Lesaint was also able to control herself, but that same evening, her nerves having been too sorely tried, a doctor had to be called to administer a tranquillizer to her.  It is true that it was enough to make one feel that one’s reason was in jeopardy for a moment, seeing such a mystery:  Mr Theophile Lestelle died and was buried forty years ago on 10 July 1937 exactly.  He was a master tailor in the Army and had succumbed following a long illness.

“We have said that the shroud was just a bit yellowed.  The cotton material had kept all its solidity, to the point that it sufficed to take it by its four corners to lift the body, which was then placed inside a new coffin.

“One of the Directors of the Funeral Parlour was present at the exhumation.  Extremely astonished by the cadaver which had not decomposed, he told us that he had ‘never seen a similar case over the whole of his professional life’.  Normally, after three years, sometimes four at maximum, only bones were found, all the rest had disappeared.  Same reaction from Mr Honore who was also present, and who is undertaker in tombs since 1925.  In fifty-two years in the profession, this man has never seen such a thing!

“The mystery remains complete.  Of course, here and there in the world, a few rare, identical phenomena have been cited, but they are so exceptional that they have always struck the imagination of the crowds, like each time that the laws of Nature, for unknown reasons, do not follow the paths that they have traced over the ages.”

We share this journalist’s perplexity, even more willingly in that, in this case – the investigation confirmed it – he was a man having lived quite an ordinary life.  We have in fact no satisfactory explanation for these strange phenomena.

The more Science progresses – as Koestler says -, the more we realize that we know less and less about more and more things…


To be continued.

On 28 December 1898, Father Chabrel, a Maronite monk from Lebanon, dies aged 78 in the Saint Maron Monastery.

Saint Maron is the best known Maronite convent in Lebanon.  It bears the name of the founder of the Maronite religion, a Catholic religion of Syrian rites;  its Head, the Archmandrite, has spiritual pre-eminence over all the other Lebanese convents and great moral prestige in the whole of Syria.

After his death, Father Chabrel’s body is placed in an underground tomb after a simple but moving ceremony.

From now on, his mortal remains will repose among the scattered bones of his brothers in religion.  Destined to an even more rapid disappearance because the tomb is dripping with humidity.

But, right from the night following the burial, and during 45 other nights, an intermittent light escapes from the tomb.  It is so bright that it lights up the monastery’s high cupola.  This light can be seen from very far away, as is indicated in a police report at the time.  After a few weeks of hesitation, the Archmandrite has the tomb opened in front of ten witnesses.

This cut hand, belonging to an unknown person, was found in a state of perfect conservation.

It is the morning of 15 April 1899.

When the heavy tombstone tips over, light engulfs a veritable bog…  on top of which floats the perfectly intact body of Father Chabrel.  There again, the skin has kept all its freshness and suppleness.  Not one hair of his beard, not one hair on his head has fallen.  But, even more stupefying, from this fresh and supple body which appears to be that of a sleeping man, fresh blood is flowing.

His clothes and linen are changed, he is placed back in a heavy coffin with a glass top.  This coffin is placed in an oratory.  The next day, and all the days which follow, blood, or at least a red liquid, seeps abundantly from the pores of his skin.  So that the “cadaver’s” clothes have to be changed twice a week…

This incredible phenomenon continues for years.

In 1900, the body is exposed for six months on the church’s terrace to dry it in the sun.  In vain.  For twenty-seven years, a liquid composed of water and blood continues to seep from the cadaver.

On 24 July 1927, the body is placed in a coffin covered in zinc, along with a metal cylinder containing a complete medical synthesis of the phenomenon from its beginning.  This report is signed by Professor Arnaud Jouffroy, from the Faculty of French Medicine in Beyrouth, and by Theophile Maroun, Professor of Pathological Anatomy at the same Faculty;  (we must remember that, at this time, Lebanon is placed under French mandate, and that a High Commissioner exercises the authority of the French Republic there).

In 1952, there is a new exhumation.

To the astonishment of the medical, theological, scientific and police authorities, the body bears not the slightest trace of decomposition and still exudes a liquid composed of water and blood.

This prodigy suscitates considerable interest, and the authorities are led to expose the body from 7 to 25 August to public view.  Then, it is put back into the tomb whose stones are carefully cemented.

We still don’t know the explanation of this double mystery:  the suppleness and integrity of the body and, above all, the uninterrupted flow of that perspiration of blood.

In half a century, the cadaver had in fact produced more than twenty litres of that humour, while the fluids contained in the living human body does not excede five litres.

For a quarter of a century, several scholars studied this prodigy.

The case of Father Chabrel has notably been carefully studied in France by Doctor Larcher, the author of a fascinating book:  Can Blood Vanquish Death? [Le Sang peut-il vaincre la mort?]


In 1204, when the Crusaders, who had just taken Constantinople, penetrated Justinien's tomb, the Emperor, who had died 639 years earlier, seemed to be sleeping in his coffin.

Such cases, historically repertoried and scientifically studied – or at least examined by well-balanced people worthy of trust – are fairly numerous.

Let us cite the story of Jean Le Vasseur, Seigneur de la Boutillerie, Mayeur de Lille and founder, in 1618, of the Chartreuse de Notre-Dame-des-Douleurs.

Brave Conventionnels took it upon themselves to profane his tomb in June 1793.  Under the great sepulcral stone in the Notre-Dame-des-Douleurs Church, they found a lead coffin which they pulled apart, displaying an oak coffin inside it.  They broke this with an axe, and the body of Jean Le Vasseur then appeared, perfectly conserved and looking exactly like the portrait which still decorates the fireplace of the monastery’s great hall.  Seized with fear, one of the authors of this profanation threw himself on his knees, imploring divine pardon.

One hundred and forty-nine years after the death, the flesh has, there too, escaped all decomposition and when a hooligan undertakes to cut a finger from it, vermilion blood wells from the wound.

After two army surgeons wash it, change it and leave it seated on a chair, its head wearing a bonnet garnished with a tricoloured ribbon, another surgeon comes along.  His name is Jean-Francois Degland and he practises an “autopsy” on the body.  Dark red blood pours out in abundance, and all of the organs are recognised to be intact.  Degland takes away the heart for a trophy, leaves the cadaver lying in the church, and announces in Lille that he has just opened the body of a saint.

Seventeen days later, the body is still in the same state of conservation, despite the very hot weather.

This prodigy suscitates corteges that the Revolutionaries will quash…  by throwing the Venerable Le Vasseur’s remains into the common grave.

Are these three cases miracles which bear witness to the reality of divine existence?  Perhaps…  although Roseline de Villeneuve and Father Chabrel did not leave the memory of a nun and a monk who were surely destined to enrich the Golden Legend of the Saints.  However, there are a certain number of cases of quite ordinary people, whose bodies have escaped what appears to be the destiny of all flesh in this life.


To be continued.

Louis XIV in his coronation robes.

On this Sunday of the year 1660, at La Celle-Roubaud, a minuscule village in Provence which is preparing to live a prodigious event, there is great joy in the air…

In a moment, King Louis XIV in person is going to make his entrance into the church, accompanied by Madame his Mother, the religious Anne of Austria, and a brilliant and numerous suite.  It is the Queen Mother who has advised this detour via La Celle-Roubaud.  But why go into this isolated village when, at a short distance from there, the venerable walls of Thoronet, the pearl of Roman Abbeys, is ready to welcome the young King and his suite for their Vespers?

Using his long walking stick with the engraved pommel, the King has just entered the church and is now walking slowly towards the main altar.  He bows, imitated by the whole suite, as he passes in front of the tabernacle, then, guided by the parish’s Curate, he approaches a shrine situated to the right of the choir.  A heavy chest in gilded wood, entirely covered by a plate of glass, shelters an open coffin.

Certain bodies remain intact after death. This is the head of Saint Sebastien, in his glass coffin, at Puebla, Mexico.

In the coffin is the cadaver of a sixty-year-old woman.

The skin of the face is smooth and satiny, a slightly pink coloration tints the surface of the cheekbones and hands.  The long, slim, ivory-coloured hands appear alive.  The lowered eyelids, the pink mouth slightly open, the supreme calm of her features, all appear to indicate that this woman dressed in a nun’s habit, is plunged into a sort of lethargic sleep.

Is it really a cadaver?  Has a supremely gifted embalmer succeeded in conserving this appearance of unheard-of freshness to the body?  The young King, who for the moment is alone with his mother looking at it, is astonished, amazed.  He questions the Curate, and then a member of his suite who is dressed in a severe, black suit.  He is again told that the cadaver of this nun, Roseline de Villeneuve, has been in this state of conservation since 17 January 1329 precisely.  For more than three centuries.

The fascinated King has trouble dragging himself from his contemplation.  He slowly moves in the direction of the sacristy.

There, the Curate who has preceded him again, presents a silver reliquary to him…

Lying on a small cushion of pale silk, there are two spheric objects whose view provokes a brief backward movement in the Queen Mother.  These two objects are the dead woman’s eyes…  They have the exact appearance of eyes that have just been taken from a living face:  slightly shiny, they have a completely limpid brilliance.  And above all, they appear to show a human sentiment, whose precise meaning remains mysterious, however.

Troubled, the King turns toward his doctor and murmurs:

“Do you think that it is possible?…”

“For God, nothing is impossible,”

replies in an oppressed voice, the King’s doctor, Antoine Vallot, who shortly beforehand had saved the life of the seriously ill King.

The King remains motionless for a moment then suddenly straightens.

“I want this eye, the left one, to be pricked twice…  And then we shall truly see if they are real eyes!”

Despite his repugnance, Vallot scarcely tergiverses.  For the last few months, all of Louis’ injunctions are delivered in a new tone of voice…  The one which is suited to the most absolute monarch in the History of France.

He pricks twice on either side of the iris.  Which immediately shrivels and loses its brilliance while a bit of pink humour escapes from the eye.

Appalled, the King takes a step backwards.  He has to admit the miracle.  This nun’s body, like the eyes which had been detached from it, has remained for three hundred years in a state of total incorruptibility.

What do the documents say?

The body of Sister Catherine Laboure, which has not been embalmed, shows no trace of corruption, after more than a century.

The nun, Roseline de Villeneuve, dies on the morning of 17 January 1329, without leaving any exceptional memories behind her.  During the few days that her remains are exposed, some spontaneous cures apparently occur.

But what particularly strikes the observers, is the cadaver’s appearance.

This sixty-year-old woman has been dead for days, and her cadaver conserves all its suppleness, the eyes have kept all their brilliance, and none of the usual signs of the decomposition which follows death can be seen.

Roseline is buried anyway in the little, sloping cemetery of La Celle-Roubaud, but this prodigy is of course discussed in the surrounding countryside.

However, it takes five years before the decision is taken to exhume her on 11 June 1334.

When the extremely damaged oak lid is taken off, there is stupefaction and fear:  despite the great humidity of the ground which lines the tomb, the cadaver appears to be in a state of perfect conservation.  It is even rapidly discovered that it had absolutely not changed since the moment of her funeral.  Her eyes, which are still as limpid, are then removed and placed in a reliquary.  The body itself is placed in the shrine which is contemplated three centuries later by Louis XIV.

During the Revolution, this singular relic escaped the destruction ordered by the Comite de Salut public.

Around one hundred years later, Roseline de Villeneuve’s body, which is still in this state of unlikely conservation, will be transferred, this time into a marble and glass shrine.

Abbot Arnaud, the Curate of Arcs, the big town of which La Celle-Roubaud is a dependency, recounts in a book which he publishes in 1887, how this operation unfolded.

The Bishop of the Var, Monsignor Michel, assisted by four doctors, lengthily notes the suppleness of the members, the perfect freshness and elasticity of Roseline’s skin.  The medical report notably indicates:

“The cadaver’s foot is fresh and flexible, the flesh depresses and rises again under pressure from fingers.”

And then suddenly, in 1887, insects attack this body which was so fabulously conserved.

Embalmers and chemists are rushed from Rome;  but on 6 July 1894, it is a poor mummy, shrivelled and dry, that is placed in the new, hermetically sealed shrine.  And that is what can be seen today.

The eyes that had been placed in the reliquary decomposed at the same rhythm as the body before the intervention of the embalmers…

Everything is therefore over, there is no more miracle.

But how do we explain this body’s prodigious resistance to all corruption for five hundred-and-sixty-five years?

To be continued.

Poor Angelique Cottin was evidently not an “electric girl”.  In the middle of the XIXth Century, electricity still appeared to some as a subtle and mysterious ether, a slightly occult power, a “fairy”.  Long considered as a curiosity of physics cabinets, electricity enters the laboratories of the scholars, in 1800, with the leyde bottle and the discovery of the electric battery by Volta.  From static, electricity then becomes dynamic.  From then on, it suscitates prodigious interest everywhere.

Francois Arago.

The scholars construct machines which produce work, heat, and soon, light.  Arago, one of the inventors of the electro-magnet, will build “turning machines”, the ancestors of dynamos and alternators.  The scholars multiply “experimental conferences” on the subject, and they are booked out by all that Europe and America count in scholars and cultured people.  By naive people too, and snobs, who then credit electricity with all sorts of mirifical powers.

This is why Faremont and Tanchon, who have read and badly assimilated the studies of the epoch, absolutely want to explain this phenomenon by the powers of electricity.


Numerous scientific observations have since been made on the movements of objects accompanied by strange noises.

It is the classic phenomenon of the poltergeist.  The exact definition given by Science to the phenomenon is:  “haunting without a ghost”.  In fact, these manifestations are also connected  to the presence of young adolescents, in the places where they happen.

In the March 1951 number of the Annales de medicine legale et de criminology, Professor Christiaens evokes a similar story whose heroine is called Josiane.

Because of the repetition of noises and the moving of objects in a house, the young girl is sent three hundred kilometres away.  Everything immediately returns to normal.

Soon, however, the phenomena begin again in the bedroom that she had previously occupied.  This renewal of the manifestations corresponds to an attempt made by the young girl to clandestinely approach her house.  Professor William Barret has even described the role of “heart”, or “determining factor” of an adolescent, for a similar phenomenon.  There is also the famous case of Matthew Manning.  But the one that has been the most rigorously observed occurred in 1968 in Rosenheim, Germany, in the office of a lawyer named Adam.  Up until the filing of a complaint against X, all sorts of unlikely phenomena were produced there.  Objects changed places, others broke.  Engineers from the Max Planck Institute then made a very detailed enquiry, and it was noted that the phenomena ceased completely after the departure of a young female secretary.


Nothing happened when the Academie des Sciences tested Angelique.  But the poor girl was very impressed by the laboratory apparatus, and nothing proves that these phenomena can be produced at will.  The test was also directed by Babinet, a Member of the Academy who had every reason to contradict Arago, for political motives.  At this time, it was the Left who believed in unknown forces, and the Right which supported rationalism.  Poor Angelique Cottin’s case therefore rapidly took on a political aspect…  and, also, a sordid one, since her godfather wanted to exploit her gifts unscrupulously.


We know about this story from the newspapers of the epoch which were full of it…,  because the whole of Paris was also talking about Arago and the “electric girl”.  Finally, because the story of Angelique, the gymnote, is mentioned in the reports and controversies of the Academy of Sciences that everyone is able to consult…


The Paris Observatory where scholars, under the direction of Francois Arago, experimented on Angelique Cottin.

On 16 February 1846, we find Angelique Cottin in the laboratory of the Observatory situated in the 5th Arrondissement of Paris.

The Academicians Mathieu, Laugier and Goujon are there in the name of a Commission of scholars that Arago has just unofficially summoned.

The “electric girl” is not in very good form and is content with making a few papers fly about, and shaking a side-table.

Minutes are nonetheless taken and the next day, which is the day of the public seance at the Academy of Sciences, Arago comments the previous day’s events.

Babinet, a venerable elder of the institution almost suffocates from laughing.  His laughter is even greater in that, as head of the Right at the Institut de France, he is the sworn enemy of Arago.  Arago loses his temper, stamps his foot and bangs his fist onto the tribunal, which brings smiles to the faces of the Ultras who have never been so amused.

Francois Arago.

However, it is decided to constitute a Commission of Enquiry which will be composed of Arago, Becquerel, Rayer, Parisot and that light who is Isidore Geoffroy Saint-Hilaire.

The kingdom of Geoffroy Saint-Hilaire is the Jardin des Plantes.  But poor Angelique will not be given much time to discover its beauties…  When she is introduced into the great laboratory, she finds herself confronted with menacing test-tubes, bobines, balls of copper, tubs in which mysterious dials are plunged, full of malefic liquids.  In other words, another planet for the unhappy girl who starts to cry gently, and then more and more loudly, and even louder because she has been delivered for an instant from the control of the frightful Cholet.

It is in vain that they attempt to touch her with certain bizarre apparatus.  All these old men seem repulsive to her and, faced with magnetic fields that she is supposed to polarise, she breaks down and demands her Bouvigny fields and her only real friends, the cows and the Percheron horses.

They are obliged to send for Cholet who is waiting in the adjoining room, with Tanchon and mother Loisnard.

Nothing can be done, and at the end of this memorable seance, the extra-sensitive galvanometre hasn’t registered the slightest electrical fluid.

Babinet hopes to reduce to silence all magnetisers, spiritists and any other “occultists”.  He largely inspires the decision rendered by the Commission three days later:

“In the seance of 17 February, the Academy received from Monsieur Cholet and Monsieur the Doctor Tanchon a note relative to the extraordinary faculties which, they said, had developed over roughly one month in a young girl of fourteen, from Bouvigny, in the Orne, by the name of Angelique Cottin.

“The Academy, conforming to custom, charged a Commission to examine the claimed facts and to report the results.  We are going to acquit ourselves of this duty, in few words.

“We were assured that Mademoiselle Cottin exercised a very intense repulsive action on the bodies of all matters, at the moment when any part of her clothing came to touch them.  It was even said that a side-table was tipped over.  No appreciable fact of this kind was manifested in front of the Commission.

“Monsieur Tanchon believed that Mademoiselle Cottin had the faculty of distinguishing the North pole from the South pole of a magnetised needle by simply touching the tips with her fingers.  The Commission is assured by varied and multiple experiments that the young person does not possess this claimed faculty.

“The Commission will not push any further the enumeration of her aborted attempts.  It will content itself with declaring, in conclusion, that the only fact which was performed in front of it is that of a brusque and violent movement by the chair on which the young person was seated.

“Serious suspicions being raised about the manner in which this movement was happening, the Commission decided to submit it to an attentive examination.  It announced without hesitation that the researches would tend to discover the part that certain clever and hidden manoeuvres could have on the observed facts.  From this moment, it was declared to us by Monsieur Cholet that the young girl had lost her attractive and repulsive faculties and that we would be immediately informed when they happened again.  Many days have passed since then and the Commission has not been alerted.

“We have however learnt that Mademoiselle Cottin is taken every day into salons where she repeats her experiments.  The Commission is of the opinion that the notes relating to this person, which were given to it beforehand, should be considered as not having occurred.”


Arago is only implicitly attacked, and it is Tanchon who is presented as the culprit.  Why doesn’t he protest?  While leaving the Jardin des Plantes, Cholet had threatened:

“All these old pigs won’t ruin us.”

That same evening, Tanchon has the explanation of these equivocal words.  A numerous public has invaded the dining-room of the dodgy hotel, places are being let at a good price, and Angelique has recovered all her gifts.

Honest Doctor Tanchon loses his temper, but he is mocked.  The very next day, he boards the train and Angelique cries a lot, again, sensing that she has just lost her last protector.

Alerted from the Orne by the doctor, Arago orders an enquiry.  The commerce of which the “electric girl” is the object prospers every day, and she now gives permanent shows which bring her a lot of money…  which Cholet pockets of course.

Hundreds and hundreds of witnesses will still see her command, more or less well, all sorts of incredible phenomena.

Now it is the salons of “advanced” opinion which take hold of Angelique.  Each chaise-longue which takes off, each wardrobe which sways, the tables which roll, and the soup tureens which fall, become so many insults to the Ultras…

When, by chance, the “‘gymnote girl” is a little late in manifesting her gifts, the inevitable Cholet is there to threaten her.  This gives rise to pathetic scenes during which Angelique, to whom success has given a little assurance, throws appalling looks of hatred at her godfather.

The owner of the dodgy hotel, who is well-paid, finishes by having enough of this noise, and one day throws Cholet and his goddaughter into the street.

From then on, we lose all trace of the “electric girl”.  We know that her persecutor returned home without her.  Had she lost her gifts, or worse, her soul, in the welcoming Halles quarter?

A tenacious legend in the Perche claims that she threw herself into the Seine.  She had said one day that it was too awful and that she wanted to die.


To be continued.

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