The young girl, Don Miguel’s half-sister, is rapidly conquered by this beautiful Andalusian man who says that he is a friend of her half-brother. But at the moment of celebrating their clandestine marriage, by a devilish refinement, he reveals his identity to her. What a victory if the lovely lady had accepted to lose her soul, and what savour the taste of mortal sin would have added to the thing!… But the young girl pushes him away and, having slapped him, alerts the household. The lord of the place arrives, Don Miguel kills him and, while fleeing, also kills a domestic who was pursuing him.
This first defeat marks the beginning of a series of events which would vividly impress the young libertine.
On his way one night to a convent with his equerry to kidnap a nun – who was consenting, by the way – (this type of sacrilege was still missing from his collection), he hears some mortuary psalms being chanted inside a church. Intrigued, he enters. The church is empty.
He has scarcely taken a few steps when a violent blow to the back of his neck throws him to the ground unconscious. His companion brings him round and they both distinctly hear a lugubrious voice crying out:
“Bring the coffin, he is dead!”
Terrified, they rush home and renounce the kidnapping.
From this moment on, the hallucinations continue to occur. Called by a pretty girl who is dreaming on her balcony, he climbs up via a silk ladder and finds an empty bedroom draped in black, where a skeleton is lying surrounded by four candles.
He is on the verge of folly when he meets the only woman that he would ever love: Dona Jeronima. He marries her and lives happily with her for thirteen years.
The whole of Seville marvels. Don Juan has calmed down. Don Juan is faithful. To tell the truth, Don Juan has found the love that he has been passionately seeking…
Suddenly, Dona Jeronima dies, and Don Miguel, crushed with pain, again suffers hallucinations, appalling hallucinations which make him ill. To find peace again, he wants to enter a convent. His Confessor opposes this:
“You need to be active. The contemplative life is not suitable for you.”
And Don Miguel puts his fortune at the service of the poor, founds hospices, collects money for charity, cares for the sick, directs the convent of the Caridad with the same passion which formerly pushed him to debauchery.
Doing in Spain what Saint Vincent de Paul does in France, he exhausts himself at the task and dies at 52, surrounded by the respect of his peers and the admiration of the whole of Spain.
He is buried inside the convent’s chapel, underneath a plaque on which he had asked that these words be written:
Here lie the bones and ashes
of the worst man who was ever in the world.
Pray for him.
Soon, miracles take place near his tomb. When Guy Breton was writing this text, the Congregation of Rites was studying the dossier for the canonisation of Don Miguel. It is possible that he is now, or soon will be, a saint in the Roman Catholic calendar. This atheist, criminal libertine could have his statue in churches.
Don Miguel had many visions. One evening, on his way out, he passes a group of men who are walking rapidly carrying a stretcher. He stops and asks the bearers why they are going so fast. They tell him that Don Miguel de Manara is dead. He rushes to the stretcher and glimpses a cadaver which he recognizes… He is the one being carried away…
A few days later, he meets a procession which is coming out of a street and advancing noiselessly without displacing the slightest breath of air. Penitents are following in long rows, holding lighted candles… And he notices that the flames of these candles are rigorously motionless despite the walking.
This nightmare cortege literally turns him icy cold. He then asks which saint is being honoured. He receives the reply that they are carrying Don Miguel de Manara to his burial…
Don Miguel bursts out laughing. A nervous laugh which stops suddenly for he perceives a bier covered in black velvet and supported by monks. Behind them, the penitents are walking slowly. Don Miguel insists:
“What are you carrying there?”
One of the monks looks at him through glassy eyes and tells him that they are going to bury Don Miguel de Manara.
The cortege continues on its way and enters San Isodoro Church. Don Miguel follows it. He hears lugubrious chants and attends a Mass for the Dead. When it is over, he dares to approach the coffin placed in the centre of the nave and snatches off the black velvet covering it. He then sees in horror that the dead man’s face is once more his own.
He faints. He is discovered, unconscious, in the early hours of the morning, lying in the church.
All of his hallucinations were just as morbid as these. Here is a third example among dozens of others. One day when he is going to see a businessman about a farm destroyed by fire, he notices a woman who seems to have exactly the same body and is walking in exactly the same way as his dear Jeronima. He follows her. The unknown woman walks faster and faster and he is almost obliged to run so as not to lose her. She enters a church. He enters too and approaches her. He is about to touch her when she turns around. Under the mantilla, Don Miguel sees in terror a jeering skeleton looking at him…
These hallucinations were well-known in Seville. Everyone was talking about them…
If he had been the only one to have seen these things, a psychiatrist could probably explain them by the disgust that he felt for his former life, for his sinning with his body and even for the human body itself. But often, friends – sometimes high-ranking people in Seville – shared his visions. So these phenomena are inexplicable.
His mourning for his wife does not explain the hallucinations that he had before his marriage, the authenticity of which is certified by witnesses.
These appalling visions finally changed him. He founded a hospice and completely devoted his life to the poor. This lasted eighteen years. In Seville, he was called the Father of the Poor… His only distraction was to busy himself with the roses that he had had planted in the garden of the hospice. In 1678, the plague struck Andalusia, attacking thousands of people. Don Miguel devoted himself without counting to help the victims and died of exhaustion in 1679, after having cared for hundreds of sick people… Seven months later, his body was exhumed to be transferred. It was noted that it was intact. The face was smiling, and underneath the perfectly healthy flesh, people had the impression that blood was still circulating…
As for the roses that he had planted, they continue to flower every year, for more than three centuries now.