On this Summer day in 852, the eighteenth year of the reign of France’s Louis le Debonnaire, it is hot in Lyon and numerous people are strolling along the banks of the Rhone seeking some cooler air. Suddenly, someone points to the sky:
The good people look up and freeze in fear. At the same instant, other cries resound throughout the city:
“Come and see! Come and see! There is great marvel in the sky!…”
Then, coming out of houses, convents, churches, men and women invade the streets and remain stunned when they see what everyone else is seeing. There, above a prairie, at a height of three houses, a thing which doesn’t resemble anything that is known is floating in the air, motionless and silent.
Is it a chariot? A vessel? A beast? A dragon? No-one can say.
Suddenly, the thing begins to descend slowly towards the prairie and the good people of Lyon, terrified, fall to their knees.
The thing continues to descend. It is now a few feet from the ground. Finally, it lands with extraordinary gentleness. The people of Lyon, prostrate in the grass, don’t dare to move. Completely petrified with fear, they silently wait for whatever is now going to happen.
A long time ticks by.
Suddenly, a cry erupts from the crowd. On one side of the thing, a door has just opened. A staircase unfolds, and human beings appear at the top of the steps. There are four of them: three men and a woman wearing costumes similar to those of the Lyonnais. Now, they are coming down the stairs, mutually supporting each other.
The crowd, astounded, watches them.
They continue to descend, reach the ground, advance in a stagger. They seem stunned.
When they have gone about fifty paces, the staircase down which they have come folds up on its own, then the door through which they had passed closes, and the thing, still silent, leaves the ground and rises slowly above the crowd. When it reaches about one hundred feet, it suddenly makes a prodigious bound into the sky and disappears behind the clouds.
Then, the four mysterious people let themselves fall to the ground. They seem to be at the limit of their strength. The woman in particular seems to be in a very bad way: she is crying and her arms and legs are shaking.
The Lyonnais rise to their feet. Someone calls out:
“Careful! Don’t go near them, they’re sorcerers!”
But one of the men from the sky speaks in a tired voice and his language is that of the Lyonnais:
“We are not sorcerers. We are from a neighbouring village. We have been taken by genies… Do not be afraid of us!… But rather, help this woman who is ill…”
All four of them look so pitiful that some good people approach them and ask whence they have come. The man gives the name of his village.
“We will explain everything, but look after this woman, she has been so frightened…”
Then, despite those who are calling for death and yelling about witchcraft, they are taken inside a house where they are put to bed after having drunk some cool wine in which revigorating herbs are floating…
The crowd is gathered in front of the door. It will wait for hours before the men from the sky have enough strength to speak. Towards evening at last, one of them gives this extraordinary account:
“Voila. All four of us were in a field when this thing that you saw came down from the sky and landed near us. Beings similar to men came out and called to us. We were so frightened that it was impossible for us to move. Then they came and invited us to mount inside their airship. They told us that they were not evildoers. We followed them and the thing flew away. We were behind some round windows through which we could see the earth beneath us. We saw countrysides, rivers and cities; then we entered into a fog and, suddenly, we thought that we were in Paradise… One of the genies told us that we were above the clouds.
“After that, we slept. When we awoke, we noticed that the thing had come down in an unknown land. The genie who was taking care of us came to get us and took us inside a palace where there were some very beautiful women. He told us that these were their women and that we must be able to see that they weren’t demons.
“Then he took us on a visit of the city and we mounted again inside the thing. But before coming back here, we were taken on a trip to different places on Earth. We came down in countries of ice and in countries of sand where the heat was torrid. Before letting us leave, a while ago, the genie said to us:
” ‘Tell other men what you have seen, and tell them that we don’t want to hurt them, that we do not come to throw venom on their fruits, poison their fountains, excite storms or make hail fall on their harvests… Tell them so that your kings know it!’
“There, you know everything! “
The Lyonnais, who had listened to this fabulous story, are perplexed. Suddenly, a man cries out:
“I don’t believe any of this! These people are sorcerers. They come to make it hail!…”
“It’s the Duke of Benevent who sends them!”
Soon, the crowd is yelling:
“Yes, Yes! It’s Grimoald, the Duke of Benevent, who sends them to massacre our harvests! They are sorcerers!…”
“Death! They have to be burnt!…”
And they are led away.
While waiting for the stake and fire to be prepared, the screaming crowd makes them walk around the city. They are insulted. Stones are thrown at them. They are promised to Hell.
“Death to the sorcerers! Death!”
But a man runs up, alerted by all this noise. It is Agobard, Bishop of Lyon. He wants to know what is happening.
It is explained to him that these sorcerers come from the sky to spoil the harvests and that they are going to be burnt.
Agobard is a good man. He turns to the four prisoners and asks them to explain. They recount their extraordinary adventure once more. The crowd cries out:
“You see, they are sorcerers, they have to be burnt!”
But Agobard shakes his head.
“No! I strictly forbid you to burn them. These three men and this woman are not sorcerers. For the simple reason that they are lying, that they never went to travel in the air, for such things are impossible!”
“But we all saw them descend from the sky!”
“Then you were all seeing things!”
And for three quarters of an hour, he explains all his reasons for them not to believe in such a prodigy. He adds:
“And another thing, those who affirm that they were witnesses to it could well risk being taken for sorcerers themselves…”
As can be guessed, the Lyonnais then declare to their Bishop that the whole thing was only a dream.
And the four prisoners are released and return to their village while, in Lyon, hundreds of men and women – without confiding in anybody – would keep in their memories the obsessive image of a mysterious thing which had descended from the sky one fine Summer’s day…
To be continued.