Category: population


The Marquise de Ganges

The Marquise de Ganges

It is 1656, in the ancient quarter of Saint-Germain-des-Pres, whose narrow alley ways and high houses, the tops of which touch each other above the street, have always favourized the most equivocal fermentings of the mind.  In this sombre XVIIth Century, throughout which flames regularly devour witches, the little Rue d’Hautefeuille, bordered on one side by a disused Jewish cemetery and on the other by student lodgings, is no exception.  It could even be said that inside the few houses with little towers in this street, magi and fortune-tellers, adept in all types of mancies, are in charge of Paris.

One October afternoon, a young woman who is barely twenty years old, wearing deep mourning, has her carriage stop at the entrance to this little street.  If she wasn’t completely veiled, it could be seen that she is very beautiful.   So beautiful that the whole of the Court of the young Sun-King [Louis XIV] is ecstatic about it.  So beautiful that the Queen of Sweden, visiting Versailles, cannot refrain from saying:

“In all of the kingdoms that I have crossed, I have never met a woman who can compare to this beautiful Provencale!”

This beauty had been married at thirteen to an amiable officer fifteen years her senior.  She had very much loved him.  But he had recently died at sea after seven years of a happy union.  Now, his young widow is about to remarry, in obedience to her parents’ wishes.  This time her husband will be a gentleman of her own age, the Marquis de Ganges, Governor of Saint-Andre-de-Majencoules, an advanced post in the Cevennes.  The Marquis is also very beautiful, and so joyful!  Always dressed in the latest fashion, frequenting the best Parisian tailors, he is to be seen at Versailles at both the Petit and the Grand Risings.  He is always hunting, often in the King’s company.  He is exactly the same age as Louis XIV.  To resume, he is a perfect cavalier, who will go magnificently with this young, rich heiress…

Catherine Deshayes, wife of Monvoisin

Catherine Deshayes, wife of Monvoisin

A high oak door, flanked by torches, a flight of marble steps, and the young woman is at the lodgings of Catherine Deshayes, the wife of Monvoisin, whose profession is fortune-teller.  Upon entering the vestibule of the one whom the Greats, her clients, call La Voisin, the future Marquise has a moment’s hesitation.  She is shown a sinister hallway all hung in black and constellated with cabalistic signs.  But the maid leads her smilingly towards the magician’s lair.  The place has obviously been decorated by a succubus with refined taste and everything is intended to put the visitor in the right mood.  Between the standing statue of Belzebuth and a set of mirrors which allow people from the Past and from the Future to be seen, La Voisin lolls in an Egyptian armchair.  Fascinated, the young woman contemplates behind her a very crude allegory representing lust…

Draped in dark taffeta studded with little green dragons, her face hidden under a sort of nun’s cornette, La Voisin appears wary at first, and wants to know why the young woman has come to her.

“In a few days, I will have to make a capital decision.  I would like your spirits to advise me.”

The magician relaxes and tells her that she will ask them to answer her.  She asks her not to say anything but to write down, on the piece of paper that she hands to her, the questions that she wants to ask the spirits.  The young woman does not want to write anything down, fearing that the paper could be used against her.  La Voisin assures her that she will burn the paper before her eyes.

The young woman takes the pen which is being held out to her, backs away and writes two lines on the paper, which she then gives to the clairvoyant, who rolls it into a ball and drops it immediately into the mouth of a furnace where aromatic herbs are burning.  Using an elementary sleight-of-hand, La Voisin has of course hidden the paper on which is written:

“Am I young?  Am I beautiful?  Am I a girl, a woman, or a widow?  Should I marry or remarry?  Will I live a long life, will I soon die?”

She leaves, having made an appointment to return in three days.  The time needed by the spirits to come up with the answers.  The time needed by La Voisin to gather information from one of her many spies who investigate for her around Paris…

When the future Marquise returns, she hears this:

“You are young, you are beautiful, you are a widow.  Soon you will remarry…”

Then, touching the head of a stuffed salamander with big orange spots, she concentrates for a moment then says this, which is true clairvoyance:

“I have to tell you…  yes… I have to tell you, that you are going to die young!”

The young woman wants to know whether the cards ever make a mistake.  La Voisin replies that they rarely do.  The young woman begs her to try again.  The fortune-teller slowly rises and goes towards her oven.  In a recipient she takes a pinch of resin which she rolls in what appears to be incense, then throws the little ball into the fire.

A green and blue flame rises, which she carefully inspects.  She turns back toward the young woman.

“There is little hope…  You will die young from a violent death!”

***

To be continued.

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The Master of the Hunt

According to Sully, Henri IV met the Master of the Hunt in the Fontainebleau Forest.

According to Sully, Henri IV met the Master of the Hunt in the Fontainebleau Forest.

It is the 8 September 1598.  A group of hunters are riding in the Fontainebleau Forest.  At their head is a cavalier who speaks loudly with a rough accent.  His dress is neglected, his big nose reddened, his beard and moustache badly maintained, his fingernails black with dirt, a fairly strong smell emanates from him.  This is King Henri IV of France.

Since morning, the royal hunt has been travelling through the underbrush in pursuit of a stag.  Soon, they will stop in a clearing to eat some little meat patties and empty numerous flasks of Jurancon wine which the King has transported with him in all of his outings.  However, for the moment, they haven’t had anything to drink – and it is important to stress this fact.

Suddenly, the King stops his horse and tells everyone to listen.  All the cavaliers obey.  They then hear, coming from a distant place, which they estimate to be about half a league away, that is to say around two kilometres, the voices of a pack of hounds, cries and sounding of horns…

The King asks his companions if they too can hear hunting horns and hounds.  The Count of Soissons, who has cupped his big hand around his ear, nods and declares that it is astounding.  The King would like to know who it is who dares to hunt at the same time as himself.  Someone suggests that it could be an echo of their own horns.  The King dismisses this explanation:

“Our horns have never sounded any of the airs that we are hearing now…  Listen…”

It is true, the music coming to their ears – of course very muffled by the distance and the forest’s density – does not correspond to any of the airs which have accompanied the group’s hunt since morning.  The King decides to investigate.

He is about to spur his horse when, suddenly, the same sounding of horns, the same cries, the same hound voices explode at twenty paces from him, as if, by some spell, the mysterious hunt had made a prodigious leap through the forest.

Astonished, the King and his friends turn toward the track near them whence the noise of the horns and hounds seems to be coming.  The track is empty.  The King asks if anyone can see anything.  They see only the sun playing on the ferns, through the trees.

And yet, the hunters, the horns, the noisy pack are there, close by.  Calling voices, neighing horses, metallic sounds, like weapons clashing, can be heard.

Suddenly, these sounds, these noises, these fanfares move.  They were coming from the right, now they are coming from the front, then the left, then from behind, then, again, from the right.  Invisible, the phantom hunt slowly circles the King and his companions.  Henri IV is worried.  He orders Soissons to go to see what is happening.

Anxiously, the Count heads his horse towards the place whence the noise is coming and soon returns to say that he sees nothing but, like everyone else, he can hear the hounds and the horns.

At this moment, a big, dark, bearded man with long hair and flaming eyes surges from the underbrush and cries out in a terrible voice:

“You wanted to see me!  Here I am!”

Then he turns toward Henri IV and says:

“Turn over a new leaf!”

And he disappears.

Immediately, there is silence in the forest.  Not one cry, no sound of hounds, no horns, not a hoof beat.  The phantom hunt seems to have evaporated.  The King orders his companions to find the man.

They search the thickets, the bushes, the ferns, they look at trees, clumps of rocks, nothing!  The strange person has also disappeared.  The King decides to question the peasants.

And without a word, almost without a sound, everyone starts off and heads towards Fontainebleau.  All of them seem to feel superstitious fear to the point that no-one dares to break the silence.  Not even the King, who is usually so talkative, so joyful, so prompt to jest.

After half-an-hour of travelling along tracks of moss and Spring ferns, the little troop arrives in a clearing where there are tree fellers and charcoal smokers.  Henri IV calls to them and explains that he has seen a mysterious person surge in front of him like a devil, his eyes full of sparks.  The woodsmen nod their heads and tell him that it is the Master of the Hunt who often hunts around there.  The King wants to know who this Master of the Hunt is.

“It’s a ghost who roams in the forest…  Oh!  He’s apparently not nasty.  We see him from time to time.  But to tell the truth, we don’t like it much…  Once I saw the Master of the Hunt near Franchard.  He came out of the ground, right there, in front of me…  He was two strides away.  He looked at me for a good moment without saying anything.  I didn’t dare move.  Then he laughed out loud and disappeared little by little like smoke…”

The Count of Soissons asks:

“And you say that this Master of the Hunt is a ghost?”

“For sure he’s not a human like us.  It’s the Master of the Hunt!  Or the Black Hunter as he’s sometimes called.  Sometimes, he’s accompanied by a whole invisible hunt.  A hunt that makes the devil of a noise, with dogs, cries, horns…”

The King tells him that that was what they had heard.

“Well then, it’s the Saint Hubert Hunt.”

And the woodsman explains that it is a mysterious hunt composed of ghosts of men and ghosts of dogs who have been haunting the Fontainebleau Forest for a long time.

Most impressed, Henri IV and his companions return to the castle where they recount their adventure.

And the whole French kingdom soon learns and marvels, that the King of France had met a ghost…

***

Many questions have been raised about this story and the craziest suppositions have been made.  First of all, it was thought that an attempt on the King’s life had been made, then that it was a diabolical apparition…  Finally, people with no imagination concluded that the sovereign had been tricked by facetious poachers who had had fun imitating the sound of horns and the voices of hounds.  Henri IV had therefore been the victim of a joke.

***

If it were poachers, why did they tell him to “turn over a new leaf”?

It was said that the dark man who told Henri IV to "turn over a new leaf" was supposed to frighten the King and prevent his marriage to Gabrielle d'Estrees.

It was said that the dark man who told Henri IV to “turn over a new leaf” was supposed to frighten the King and prevent his marriage to Gabrielle d’Estrees.

In April 1599, that is to say eight months after the incident in the Fontainebleau Forest, Gabrielle d’Estrees, whom the King was about to marry, died of poison, and Henri IV took for wife the overweight Marie de Medicis.  Rumours then began.  It was murmured that at Fontainebleau, the King had not been the victim of a bad joke, but of a plot cooked up by a high-placed person.  Which one?  The Papal Legate.

The Papal Legate – who was in Paris at this time – was Alexandre de Medicis, who wanted the King of France to marry his fat cousin.  And it is explained that, to strike the King’s mind and bring him to repudiate Gabrielle, the Legate contacted the famous poachers and gave them the task of setting up the whole thing.  Which is supposedly why the Master of the Hunt was accompanied by a phantom hunt and why he told the King to turn over a new leaf…

***

Although this explanation was accepted by all of the contemporary chroniclers, the story does not end there.  In 1625, in 1647 and in 1672, the Master of the Hunt appears again to stag hunters, still accompanied by his invisible whippers-in and his phantom pack of hounds.  And in 1698, it is Louis XIV himself who sees him.  He would say:

“A person of supernatural appearance surged before me, making my horse rear, and addressed a few words to me.”

Words that the King never repeated.

And that is not all.  In 1897, an English tourist who was riding a bicycle in Fontainebleau Forest, recounted that she had met, near the Croix du Grand-Maitre, a dark man who had surged from a bush and who ran with the lightness of a deer, calling out:

“Yak, Yak, Yak…”

***

These periodical apparitions of frightening men could be simply scruffy, threatening-looking people roaming the forest, whom imagination and the memory of legends transform into supernatural beings.  They could also be hallucinations, “concrete ghosts”, according to one psychoanalyst.  In this case, Freud explains that the hunter is, of course, a sexual symbol because he is hairy!…  Apart from this interpretation, the hypothesis of an hallucination – individual or collective – should perhaps not be rejected for the Master of the Hunt is a character who is found in most Western folklore.  In the North of Europe, for example, he is called the Black Hunter.

***

The invisible hunt is an extremely widespread myth.  In the Blesois, it is the flying hunt of Thibault le Tricheur, in Touraine the Briquette Hunt, the Arquin Hunt or the Menee d’Helquin.  In Berry, it is Rigaud’s Hunt or Baudet’s Hunt;  in Bourbonnais, the Maligne Hunt or the Gayere Hunt;  in Bretagne, the Gallery Hunt;  In the Maine, the Artus Hunt led by the famous King Artus who governed the Bretons in the IVth Century;  in the Orleanais, King Hugon’s Hunt;  in Sweden, Odin’s Hunt;  in Germany, the Wooden Heer.

***

George Sand studied these strange phenomena and collected a few.  Madeleine Bosquet, the author of a work on Normandie romanesque et merveilleuse, published a certain number of witness statements which are rather troubling.

One night when Ronsard was returning home, near Vendome, the poet, who was a bit deaf, heard the sound of a hunt and saw a cavalier appear who wanted to take him up behind him.  Anyone else would have made the sign of the cross to make this vision go away.  Ronsard, who had been a soldier, preferred to draw his sword, and everything disappeared.

But this meeting troubled him to the point that he noted his impressions in a poem, which I shall not try to translate here.

***

Charles IX of France.

In Spring 1574, there is plotting everywhere and the troubles which are shaking the kingdom demand an urgent solution for the future.  What is going to happen to the young monarch?  Will his mother, Catherine de Medicis, renounce all authority over the kingdom?

Cosme Ruggieri, the Queen Mother’s astrologist, convinces her, for whom her dynasty’s interests pass before all else, to hold the darkest of ceremonies of divination, the ceremony of the talking head…

On the night of 28 May 1574, we are at Vincennes inside one of the castle’s nine towers, the one still called today the Devil’s Tower.  The Queen Mother is there, with two of her inner circle and her son who, breathless, is shivering with fever and can barely stand.  An altar has been erected and is covered in a black cloth.  A statue, draped in a triple black veil, represents the Mother of the Shadows, the goddess of suicides and madness, the divinity for whom the Mass is to be served.

Catherine de Medicis.

Candles, also black, light this altar on which there is placed an ebony chalice, filled with coagulated blood and two communion wafers, one white, the other black.  The man who is going to say this Mass is an apostate monk, converted to magic…

Into the middle of this lugubrious meeting a little boy of ten advances.  He is a kidnapped Jewish child who has been prepared for a long time for this communion.  He has been dressed in a white gown, is as beautiful as he is innocent and is waiting to receive God.  The magician begins the service by planting on the altar a long dagger, the handle of which represents a snake, then he recites invocations to the Virgin, launches anathemae to the God of the Christians, and consecrates the wafers to Satan.  The child, who doesn’t know what is happening, joins his hands and closes his eyes to receive the white wafer on his tongue.  But he has barely taken  communion than one of the infernal priest’s assistants plunges a dagger into his neck.  Then it is the dull clang of a sword which rings on the altar stone:  the child has just been decapitated and the magician brandishes this poor, little, innocent head and places it on the black wafer in a big, silver paten…

Bewitchment seance organized before Catherine de Medicis by Cosme Ruggieri.

The young sovereign has been forewarned.  It is at this precise instant that he must lean over and ask the head a question.  The head would answer him, and reveal all the future to him.

Trembling, this unnatural Prince approaches and asks his question in an unintelligible voice.  They wait.  Appalling silence.  Finally, a sigh escapes the child’s dead lips and they think that they hear that this sigh signifies:

“I am forced to do it!…  I am forced to do it!”

That is all.  Then the sound of a body falling.  It is the King, already agonizing, who has just fainted.  Salts are applied and he is brought to his senses.  He struggles and lets out appalling screams:

“Take that thing away from me!  Take that thing away from me!… “

He is rushed back to his bedchamber.  He is now delirious, he sees blood everywhere, he is sinking into a river of blood.  He spends the next two days like this in terror and hallucinations then dies on 30 May.  He was barely twenty-five years old.  At the autopsy, it is seen that his heart was all shrivelled, as if it had been exposed for a long time to fire…

***

This is a true story.  The bronze bewitchment was reported by the Spanish Ambassador to France, Don Francis of Avala, who on 8 June 1569 told the story to Phillip II, with the precision that “every day, the Italian watches the nativity of the three persons and his astrolabe, then tightens and loosens  the screws”

As for the Mass of the decapitated head, it was related in detail by the great jurist Jean Bodin, the author of La Republique and founder of modern Economics.  He was also the Secretary of the Duke of Anjou, Catherine de Medicis’ last son, therefore well-placed to know about it.  Jean Bodin had only one fault:  he absolutely believed in witches and recommended that the most rigorous punishments be meted out to them…

***

The Saint-Barthelemy Massacre was basically only a big, ritual sacrifice.

Stories of talking heads have always been part of the florilege of magical beliefs, although we don’t know their origin.  It is also known that Gerbert, the Pope of the year 1000, was reputed to have built a talking head, which had the gift of revealing the future.  But this was, of course, only a legend founded on this pontiff’s vast knowledge in Astronomy and Mathematics.  In the XIIIth Century, Albert the Great is said to have also had such a head as well as an automaton, capable, it was believed, of human behaviour.  This belief was also part of the bewitchments of the Middle Ages and has its origin in the immense scientific knowledge of Albert, to whom Chemistry owes discoveries of the greatest importance:  gold refining, the treatment of sulphur, the action of acids on metals, etc.  Like Gerbert, he passed for a wizard and the confusion that was made at the time between science and magic also explains that were attributed to him the paternity of the Grand and the Petit Albert, the collections of popular magic, the success of which persisted , in the Occident, for half a millenium.

***

To conciliate evil powers, Catherine de Medicis wore permanently at her neck a big talisman made from human blood, billy-goat blood and metal which had been melted during a favorable astral conjunction.  She lived surrounded by magi, deviners and astrologists, and it is on Ruggieri’s indications that she had built in the Soissons hotel an octogonal tower orientated on the cardinal points, whence her favorite magician could observe the stars and do his horoscopes.  A column of this still exists, nearly thirty metres high, included in the walls of what is today the Bourse de Commerce in Paris…

***

Catherine de Medicis permanently wore this cabalistic talisman made from human and billy-goat blood.

Ruggieri would survive almost thirty years longer than Catherine de Medicis and would remain the unmoveable oracle of several great princes of the kingdom.  Charles IX’s brother, Henri III, also given to black magic, would use him to send spells to the ligueurs and their chiefs, the Guises.  Not without success, since the two most illustrious representatives of this Roman Catholic family, for a long time more powerful than the kings of France, are assassinated, at the end of numerous acts of bewitchment.  The Guises returned the favour:  every day, the faithful were ordered to Notre-Dame to pierce wax effigies representing the royal family, there…  Henri III had brought from Spain at great expense all the grimoires of magic which are in fashion at Phillip II’s Court…  to make counter-spells!

The whole of France would believe that the regicide dagger which killed him in 1589 had been placed in Jacques Clement’s hand by larvae, magically formed during hate ceremonies.

***

Hate ceremonies are one of the essential ingredients of black magic, the final goal of which is vengeance, the awakening of interior negative powers, with their cortege of unhealthy desires, as opposed to white magic, of which the aim is to heal and to uncover secrets which can transform life in a positive manner.

***

Ruggieri was to be found at the side of Concini and Marie de Medicis, after the assassination of Henri IV, who didn’t much like his magic which he called “effeminate foolishness”…  To Concini who would occultly govern France for three years, he taught magic and was even more popular at Court after he predicted Henri IV’s assassination, having already tried to bewitch him.  Implicated in a witchcraft trial, he once more survived, but was very wary from then on and would live from the sale of almanachs which were very popular with the little people, who were superstitious.  He wrote them under the name of  “Querberus”.

Finally, he died very old, and despite the insistence of his protector Concini, the Archbishop of Paris refused him a christian burial, having his body thrown into the road.  The wise man didn’t care anyway, for he believed in neither God nor the devil but only, as the good Florentine that he was, in the power of the greats, and in daggers and poison.

***

Ruggieri was the standard-bearer of that generation of clever adventurers who appeared in France, destabilized by the Wars of Religion.  But more than his magic, it was his intelligence and his strength of character, without counting his absolute cynicism, to which he owed his career.  More than any other, he was able to make his own these words from the frightening Leonora Galigai, Concini’s wife, who at the moment of being condemned to death, declared proudly to the judge:

“My spells were the power that strong souls have over weak souls!”…

***

Charles IX would take part in an appalling, bloody ceremony of black magic organized by his mother and Cosme Ruggieri, at Vincennes.

Lost in the depths of the Parisian Marais, the little Sourdis backstreet, which still today has its milestones and its stream, once sheltered the workshops of artisans and smelters in the Wars of Religion era.  At which time, one of them is occupied by a German master bell founder, who has been brought in at great expense from Mayence.  No-one has ever seen this artisan, who lives in the workshop and never goes out.  He receives his orders from a little man always dressed in black, who is of phenomenal ugliness with his little beard and his enormous nose which is even more pointed than it is wide, which denotes, apart from evil, Mediterranean origins…

Every day, a carriage leaves the little man in black at the entrance to the backstreet.  In his round Italian-style shoes, always wearing a felt hat on his head, he hurries to close the door behind him:  in fact, it has been six months now since the master founder from the other side of the Rhine has been seen outside.  Inside, his work is taking shape.  It is three statues for which he firstly made a mould from three full-length portraits of the French Huguenot chiefs Conde, Coligny and Andelot.  The previous day, he had broken the moulds after having poured the metal alloy and for hours, he has been cleaning up the bronze to make the statues smooth and shiny.  Now, they are lined up over there, deep inside the workshop, life-size and ready to be taken away.  But the founder who has worked without any assistance – it was a clause of his contract – has not yet completely finished his work…

He lays the statues on their sides on a workbench and attaches them to it.  Then, he starts to drill holes in diverse parts of the metal, the joints and the chest in particular.  Holes which have the diameter of steel screws of which he has made a certain number as well.  He verifies one more time that they fit the holes properly and then, looking infinitely tired, he gathers his tools in a bag and waits.

The little man has come back and is inspecting his work attentively.  Then he counts out thirty double ducats of gold, takes him amicably by the shoulders and leads him to the door.  There, he stands back to let the man pass.  The man has not taken three steps into the narrow lane before he falls, his back pierced by a dozen sword thrusts…

There is no flicker of emotion on the little man in black’s face.  He comes back slowly towards the statues, pulls from his pocket a book written in Hebrew characters and, looking fixedly at the effigy of Conde, begins to chant invocations, while slowly, very slowly tightening the screws…

Catherine de Medicis had “bronze bewitchments” performed against the huguenot chiefs, Conde, Coligny and Andelot.

This is what is known as a “bronze bewitchment”, and the little man who is at work is the favourite astrologer of Catherine de Medicis.  His name is Cosme Ruggieri and he is the son of Laurent the Magnificent’s doctor, one of the greatest scholars of the Italian Renaissance.  Continually up against her subjects’ religious divisions, the Lady Regent, who has just signed the precarious Saint-Germain peace treaty, esteems that Coligny’s influence on her son Charles IX is redoubtable.  The Florentine adventurer has offered to get rid of him by magic.  Already, fifteen years before these events, in 1559, he had predicted to the Queen the death of her spouse Henri II in the famous Tournelles tournament, and Catherine, who is more and more given to superstition and undertakes nothing without referring to her augures, has accepted.  It is not that she unreservedly believes in these spells and she knows that nothing is possible without that luck which has so often shone on her, assisted it is true by the typically Medicis use of poison…

Has the bronze bewitchment succeeded?  A few months later, Conde falls from his horse in the Battle of Jarnac and is killed in cowardly fashion by Montequiou, a gentleman of the Royal Guard.  Andelot, Admiral Coligny’s brother, follows a few months later, expedited by a bad herbal tea.  However, the doctors who practise the autopsy of the two bodies are adamant:  on the chest, the thighs and the joints of the arms, the two men bear very clear stigmata…

As for Coligny, he falls seriously ill but would resist another three years, until the knife of the German Besme, employed by the Guises, kills him, along with the thousands of other victims of the Saint-Barthelemy.

“The more dead there are, the fewer enemies there are!”

comments Catherine de Medicis, while deploring that the massacre had also made an unexpected victim:  her own son Charles IX.  At the age of twenty-four, he looks like an old man, whose blood-spitting increases every time that the horrible images of the massacre return to his troubled mind.  He knows that his brother, the Duke of Alencon, is waiting for his death to take over the throne.  Against Catherine and the King, he has even formed a Party, “the Discontented”, which disapproves of the Saint-Barthelemy Massacre and wants to take measures of appeasement.  Not brilliant either, is the Duke of Alencon, mainly occupied in trying to wear the crown, even at the price of the death of his brother.  But the implacable Catherine is watching.  She discovers a plot, fomented by two close friends of the Duke, the Count de La Mole, lover of Marguerite de Navarre, the witty, nymphomaniac “Queen Margot”, daughter of Catherine and future wife of Henri IV, and a Piedmont noble, Annibal Coconas.  The conspirators are arrested and a correspondence is discovered which proves that Ruggieri not only has knowledge of it all, but that he has even been involved in the affair by preparing some little, wax statuettes stuck with pins…  One of them strikingly resembles Charles IX:  it is pierced in the heart by a sharp nail.  So Ruggieri, upon whom Catherine has been showering gifts, to the point of putting the Chateau de Chaumont at his disposition, where he has been spending enormous sums of money looking for alchemical gold, has been preparing bewitchments against her and her unfortunate son!…

The Florentine magician is a crook, but not a coward…  Atrociously tortured, he confesses nothing.  And he knows that the Queen is much too superstitious to dare to have him killed.  For appearances sake, he is sent for a while to the galleys.  Ruggieri would not go farther than the house of the Admiral whence there is a magnificent view over the Marseilles  harbour.  He would live there surrounded by luxury for a few months, making a profitable trade in horoscopes to while away the time.  Coconas and La Mole would not be as lucky:  they would be drawn and quartered by four horses and the pieces of their bodies nailed to the  gates of Paris.  So the guilty were punished.  But Charles IX’s health does not get any better.  To counter the bad spell, Catherine de Medicis pardons Ruggieri and has him brought back to her side…

We are by now in Spring 1574, and it is in this year that would take place the most appalling scenes of black magic in History.

To be continued.

On 25 May 1479, Charles d’Amboise, in the name of Louis XI, took the city of Dole and massacred all of its inhabitants.

All of the contemporary chroniclers agree:  never was a more abominable massacre ever seen.  Never had there been more blood, brains and innards scattered throughout a city’s streets.  It happened on 25 May 1479.  On this day, at six o’clock in the morning, the inhabitants of Dole, who had already been under siege for three months by the royal troops, suddenly heard “great fracas and great rumblings”:  a group of Alsatians had just penetrated their city “by ruse and felony”.

Immediately, the portcullis was raised by these traitors, the drawbridge lowered and the favourite residence of the Dukes of Bourgogne (Burgundy) delivered to the soldiers of Louis XI.

Trembling with fear inside their houses, the Dolois heard horses’ hooves and clicking of armour;  then a terrifying, inhuman voice roaring :  “Kill them all!”

Terrified, most of them went to hide in their cellars.  A few, however, wanted to see the face of this man who was condemning them to death.  Going to the windows, they could see, through the slits in their shutters, a cavalier “with glittering eyes” who, standing in his stirrups, was inciting his men to carnage.

This is how the Dolois saw for the first time this diabolic Prince, known throughout the kingdom for his taste for blood, this great favourite of Louis XI, this human beast whose name made whole provinces tremble with fear :  Charles d’Amboise.

Travelling through the streets on his black horse, screaming his calls for death, he soon arrived before the Notre-Dame Church where some Dolois Companies of Archers and Arquebusiers were attempting to defend themselves.  Then, with a great laugh, he roared:

“Kill them all!.  Let not one remain!…  I want to see the blood of the  Comtois flow like a river in the streets of Dole…  Go on!  Kill them!  Kill them all!…”

The French immediately rushed on the houses, breaking down doors and windows, and the Prince gave the signal for the massacre by slicing off a woman’s head with a blow from an axe.

Immediately, the attack began.  Never had such butchery ever been seen before.  For four hours, they killed, they raped, they eviscerated, they exploded heads with blows from hammers.  Entire families died by the sword, others were burnt alive in the cellars – one of which would be called Cellar of Hell…  There were cadavers everywhere.  The soldiers were trampling around in blood, in bowels and the debris of brains…

Around ten o’clock, the most ferocious of them, the cruellest, began to tire of killing.  But Charles d’Amboise, Charles the Satanical, whose armour was red with blood, urged them on.  His eyes protruding from their sockets, foaming at the mouth, he was screeching :  “Kill, kill!…”

And the butchery continued.  When they had no more swords, they slit throats, stabbed, crushed heads, strangled.  Soon, there was no-one left to exterminate.

Then Charles d’Amboise attacked the cadavers.  As there was no-one alive, he cut off the heads of the dead;  and this appalling work amused him.  He roared with laughter, crying out:  “Look at them, these earthworms!”

While he was busy with his twentieth decapitated body, a soldier came to inform him that a group of Dolois had taken refuge inside a house.  He straightened up, an ugly expression on his face, and was about to rush over there when he changed his mind:

“Leave them there to breed!  They’ll give us some little ones that we’ll take pleasure in coming to kill in ten or fifteen years!…”

***

On the following day and those that followed, Charles d’Amboise, obsessed with murder (his contemporaries would say “possessed by the Angel of Evil”), would continue to burn villages, rape and kill the unfortunate Comtois by hundreds.  Throughout the whole Spring of 1479, and throughout the whole Summer and throughout the whole Autumn, untiringly he would kill “with a wolf’s smile”.

Winter brought him back to the side of Louis XI who would make him his Counsellor and the Governor of Bourgogne.  But, as soon as the good weather returned in 1480, he left again, sword in hand, hungry for cadavers and thirsty for blood.

Seeing him pass with his green eyes too shiny, his triangular face and his long, slim hands, the people say:  “It’s the Devil!…”

After the appalling massacres led by Charles d’Amboise in Dole and the whole of Burgundy, he was suddenly struck down, at Tours, with a mysterious illness which made him let out “inhuman cries”.

At the end of the year, he decides to go to his castle of Chaumont-sur-Loire to organize a feast there.  But at Tours, he is suddenly struck down by illness.  Transported to a nearby manor, he retires to bed, a fetid perspiration flowing from him, and soon begins to let out horrible cries…  The doctors hurry to his side and want to examine him.  He swears at them and continues to roar with pain.  He jumps and leaps on his bed.  A witness tells us that

“He twists as if he were the prey of flames.”

Finally, he enters into agony.  An agony so strange, so unnatural, that the people who approach him do not stop making the sign of the cross.  However, these gestures seem, not only to terrify him, but to make him suffer.  He emits appalling, inhuman cries which remind them sometimes of horses, sometimes of the cries of a pig being slaughtered.

After which, he roars blasphemous words, insults God, swears at the saints, says outrageous things about the Virgin and curses the Pope, to the consternation of those present.  It is then seriously thought that he is possessed by a demon.  Monks come to exorcise him.  He rudely pushes them away, spits in their faces and pronounces so many sacrilegious words that the unfortunate monks flee, appalled…

Finally, on 14 February 1481, after an attack of convulsions which almost throw him from his bed, Charles d’Amboise dies.  He has on his face an expression so revolting that no-one accepts to stay with his cadaver.

Three days later, they go to bury him.  For this considerably important person who is the King’s intimate Counsellor, Governor General of Ile-de-France, Champagne and Bourgogne, that is to say one of the highest dignitaries in the kingdom, a solemn funeral is held in the Church of the Cordeliers d’Amboise.  There are present, under a dais, the Bishop d’Albi, the dead man’s brother, princes, mitred abbots and penitents in hoods.

At the altar, a Cordelier says the Mass for the Dead.

But suddenly, at the moment of consecration, this monk begins to gesticulate.  Those present, astounded, see him wave his arms as if he is pushing away something or someone invisible.  Several times, he descends and climbs the steps, stumbling.  Then he stops, with his back to the tabernacle, looking terrified.  At this moment – he would later say – a voice that he is the only one to hear clamours in his ear:

“Stop, Priest, stop!  Your mass is useless!  It has no meaning!  Laughable!…  This damned man is already with me, body and soul…  Why bother blessing an empty coffin!…  For this coffin is empty!…  Empty!”

The poor Cordelier, just for an instant, believes that he can see before him a grimacing person.  Trembling, livid, he makes the sign of the cross, descends the altar steps, walks towards the catafalque and cries out:  “Open this coffin!…”

The Bishop d’Albi rises and asks for an explanation.  The Cordelier repeats:

“Open this coffin!  I will only continue to say this Mass after being certain that the body of Lord d’Amboise is really there…”

Then, the guards remove the mortuary sheet and open the coffin.

Those present let out a cry:  it is empty!

Immediately, princes, bishops, mitred priests, monks, penitents and ordinary people, panicked, run towards the door and flee.

And never was the body of Charles d’Amboise ever found…

***

This story can be found in many works, and notably in a book by the Prince de Broglie, La Tragique Histoire du chateau de Chaumont.  The Prince de Broglie was the last inhabitant of the Chateau de Chaumont.  That is to say the descendant – a distant one, but a descendant anyway – of Charles d’Amboise…

There has never been any explanation.  His body was never found.

The first idea which springs to mind, is that someone removed it.  But who?…  And why?…  Louis XI?…  Upon learning of it, he had an attack of apoplexy.  And then, he was too superstitious to commit this sort of action.  Having people hanged and profaning a coffin are two different things…  No, it could not have been Louis XI.  So who?  A member of the Amboise Family?…  For what reason?  There remains – and this is the opinion of a few Historians – the hypothesis of the body being kidnapped by Charles d’Amboise’s enemies, whether they were parents of the unfortunate inhabitants of Dole, or of lords despoiled by Louis XI’s Counsellor.

This could have been done so that Charles d’Amboise would be damned by preventing him from benefiting from:  (1) the religious ceremony called absolution;  (2) a burial in holy ground…

***

The thing that remains inexplicable is that the Cordelier asked that the coffin be opened, for it is very certain that, if the body had been removed by Charles d’Amboise’s enemies, these people did not go to the monk to tell him about it…  even in Confession!…  But there is another hypothesis.  It could be supposed that someone, who had had knowledge of the kidnapper’s secret, hid behind the altar and spoke to the Cordelier monk.  Who, troubled and appalled, thought to have had a vision…  But this is only an hypothesis…

So, the conclusion is an enormous question mark…

***

During Charles d’Amboise’s funeral service, a Cordelier monk suddenly asked for the coffin to be opened. It was and everyone present screamed in terror: the coffin was empty. His body was never found.

Heather, aged 15, with her 13 year old sister.

Auntie Heather was born on 6 October 1918.  Her mother and father, my grandparents, had been courting for six years when they finally married on 5 January 1918.  This was because Pa (short for Papa, later for Grandpa) refused to marry while the other men were away at war.

Grandma had very nearly stood him up on their first “appointment” as she called their dates.  She had confided to a work colleague that she wasn’t really attracted to him and thought that she wouldn’t go.  Her colleague had encouraged her to meet him, saying “You never know, you might like him.”  Much later, she had confessed this hesitation to her husband, who had replied, “I knew where you lived!”

During the First World War, Australia’s soldiers were all volunteers.  Pa had volunteered but, although he passed muster on height and chest measurement, his request had been refused.  He wouldn’t say why.  Later, when the War dragged on and thousands of men were being killed or wounded, height and chest measurements were lowered and Pa thought that he might be accepted this time.  He was refused for the second time.  Grandma used to say that men who had volunteered and been refused should have been given some sort of badge to wear so that they didn’t receive dirty looks from passers-by in the street.  Pa played sport and looked like a strapping young man who just didn’t want to go to war.  After his death, Grandma found his application papers with CARDIAC written across them in red.

Heather at the beach.

So Grandma, who, at the age of sixteen had refused her first offer of marriage, finally had to wait until she was twenty-nine before being able to tie the knot.  Pa was thirty-five.

Their first child was born nine months and one day after the wedding, at home with the assistance of a midwife.  Grandma’s pregnancy had been a bit rough and so had the birth, but mother and daughter were doing well, even if both were very tired after the ordeal.  Grandma managed to say to the midwife, “I just saved my good name!”  To which the midwife snapped, “You would have saved your good name if she had been born three weeks ago!”

While Grandma was still weak, one of her husband’s aunts paid her a visit and enquired about the baby’s name.  Grandma replied that she was to be christened “Brenda”.  The aunt exclaimed, “Brenda!  Brenda!  Brindle!  Brindle cow!  If you call her Brenda, I’ll call her ‘Cowie'”  So Grandma, in her weakened state, agreed to change the name, and my aunt was named Heather Catherine.  Relatives sent white heather to her from Scotland the Brave.

Heather with her future husband.

When Grandma had recovered sufficiently to go for a walk with her baby in the perambulator (later shortened to “pram”) “an old biddy up the street” (Grandma’s words)  admired the little one, then proceeded to say insinuatingly, “My daughter had her baby one year after her wedding!”  Grandma rose to her full height of five feet two inches and replied icily, “Well, my daughter was born nine months and one day after my wedding!”  Put that in your pipe and smoke it!

The little girl had her mother’s blonde hair and blue eyes but her features were those of her father.  Later, a dark-haired hazel-green eyed sister came along and Pa, who would have loved to have fathered a son, refused to allow Grandma to risk her life a third time to try to have a boy.

Heather with her father and mother on her wedding day.

The girls grew up in a two-bedroom brick house, with a dog and an enormous aviary in the backyard.  The birds were Pa’s but the dog was everyone’s.  She was a black Pomeranian who loved to taunt the biggest dogs she could find on her walks, then, when chased by them, leap into Grandma’s arms and let her deal with them.  Grandma was not amused by this.  She wasn’t afraid of dogs, but an angry German Shepherd, still being insulted by the black curly bundle in her arms, was not a reassuring encounter.

The girls shared a bedroom and this arrangement displayed its limitations when the younger of the two went into a depression (known as a nervous breakdown then) and piled all the blame for her state on her sister Heather, who was twenty years old at the time.  Not only did young Heather have to assume the burden of her mentally ill sister at this time, the antagonism lasted for the rest of their lives.  Her sister continued to systematically blame her for everything that had gone wrong with her life and eventually stopped talking to her.  At the same time she did everything that she could to try to turn the rest of the family against her.  Fortunately, not always successfully.  Auntie Heather maintained a dignified silence through it all.

The family (left to right) Heather’s sister (my mother), me at 14, Grandma, Heather’s husband, her daughter at 10, and Heather.

Despite these problems, which hadn’t yet reached complete maturity when I was born, Auntie Heather became one of my godmothers.  She was consulted, including by her sister, my mother, for questions concerning the correct way to dress for a particular event.  The sisters even collaborated as a medical first-aid team during the Second World War.  Auntie Heather always knew what the text-book said to do and my mother always knew how to do it.  Things didn’t go as well when they tried to reverse the roles.  The whole family was on first-aid alert duty on the night that the Japanese attacked Sydney Harbour.  The siren was at the end of the street, a few houses away.  On the bus, on their way to work the next morning, the girls thought that people were joking when they heard them talking about the attack and the siren going off.  They had slept through the whole thing and could have been fined for it.

Same people, different places. We’re all a bit older.

Auntie Heather was the matriarch of the family.  She outlived her parents, her younger sister, her husband (a high-ranking Free Mason) and her only child, my cousin.  She died last Friday, 29 June, and will be cremated tomorrow, 4 July 2012, in Sydney.

She is survived by her four grandchildren and her son-in-law, but I am the only one left who knew her when she was a young woman.  Which is why I have written this.  All of the people in these photos, except for me, are now deceased.

Several times in the XVIIth and XVIIIth Centuries, navigators in Martinique declared having seen a merman who came out of the water to observe them.

If we study the first beliefs of men, we notice that all of the people who live by the sea have in common the myth of an ancient man coming out of the sea to educate them.  It is the Vinak-Car (the fish-man) of the Guatemalas.  It is the Cuculkan of the Mayas.  It is Manco-Capac for the Incas and it is Quetzalcoatl who comes out of the Gulf of Mexico.  On the Celtic coasts, it is Hue-Gadarn.  In India, it is Parascharya.  And must we recall the Neptune of the Greeks, and the Venus of Hesiode, who appeared in the waves?

Of course, these are all legends.  But what if the legends were really memories?

Two great astronomers, Shklovski and Paul Sagan, have seriously asked themselves questions on the legend of the Akpallus, and they wondered if it does not speak of beings who came from somewhere else, in the early days of humanity, to “launch” civilization on Earth.

The Akpallus are creatures who came from the sea and are remembered by the first Sumerian civilization.  Our History begins in Sumeria.

The famous astronomer Sagan gives the following hypothesis:  extra-terrestrial visitors, in space-suits, based on a space ship which landed on the sea, came to bring to men the rudiments of knowledge.  They appeared on the coast of Sumeria.  Hence the legend of the Akpallus, who were creatures that were half-man half-fish (the helmet which imitates a fish head, the breathing apparatus which represents a tail).  The sign of Pisces, which would unite the “initiates” of the Near-East, could be connected to this fabulous memory.

***

In the XVIIth Century, a merman belonging to Genoa sailors who claimed to have captured him in the Aegean Sea, was shown in different European cities. But it was perhaps a clever trick…

We could do away with the hypothesis of the Extra-Terrestrials and consider that the men, on the coast of Sumeria, really saw fish-men, whom they took for gods.

***

This is the oldest legend of Western Humanity.  Or rather, it is the oldest document.  Berose, who was a priest in Babylon at the time of Alexander the Great, is supposed to have had access to cuneiform and pictorial testimonies several thousands of years old.  And he has left us an account of the earliest times.  During the “first year” (that is to say, the first cycle), an animal “endowed with reason”, called Oannes, is supposed to have come out of the sea, coming from the Persian Gulf.  Its body was that of a fish and a man at the same time.  This creature taught men.  At sunset, Oannes dived back into the sea, spending the night “in the deep”.  For it was an “amphibian” creature.  After that, there were several generations of similar creatures:  the Akpallus.

As we can see, all of the religions of the maritime peoples have their origin in the apparition of beings resembling humans, emerging from the sea.

***

Life has perhaps appeared, developed and disappeared several times on Earth.  And the idea of a first humanity living in the oceans should be considered.  In this case, the “men of the seas” who were sometimes found, in former centuries, would be the degenerated remains of the first humanity.  The leftovers of a first extinct evolution…

***

For all of the children who have read Hans Christian Andersen, there is no doubt about the existence of mermaids…

The question that Benoit de Maillet asked himself in the XVIIIth Century was “Could there be creatures of human form in the sea?”  He dreamed a lot about the Botal Hole.

This is the path of our Naturalist’s reflection.  The child, inside its mother’s womb, breathes through two openings which correspond with four vessels, through which the blood coming from the heart is able to circulate without entering the lungs.  One of these openings is called the Botal Hole;  the other is the arterial canal.  The child lives like this, in the liquid environment of its mother’s womb.  At the moment of birth, air enters for the first time into his lungs where blood begins to circulate.  And the Botal Hole closes.  Benoit de Maillet concludes that, for some beings, the Botal Hole does not close completely.  They can therefore lead an amphibian existence.

Buffon pursued research in this direction.  He cites several experiments performed on little puppies, that he obliged to be born in a tub of lukewarm water.  He left them there for half an hour.  He removed them for the same length of time.  He put them back.  Going alternatively from water to air, the little dogs, Buffon tells us, were breathing perfectly in each element.  So Buffon concludes:

“It would perhaps be possible, while being careful about it, to prevent the Botal Hole from closing in this way and to create, by this method, excellent divers and amphibious species of animals who could live equally well in either air or water.”

***

As for mermaids, many illustrious men have studied the problem of monsters.  Ambroise Pare said:

“It should not be doubted that, just as we can see several monsters in diverse ways on land, in the same way there are also strange sorts in the sea.  Some are men from the waist right to the top, called Mermen;  others are women and are called Mermaids.”

Nearer to our time, the admirable Michelet, in his book La Mer, consecrates a chapter to Mermaids.  He asks:

“If these beings really existed, why were they so rare?”

Then answers:

“Alas, we don’t have to look far for the answer:  it is that they were generally killed.  It was a sin to let them live, for they were monsters…”

Perhaps the last Mermaids, the last Mermen, vestiges of an adventure of Life which aborted, did not survive longer than the XVIth and XVIIth Centuries, an epoch still rich in marvels and prodigies of Nature.  Perhaps there is still a small number of them in the oceans, hiding in distant abysses, forever far from humans, definitively afraid of our turbulent growth…

***

From Antiquity to the XVIIIth Century, men believed in the existence of mermaids. Sailors even gave very detailed descriptions of them.

Pliny, in Chapter Nine of his Natural History, writes:

“A deputation from Lisbon was sent to Emperor Tiberius to announce to him that a Triton had been seen and heard in a cavern.  Nereids have been seen on this same coast.  One of them was dying.  Her moans were heard from afar by the inhabitants.  The Legate from Gaul wrote to Emperor Augustus that several dead Nereids were to be seen on the coast.  I can cite witnesses (who occupy a high rank in the Equestrian Order) and who have certified to me having seen in the Cadiz ocean a man of the seas, of a conformation perfectly identical to ours.  During the night, this man of the seas boarded the ships!”

The Naturalist Rondelet, who professes in the XVIth Century in Montpellier, writes in his Histoire des Poissons:

“There was taken in Norway a marine monster after a great torment.  All those who saw it gave it the name of Monk, for it had a human face, but rustic and not very gracious, the head shaven, and a sort of monk’s hood on its shoulders.  The extremity of the body ended in a wide tail.”

And Rondelet continues:

“The poets say that there are Nereids (that is to say a feminine being, of human form, which lives in the sea).  Pliny considers that this is not a fable.  Some were seen on the beaches in former times.  Their complaints were heard.  Some were seen in Pomerania, with a beautiful woman’s face.  I have heard it said that a Spanish mariner held one in his ship, but that one day she escaped, threw herself into the sea and appeared no more.”

It can be read in The Great Chronicle of the Netherlands that in 1433, off the coast of Poland, a marine man, with palmed feet and hands, who let himself be touched by everybody, was fished.  He does not speak, but he seems to understand very well.

In the XVIth Century, navigators brought several mermaids to the King of Portugal who managed to keep them alive for a few years. He showed them to his friends and tried in vain to teach them to speak.

The King of Poland has him locked up in a tower.  But the man of the seas goes into such a depression that it is thought that he will die from it.  He is taken back to the shore, where a great crowd is assembled.  He waves goodbye, plunges and disappears forever.

Father Bonhour, a French Jesuit of the Renaissance, writes:

“Mermaids, of whom the poets speak, are not just inventions.  They have been seen in diverse countries.  Philip, Archduke of Austria, brought one with him to Genes, in 1548.  Another appeared on a beach of Holland at the beginning of the century.”

But it is to the Naturalist Benoit de Maillet, a precursor of Darwin, and who is the first to maintain, in the XVIIIth Century, the thesis of transformism, that we owe the most abundant documentation on the men of the seas.  Benoit de Maillet was Consulate of France in Egypt and Inspector of French Establishments in the Levant.  He made numerous maritime observations which he consigned in his work Entretiens sur l’origine de l’homme (1748).  For him, the origin of Man is in the oceans.  Voltaire, who makes jokes of everything, derides him.  But the collection of testimonies taken from the chronicles of Portugal by Benoit de Maillet demand our attention.

The King of Portugal in the XVIth Century, Manuel, nicknamed the Great or the Fortunate, is having a glorious reign.  Vasco da Gama opens the route to the Indies.  Brazil is conquered.  The Court of Manuel is grandiose, enriched by the treasures of Africa and Asia.  But never is a more surprising gift made to King Manuel than the one mentioned in History of Portugal and Relations of the East Indies:

“A fishing net, thrown at the point of India, brought in fifteen men of the seas which were immediately sent to the Lisbon Court.  Thirteen died during the voyage.  The only ones to survive were a woman and a young girl.  They came to King Manuel who never grew tired of admiring them.  The Oceanides appearing very sad, the King had them lowered into a shallow place in the sea, bearing light chains which prevented them from escaping.  And the Court, aboard boats, were able to watch their evolutions.  These creatures lived for a few years during which, each day, they were taken to the sea.  But they were never able to learn to speak.”

Here now is something taken from The Great Chronicle of the Netherlands:

“Today, six men who had gone by boat to the Diamond Islands were preparing to return home.  It was sunset.  At the edge of the island, they noticed a marine monster.  This monster had a human face and its body ended like a fish.  He had black and grey hair, a long beard, and the stomach covered in hairs.  He had a ferocious air.  When he emerged, he wiped his face with two hands while sniffing like a dog.  He approached so closely that one of the men threw a line to him to see if he would catch it.  But the man of the seas dived once more and no-one saw him again.”

This report from the captain commanding the Diamond Quarters in Martinique was received by Pierre de Beville, Notary of the Quarters of the Maritime Company, in the presence of the Jesuit Father Julien Simon.  It contained as well “the separate and unanimous statements of two other Frenchmen and four Negroes”.

Mermaids and other marine monsters as they are shown in the XVIIth Century work “Physica curiosa” by G. Schott.

Here is something else, which occurs in 1746 and is reported to us by Sieur Le Masson, employed by the Marine:

“A sentinel making his round at night on the walls of Boulogne noticed a man gesticulating in the moat.  He hailed him without receiving a reply.  At the third summation, the sentinel fired.  When the cadaver was recovered, it was  noticed that it was that of a man of the seas whom the tide had left in the moat.  The inferior part of the body had the form of a fish.”

On 8 September 1725, Monsieur d’Hautefort sends to Count de Maurepas, Minister of Louis XIV, the following sworn account:

“Seven ships had dropped anchor on the  Banks of Newfoundland, when, around ten o’clock in the morning, a man of the seas appeared on the port side of the French ship Marie-de-Grace, captained by Captain Olivier Morin.  He firstly showed himself under the barrel of the Foreman Guillaume L’Aumone.  Immediately, the Foreman took a boathook, but the Captain stopped him, fearing that the monster would drag him down with him.  For this reason, the Foreman only gave him a blow on the back, without stabbing him.  The marine man circled the ship several times, went away, came back, raised himself out of the water as far as his navel.  This all lasted from ten o’clock in the morning to midday, and the monster was seen for all this time by the thirty-two men of the crew.  They were all able to notice the following particularities:  the brown and dark skin, without scales.  All the movements of the body, from the head down to the feet (visible in the transparent water), were those of a normal man.  The eyes were well proportioned, the nose wide and flat, the teeth white, the ears similar to those of a man, the feet and hands the same, except that the fingers were joined by a film, like those that exist on the feet of geese and ducks.  To resume, it was a man’s body as well made as those that one sees ordinarily…  Around noon, the singular creature went away from the ship, dived deeply, and no-one saw it again.”

***

To be continued.

The holy phial

Legend has it that, during Clovis’ baptism, a dove from Heaven brought a phial containing holy oil.

The History of France begins with a marvellous story.  On 25 December 496, the streets of Reims are packed with a joyful crowd awaiting an extraordinary procession.  The Franc Chief, Clovis, who has decided to convert to christianism, has to go, in great pomp, surrounded by the principal prelates of Gaul, from the former Palace of the Roman Governor, situated near the Basee Gate – porta Basilica – to the baptistery where Remi, Bishop of the little city, awaits him.

All of the streets are decorated.  Gregoire de Tours tells us that

“the squares were shaded by coloured hangings and the churches hung with white curtains”.

As for the pool where the new Christian was to be, according to the rite, plunged three times, it was splendidly decorated.  The chronicler tells us, as well, that perfumes had been poured around and that odorous candles were burning, in such a way

“that all the people were impregnated with a divine odour and that God was filling the spectators with such grace that they thought that they had been transported amongst the perfumes of Paradise”.

The holy phial was used for over one thousand years for the Coronation of France’s Kings.

Along the streets, while waiting for the procession, well-informed people are saying that this baptism is the consequence of a vow that Clovis had made during a battle.  For a long time, Clotilde – daughter of the Burgond King Chilperic -, whom he had married in 493, had been begging him to abandon the cult of the gods Wotan, Ziu and Freia, to convert to the religion of the Christ;  but the Franc had been hesitating.  However, a few months earlier, while he was fighting against the Alamans, luck seemed to be against him and he had addressed the heavens like this:

“God of Clotilde, You whom my wife affirms to be the son of the living God, if you give me victory over these enemies, I will believe in You and will have myself baptized!”

Immediately after this prayer, the Alamans had fled in great disorder.  A miraculous victory for which Clovis rejoiced because it assured him the whole of northern Gaul with uncontested authority over the Gallo-Romans and the Germanic Francs…

***

For a long time, the holy phial was kept in this reliquary placed inside Saint Remi’s tomb.

The Remois, who are waiting and chatting near the Cathedral built by Saint Nicaise ninety-seven years earlier, are suddenly silent.  A buzzing of religious chants is announcing the arrival of the cortege which soon arrives on the square.  At its head is the Remois clergy preceded by a cross-bearer, then come Remi, who had instructed the King in christian dogmas, and different Bishops whose mitres, croziers and amethyst rings amaze the good people.  Monks and clerics follow, singing hymns of glory.  Finally, Clovis appears, alone, dressed in the white robe of catechumens.  Behind him walk two young women whose ravishing names – Alborflede and Lantechilde – have been circulating through public rumour.  They are his sisters.  They too are to receive baptism, along with the three thousand warriors at the back of the cortege, three thousand Francs with enormous moustaches hanging on their virginal tunics, who are advancing and trying to look meditative.

The ceremony is therefore going to last all day and the little people display intense jubilation about it.  Not that they are particularly fond of religious spectacles, but because they guess that there will be rejoicings attached to this one.  The arrival of this crowd of new converts into the Church’s bosom is, in fact, going to be accompanied by feasts and drunkenness, these excesses being absolved in advance by their pious pretext.

***

The Grand Prior of Reims Abbey wearing the holy phial reliquary around his neck.

When the cross-bearer arrives in front of the baptistery, the cortege stops.  Remi then gives a sign to Clovis who walks with a firm step towards the pool, his long hair undone.  With no hesitation, he enters the icy water, and the Bishop of Reims pronounces this sentence which would traverse the centuries:

“Bow your head gently, proud Sicambre!  Worship that which you have burnt, burn that which you have worshipped!…”

After which, the King having confessed his faith in God All-Powerful and in the Trinity, Remi plunges his head into the water three times, in the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Ghost.

Clovis leaves the pool, met by a priest who covers him in a big towel and rubs him down with respect.  Dried, the King goes into a neighbouring room to dress in a new linen tunic.  He re-appears immediately afterwards.

The public, let into the bapistery, then gets ready to watch the second part of the ceremony:  Confirmation.  The ritual is known:  the Bishop is going to anoint the newly baptized man’s forehead with holy oil;  a few psalms will be sung and all will be finished.  The drinking and feasting awaited by the little people could then begin.

This is when a prodigious event takes place, related by Hincmar, Archbishop of Reims, in the IXth Century in his Vie de saint Remi, and which is still being recounted, more than one thousand three hundred years later.

Here are the facts such as he reports them:

“As Remi and Clovis were arriving at the baptistery, the cleric who was carrying the oil was stopped by the crowd, so that he was unable to get to the baptismal font.  Therefore, at this font blessed by divine will, the holy oil was lacking.  And as the crowd of people was preventing anyone from either entering or leaving the church, the holy pontiff, raising his eyes and hands to heaven, tacitly started to pray and shed tears.  And suddenly, a dove whiter than snow brought in its beak a little phial full of holy oil, the suave odour of which, much superior to that of the incense and the candles, struck all who were present.  The holy pontiff having taken this little phial, the dove disappeared.”

Immediately, Remi, completely untroubled by this marvel, proceeds to anoint Clovis with the holy oil that has been miraculously brought, before a crowd that must have been astounded…

***

After the destruction of the holy phial during the Revolution, what was left of the original holy oil was collected and placed in this reliquary, by order of Charles X.

After the ceremony, the holy phial – as its name will be from then on – was piously carried by Remi to a safe place.  Later, it would be placed inside a dove of gold.  Those who saw it tell us that it was in slightly opaque glass or crystal, that its size was that of an average fig, that its neck had a whiteish colour, that its stopper was made of red taffeta, and that the oil that it contained exhaled the most exquisite perfume.  Some chroniclers, like Froissart in his Description of the Coronation of Charles VI, even affirm that the oil came back all on its own after each royal unction, and that its volume consequently never diminished.  The Historian Dom Guillaume, in the XVIIth Century, assures us that a “famous doctor” whose name he unfortunately does not give us, believed that “this celestial balm had been made by the hands of angels”.

So, Clovis’ baptism is marked with a divine sign.  And this sign would be used by the Kings of France for more than a thousand years for political ends.  In fact, the celestial origin of the holy phial would raise France to the rank of eldest daughter of the Church, suggest the idea of a ceremony for the taking of power being integrated into the religious liturgy:  Coronation;  make this Coronation a true initiation capable of transforming the sovereign into a King-Priest and a Healer King – who could cure the King’s Evil, for example – in other words, give a sacred character to the royal function…

A marvellous adventure which would make all the sovereigns of the world jealous and lead the English Kings to “invent” a holy phial – Saint Thomas a Becket’s – so as to found their monarchy on bases just as solid as that of the French…

This holy phial, now a “divine sign”, was used during the Coronation of almost all of France’s Kings up until the Revolution.  But on 16 Vendemiaire year II (7 October 1793), the Conventionnel Ruhl broke it with a hammer on the steps of Louis XV’s statue, in the middle of the Place Royale in Reims.

***

However, the holy phial did not disappear completely.  A few pieces of debris containing a bit of balm were collected by Abbot Seraine, Curate of Saint-Remi.  This balm, mixed with other blessed oils, was locked up in a new reliquary and was used for the Coronation of Charles X.  All that is left of the oil used at Clovis’ baptism is still part of the Reims Cathedral’s treasure today…

***

To be continued.

It’s Friday again, and 100 word fiction time!  All sorts of things have been happening.  Madison has changed her site address but that doesn’t change anything about our Friday meeting of the flash-fiction “club”.  The link to Madison’s story and the links to all of the other 100 word stories can be found on this page:

http://madison-woods.com/flash-fiction/damsel-fly

Here is Madison’s photo prompt and my 100 word story:

I’ve always known that there are fairies.  If they don’t exist, why are there so many of them in our myths and legends?  Why are there stories called fairy tales if there aren’t any fairies?  These days, we tend to swat things and ask questions later.  What if we’re killing fairies?

Here, behind the supermarket, there’s often perfectly edible fruit.  It’s thrown out when it gets a little spot on it.  Such waste!

I see the fairy in her pointy hat standing on a pebble in the puddle, her wings glistening.  I fumble for my reading-glasses.  I must see this up close!



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