Tag Archive: French Revolution


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.

The Count of Saint-Germain.

During a dinner, from which Saint-Germain is absent, the Duke de Choiseul, France’s Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs, suddenly turns to his wife and asks her why she is not drinking.  Madame de Choiseul replies:

“Because Monsieur de Saint-Germain’s diet without wine suits me admirably!”

The Duke erupts in violent anger and orders his wife to stop following “the follies of such an equivocal man”.  The Bailie of Solar then asks:

“Is it true that the Government doesn’t know whence comes a man who lives in France in such distinguished fashion?”

Choiseul replies with a ferocious air:

“Without a doubt we do know!”

It is at this dinner that is formed the animosity which would now divide partisans and adversaries of the Count.  As an intelligent, sly man, Choiseul is very careful not to use a process which could discredit Saint-Germain in the King’s eyes, by showing him for example that he is mistaken in trusting him.  Since this is France, a much more redoubtable weapon must be used.  And to wield this weapon, he hires Gauwe, an actor exceptionally gifted as an imitator, who is entrusted with making fun of Saint-Germain.  Made-up and his hair powdered, wearing false diamonds and taking the same accent as the Count, he wanders through the Marais telling the most extravagant stories.  He says for example:

“Jesus Christ.  I knew him very intimately…  He was the best man in the world, but he was romanesque and thoughtless.  I often predicted to him that he would finish badly!”

Hearing such ridiculous things, his auditors could only believe that they were in the presence of a liar…

The Duke also made up a story about the Count’s elixir and his longevity and had it spread everywhere.  In town and at Court, it was said that a Baroness, who was very old, bought a phial of this miraculous water, that she locked it inside a cupboard, telling her chambermaid not to touch it.  To be sure that she wouldn’t, she told her that it was an extremely drastic remedy…  against colic.  The lady goes out and, in the middle of the night, the soubrette experiences violent intestinal pain.  She rushes to the phial, and drinks more than half of it.  As the liquid is very light-coloured, she replaces what she has drunk with water and goes to lie down on the lady’s sofa, in prey to an irresistable need to sleep.  When, early in the morning, the mistress of the house returns home and calls her women to undress her, she comes across a little girl of three or four lying on the sofa sucking her thumb and kicking her legs…

As a man of superior intelligence, Saint-Germain laughs at these roasts and even enters into his enemies’ games.

One day when he is visiting Madame de Marchais, he throws his hat and sword on a piece of furniture upon entering, sits down at the piano and executes a piece of music which is very much applauded.  He is asked the name of the composer.  He says gravely:

“I don’t know.  All that I know is that I heard this march during the entry of Alexander the Great into Babylon!”

***

Louis XV also seemed to be indifferent to the charlatanesque stories circulating about the Count.  However, he forbids anyone to mock him in his presence and defies his protege’s detractors by locking himself up for long hours with him, while ministers and those seeking favours wait outside the door.

In 1774, the Count of Saint-Germain had predicted to Marie-Antoinette the fall of Royalty and the creation of a Rebublic whose sceptre would be the executioner’s axe…

The declared hatred of the Kingdom’s most powerful man is therefore incapable of doing anything against Saint-Germain.  For years, the King entrusts him, not only with his worries, but also with important secret missions.  In England, he meets Walpole and, in Holland, he treats with Louis of Brunswick who is his close friend.  In all the countries that he traverses, he accedes to the foot of the thrones, warns or advises the sovereigns, and the greatest personalities show him their esteem.  But if he only returns to France to prophesy the future death of Marie-Antoinette on the scaffold, it is because the attacks of Choiseul, who secretly dreams of supplanting the King, finish by becoming too heavy for him to bear.  If they do not succeed in tarnishing his image with Louis XV, they at least discredit him in the eyes of posterity, which believed for a long time in the legend of the imposter, a Saint-Germain who was a master of frauds and falsifications…

In the last years of a reign which ends in debacle, his adventurous path through Europe is studded with disappearances which sometimes last for years.  In 1760, he is in England and the London Chronicle consecrates an article to him in which it praises his riches and talks lengthily about his talents…  As for the secret of his birth, the austere British paper affirms that it will be revealed only after his death and this secret “will astonish the world even more than the prodigies of his life”

***

For the moment, the mystery remains.  And that is a good thing.  For at the moment of prophesying in Paris Marie-Antoinette’s death on the scaffold and then disappearing, the Count de Saint-Germain says that he will only come back to France in a few generations.  To warn it, before dying for good, of the terrible dangers which threaten it.  So…

***

Louis XV was certainly not a king as abominable as the pampleteers tried to paint him, and perhaps Saint-Germain was slightly less angelic than some – including the King – believed…

***

Not only was Louis XV very intelligent, but he also sincerely wanted to better the lives of the poor whom his great-grandfather, the Sun King, Louis XIV, had seriously harmed…  It is true that he became discouraged too quickly, but it is also true that he pulled himself together in the second half of his reign.  Although it justifies nothing, Parliament’s permanent opposition, along with that of the Party of the Privileged, to all of his reforms, contributed a lot to explaining his failure.  He also had a big heart, we must recall…  He wanted the regicide Damiens to be pardoned.  It was argued, as always, raison d’Etat.  And it is also because he was a man with a big heart that he became so sincerely attached to Saint-Germain…

***

To be continued.

Robespierre was presented as the new Messiah by a woman calling herself the "Mother of God".

Vadier would definitively condemn Robespierre by displaying a letter from a Geneva Notary, which proposes a supernatural Constitution to Robespierre.  It is the end.  After a three-hour battle, the High Priest of the Supreme Being is dead, killed by ridicule.

A few days later, on 9 Thermidor 1794, he who had wanted to bring back the Golden Age, via terror and the scaffold, perishes on the scaffold, amid songs, dances and cries of joy.

The day after this day when the Revolution falls, Catherine Theot is taken to the Petite Force Prison, and from there to the Plessis.  Robespierre had been opposed to her being harmed, and she now risks being persecuted as one of the tyrant’s accomplices.  Inside her gaol, covered in wounds, the origin of which cannot be explained, the Sibyl of the Rue Contrescarpe continues to prophesy…  She had vaticinated in her first prison:

“A great blow will strike me on the Pantheon hill, in a house next to the Ecole de Droit.  It will announce my rejuvenation and my transformation into an Immortal!”

Her prophecy as to the last place of her detention would reveal itself to be exact.  And what “great blow” does she mean?  To the questioners and gaolers who mock her, she says:

“Yes, I am going to die!  But not on the scaffold like you hope!  I shall die of my own death and unhappiness!  When I die, you will see!…  The ground will tremble, and it will collapse everywhere!…”

On 31 August, the visionary, surrounded by her faithful, enters into agony.  She dies peacefully at half-past seven.  At this precise instant, a formidable detonation shakes the walls of the prison.  The ground begins to tremble and all of the windows in Paris shatter while the doors of the prison next to the Luxembourg open on their own.

After the fall of Robespierre, Catherine Theot, considered as one of his admirers, was arrested and taken to the Petite Force Prison.

For a reason which was never elucidated, the Grenelle ammunition dump had just exploded, killing hundreds of people…

***

After this, the Mother of God’s gaolers took her prophecies seriously and, mad with terror, installed her body on a big parade bed, covered with flowers and surrounded by a thousand candles.  Of course, when they learned that it was the central ammunition dump which had exploded and that the Illuminated woman had nothing to do with it, they threw her body into the common grave and covered it with lime…

***

Robespierre had never seen her and didn’t even know that she existed.  The Atheist Party simply used her to ridicule Robespierre’s religious ideas.

***

This former pupil of the Oratorians, who owed to the Bishop of Arras his Bursary of Collegian and Student, lived right to the end surrounded by priests.  A fervent disciple of Rousseau, whom he had perhaps met in his Ermenonville retreat, he attacked Voltaire in all of his speeches, which caused great scandal among the Atheists.  At the Convention tribunal, where he purposely smattered his interventions with many resounding :  “May it not displease God!”  he said:

“To attack the cult, is to attack the morality of the People!”

Just before and at the beginning of the Revolution, the good God was never in better health.  When the churches start to be closed, people turn in frenzy to all forms of mysticism.  The most naive, or the craziest, revelations of somnambulists and necromancians, tarots and horoscopes, those of Mademoiselle Lenormand in particular, who has among her clients Saint-Just, Barere and Robespierre himself, who faints every time that he touches the Nine of Spades.  When in 1793, Saint Genevieve’s shrine is profaned, the Sans-Culottes of the neighbourhood want to raise in the church an “altar, where pious vestals would maintain a perpetual fire”.  In the families, Chaumette’s portrait placed between two candles is adored, and Petion, the President of the Convention, has his sect which finds him “very superior to Our Lord Jesus-Christ”.

At the precise moment that Catherine Theot breathed her last breath, the Grenelle ammunition dump exploded.

In the good aristocratic society, things are not much better.  The Duchess de Bourbon welcomes all that Paris counts in somnambulists, wizards, cabbalists and augures.  Every day, the prophet Elie holds conferences which are followed by a lot of people in the Tuileries garden.  People believe that they are followed by their guardian angel or persecuted by their guardian devil and those who do not give themselves up to magnetism, follow the prophetess Jeanne Labrousse, as far as Rome, where she goes to convert the Pope.

Catherine Theot also has success, as we have seen, with an imagination even more fertile than the others.  The Police find in her home a recipe for making a magical sword which renders invincible, but above all numerous rough copies of letters, all addressed to her “dear son” Robespierre in which she gratifies him with the name of “Guide des milices celestes” and “angel of the Lord”.

***

The only element which is in any way compromising for the Incorruptible, is the presence in the Theot’s home of Dom Gerle, the man in the white coat.

This strange person, a former Deputy of the Constituante, who had launched the visionary Suzanne Labrousse in Paris, would furnish Vadier with the only political element of his report.  It is a letter from Robespierre to the former Chartreux, in which he guarantees his patriotism and his revolutionary convictions and gives him as well “une carte de Surete”, a precious talisman, without which the slightest movement inside Paris can end at the Conciergerie.

***

In the Summer of 1794, anything was good for bringing down the Angel of Death who was only hanging on by public pressure.  The absolute Reign of Terror had arrived and anybody in France could be arrested at night, judged at noon and guillotined at four o’clock in the afternoon, without even having opened his or her mouth.  Atrocious times, when the Deputies didn’t dare sleep in their beds, continually changed places in the chamber during a sitting, spent their day running around in the streets and slipping into buildings with two entrances, to uncover spies.  Barras, in his Memoires, recounts that a Deputy, drunk with fatigue, was at his place, his forehead resting on his hand.  Suddenly he is seen to jump on his seat as if stung by a scorpion.  Simply because the Dictator had stared at him.  Trembling, decomposed, he turns to one of his colleagues and stammers:

“He’s going to believe that I’m thinking something!”

***

Inside, as well as outside, Robespierre had acquired immense prestige, to the point that he personified, all on his own, the Revolution.  And the Terror.  It was said at the Convention:

“If Robespierre asks for blood, blood will flow;  if he doesn’t, no-one else will dare ask for it!”

Women in particular added to it.  Widow Jaquin from Nantes, endowed with 40,000 pounds of rent, writes to him:

“You are my supreme divinity, I see you as my tutelary angel”

The Municipalities write to him that they throw themselves at his feet and that they sing Te Deums in his honour…

***

Until his death in 1828, the former Conventionnel Vadier would not cease to repeat in his Brussels exile the story of Catherine Theot and what he had been able to do with it.  He said with his inimitable Ariege accent:

“Robespierre, I annihilated him, I sank him, I struck him down in one blow…  Can you imagine it?!  He was saying that Atheism is aristocratic!”

The implacable Voltairian, who had brought down a man whose power surpassed by a great deal that of the Sun-King [Louis XIV] himself, died piously on the day of the Pentecost in 1828 and his body was presented at the Sainte-Gudule Cathedral, where the high clergy assembled to celebrate a solemn service for the repose of his soul…

***

Robespierre was presented as the new Messiah by a woman calling herself the "Mother of God".

A little while ago, at the bottom of the staircase, Senart had consulted his Police File for the last time.  In it, it is said that she, who is called “the Mother of God” by adepts that are more numerous every day, is 69 years old, that she is the daughter of a poor Norman labourer, hired on a daily basis, and that she was a servant for a very long time.  When, in her 50’s, she suddenly has her “Revelation”, she hurries to a merchant of “instruments of penitence” and invests the savings of a lifetime in an incredible collection of cilices, iron belts, bracelets “a picquais” and metallic garters, lined with horsehair.  At night she sleeps on a cross which is a veritable torture rack, also garnished with steel spikes.  Although completely illiterate, she starts to cathechise.  Not without success, since the Archbishop of Paris, Monsignor de Beaumont, becomes worried and asks her in writing to tell him about the lights that she thinks to have received.  A letter from her Archbishop!  The little good sense which remains in Catherine Theot abandons her and here she is running around the streets, stirring up the passers-by, interrupting sermons and cornering predicators on their way out, to accuse them of being heretics…  One of them sues and the visionary finds herself for three years at the Salpetriere in the  non-dangerous mentally deranged sector.  She is then taken in by a dressmaker, who is just as mad as she is, and for ten years, living a retired life, the two good women will pass the time retouching their sulphurous visions…  When the revolutionary hurricane is unleashed, they re-surface and set up their mirage offices on the Sainte-Genevievre mountain, where we now find them…  The Eclaireuse exclaims:

“Kneel, mortals!  You are going to receive the seven gifts of God!”

The two sheep drop to their knees.  They are asked if they can read.  They reply “a little”.

L'hopital de la Salpetriere, where Catherine Theot was interned for three years in the "mystically mad" quarter.

The Theot passes behind Senart and seizes his head which she presses strongly.  He feels the elderly woman’s mouth touch his forehead, eyelids, the back of an ear and his chin twice.  The beautiful Eclaireuse demands:

“Your turn!”

A rough ordeal!  But as a zealous policeman, Senart obeys and embraces the old woman everywhere.  The Chanteuse then asks:

“Son and Mother, kiss each other on the mouth!”

There, heroism is needed, but on we go, for the Republic!

Heron is inflicted with the same touching and, as soon as he has finished, everyone enters into a trance, kneels, prays, and begins canticles.  A beautiful young woman keeps her mouth pressed against that of Catherine for long minutes.  She doesn’t even stop when the Colombe appears in a panic, crying out:

“We have been betrayed!  There are soldiers everywhere in the street!…  They are climbing the stairs!”

The man in the white riding cloak, a former Chartreux by the name of Dom Gerle, now defrocked, also a former member of the Assemblee constituante, wants to flee.  Heron points one of his guns on his face, while Senart, more dead than alive, finds the strength to open the window and call out:

“The Guard!  Help, Gendarmes!…”

A few instants later, a strange cortege goes down the Rue de l’Estrapade:  the “Mother of God”, her head wobbling, trots gently between two Gendarmes, followed by her flock of Illuminated surrounded by National Guards.

In front, walk the two sycophants, Heron radiant, rattling his artillery, Senart shifty, his head invisible under his bicorn.

They arrive in front of the former College Louis le Grand, transformed into a Police Room and a Prison.  In this corridor, less than fifteen years before, Robespierre, then a Law student, was ruminating his dreams of grandeur, sombre and solitary.  Vadier occupies a little office there, where the Accused will be interrogated soon.

He will learn that the Mother teaches that the Incorruptible is the new Messiah, the incarnation of the Supreme Being, sent to Earth to transform France into Paradise…

That’s all that he wants to know.

***

A few days later, it is the incredible Festival of the Supreme Being, the most astonishing day in the History of Paris. 

[see https://marilynkaydennis.wordpress.com/2010/09/15/robespierres-one-day-religion/ and https://marilynkaydennis.wordpress.com/2010/09/16/robespierres-one-day-religion-part-2/ and https://marilynkaydennis.wordpress.com/2010/09/17/robespierres-one-day-religion-part-3/ ]

On this day, the aim is to abolish two thousand years of christianism and go back to the great celebrations of Antiquity, with Liberty floats drawn by the People of Paris, the cremation of the Statue of Atheism, and the sermon by Robespierre, who is already no more than the fanatical priest of the great cult of Death.  However, while France is panting and agonizing in the blue shadow of the Machine, this day marks the pinnacle of the man who had concentrated into his hands more power than any other in France, before or after him.  It will precipitate him also toward a vertiginous and absurd end which would occur less than two months later.

***

At the Convention, eight days later, Barere explodes his bomb:  Robespierre was the disciple of an old, mad, mystical woman!  It is Catherine Theot, the Mother of God, who invented the Supreme Being and who persuaded the Incorruptible that he was the new Messiah!  To perfect the trap, Vadier gives it vaudeville colours.  He lets it be understood that Robespierre was effectively one of the sect’s Initiates and that he was the first to suck the chin of the old witch!

All of this is false, of course.  It is all just a diabolical machination, served by lucky coincidence.  The Convention doesn’t care.  On the benches of the famous long room of the Tuileries, the Deputies roll around with laughter, and an immense dream crumbles…

“Is it really true that you knew about the Theot’s doings, Comrade Citizen?  What did it feel like, to embrace the Mother of God on the mouth?…”

Stunned at first, Robespierre becomes indignant.  Lengthily, as usual, he confides to his colleagues his astonishement and his pain, before this indecent buffoonery.  Vadier retorts:

“What?  This female conspirator, who sacrifices to superstition and old idols, is only a ‘woman worthy of contempt’?”

Robespierre interrupts:

“I didn’t say that!  You must understand…”

The embarrassment of the man, who had so many times pulverised much more serious arguments, is an irreparable error.  He is booed, his speech will not be printed and sent to the departements.  The Incorruptible will fall back down onto his bench.  He knows what this failure means.  His white, feline face closes up a little more and he murmurs:

“I am finished!”

***

To be continued.

Robespierre was presented as the new Messiah by a woman calling herself the "Mother of God".

If Robespierre was finally defeated, it was perhaps because of a woman, an obscure prophetess, whose name History has not even retained.  In 1793, the “enrages”, assembled around the bloody Hebert, resolved to put an end to the Church.  Their spokesman, Chaumette, a philanthropist, the inventor of a guillotine on wheels which greatly facilitated the choppers’ work, is seized with a veritable anti-Catholic frenzy.  In the cemeteries, he has the crosses replaced by statues of Sleep, since the soul cannot be immortal, and he asks the “swearing” bishops to throw away the mitre, crook and ring, and to proclaim:

“All the titles of the charlatanism are deposited at the People’s Tribunal, we are regenerated!”

In Notre-Dame’s choir, he has an immense mountain in cardboard constructed.  On its slopes, women with naked breasts suckle babies to make them good little soldiers of Liberty.  One would look in vain for an effigy of saints.  In their place, there is a monumental statue which represents the People, brandishing a club.  A temple of political philosophy replaces the main-altar.  One distinguishes there the busts of all of the Fathers of the Revolution…

And it’s the same thing, often more laughable, in the cathedrals of Bourges, Le Mans, Limoges, Pau and elsewhere, where prostitutes organize mad Bacchanalias.

The Festival of the Goddess Reason, which degenerated into an appalling Bacchanalia, was replaced, at Robespierre's request, by the Festival of the Supreme Being.

Robespierre has more taste and spirit than these people.  And a higher ambition.  He doesn’t want to extirpate religious sentiment from the hearts of the French.  But he wants them to embrace a new religion.  That they replace the adoration of the Church God by the cult of the Supreme Being, founded on reason and fraternity.

On 18 Floreal Year II, more prosaically 7 May 1794, he has voted by the Convention, where no-one dares to contradict him any more, the Act of the birth of a religion, of which, by divine right, it could be said, he will be the High Priest.  For  a little more than a month.  This is already much too much for the partisans of absolute atheism.  Of course Hebert has just been cut in two, but his friends, among the Jacobins and even in the Convention, are searching and agitating.  While Robespierre is establishing with the painter David and the poet Chenier the rites and canticles of the new religion, they are seeking how to knock this Being off its altars along with its infernal pontiff.  They search with the desperate obstination of those for whom the path from the tribunal to the blade is becoming shorter every day.  In the end, they will find what they are looking for…

This same day in May 1794, two men discretely climb the six storeys of a miserable-looking house in the Rue de la Contrescarpe.  They are secret agents, or rather Comite de Salut Public informers.  Their names are Heron and Senart, and they have been sent there by Vadier, a Montagnard Deputy who execrates Robespierre just as much as his divinity, and Barere, nicknamed “l’Anacreon de la guillotine”, because the sight of its well-filled basket inspires him to spout exquisite literary flowers.  As for the two spies, you might as well say that they are frankly scoundrels:  Heron is a former long-haul sailor whose men call him simply “le Chef”.  Perhaps he takes his authority from the fact that he never goes anywhere without a very complete artillery:  under his jacket he carries two espingoles, small pistols, and a second belt with other pistols of a more considerable calibre, plus a large dagger and a little tiny styletto.  His wife, a beautiful Cancalaise to whom he is very attached, cheats on him with a First Lieutenant of the Beauce Regiment and flees with 800,000 pounds, a fortune which must surely owe nothing to his sailor’s pay.  He has just introduced a request with his influent friends that has a good chance of coming to something:  that of having his wife guillotined very urgently…

Senart, on the other hand, is a scrupulous person.  The son of a Prosecutor of Chatellerault, he passes for noble and has even married a goddaughter of Louis XVI and Marie-Antoinette.  Never does he ever assemble his military Commissions, which comb the provinces, without making them attend Mass first.  He is meticulous in everything:  elected Prosecutor of Tours, he establishes the guillotine there without delay “on a solid base in masonry”.

Heron advises his acolyte to look pious as he knocks twice, then three times, with one knuckle on the landing door.

After a fairly long moment, a servant shows her nose and asks if they have come for the Mother of God.  If so, they’ll have to wait, because she isn’t up yet.

It is eleven o’clock;  the two fellows take root in the dark, cramped entry.  Heron reminds Senart that he is supposed to have just come from the country.

Then, a man dressed in an immense white riding-coat and carrying a toque in petit-gris fur appears.  He raises an oil lamp toward the visitors’ faces and traces a sign of recognition on his forehead which Heron hastens to repeat.  Before he can say a word, the servant-girl reappears and says emphatically:

“Come!  Mortal men, towards immortality!  The Mother of God permits you to enter!”

She precedes them into a chamber which is fairly vast, but just as dark, where she lights a triple chandelier and arranges, on some low steps, three blue and red armchairs.  Then she says:

“Time advances!  The Mother of God is going to appear to receive her children!”

At this moment, a military man arrives carrying his bonnet under his arm, a long blade at his side, followed by a female citizen that the man with the toque greets as being “l’Eclaireuse”.  Another one comes from the rooms at the end and is called “la Chanteuse”, and again another, who is singularly beautiful and is called “la Colombe”.  The “Eclaireuse” rings a bell.

“Brothers, here is your Mother!”

The curtains of an alcove open and a tall, dry, diaphanous person appears.  Her head and hands are of phenomenal thinness and are shaking with senile trembling…

Senart, who has remained prudently behind, now counts a good ten people who are taking their places on stools and types of chaises longues.  Those present rush to kiss Catherine Theot’s slipper with fervour, crying out:

“Glory be to the Mother of God!”

In his corner, Senart is having trouble not to laugh.

A collation is served, but only for the prophetess.  Two pretty girls tenderly wipe her face and lips afterwards.  In a sour, broken voice, she then pronounces these words:

“Children of God, Your Mother is among you.  I am now going to purify the two profanes!…

To be continued.

Etienne Claviere

Duchanteau and Claviere followed only the vulgar path of alchemy.  For the true initiates, the making of gold is only a mask, which hides much more precious treasures than the yellow metal:  the perfection of a soul which is purifying itself, the triumph of truth and virtue, therefore an ABSOLUTE, of which gold is only the symbol…

***

Our two alchemists are the children of a century where science and techniques are appearing, the century of scepticism, of Voltaire and of Diderot, where Reason – in appearance – triumphs.  But at the same time as they are rejecting religion, they are enthusiastically welcoming the marvellous, as long as it presents itself in new clothes.  The XVIIIth Century is also the century of occultism, the social and political role of which is becoming immense, as Valery says.  The century in which Cagliostro and the immortal Count of Saint-Germain triumph, while the Masonic Lodges – there are 500 of them in France in 1771, 154 of them in Paris – exalt the taste for symbolic thought and curiosity for the magical arts and the hermetic sciences.  Helvetius, Voltaire, Chamfort, Condorcet, Franklin, the flower of French thought is there, and elsewhere, in England and Scotland, where Free Masonry was born, its development is even more prodigious.  It is not surprising therefore that Claviere is able to be both a Revolutionary banker and a convinced alchemist.

***

The Philaletes was a secret society which proposed, like others, to reform the social man in depth.  It was founded by German occultists whose role is essential in the formation of the European initiatic societies.  It was a branch of the Rose-Croix, whose success across the Rhine is also considerable at this time.  Goethe, the greatest German writer, is Rose-Croix, and just for good measure, he adheres in 1783, with his friend the philosopher Herder, to the sect of the Illuminated in Bavaria…

***

Duchanteau and Claviere belonged to the Lodge of the United Friends.

This craze can be explained by the fact that all of these associations are really “sounding boards” for the new ideas.  Each can finally claim freedom of speech within the fraternity.  Each can also rub shoulders with the hermetism masters and with the alchemists that are welcomed into these places.  These are in fact the first enclaves of liberty after centuries of absolutism, and the bourgeois, like the great minds and the enlightened princes, attached themselves to them because it was there that what would be the constitutional regime was already being outlined…

***

It is true that, because of the failure of the Churches and the established powers, in which there is no longer belief, the marvellous also comes galloping back…  Magicians, cabalists and pseudo-alchemists, whose fantsmagoria are very much appreciated by marquises, are slithering everywhere.  Feminine Lodges are also founded, “The Order of the Honey Flies”, that of the “Nymphs and Chevaliers of the Rose” whose adepts parody the men and indulge in dissipation with them, before going to vibrate against Mesmer’s Baquet.  But the taste for the irrational does not explain everything.  These societies are also Opposition powers, where the debating of ideas will lead to political action.  Therefore, they need money.  The rich, nobles or commoners, are particularly well received and rewarded with grand grades and titles, among others:  “Great Chosen One of the Holy Vault”, “Sublime Mason of the 14th Degree”, “Great Pontiff of the Celestial Jerusalem” or “Sovereign Prince of the White and Black Eagle”.

In Germany, a certain Samuel Richter founds an occult society which receives the mission of preparing the philosophical stone.  Its circles spread everywhere and group real and false scholars who make, on demand, golden fleece and extracts of eau de jouvence [youth water].  The most cultured men of Europe believe in it, and Kaiser Frederic-Wilhelm of Prussia, himself, wants to be received as “Rose-Croix d’Or”.  “Ormesus Magnus” is the title created for him, and three minds, those of Leibnitz, Marcus-Aurelius and the Grand Elector come to collect him at the brotherhood’s doors.  In this climate, it is understandable that our two “alchemists” were able to indulge in such shocking deviations…

***

Nicolas Flamel

Only a physiologist could decide whether Duchanteau’s prowesses are possible.  What is true is that the proximity of gold has always provoked an incredible exaltation among men.  Not only by cupidity.  But because it was the first metal known to men – even though they could not make tools or weapons with it – also because it is the metal that is the most difficult to exploit and it is inalterable, it is charged, from the beginning, with a primordial symbolic value.  From one end of the planet to the other and throughout History, it has always been synonymous of perfection and, in the Occident, as in the Vedic texts of India, it is also the sign of immortality.  Chinese Ho Hung assures that the Elixir, pure matter or Philosophical Stone, can “cure” ordinary metals and transform them into gold.  The alchemists of the Occident included Man in this “maturation” which they compared to a medicine which, making the impureties of the metal disappear, is also able to wash away those of the body and prevent its decline.  “The Philosophical Stone heals all illnesses” proclaims the great alchemist Arnold de Villanova.  And Thomas d’Aquin, who believes in alchemy, and Roger Bacon who affirms that it is able to prolong life by several centuries, along with Nicolas Flamel, who doubtless succeeded in performing the transmutation, are inspired by Aristotle, for whom physical bodies all issue from one fundamental substance which over time has taken different forms or qualities.  It is possible, assures the philosopher who inspired all the scientific thought of the Occident, to go back from any body whatsoever to this “primary matter”, to start from any metal, to arrive, after refining, at the final transmutation…  Thesis which has singularly modern accents.

This unity of matter, reposing on the union of contraries:  water-fire, sulphur-mercury, and the differenciation of its components, water, air, fire, earth, has been fully rehabilitated by nuclear physics…

***

Emblem of the work on the philosophical stone performed by alchemists.

Alchemy is still alive today, just like yesterday…  There are those who pursue the Great Work inside sophisticated laboratories, and whom we call hyperchemists, like Tiffereau and Jollivet-Castellot.  Those are only attached to the chemical nature of the transmutation, founding the most serious hopes on the spontaneous transmutations of radioactive bodies and the modification of the atom by the bombardment of particles…

Then there are the others, who also exist, Eugene Canselier, disciple of the mysterious Fulcanelei, who was doubtless a direct descendant of the Valois, Armand Barbauld, maker of philosphers and poets, who perpetuates the alchemical ideal by endlessly recounting to himself the Golden Legend, of a soul that refines and embellishes itself.

***

Making gold is not impossible.  To succeed, Man must first refine himself.

***

Etienne Claviere

It could be thought that in the Parisian Lodge of the United Friends, alchemist zeal was stronger than elsewhere.  Duchanteau barely buried, another worker on the Great Work sets tongues wagging Rue de la Sourdiere and even very far beyond…  His name is Etienne Claviere and he is born in Geneva in 1735.  He is a banker by profession but is a revolutionary banker, which is extremely rare.  In this end of the XVIIIth Century, the Geneva middle-class no longer wants to put up with the haughty authority of their patricians.  Along with a lot of other bankers as well as industrialists, Claviere constitutes Clubs and Committees of Public Safety which substitute themselves for the authorities.  Nearly ten years before the Storming of the Bastille in France…  The insurgents stockpile kegs of powder in Saint Peter’s Cathedral and threaten to blow up the city, if the French and Bernois Coalition does not retreat.  But under the pressure of numbers, the valliant bourgeois of Geneva have to resolve to deliver up the keys to their City, and Claviere condemns himself to voluntary exile in England.  His prestige is so great that he obtains a sum of fifty thousand pounds from the London Cabinet which is supposed to allow him to build the “New Geneva” in Ireland.  In his exile, he maintains an active correspondence with Marat, Mirabeau, who by the way holds him to be his master, and the brothers of the Lodge of the United Friends, of which he is one of the benefactors.

Marat and Mirabeau maintained a correspondence with Claviere.

When the Swiss Necker returns to power, Claviere asks to settle in France and obtains this.  He attaches himself to the Party of the Girondins, occupies a subaltern post in the Finance Ministry, very happy to now be able to meet as much as he likes with his friends the Philaletes.  This seems to be an epoch where good financiers are rare:  less than a year later he is to be found at the head of his Ministry, very busy galloping behind an inflation which each day is gathering speed.

Is it at this epoch that he comes up with an idea even more bizarre and much crueller than that of Brother Duchanteau?  One evening in 1792, he can be seen slipping through the low door of 37 rue de la Sourdiere.  Once in the little room on the second floor, he greets, with bent index, the five dignitaries from the Lodge who are waiting for him, and pulls a grimoire from his riding-coat.  When he opens it before these very carefully chosen men, they see that it is a manuscript and is probably very old…

Gravely, Claviere begins:

“To obtain the result, should we dare to use the means?  Brothers!  The Revolution is betrayed from within, beseiged from without, gold is flying away in a paper fog!…  I believe that I have the power to surely fill the coffers again!”

Claviere bows his head and adds:

“But at what price!…”

He draws the book to him and begins to read.  Or rather, he comments, page after page, the teaching contained in this ageless book.  And what he says firstly provokes stupor and then horror in those who are listening to him.  To begin with, they learn that Claviere is a most distinguished alchemist who has already performed alchemy in numerous European laboratories.  That during his later voyages he had found a thousand-year-old parchment which delivers a transmutation procedure just as singular as that of Duchanteau, with horror added to it.  Claviere explains:

“First of all we have to get hold of a young girl and a young boy, both virgins, then we have to obtain from them the conception of a child, necessarily a boy, who has to be born under the influence of a particular constellation…  This child has to be prepared…  by baths of ashes and sand and by rubbing him for a long time with elixir.  Then the child must be placed…  alive…  if we want to succeed, in a glass recipient, itself contained in a crucible in the form of a pelican.”

One of the brothers interrupts:

“Why a pelican?”

The Minister-Mage explains with deliberation:

“The calcination of the child must be followed by repeated distillations that this form allows because the finest part will rise through the neck and will be brought back through the beak into the open chest!…  This is how we shall obtain the absolute philosophical matter, at the same time an elixir of long life and the powder of projection for the transmutation of metals into gold.”

When Claviere had finished his explanation, there was a great silence in the room.  He says:

“There you are.  I’m sure of the result!”

One of his scandalised guests then asks:

Robespierre had Claviere arrested and he was condemned to death.

“But what would gold acquired at this price cost?…”

Claviere will not have time to put his answer into figures.  A few days later he resigns so as to involve himself more closely with the popular effervescence.  He organizes the day of 20 June 1792, in the course of which the populace invades the Tuileries and forces Louis XVI to put on a Phrygian bonnet.  And, one year to the day after the lugubrious meeting Rue de la Sourdiere, Claviere, after having ardently fought Danton, Marat and Robespierre, is decreed in Accusation with all of the other Girondins.  Brought before the Revolutionary Tribunal on 5 September, he is firstly imprisoned in the Temple.  When he learns of his death sentence, he declaims these lines from Orphelin de la Chine, that Voltaire had adapted to illustrate the superiority of spiritual forces over brute instinct:

The trembling criminals are dragged to their execution

The generous mortals dispose of their fate.

The criminals?  Did Claviere therefore have time to engage in his deadly experiments?  Doubtless we shall never know.  But that a Swiss Finance Minister, an admirer of Gilles de Rais, had appealed to his alchemist brothers for help in saving France’s finances, is an extraordinary moment in French History all the same!

***

To be continued.

Duchanteau belonged to the Lodge of the United Friends.

In the heart of the most ancient part of Paris, Rue Sourdiere goes beyond Saint-Roch towards a labyrinth of tiny streets where occultists, magi and discoverers of philosophical stones have always been installed.  We are on the eve of the French Revolution and this narrow, dark street, which still exists, also houses the Lodge of the United Friends of Paris, grouped under the name of “Philaletes”.  The man who is the most in view in this brotherhood, which, like many other “clubs” of the same epoch, dreams of change, is uncontestably Duchanteau. A beautiful looking, spiritual, eloquent man, the brother is passionate about occult knowledge and has consecrated himself for years to the study of cabalistic Hebrew.  Convinced that you have to be Jewish to be a good cabalist, he has even embraced the faith of Abraham and, so as not to leave anything to hazard, has been to Amsterdam to have himself circumcised.

Finding after this that Jewish esoterism was taking its time about leading him beyond the limits of simple human knowledge, he launches himself with even greater passion into the study of alchemy.

The Great Art too requires great patience.  And an equal virtue.  For with regard to his own transformation, the transmutation of metals is a secondary thing for a true alchemist…

Duchanteau knows this.  But after having delved for months, from the depths of his garret, into the heavens of hermetic ideas, he would not be unhappy for a shower of gold, however thin, to come to refresh him in front of his athanors…

Alas!  nothing happens and for many more months he continues to mix Scythia Water (mercury) with Virgin’s Water (elixir) in alambics which, as tradition dictates, have the form of animals.  Without ceasing still to read new grimoires over and over again, which all tell him the same thing:  you must unite the inferior things with the superior things and fire, the receptacle and the basic matter must be in the same subject.  From now on, this idea is going to obsess the alchemist.  But he will spend a lot more time on it before, one morning at last, fed up with cooking chemicals and his head heavy with mysterious signs, he suddenly leaps out of bed in prey to an illumination.

“I am myself the fire, the receptacle and the basic matter…  The secret of alchemy is Man himself, in whom is the inferior and the superior!”

He rushes to his friends the Philaletes:

“Any well constituted male man has the power, from the age of twenty up to fifty, of making the philosophical stone without needing anything other than himself!”

His gaping friends want to know more…

Emblem of the work on the philosophical stone performed by alchemists.

Duchanteau calms down a bit:

“Put me naked inside a room.  Lock the door and keep me under surveillance.  Don’t give me the slightest thing to drink or eat and I’ll come out after forty days with the philosophical stone!”

Such a programme suscitates reserves and perplexity among his Free Mason brothers.  But with his habitual eloquence, Duchanteau paints the immense repercussions of his project then asks to undertake its execution immediately.  His recipe is simple, but rather frightening:  locked up in the Lodge of the United Friends, he must absorb his own urine and obtain in this way its refinement over forty days.  To succeed inside himself the Great Work, the manufacture of the “divine powder” which permits the changing of vile lead into a gold “even sweeter than that of the mine” as the alchemists say…

To those who remain sceptical, he says resignedly:

“Don’t you see that you have there the union of the inferior things with the superior things?  The water of the body is the basic matter, the body is the crucible and my heat the fire!…”

The extraordinary thing is that the group of Philaletes accept the experiment in the end.  Duchanteau is put inside another room, completely empty, he is completely undressed to verify that he is not concealing any food, either solid or liquid, after which, his clothes are given back to him.  Then, the brothers of the Lodge take turns watching over him day and night…  Over the first days, he suffers abominably from a thirst that the curious transit of his waters does not of course ease.  Hunger also pinches him and after five days, exhausted, burning with fever, he is very close to renouncing.  But little by little, as his urine thickens and purifies, his sufferings appear to calm.  His intellectual capacities have remained intact and it even seems to him that they are increasing from day to day.  Those who are watching him realize notably that his memory is much greater and that he now speaks with prodigious intelligence.  Each day too he becomes happier, more eloquent and versed in matters in which he did not excel until then.  An even more astonishing thing, with the complete disappearance of his pains, his physical strength has considerably increased.  For those who doubt it, he installs a brother on each of his arms and then holds a long conversation…

But there is one worrying thing, those who approach him in this way realize that he is now burning with fever, so hot that they cannot touch him.  The Council of the Lodge is afraid.  What would people say if Duchanteau died?  Pressures are brought to bear so strongly that they oblige him to renounce.  Therefore, the experiment is stopped at the twenty-sixth day.  But during these twenty-six days, the strange alchemist had not swallowed anything other than the product of his bladder.  Product whose volume had been progressively reduced, taking on a reddish colour and a slimy consistency, exhaling a suave “balsamic” odour, the witnesses of this maceration without precedent would say.  The ultimate distillation that Duchanteau evacuated was conserved in a sealed bottle and classed among the archives of the Lodge.

As for the alambic which had just functioned without failing for weeks, guess what happened to it on the evening of this twenty-sixth day?  More cheerful and facetious than ever, Duchanteau invited all his companions to a dinner during which he rewarded himself for his long abstinence by serving hinself five or six times from each of the serving dishes!  He drank to accompany this and left the table perfectly lucid and without suffering any indigestion at all over the hours and days which followed.  From that moment on, he was in perfect health with all his faculties seeming to have been vivified by his strange fast.

And then, one year later, desperate at having been so close to his goal, he wants to start the experiment again.  But this time, he will only go to the thirteenth day.  On this thirteenth day he suddenly collapses, then expires within a few minutes…

As for the singular alchemy locked away in the archives of the Philaletes, this sample of “divine powder”, of a more than human origin, will be thrown into the gutter during The Revolution.

Which is a pity, for no-one will ever be able to analyze it.  And no-one will ever have the courage and the folly to re-do Duchanteau’s experiment…

***

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 XV.

It took the mortal illness of Louis XV for the French Court to see things differently.  The dead King had declared himself to be against innoculation and the young Dauphin refused to submit to it.  Only the Orleans family and a few enlightened nobles had up until then shown the way, if we except the massive character of the Franche-Comte operation.  As early as 13 May 1774, or three days after the death of the Bien-Aime, an innoculating doctor offers his services to the Count de Provence and the royal family in general.  Some are worried when, on 13 July, the Gazette de France announces the imminence of the operation.  It is thought that this decision has been taken under the influence of the Queen [Marie-Antoinette] who was able to see the efficacy of the procedure at the Vienna Court.  Worried, the Duke de Croy nevertheless concludes that

Marie-Antoinette and her children.

“if this goes well, it would be great worries the less and perhaps a revolution in the King [Louis XVI] which could make him make children, a consideration which could have entered into the just views of the Queen”.

The uncertainty is a burden nonetheless, and is translated by the brutal fall of the course of shares in the Compagnie des Indes orientales.  [Doctor] Tronchin having apparently managed to extricate himself from the solicitations of which he is the object, the innoculators retained are Richard, inspecteur general des hopitaux militaires, Lassone, the Queen’s doctor, and Jauberthon, a reputed Parisian innoculator.

Louis XVI.

The three men will firstly select a good “variolifere” (smallpox carrier):  the daughter of a laundry couple whose morality is guaranteed by the lieutenant general de police.  The King and the Princes go to Marly on 17 July.  They are joined by the sick girl on the following day.  Richard removes, via a lancet, the necessary pus from the child and then pricks Louis XVI, his two brothers and the Countess d’Artois.  After the first pains felt on the 22nd, the fever appears in the King on the 24th, soon followed by nauseas and shivers, but things get better from the 26th, and the eruption of the 27th has only a benign character.  After the suppuration engaged on the 30th, the absence of secondary fever over the course of the following days signifies that the sovereign is now out of danger.  The same goes for his two brothers and his sister-in-law.

Encouraged by this success and impressed by the size of the campaign in Franche-Comte, Louis XVI is favourable to a generalization of the procedure.  In 1782, the efforts deployed in Normandy by Doctor Lapeyre end in the creation, near Caen, of a specialised establishment.  On 24 September 1786, Calonne informs the Intendants that

“the King’s intention being to extend the progress of innoculation into the province, His Majesty has approved the project of having innoculated all of the foundling children who are in the villages and the countryside, as well as orphan children and others received into the hospitals, and who are in their charge”.

Doctor Jauberthon is given the task of supervising the operations.  The intention is laudable, but the Intendants’ responses highlight the material difficulties which the carrying out of such an enterprise will face.

The Revolution changes nothing about the case, and we have to wait until 1799, when Doctors Pinel and Leroux, from the Ecole de medecine, suggest the creation of an innoculation clinic for the purpose of using the “vaccine” procedure elaborated in England by Edward Jenner.  In 1798, in London, An Enquiry on the Causes of the Pox Vaccine [Une enquete sur les causes de la variole vaccinee] had appeared.  In it, Jenner demonstrates the anti-smallpox properties of cow-pox.  This possesses numerous advantages that the former innoculation did not have.  With vaccine, it is no longer necessary to treat the patient after innoculation, which permits envisaging it on a large scale.

Within a few years, it will allow the massive regression of deaths from smallpox.  From 50,000 to 80,000 victims before 1800, the number falls to under 10,000 from 1805.  From 1804, under the impulsion of the prefets, who receive instructions in this sense from the central power, sous-prefets, mayors and curates are mobilised for the creation of local vaccination committees.  The efficacy of the procedure is rapidly verified and overthrows the last reticences, particularly as the new innoculation no longer involves the very real risks which always accompanied the old one.  However, the road will still be long to the 1902 law which will make anti-smallpox vaccination obligatory in France.  It is only in 1910, that the illness will have almost totally disappeared, before being finally eradicated from the planet at the end of the XXth Century.

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