Tag Archive: Middle Ages

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!”…



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.

A fairytale village

Joan of Arc heard voices and saw “ladies” (that she identified as Saint Margaret and Saint Catherine), near a tree where curious phenomena had been occurring for a long time.

In the XIVth Century, in Champagne, there is a charming little village on the banks of a river of clear water where bleaks and barbels play.  The houses with low rooves which surround the church are not numerous:  ten, at most, the inhabitants of which are fun-loving peasants who like good wine, live simply in God’s grace, cultivating their lands, leading their flocks to the fields and rhythming their days on the Angelus of the morning and the Angelus of the evening…  They are all friendly, straight-talking people, who look healthy and bright-eyed.

Sometimes, enemy troops traverse the countryside.  As soon as they are in view, the curate rings the bells and everyone runs to take refuge, with the animals, in the Ile Castle, built in the middle of the river and belonging to Sieur Bourlemont.

The danger over, the men return to the fields and the women return home to relight the fires and prepare the soup.

Apart from its old castle, this little village possesses nothing which could retain anyone’s attention.  Except a tree.  An extraordinary tree.  It can be found barely half a league from the church, on a little slope at the edge of an oak wood.  It is a beech.  A beech so great, so noble, so marvellous that the good people of the countryside who have travelled, those who have walked the roads or the tracks as far as Troyes, Saint-Dizier and even Chalons-sur-Marne, say that it is the most beautiful one in the world…

It is called the Beau May, and l’Arbre des Dames, or l’Arbre-aux-Fees.  And strange stories are told about it.  It is said that it is haunted and that Lady Fairies meet there.  Some even claim to have seen them and heard them speak.  Which surprises no-one, given that it is of public knowledge that Sir Pierre Granier, Knight of Bourlemont, goes regularly beneath the great beech to meet a fairy and have a conversation with her there.

Some go as far as saying, lowering their voices and making the sign of the cross, that these conversations are sometimes accompanied by a “love commerce”…

But all of the village fairies do not have such flighty comportment.  Most of them are Good Ladies who are invited to baptisms and for whom a table is set in the room next to that of the new mother.  As it is said that they are easily irritated, care is taken not to disturb them or to frighten them with too great a noise.  They then give thanks with a song or a little miracle.

Are these enchanting ladies good or bad genies?  No-one, if the truth be told, could say;  but neither their existence nor the prodigies that they accomplish are contested.  Even by the parishioners who miss neither Mass nor Vespers.  Religion and the fairy world, at this time when people with pure hearts live up to their necks in the marvellous, intimately, tightly intermingle, like branches and the coils of the vine.  To the point that the inhabitants of the village have baptised a fountain near the marvellous tree:  La Fontaine-aux-Bonnes-Fees-Notre-Seigneur

Each year, on the Sunday of loetare – that is to say the Sunday which follows the Thursday of mid-Lent – the young men and young girls of the village, led by Lord de Bourlemont and his Lady, go to honour the Beau May.

The village of Domremy and its castle where, in the XIVth Century, Sieur de Bourlemont, its lord, is said to have strange meetings with “white ladies” at the foot of the Fairy Tree…

The first to arrive decorate it with garlands of flowers.  Then, boys and girls, crowned with daffodils, take each other by the hand and form a circle while singing.  To this circle, succeeds a wild farandol under the branches of the tree, where the Lady Fairies remain hidden, silent and invisible.  After which, Lady de Bourlemont has distributed hard-boiled eggs, bread, little cakes in the shape of the moon, and jars of wine.

After this picnic, a sort of mannequin is fashioned from vegetation which is then carried ritually around the tree to celebrate Spring and thank the Ladies of Light for their kindness.

When evening falls, everyone returns home after a little detour to the sacred fountain of the Bonnes-Fees-Notre-Seigneur where each person must drink a few drops of miraculous water.

That is the end of the Sunday of loetare, half-christian half-fairytale.  But many other ritual festivals unfold in this village, to which the fairies are naturally connected.

For example, on the first day of May, before Dawn, the young men go to cut a few branches of the beautiful beech and bring them back very mysteriously, and silently attach them in front of the houses where there are young, unmarried girls.  When the girls open their doors and discover the branches of the Arbre-aux-Fees, they know that they are loved and that the Good Ladies will soon give them a fiance…

Finally, the fairies, it is said, have, in their goodness, hidden a mandragora under the great tree where they meet.  And everybody well knows that this mysterious and magical plant whose root, in the shape of a human body, bleeds and screams when it is ripped out of the ground, can bring a fortune to the one who dares to dig it up…

This strange, fairytale village where, as far back as the XIVth Century, the peasants hear bizarre things under the trees, this village where it is said that Ladies of the Light sometimes appear under a giant beech and where the Lord of the place has conversations with a fairy, this village is called Domremy…

And it is there that, one hundred years later, Jeanne d’Arc would be born, and it is there, in this fairytale village , that she would hear, one day, strange voices…


Domremy is situated near the border between Champagne and the Barrois.  Therefore, Jeanne d’Arc was either Champenoise or Barroise, but she was absolutely not from Lorraine as is often said.


It is also said that she was a shepherdess, which is false.  She had never guarded sheep, unless it was totally accidentally.  She became Lorraine because of Francois Villon who wrote:

Et Jeanne la bonne Lorraine…

He probably did it because he needed something ending in “aine” for his rhyme.


To be continued.

The legend of the Easter bells that go to Rome from Good Thursday to the evening of Good Saturday is an enigma for folklorists and historians of traditions.

There exists, in the History of folklore, a mystery which has always intrigued the specialists of popular traditions.  It is the one attached to the origin of the “Easter bells”.  When, in the VIIIth Century, the Church, as a sign of mourning, forbids the ringing of the bells during the three days which precede the Festival of the Resurrection, the good people invented a very strange story.  They said:

“From Good Thursday to Good Saturday evening, the bells leave their belfries, fly away and go to Rome…”

With the knowledge that legends nearly always draw their origins from something that really happened, one could ask what strange phenomenon could have led our ancestors to imagine such a fable.  For no-one has ever seen any bells flying in the sky.

Or have they?…

Don’t laugh and let us have a look at a chronicle from the VIth Century which will perhaps furnish us with the explanation that we are seeking.

This chronicle’s author is the monk Gregoire de Tours.  Reporting all the important facts of his epoch in his Histoire des Francs, the worthy man writes that in 584,

“there appeared in the sky brilliant wheels of light which seemed to crash into each other and go past each other;  after which, they separated and disappeared into thin air”.

The following year, he notes:

“In the month of September, certain people saw some signs, that is to say, some of these wheels of light or cupolas that one is accustomed to see and which seem to run with rapidity in the sky.”

Two years later, the monk again writes:

“We saw for two nights in a row, in the middle of the sky, a sort of strongly luminous cloud which had the form of a hood.”

A cupola, a hood, those are objects which resemble bells a lot.  From there, could we not think that these mysterious apparitions, observed by the contemporaries of Gregoire de Tours, are at the origin of the popular fable?

For centuries, city and country children await the “return” of the bells which are supposed to bring them back from Rome eggs in sugar or chocolate.

But what then were these extraordinary engines which were circulating in the atmosphere?

Their description strangely resembles that of our modern UFOs some of which have, very exactly, the form of a cupola, of a hood, in a word, of a bell

Let us listen to a witness who, on 2 October 1954, saw one of these objects above Quinay-Voisin, near Melun:

“The engine passed in the sky at a fast pace.  It was coming from the North and had the form of a cupola…  It made no noise and was shiny like aluminium…  In a few seconds, it stationed over a wood.  I then saw it rocking for a long moment;  then it took off again at astounding speed and disappeared.”

Another testimony:  on 24 June 1962, around 3:00 pm, a man from a garage, who was running an errand in the vicinity of Nice, suddenly sees something luminous in the sky.  Let us listen to him:

“At first, I thought that it was round.  Then when the thing came closer, I saw that it had the form of an upside-down bowl.  This thing circled above the hill, as if it was looking to land.  Then it threw out flashes and rose vertically at great speed.  Then I lost it from sight.”

Third testimony, even more precious:  On 19 June 1971, a former American officer was driving along a road in Georgia when he noticed above a wood an enormous scintillating object slipping under the clouds.  He says:

“This object had the form of a German helmet or of a bell.  It was fairly high, but I think that its diameter could be equal to the width of a Boeing.  Intrigued, I stopped and turned off my engine.  The object continued to advance slowly without making any noise.  Then it began to circle around a point which seemed to me to be a little lake situated not far from the place where I was.  While it was circling, some red lights appeared on its sides, as if some windows were lighting up.  Then everything went out and the object suddenly took off and disappeared into some clouds.”

So, what do we conclude?

This very curious story that parents still tell children could have at its origin the apparition in the sky of a mysterious flying object.

That the men of the VIth Century had perhaps received the visit of an engine comparable to these UFOs which roam around our sky, the strange evolutions of which are periodically reported by the newspapers?

In this case, the “Easter bells” would have entered into our traditions because of an object in the form of a cupola which perhaps came from another world and had caused the men of the year 584 to marvel…


Guy Breton, whose work I have translated, underlines that this explanation is only an hypothesis which he submits to the folklorists, nothing more…


Flying bells are very often in legends and popular tales.  In all of the world’s folklores, bells have a magical character.  We see them as special objects – almost living beings – since we baptise them.  And we lend them strange faculties:  they ring on their own to announce a catastrophe, they make storms flee, they stop hail.  Finally – and we come back to our subject – they roam around the sky at fantastic speeds.  In certain tales, they are described, brilliant or glowing red, flying over fields or villages.  In others, they stop for a few instants in a point in the air before taking off again like a flash of lightning…  Which is, according to the witnesses cited by the newspapers, one of the characteristics of our modern UFOs.


There is an enormous amount of apparitions of unidentified celestial objects in the Middle Ages.  The chronicles are full of them.  They speak of mysterious round objects, flying shields, lances of fire, in other words, objects whose description again corresponds with what we read today in the press…  Listen to what Gregoire de Tours wrote in 590:

“During this year, a light so bright shone in the night that one could believe that it was noon;  one saw as well globes of fire travelling often across the sky at nighttime and illuminating the world.”

Here is what the chronicler Matthieu de Paris writes in his Historia Anglorum, on the subject of a phenomenon which occurred at twilight on 24 July 1239:

“While the stars were not yet lit and while the sky was still very light, serene and brilliant, a great star appeared like a torch.  It rose from the South and climbed in the sky emitting a very big light.  When it was high in the sky, it turned toward the North, slowly, as if it wanted to occupy a position in the sky.  But when it was about in the middle of the firmament, in our boreal hemisphere, it left behind it some smoke and some sparks.  This had the form of a big head, the front part was sparkling and the back part was emitting smoke and flashes…”

For the date 1290, one finds in the chronicles of William of Newburgh this text:

“As Abbot Henry, Prior of Byland Abbey, in England, was about to read the “Benedicite”, Joannes, one of the friars, came to announce that a prodigy was showing outside.  Everyone then went outside and there they saw a big silver thing, round like a disc, fly slowly above them, provoking the most lively terror…”

Thirty years later, Robert of Reading, who was a Benedictin at Saint Peter of Westminster, notes in his chronicle that in 1322,

“in the early hours of the night of 4 November a pillar of fire the size of a little boat, of pale colour, was seen in the sky above Uxbridge (Middlesex);  it rose to the South, crossed the sky in a slow, majestuous movement and left towards the North.  At the front of the pillar, a bright red flame was burning throwing out great rays of light.  Its speed increased and it disappeared into space…  Several witnesses saw a sort of collision and a noise like a fearsome combat was heard.”

Phenomena of this kind are signalled throughout the whole of Europe.  In Sicily, the Minor Brothers of Ragusa watched, on 8 January 1388, the passage of several “very luminous and aligned” objects above their convent.  And the Cronica Albertina indicates that in 1394,

“the second day of the month of September, at the second hour of the night, appeared to some men who were on the public square of Forli and to others, in other places assembled, a great asud [name given at the time to celestial objects] which traversed the sky very slowly and which stayed in space the time of two Pater Nosters, and which was as long as one step, and which, at its disappearance – the men who were on the square reported it – gave out an odour of burning wood, and we heard other people who assured that the said asud on fire travelled through the air in its own fashion, but after it remained motionless for a bit of time in space, and after this time it disappeared little by little leaving in its place a sort of cloud, and the rest of the vapours had taken the form of serpents, a rather admirable thing.”

Finally, here is another text that Guy Breton found in the Memoires of a bourgeois from Arras written by Jacques Duclerq, Counseller to Philippe le Bon.  He writes:

“In the night of the All Saints [31 October night] 1461, was noticed in the sky an ardent thing, like a very long bar of iron, very fat like half a moon.  For a quarter of an hour, we could see very clearly.  And then, suddenly, this strange thing twisted and climbed into the skies.  Each remained stunned by it.”

You see, the sky of the Middle Ages is criss-crossed by unidentified flying objects…  It is possible that these mysterious apparitions have given birth to other myths.  Which would perhaps explain why, when the Church forbade the ringing of the bells for three days, the good people found it quite natural to tell their children that the bells – which had the form of some of these objects circulating in the sky – had flown away.  And as they could imagine them better close to the Pope, they added that they had left for Rome…


UFOs in History

A celestial phenomenon observed in Paris on 10 February 1875, from 5:25 to 6:10 in the evening.

People often say “at the UFO epoch” when referring to the second half of the XXth Century…  In the same way that they say “at the time of the Inquisition” to designate certain periods in the past.  “Practices inherited from the Middle Ages”, someone will declare while denouncing some of today’s horrors.  As if cruelty were not of all times.  As if the apparition of the first UFOs only went back to the days immediately following the Second World War…

“In the night of 12 October 1621, around eight o’clock at night, the Moon being in its last quarter, the air started to lighten in the East.  For roughly an hour and a half, the sky became as light and clear as in the most beautiful mornings of Summer.  This gave great astonishment to the inhabitants of Lyon.  And the greatest part of them were looking up, because of this brightness, when they noticed in the sky some very strange things and these things were not natural…

“Above the big Place de Bellecour, they saw appearing a sort of great mountain, on which there was the form of a castle in a round shape and from this round-shaped castle, which was moving in the air with prodigious bounds, flashes of lightning were coming out, and it seemed to float on the whole of the Port du Rhone quarter, on Saint-Michel and above the Saone River.

“Around the Place des Terreaux, there was seen by more than four hundred people, this same day, a round star which was moving, and which was very luminous and as if surrounded by flashes of lightning…

“Over the city of Nimes there was seen at the same time, and principally in the following night of 13 October, around ten o’clock at night, just above the amphitheatre, a sort of brightly shining sun which was dancing, surounded by luminous torches, and this flamboyant sun seemed to want to travel straight onto the Roman tower, that is called La Tour Magne.  And this greatly astonished all of the inhabitants of the city.

“On the city of Montpellier, from ten o’clock in the evening to three o’clock in the morning, was seen a very luminous star which was moving above some houses, and from this star lances of fire were coming out, and all the people were outside and were observing this with great astoundment.”…

A few years earlier, and without predudice to the Mediterranean people’s gift for embellishment, three strange boats appeared off Genes.  According to the numerous testimonies of the epoch, they were a type of floating carriage, perfectly spherical, surrounded and as if haloed by long filaments of fire “the same as the tongues of dragons”.  The power of suggestion of these engines must have been considerable, since several witnesses, such as the son of Sieur de Loro and the brother of Signor Bagatello as well as several women, died from emotion.  So much so that, the next day 16 August, the Bishop of Genes had a solemn Te Deum said in the cathedral…

In the Maya temple at Palenque, Mexico, there is this famous sculpted stone where some see a man at the controls of an engine propulsed by reaction.

New apparition:  in the month of January 1609, above Angers this time, the whole city rushed into the street to see torches of fire moving in the sky.  They resembled “fat thistles all ardent” surrounded by immense red and blue lights.  After a few minutes of slow navigation the “things” concentrate their flight above the Saint Maurice and Saint Pierre churches.  The inhabitants, terrorised, see in this a sign from Heaven and rush all together into these two churches thinking that if the city was going to be attacked by these “things”, the holy places at least would be preserved…

Let us go back a few years more in time, but still staying in this rich period, into the XVIth Century which saw, it seems, a veritable epidemic of flying objects…

At the beginning of Winter 1578, on 21 December, right in the middle of the day, there is seen to appear in the Geneva sky a “star” the size of the Moon and which was moving very fast.  The star in question is trailing behind it “a great abundance of fire”.  One of the testimonies, reported in a book published by the Parisian Editor Jean Pinart in 1579, gives the precision that the “star” had left behind it in the sky three great black arcs which resembled smoke and that, around Geneva, several fields had been burnt…

One month later, a new prodigy, in France this time, still reported in the Discours merveilleux et espouvantables des Signes et Prodiges by Jean Pinart:

“On 23 January 1579, around six or seven o’clock in the evening, above a village on the Seine River named Essone, there appeared a great dragon of round shape which was vomitting fire in great abundance.  And this dragon followed the river, and it was said that it sent out thunder, and there was a great flooding of the waters, to such an extent that several boats of food supplies were lost, even though there had been no storm nor earthquake.  Then, the dragon danced around and it disappeared and no-one saw it again…”


On 7 August 1566, over Bale, numerous spherical objects (some dark-coloured, others luminous) seemed to be in combat. This lasted several hours and terrified the population.

Most of these texts come from the Bibliotheque nationale where a friend of Louis Pauwels found them.  They were in a little book from the 1600s only re-published in  the XIXth Century and drawn up by what could be called the “journalists” of the epoch, to give an account of a particularly abundant series of prodigies.


They occurred in the sky, on the surface of water or on the ground but they all ended in a more or less sudden manner in the atmosphere…  They were all visions of unidentified objects which are of course interpreted according to the cultural references of the epoch.  As we have seen, they are round castles, surrounded by flashes of lightning, or round stars which move very rapidly throwing out blinding lights, or carriages (the only vehicles at the epoch which could serve as comparison) which float in the air surrounded by serpents of light or by fat thistles.  Forms where the sphere predominates and which emit red or blue lights, or fabulous animals (what impression would the Concorde make in the sky of Henri IV of France?) which vomit flames.  What is particularly remarkable is that – on the contrary to what happens today – all of these phenomena are observed at the same time by hundreds or thousands of people and always in well determined places…


On 14 April 1561, the inhabitants of Nuremberg fearfully watched objects with strange forms performing a fantastic ballet in the air above their city.

Everything invites us to think that these phenomena totally resemble the observations of flying saucers which appeared regularly in the press in the XXth Century.

Louis Pauwels, whose work I have translated, thinks that it would be fascinating to undertake a systematic study of all of these discours on the prodigies of the XVIth and XVIIth Centuries which, aside from the moralising conclusion attached to all of them – Heaven is sending us these signs to exhort us to repent and prepare us for the Last Judgement – are nothing more than reports taken down at the time, certain of which are excellent and worthy of the reports by our Police Forces today…

Why would these authors have invented these stories?  The most striking thing about them is perhaps the relative dryness of their accounts, their sobriety in any case.  They never try to embellish their testimony or make ulterior events depend on these manifestations.  That these events had also been seen in Geneva, in the austere capital of calvinism, is another proof of their authenticity:  the mistrust of the Reformed Church for anything marvellous of divine origin is well known.


Louis Pauwels does not necessarily conclude that flying saucers exist, although certain testimonies are often particularly serious and troubling.  He simply ponders the constance of these phenomena throughout all human History.  And the constance of these apparitions and of these hallucinations in the sky should lead, along with research and objective, material proof, to systematic speculation about this remarkable permanence in History…


I should like to add that, although I believe that people really do see these things, I do not necessarily believe that they come from another planet.  I think that they could come from the Future.  A Future where Science has managed to find an answer to the question of the expansion and contraction of Time and Space and has been able to build machines for their biologists and anthropologists, not to mention environmentalists, to visit the past.

All that work and money going into doing something that people do already today without machines.  Wouldn’t it be easier to study how they do it and develop a method that other people can use?  Of course, this would involve scientists studying all the different fields of spiritualty and they seem intent on studying only material things.  Pity.

IXth Century trip in a UFO

Many Mediaeval chroniclers tell of mysterious balls in the sky. However, the one that landed in Lyon in 852 was inhabited...

On this Summer day in 852, the eighteenth year of the reign of France’s Louis le Debonnaire, it is hot in Lyon and numerous people are strolling along the banks of the Rhone seeking some cooler air.  Suddenly, someone points to the sky:

“Oh!  Look!…”

The good people look up and freeze in fear.  At the same instant, other cries resound throughout the city:

“Come and see!  Come and see!  There is great marvel in the sky!…”

Then, coming out of houses, convents, churches, men and women invade the streets and remain stunned when they see what everyone else is seeing.  There, above a prairie, at a height of three houses, a thing which doesn’t resemble anything that is known is floating in the air, motionless and silent.

Is it a chariot?  A vessel?  A beast?  A dragon?  No-one can say.

Suddenly, the thing begins to descend slowly towards the prairie and the good people of Lyon, terrified, fall to their knees.

The thing continues to descend.  It is now a few feet from the ground.  Finally, it lands with extraordinary gentleness.  The people of Lyon, prostrate in the grass, don’t dare to move.  Completely petrified with fear, they silently wait for whatever is now going to happen.

A long time ticks by.

Suddenly, a cry erupts from the crowd.  On one side of the thing, a door has just opened.  A staircase unfolds, and human beings appear at the top of the steps.  There are four of them:  three men and a woman wearing costumes similar to those of the Lyonnais.  Now, they are coming down the stairs, mutually supporting each other.

The crowd, astounded, watches them.

They continue to descend, reach the ground, advance in a stagger.  They seem stunned.

When they have gone about fifty paces, the staircase down which they have come folds up on its own, then the door through which they had passed closes, and the thing, still silent, leaves the ground and rises slowly above the crowd.  When it reaches about one hundred feet, it suddenly makes a prodigious bound into the sky and disappears behind the clouds.

Then, the four mysterious people let themselves fall to the ground.  They seem to be at the limit of their strength.  The woman in particular seems to be in a very bad way:  she is crying and her arms and legs are shaking.

The Lyonnais rise to their feet.  Someone calls out:

“Careful!  Don’t go near them, they’re sorcerers!”

But one of the men from the sky speaks in a tired voice and his language is that of the Lyonnais:

“We are not sorcerers.  We are from a neighbouring village.  We have been taken by genies…  Do not be afraid of us!…  But rather, help this woman who is ill…”

All four of them look so pitiful that some good people approach them and ask whence they have come.  The man gives the name of his village.

“We will explain everything, but look after this woman, she has been so frightened…”

Then, despite those who are calling for death and yelling about witchcraft, they are taken inside a house where they are put to bed after having drunk some cool wine in which revigorating herbs are floating…

The crowd is gathered in front of the door.  It will wait for hours before the men from the sky have enough strength to speak.  Towards evening at last, one of them gives this extraordinary account:

“Voila.  All four of us were in a field when this thing that you saw came down from the sky and landed near us.  Beings similar to men came out and called to us.  We were so frightened that it was impossible for us to move.  Then they came and invited us to mount inside their airship.  They told us that they were not evildoers.  We followed them and the thing flew away.  We were behind some round windows through which we could see the earth beneath us.  We saw countrysides, rivers and cities;  then we entered into a fog and, suddenly, we thought that we were in Paradise…  One of the genies told us that we were above the clouds.

“After that, we slept.  When we awoke, we noticed that the thing had come down in an unknown land.  The genie who was taking care of us came to get us and took us inside a palace where there were some very beautiful women.  He told us that these were their women and that we must be able to see that they weren’t demons.

“Then he took us on a visit of the city and we mounted again inside the thing.  But before coming back here, we were taken on a trip to different places on Earth.  We came down in countries of ice and in countries of sand where the heat was torrid.  Before letting us leave, a while ago, the genie said to us:

” ‘Tell other men what you have seen, and tell them that we don’t want to hurt them, that we do not come to throw venom on their fruits, poison their fountains, excite storms or make hail fall on their harvests…  Tell them so that your kings know it!’

“There, you know everything! “

The Lyonnais, who had listened to this fabulous story, are perplexed.  Suddenly, a man cries out:

“I don’t believe any of this!  These people are sorcerers.  They come to make it hail!…”

Another says:

“It’s the Duke of Benevent who sends them!”

Soon, the crowd is yelling:

“Yes, Yes!  It’s Grimoald, the Duke of Benevent, who sends them to massacre our harvests!  They are sorcerers!…”

“Death!  They have to be burnt!…”

And they are led away.

According to Agobard, Bishop of Lyon in the IXth Century, the inhabitants of his city had what is known today as "a close encounter of the third type".

While waiting for the stake and fire to be prepared, the screaming crowd makes them walk around the city.  They are insulted.  Stones are thrown at them.  They are promised to Hell.

“Death to the sorcerers!  Death!”

But a man runs up, alerted by all this noise.  It is Agobard, Bishop of Lyon.  He wants to know what is happening.

It is explained to him that these sorcerers come from the sky to spoil the harvests and that they are going to be burnt.

Agobard is a good man.  He turns to the four prisoners and asks them to explain.  They recount their extraordinary adventure once more.  The crowd cries out:

“You see, they are sorcerers, they have to be burnt!”

But Agobard shakes his head.

“No!  I strictly forbid you to burn them.  These three men and this woman are not sorcerers.  For the simple reason that they are lying, that they never went to travel in the air, for such things are impossible!”

“But we all saw them descend from the sky!”

“Then you were all seeing things!”

And for three quarters of an hour, he explains all his reasons for them not to believe in such a prodigy.  He adds:

“And another thing, those who affirm that they were witnesses to it could well risk being taken for sorcerers themselves…”

As can be guessed, the Lyonnais then declare to their Bishop that the whole thing was only a dream.

And the four prisoners are released and return to their village while, in Lyon, hundreds of men and women – without confiding in anybody – would keep in their memories the obsessive image of a mysterious thing which had descended from the sky one fine Summer’s day…


To be continued.

A knight from the past – part 2

The knight who appeared in the Mons sky in 1914 inspired poems, songs and even a waltz.

There is no explanation for the appearance of a mediaeval knight in the middle of World War I. It could not be a collective hallucination for the apparition was seen by two groups of men who were too far away from each other to correspond or suggest it to each other.  The English would have had to scream during the noise of battle – and in German:

“Oh!  Look at the beautiful blond knight in armour, with no helmet, on a white horse!…”

It is unthinkable!


 American physicists from Princeton suggest (prudently) that it could be a contact between the universe which is invisible to our eyes where everything continues to exist forever, that we call the Past, and a few instants of the “Here-and-Now” which lasts only the blink of an eye and which we designate as the Present.  A lucky, accidental contact, which led a mediaeval knight to irrupt into the space-time of 18 August 1914.


Let us recall what Einstein said about the person who lived a few hours with people who had died thirty years before:

“This man tripped on Time like others miss a step on a staircase…”

[See https://marilynkaydennis.wordpress.com/2010/08/05/a-strange-concert/ and https://marilynkaydennis.wordpress.com/2010/08/07/a-strange-concert-part-2/ ]

The Tommies and the German soldiers perhaps also missed a step…  Some parapsychologists claim as well that wars, for reasons still inexplicable, seem to create a favourable climate for this type of phenomena…


Baron Manfred von Richthofen, the Red Baron's characteristic aeroplane was seen in 1940.

There are many other examples.  On all battlefields since the times of Antiquity, soldiers have seen prodigious things.  All chroniclers mention them.  Here is one example.  It dates from World War II.  In June 1940, an English aviator, Lieutenant Grayson, was on a night flight above Dover, in marvellous moonlight.  At one moment, he sees in front of him a bi-plane of a very old type.  Intrigued, he chases it, catches it and notes, astounded, that it is an old Fokker from World War I, entirely painted red and decorated with the Iron Cross.  Approaching even closer, he notices that this strange aeroplane bears an emblem on its fuselage:  a flying circus.  He could have fired then;  but – he would later say – this aeroplane seemed so weird to him that he didn’t dare.  Suddenly, the Fokker, which is flying ten metres ahead of him, disappears into thin air.  Very troubled, the Englishman returns to camp and recounts what he had seen.  His fellow pilots laughingly declare that it should be forbidden for RAF pilots to have whisky in their cockpits…

Years pass.  And one day in 1943, Lieutenant Grayson buys an old book on the Air War in 1914-1918.  He is astounded to discover the photograph of a red Fokker decorated with a “flying circus”.  Underneath the photo, it is explained that this was the bi-plane in which the Number One Ace of German Aviation flew during World War I.  He was the famous Baron Manfred von Richthofen, nicknamed The Red Baron because of the colour of his aeroplane.

Von Richthofen had been shot down with his Fokker on 21 April 1918.  What was he doing in a June 1940 fragment of space-time?


Another phenomenon during World War I: the British saw archers from the XVth Century fighting beside them. It was later learnt that some Germans had been found with wounds "like those which would have been made by ancient arrows".

A ward at Hotel-Dieu in Paris.

The rules imposed on the sick who go on a pilgrimage to the tomb of Saint Marcoul are very precise.  Admitted inside the brotherhood in exchange for a small sum of money, they are submitted to diverse food interdictions, must also avoid touching metal objects and wear gloves for this.  It is also necessary to attend the Priory’s church services, for a period of nine days.  This nine-day period is not rigorously respected.  Some do not have the possibility of remaining there for nine days and can have themselves represented by inhabitants of the place, who are thereby constrained to the same interdictions.  Back home, the faithful who had come to solicite the saint must, in the case of a cure, have their curate fill out a certificate which is sent back to the Corbeny Priory.  A good number of these documents have come down to us and bear witness to the immense popularity enjoyed by the cult of this saint in the XVIIth and XVIIIth Centuries.  All of the North of France, Liege country, ducal Lorraine, Alsace, but also Auvergne and the Dauphine sent sick people to Corbeny.

Such success can be explained by the wave of disasters (war, epidemics, famines…) which struck the last centuries of the Middle Ages;  christians, desperate about not finding any human help, turn more to the thaumaturgical saints.  But above all, this success is born of the association which is naturally established between the healing capacities of Saint Marcoul and those of the King of France.  The saint and the King are in fact invested with the same power of healing scrofula.

When and how did this association between the King and Saint Marcoul become established?  The Corbeny monks, anxious to valorise their community even more, answer this question by invoking a visit to Corbeny by Saint Louis [Louis IX] before his Coronation, which does not appear very probable.  On top of this, the custom which takes the king to Saint Marcoul’s tomb in Reims is not yet established under Philippe le Bel [Philippe the Beautiful].  There is some doubt as to the itinerary followed by Louis X le Hutin [Louis the Angry] in 1315 but, in 1328, Philippe VI de Valois takes the same direct route as his uncle Philippe le Bel after the accomplishment of the royal consecration.  On the other hand, his successor Jean le Bon [Jean the Good] goes to Corbeny two days after his Coronation and, after him, no sovereign until Louis XIV seems to have avoided this custom, except for Henri IV, consecrated as we know at Chartres, because of the occupation of Reims by the troops of the Ligue.

The royal visit takes place according to a precise ceremonial.  A procession goes to meet the monarch, who receives the saint’s head from the Prior and carries it to the church, before praying before the shrine.  From the XVth Century, a royal pavillion lodges the illustrious visitor.  In 1654, there is a variation during the consecration of Louis XIV, as Mazarin, worried about the insecurity which reigns in the region, has the Saint Marcoul shrine brought from Reims.  The same thing occurs during the consecrations of Louis XV and Louis XVI.  Prayers before the saint’s relics become an obligation for those who have just received the royal unction.

Curiously, this tradition is perceived as very ancient from the epoch of Charles VII, when it only goes back a century at the most at this time.  The Chronique de la Pucelle reports in fact that

“for all time, the kings of France, after their consecrations, had the custom of going into a priory named Corbigny”.

Saint Marcoul’s renown is such that, in the end, the merit for the king’s miraculous powers is attributed to him.

From 1484, but perhaps before that, Charles VIII touches the scrofulous after having finished his prayers before the saint’s tomb.  The sick are then only six, but they will be eighty in 1498 after Louis XII’s consecration.  From Henri II, foreigners mix with the crowd of patients and, in the XVIIth and XVIIIth Centuries, thousands flock to Corbeny or to the Saint-Remy park in Reims.  From Louis XII, it is accepted that the King can only start to touch scrofula after a detour by Corbeny.  A practice which worries the Reims canons, anxious to reaffirm the decisive importance of the unction in the attribution to the sovereign of his thaumaturgical virtues.  They take upon themselves to remind young Charles VIII of this, telling him that:

“By the virtue of the Holy Unction

Which at Reims receives the noble King of France

God by his hands confers healing

Of scrofula, here is the demonstrance.”

The “demonstrance” is only a sort of living tableau, created on the occasion of the consecration, and representing the famous gift to the kings of France.  However, at the same epoch, the monks of Saint-Riquier decorate their Treasury Room with a fresque which shows the King of France kneeling near Saint Marcoul who is transmitting his healing power to him;  the words are:

“Oh Marcoul, your scrofulous receive from you, oh doctor, a perfect health;  thanks to the gift that you make to him, the king of France, doctor too, enjoys over scrofula an equal power…”

In the XVIIth Century, representations of Louis XIV with the thaumaturgical saint beside him are frequent.  They can be found at Saint-Riquier, at Abbeville and at Tournai.  The saint’s cult meets such success that those who benefit from the royal touch think that a veritable and complete cure will only be possible if they go to Corbeny afterwards.  Such a deviation worries the clergy of Reims, anxious to reserve the healing power for the unction.  However, if the Church is attached to this rite which closely connects it to the French monarchy, it doesn’t want to question the cults of the saints either, because of their success among the People.  The treatise De la beatification des serviteurs de Dieu et de la canonisation des saints by Cardinal Prosper Lambertini, future Pope Benedict XIV, therefore states that

“the kings of France have obtained the privilege of healing scrofula in virtue of a grace which has been given to them, either during the conversion of Clovis, or when Saint Marcoul asked it of God for the kings of France…”.

In fact the idea of the intercession of Saint Marcoul is born at the end of the Middle Ages, when the first royal pilgrimages to Corbeny occur:  these voyages, interpreted as giving thanks, were going to be enriched by a last element.  The myth of the healing of scrofula will accept the fact that the seventh boy born after six other boys in the family would also possess the miraculous gift.  They go to Corbeny to impregnate themselves with the saint’s virtues and receive there a certificate which gives the precision that they have acquired his thaumaturgical powers.  The Carme of Place Maubert in Paris thereby acquires a great reputation for curing scrofulous Parisians.


To be continued.

A ward at Hotel-Dieu in Paris.

The supernatural power of the kings comes, without any doubt, from superstitions anterior to christianisation, from those obscure times when king-priests favourised the maintaining of the order of the world through their magical power.  Unconscious survivors of the original myths buried in the dust of time, belief in the healing powers of kings must be placed in the context of the mythical abundance which characterizes distant epochs, an abundance from which many leftovers came down to us, in the form of religious or folkloric traditions, until the last centuries of the Age of the Kings [Ancien Regime] in France.  This includes the beliefs relating to the healing powers of Saint Marcoul, which were to be largely confounded with the tradition of the royal touching of scrofula.

If we believe the story told about him by the monks from the Nant Monastery – in the Coutances Diocese – at the beginning of Carolingian times, Marcoul was born in Bayeux in the VIth Century and was a contemporary of King Childebert I and of Bishop Saint-Lo.  The Norman invasions forced the Nant monks to flee, taking their relics with them.  They came to seek protection from Charles the Simple and he installed them North of the Aisne, in a domain called Corbeny where, in February 906, is founded a monastery destined to shelter the relics of the saint which will never be brought back to the Cotentin.  The last Carolingians leagued this pious foundation to the Saint-Remi Monastery of Reims, which made it a Priory, and it conserved this status until the Revolution.  The First World War, well-known for the devastation caused in this region of the sadly renowned Chemin des Dames, destroys the last ruins of the building which still existed at the beginning of the XXth Century.

Saint Marcoul was a thaumaturgical saint, like a lot of similar saints, but it seems that he did not originally have any particular “speciality”.  His miraculous powers manifested themselves in the XIIth Century.  The Prior of Corbeny noticed that the village had suffered a series of catastrophes and was worried about the lack of earnings for his community caused by the financial distress of his tenants.  He then decided to send his monks to accomplish a “relic tour”.  Raising the patron saint’s shrine onto their robust shoulders, the monks travel through Champagne and Picardie where, more or less everywhere, the relics accomplish numerous miracles.  The story which reports this curious voyage does not however make the slightest mention of the healing of scrofula.

In the XIIIth Century, a great stained-glass window in the Coutances Cathedral represents Saint Marcoul treating a hunter whose insolence toward him had been punished by a fall from horseback.  There is still no mention of scrofula on this representation.  At the end of the XIIIth Century, the text of a sermon reveals to us however that

“this saint received from Heaven such grace, for the healing of this illness known as the King’s Evil, that one sees flocking to him, a crowd of sick people coming also from faraway, barbaric countries and from neighbouring nations”.

Why this new specialisation of the saint?  It could be thought that the thaumaturge’s name alone predisposes him to act against scrofula.  It includes mar, a mediaeval adverb which evokes ill, or evil, and coul, that simple phonetics could assimilate to the neck [cou in modern French;  col in Old French], the whole evoking the “ill [or evil] of the neck” characteristic of scrofula.  In the same way, Saint Clair was invested with particular powers for treating affections of sight [clair meaning “clear” (also “light” in connection with colours)]

From the XIVth Century, the saint, who until then had only had a regional reputation, in his Normandie of origin and on the banks of the Aisne, acquires much greater notoriety from the contact with Champagne and Picardie.  It takes on such a dimension that Notre-Dame Church in Mantes claims to possess his true relics, along with those of his two companions, Cariulphe and Domard, after the discovery of a burial containing three skeletons.  This discovery having occurred on the road leading to Rouen, it is possible to imagine that the monks from Nant fleeing “the fury of the Normans” had abandoned their precious burden catastrophically in this place.  This will be the origin of a dispute which will continue until the XVIIth Century.  The monks of Corbeny recall the conditions of the foundation of their Priory under Charles the Simple and the miraculous apparition in the sky, during a procession with the saint’s shrine, of three crowns seen by more than six thousand of the faithful.  They reject without discussion the pretensions of the Mantais, but the remains placed in the collegial church of their town nonetheless have the reputation for having several times cured scrofulous people.

Other sanctuaries claimed to possess relics of the saint.  Some are to be found in Carentoir in the Diocese of Vannes, at Moutiers-en-Retz in that of Nantes, at Saint-Pierre-de-Saumur, at the Abbey of Saint-Valery-sur-Somme, at Mondidier, at Abbeville, at Valenciennes in Argonne, at Dinant, at Naumur, in numerous Wallon or Brabancon villages, at Cologne, at Tournai, at Angers, at Saint-Riquier-en-Ponthieu, at Archelange in Franche-Comte, at Notre-Dame de Liesse…  Some of the saint’s precious remains, given by Queen Anna of Austria, arrive in 1666 at the home of the Carmes of Place Maubert in Paris.  Many brotherhoods are formed in his name at Amiens, at Soissons, at Brussels…  But the glory of the thaumaturgical Corbeny saint is essentially connected to the pilgrimage to his tomb from the XVth Century.  Haberdashers and travelling salesmen, of whom he is the patron saint, sell medals and images of Saint Marcoul during their travels, as well as sandstone bottles containing water sanctified by the immersion of one of his relics.  This water is applied to the sick parts of the body, but some of the faithful think that it is better to drink it to accelerate the cure.

To be continued.

A ward at Hotel-Dieu in Paris.

We could question the exceptional aspect of the French and English cases, and the absence of comparable rites in other kingdoms.  At the beginning of the XIth Century in France, about a hundred years later in England, sacred royalty conserves a supernatural character which it had acquired during the High Middle Age.  It is within this very precise mental framework that the political action of the two dynasties – which need to impose their legitimacy at this moment – introduces the touching of scrofula as a constituting rite of the monarchy.  The Capetians in France, Henry Beauclerc across the Channel, succeed in this enterprise despite the certain hostility of a Church then engaged in the Gregorian Reform and, over the centuries, the tradition is established, to the point of becoming indiscutable.  In other lands, circumstances did not lend themselves to a comparable evolution and the thaumaturgical power therefore remained attached only to these two Western royalties.

It is even appropriate to add that the English monarchy more or less completed this sacred attribute by its capacity for accomplishing another miracle, that of the “medicinal rings”, a rite which clearly appears from the XIVth Century.

Each year, on Good Friday, the English kings worship Christ’s Cross, in fact the “cross of Gneyth”, a miraculous relic stolen from the Welsh by Edward the Confessor, of which it was said that a piece of the true Cross had been inserted into it.  Placed at some distance from the relic, the king prosterns himself then drags himself, on his stomach, towards the divine insignia.  A practice described by Jean d’Avranches like this:

“In this gesture of worship, the stomach must be pressed to the ground;  for, according to Saint Augustin, in his commentary on the 43rd Psalm, genuflexion is not a perfect humiliation;  but he who humiliates himself by pressing himself completely on the ground, has nothing remaining of him which allows an increase in humiliation.”

This rite spreads throughout all of Roman Catholic Europe but, from the reign of Edward II, it is followed by a new practice, which is to be seen until the reign of Mary Tudor.

Once the prosternation rite is finished, the sovereign approaches the altar and places on it a certain quantity of gold and silver in the form of beautiful coins, then he takes these coins back, replacing them with an equivalent amount in coins of lesser value.  The florins or esterlins recuperated in this way are used afterwards to make rings for fingers, which have the reputation for curing certain illnesses in those who wear them.  Their curative virtues are particularly against epilepsy, which gives them the name of “cramp rings” in England.

The origin of such a power is firstly to be looked for in the tradition of christian marvels.  Joseph of Arimathia, who had buried Christ’s body, also had the reputation for having been the evangelizer of the British Isles and to have introduced the art of curing epileptics with rings.  Another legend has Edward the Confessor intervening again.  The Good Friday rite evoked earlier appears nearly three centuries after his reign, but a ring plays an important role in the legend of the holy King.  According to the Vie composed in 1163 by Abbot Ailred of Rievaulx, Edward, approached one day by a beggar, wanted to give him some money but, finding his purse empty, he gave him a ring.  The poor man who was soliciting him was in fact Saint John the Apostle.  Seven years later, two English pilgrims who were in Palestine, met there a beautiful old man, Saint John in person, who gave them back the ring, asking them to return it to their king and to announce to him that he was soon awaited in Paradise.  This tradition met with great success in the public, and the Anglo-Norman monarchy was able to recuperate it, as Henry III, who gives his son and heir the name of Edward – which is new for the sovereigns of the Norman and Plantagenet line – has the scene of the meeting of the two saints painted on the walls of Saint John’s Chapel in the Tower of London.  In Westminster Abbey, where the body of Edward the Confessor lies, the monks also show the faithful a ring found on the saint’s finger at the moment of the transfer of his remains into a new shrine, in 1163.  Osbert of Clare confirming that Edward had been buried with his ring, it is accepted that it is the one given to Saint John and, around 1400, John Mirk affirms that

“the ring which was, for seven years, in Paradise”

can be seen in the famous monastery.

It is only in the XVIIth Century, however, that the first texts establishing a connection between Edward’s ring and the miraculous cures performed at the end of the Good Friday rite appear.  Edward the Confessor is therefore placed, for the minds of the time, at the origin of the touching of scrofula and the rite of the healing rings.  Nothing permits us however to accord the slightest historical foundation to these beliefs.  They come, in fact, from a collection of superstitions which connect epilepsy to demoniacal possession, and suggest that Good Friday is particularly propitious for delivering patients from this ill of “cramps”.  There are at this time, in other countries, comparable practices, in France, in the Germanic world and in Italy, where Bernardin of Sienna evokes these magical recipes, which do not at the time have any connection to royal power.  The consecration of coins called to furnish the material for healing rings is exclusively connected to the fact that they have been offered as goods on the altar;  it is in this way that they acquire their magical power.  The intervention of the English monarch remains totally secondary here.  He only recuperates a superstition very widespread elsewhere.  Royal intervention, which operates in a regular fashion from Edward II to Mary Tudor, did however take on a specific dimension in England.  The king who cures scrofula is naturally able to also relieve epileptics, in the minds of the times.  Edward II’s unpopularity doubtless encourages him to reinforce the sacred character of the royal person by endowing it with a supplementary healing power, but the old magical recipe recuperated in this way will gradually transform itself into a new royal miracle.  The initial offering and the “buying back” which follows, lose their importance, the consecration given by the royal hand becoming the essential element of the rite from then on when, originally, it was closely connected to the influence of the altar and the cross.


To be continued.

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