Tag Archive: XVth Century


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.

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

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

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

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

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

And Rondelet continues:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

***

To be continued.

Jeanne d’Arc, as represented by Saint-Sulpician inspired artists. But who were these beings from elsewhere who haunted the Bois-Chenu?

The Rouen judges lengthily interrogated Jeanne d’Arc on the fairytale phenomena in Domremy.  Here is what she answered on this subject, on Saturday 24 February 1431, during the third audience, to Maitre Jean Beaupere, Assessor at the Tribunal:

“Fairly close to Domremy, there is a certain tree which is called the Arbre des Dames, and others call it the Arbre des Fees.  Nearby, there is a fountain.  And I have heard that people sick with fever drink from this fountain and go to fetch its water to recover their health.  And this, I have seen myself;  but I don’t know whether they are cured or not.  I have heard that the sick, when they can get up, go to the tree to roll around.  It is a great tree, called fau, from whence comes the beautiful may.  It belonged, it is said, to My Lord Pierre de Bourlemont, Knight.  Sometimes, I went to roll there with the other girls, and made flower hats for this tree for the image of Notre-Dame-de-Domremy.  Several times, I heard said by the old people, not of my lineage, that the Lady Fairies lived there.  And I heard it said to a woman, named Jeanne, the wife of Mayor Aubery, from my part of the country, who was my godmother, that she had seen the Lady Fairies.  But I myself do not know whether that is true or not.  I have never seen a fairy at the tree, as far as I know.”

The judge asks:

“And have you seen any elsewhere?”

“I don’t know.  I’ve seen flower hats being put on the branches of the tree by young unmarried girls, and myself have sometime put some on with the other girls.  And sometimes we took them away, and sometimes we left them.  Since knowing that I had to come to France, I played a few games or rolled around, and the least that I could.  And I don’t know whether, since I have understood, I have danced near the tree.  Sometimes I could well have danced with the children;  but I didn’t sing there any more than I danced.”

So, Jeanne, known as Jeannette at Domremy, went to sing and dance under the Fairy Tree with her little friends.

***

During the same sitting of the Tribunal, she gave the following precision:

“My brother recounted that it was being said at Domremy:  ‘The Jeanne took her facts from the Fairy Tree.’  It’s false.  I told him the opposite.”

***

To tell the story of Jeanne d’Arc, it is always best to cite her own words.  Here is what she said about the voices:

“When I was thirteen, I had a voice from God to help me to govern myself.  And the first time, I was very much afraid…”

And she adds this sentence where in a few simple words she paints the decor of this marvellous instant:

“And the voice came, around noon, in Summer, in my father’s garden.

“I heard the voice on my right, on the church side.  I rarely heard it without seeing a light.  This light is from the side where the voice makes itself heard…”

During the trial, a judge having asked her whether she had the help of her voices in the Tribunal room, she answered:

“If I were in a wood, I would well hear the voice coming to me…”

However, it would be wrong to conclude that she heard her voices only under trees.  They appear to have manifested themselves in vastly diverse places.  She never said that the presence of trees was a condition, if not indispensable, at least favourable, to her hearing the voices.

***

A fairy godmother. What could have given birth to these timeless stories?

In 1455, the trial of Jeanne d’Arc’s rehabilitation opened.  On this occasion, the Tribunal asked the Civil Provost of Vaucouleurs, Jean Dalie, to go to Domremy to question the people who had known the Pucelle [unmarried girl, usually considered a virgin].  A Rogatory Commission which was accompanied by a list of questions in which the Ninth Article concerned the Fairy Tree.  Here are a few answers:

From Jean Moreau, farmer, seventy years old (he was forty-three in 1429 when Jeanne left her village):

“The Fairy Tree?  I have heard it said by the women that marvellous beings that we call “fairies” used to go to dance under this tree.  But it is said that since we go there to read the Gospel according to Saint John, they don’t come back there any more.”

From Beatrice, widow of Estelleni, eighty years old (sixty-three in 1429):

“The Fairy Tree, I have been there myself with the Ladies and Lords of Domremy to roll beneath it, because it is a very beautiful tree.  It is beside a big track by which we go to Neufchateau.  It was said that, in the ancient times, the Lady-Fairies came under there;  but now they no longer come, because of their sins.”

From Jeannette, widow of Tiercelin, sixty years old (thirty-three in 1429):

“The tree in question is called the Fairy Tree because, in the ancient times, it is said, a lord called Sir Pierre Granier, Knight of Bourlemont, went to meet under the tree a lady called Fee [Fay or Fairy] and talk with her;  I heard it read in a book.  Girls and boys of Domremy go there each year on the Sunday of loetare or Sunday of the Fountains, to roll, eat and dance…”

From Hauviette, wife of Gerard, farmer, forty-five years old (eighteen in 1429):

“Since forever, that tree, we call it the Fairy Tree.  It was said in the ancient times, that ladies called fairies came there…  Myself, I’ve been there with Jeanne the Pucelle [Joan of Arc], my friend, and the others, on the Sunday of the Fountains;  we ate, we had fun…”

Finally, from Gerardin d’Epinal, farmer, sixty years old (thirty-three in 1429), this exquisite comparison:

“It is beautiful like a lily, that tree!  Its leaves and its branches fall all around right down to the ground.  Jeannette went there with the other girls…”

***

People believed in fairies, in a general way, throughout the whole of Europe practically up until the XVIIIth Century, and in certain places up until the end of the XIXth Century…

Historians of mentalities doctly explain that fairies come, for their name, from the antique fata, and from the three Parques (in all the tales, they are present at the birth of children to whom they dispense faults and qualities), and content themselves with adding that they constitute the most persistent vestiges left by paganism…

Certain modern mythologists are not far from thinking that the explanation of this myth will come to us, not from Historians of mentalities, but from scholars.

Now, American and Russian Physicists, among others, estime that interferences between our universe and an invisible world, which is however just as real as ours, are possible.  They add that at certain epochs, “beings” coming from this “elsewhere” were able to intervene in the destiny of men…

Which could have given birth to tales of fairies.

***

Should we then believe that Jeanne d’Arc, who thought that she was in communication with Saint Catherine, Saint Margaret and Saint [the Archangel] Michael, was in fact in contact with “mysterious unknown beings” visiting this world, and in whom today’s Physicists believe?

Guy Breton, whose work I have translated, says that we are all free to think what we like.  All that he knows, is that the most marvellous and most extraordinary being in the History of France, that person who has her equivalent in no other country, at no other epoch, was born precisely in a little village where, for a century, young men and young girls go to roll around under a Fairy Tree…

***

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…

***

In 1557, the inhabitants of Bale saw in the sky an object having the form of an "immense piece of reddened metal". This mysterious "thing" performed numerous evolutions before disappearing. One century earlier, in 1461, the inhabitants of Arras had witnessed the same phenomenon.

This story was found in a treatise written by Agobard, the Bishop of Lyon, himself.  Agobard relates the facts but denies their veracity for he considers them as being contrary to the dogmas.

***

No other people have mentioned this prodigious adventure but there are many others of the same order.  For it must be said that these sorts of stories are fairly common at this epoch.  To the point that the Capitulaires of Charlemagne and of Louis le Debonnaire mention the punishments imposed on the creatures sailing on airships who are accused of destroying vines and harvests…

For there to be laws and rules reprimanding the misdemeanors committed by these mysterious beings, their appearances in the sky must have been numerous…

***

Montfoucon de Villars writes:

“One saw in the air these creatures of human form, sometimes drawn up for battle marching in good order, or standing armed, or camped beneath superb pavillions – at other times on airships of admirable structure whose flying fleet sailed where the zephirs took them…”

Guy Breton, whose work I have translated, surmises that these beings were wearing dorsal helicopters which allowed them to leave the spaceship and descend easily onto Earth…

***

The angels represented on the mosaics of the Cathedral in Montreale (Sicily), like those of Cefalu, have six wings. Could they be the blades of an individual helicopter?

One day in 842, at the time of the siege of Angers by Charles the Bald, the Angevins saw, in the sky, creatures having “the form of grasshoppers each wearing six wings and armed with teeth made of metal”.  These beings were lined up in battle order and flew in good order, led by scouts and airborne diving machines of slimmer form.  “After having circled above the troops of Charles the Bald, these strange metallic grasshoppers disappeared in the direction of the sea…”  To Guy Breton, these metallic grasshoppers, these giant grasshoppers, very much seem to resemble helicopters.

***

Guy Breton one day had the feeling that he was looking at the most ancient representation of a dorsal helicopter in the Cefalu Cathedral, in Sicily, where there are admirable mosaics from the XIIth Century representing angels…  Angels with six wings, of which two give the impression of turning behind them, or above their heads…

Guy Breton says that he doesn’t want to shock anybody, but he asks the question:  What if angels were extra-terrestrials who had descended to Earth with a dorsal helicopter, and were transformed into celestial people by the men of Biblical Antiquity?…

***

In the XVIIIth Century, it was believed that a woman sleeping naked on her bed could be fecunded by the South-West zephyr "charged with floating embryos".

The way in which, throughout the centuries, humans have imagined that they are engendered is a passionate subject.  A young History professor, Monsieur Pierre Darmon, wrote a History of it in which procreation appears as the most prolific of mysteries, a sort of immense, baroque tapistery, around the edges of which the imagination of theologians, jurists, philosophers and doctors has enormously embroidered.

Does sleep favourise the birth of male children?  Yes.

Does the foetus resemble the mother more than the father?  Of course.

The more lascive a woman is, the more fecund she is?  Oh dear no.

Are short women more fecund than tall ones?  Definitely.

Are women whose matrice is cold fecund?  Of course not.

Are women who give birth to a boy more fecund?  Assuredly.

These are very serious subjects of thesis, defended before the very venerable Faculte de medecine de Paris up until the time when, around 1770, Lavoisier gives the first foundations of modern chemistry…

In the XVIth and XVIIth Centuries, it was believed that women who gave birth to monstrous children had been fecunded by a witch.

In the XVth Century, the monks Sprenger and Institutor write the first big treatise on demonology, Le Marteau des Sorcieres.  For two centuries, this guide – red with the blood of thousands of victims – will inflame all parts of Europe, in the hands of Inquisitors and Judges who have blind confidence in it.

During witchcraft [sorcery] trials, sexuality and generation always play a determining role.  One discovers there, in a tragic light, the idea that humanity has had, over the ages, of the role of the sexes and of procreation.

Mandated by the Pope to hunt witches [female sorcerers], Sprenger and Institutor assure that these women are capable of detaching by a spell [enchantment] the fascinus (the “object which fascinates”) of these gentlemen and of taking them away.  The witches place these little animals – these little sparrows? – endowed with their own lives, inside a nest.  The XVth Century text says:

“There, they wriggle and feed themselves with seeds, as several people have recounted.”

And our two grave demonologists recount the following story which they hold to be absolutely true:

“A man notices that, under the effect of a spell, the most precious of his goods has disappeared.  He addresses himself to a known witch and demands reparation from her by the practising of a graft which she knows how to do.  The witch makes him climb a tree and presents him with her collection.  In a nest, several objects of virility are jumping and dancing.  He chooses one, the most flattering.  The witch who, although diabolic, still has scruples, exclaims:  ‘Above all, not that one, it belongs to the parish curate!…’ “

When a woman gives birth to a monstrous child, for several centuries it was thought that it was because of a magical operation.  Therefore, the person responsible has to be found.  It is always a witch or a wizard who has impregnated the mother with bad germs.  And where do these monster germs come from?  They float in the air.  In any case, it is never the fault of the father…

Up until the middle of the XVIIIth Century, a quantity of scientific treatises can be found which doctorly explain that

“at the origin of all animal life, there are little, invisible beings, already formed, but lifeless, which are waiting to enter into contact with a liqueur which is subtle enough to vivify them”.

A woman can therefore procreate on her own, through enchantment or even simply a dream.

This is why, on 13 January 1637, the Grenoble Parliament declares Magdeleine d’Automont d’Aiguemere innocent of the sin of adultery.  This chaste spouse has just given birth to a boy.  But, her husband has been absent for four years.  However, the judgement underlines that

“having imagined the person and the physical contact of the said Lord d’Aiguemere, her husband, in a dream, she received the same sentiments of conception and of pregnancy that she would have received in his presence”.

The judges refer to Saint Thomas who said that, in the state of innocence, children were made by the intention of thoughts alone.

This judgement is accompanied by a highly scientific declaration:

“One supposes that, on the night of Madame d’Aiguemere’s dream, her window being open, her bed exposed to the West, her blanket in disorder, that the South-West zephyr, duly impregnated with organic molecules of human insects, of floating embryos, had fecunded her.”

***

To be continued.

A celestial combat seen by the inhabitants of a Touraine town, in 1480. Wood XVIth Century.

It is early May, and already the African wind is changing Spring in Crete into a furnace.  On a little beach in the island’s North, a mule caravan is moving along, on its way to the White Mountains from whence can be seen, on a clear day, Cythera and even the Peloponnese…  But instead of taking the Eskifu road towards the interior, the head muletier continues along the coast.  Guthrie, an English tourist, calls him to the rear.  The man, who is wearing ample Ottoman clothing, apologizes, saying that he had thought that they wanted to see “the Shades”.  Amused, the Englishman asks him where he thinks that he is going to find any shade in this desert.  The muletier is offended.

“I’m serious.  You can see them in the evening quite near here…  Near the ruins of the castle, Franco Kastelli.  It’s an old Venitian fortress.  Over one hundred years ago, the Greeks and the Turks fought there.  They did it a lot…  And since then, the Shades return every May.”

“And what do these shades do?”

“They fight each other and a lot of them are killed or wounded!”

Guthrie mops his perspiring brow and advises the muletier, whose name is Yami, to take an obviously much-needed rest…  in the shade, of course.

That evening, while camping in a little shepherd’s hut half-way up the Aspra-Vuna, a two thousand metre high mountain, the Englishman, who is accompanied by two friends, pensively watches the sun sinking into the sea.  It’s that indecisive hour when everything which seems banal by day is tinted with strangeness…  On this immemorial land where, since sombre King Minos, a torrent of blood from wars of conquest and insurrections has flowed…  Suddenly, Guthrie says:

“And what if this countryside could reflect through time something of these dramas?…  Tomorrow, if you like, we’ll go to see if there is a shadow performance at the Franco Kastelli theatre!…”

***

The next morning, the English tourists start off before Dawn.  By questioning their guides, they have learnt that the shades also sometimes manifest themselves in the morning, and that some in Crete call them, for this reason, “the Drosulites” or “Men of the Dew”.  Guthrie, who is an engineer and, in these 1930 years, has retained something of the spirit of adventure of the XIXth Century British people, very much hopes to liven up his vacation.  He thinks that, whatever happens, back in his London club, this excursion must furnish some material for an anecdote…  Or, who knows, a declaration to the Science Academy about a phenomenon which, because dew has been mentioned, must be of a meterological or optical nature, and is only an illusion, a mirage, but which he will be the first to observe with the phlegm and rigour of a strong mind…

The little troup is back on the beach which leads to the castle.  The day has not yet dawned, but a light is coming from the East, from the faraway coasts of Syria.  Yami puts his mules to a trot and cries out:

“The castle is down there, in that little gulf!”

This part of the beach is perfectly flat, and less than a kilometre away, parts of the crumbling walls of the old fortress with its damaged tower can be seen.  Our travellers agree that the simple topography of the place will render any trickery impossible and that even if any phenomenon did occur inside the ruins, they would have no difficulty in seeing what it was close up…

They sit down in the warm sand and drink the coffee that Yami pours for them from a thermos.  Then Guthrie and one of his two companions advance about one hundred metres towards the citadelle.  The third Englishman, who has remained behind, is finding that the night has been very short.  He is also asking himself what he is doing here waiting for the improbable to happen.  He wraps himself in a blanket and lights his pipe…

This battle between a regiment of Napoleon and an English regiment was very distinctly seen in the sky by British citizens at the end of the XIXth Century. The combat lasted nearly an hour.

Yami, who is finishing unpacking the mules, suddenly hears him call out:

“Hey!…  Hey, there!…  Yes, there!  I can see them!  The shades are coming towards us!”

He has leapt to his feet and is making wild signs to his companions who do not seem to have seen anything.  As he  continues to gesticulate, they hurry back.  Yami has prudently taken his mules towards the sea…

“It’s unbelievable!  I can’t see them any more now!…  But I’m sure I didn’t dream it!”

Back together again, the three men intently scrutinize the ruins.

“There they are!  They’re back again!…  You have to crouch down to see them…”

Guthrie murmurs:

“My God!  It’s a veritable army on the march!”

Three hundred metres in front of them, coming from the East, they distinctly see armed men advancing in a long line.  Guthrie says:

“They’re certainly not the Greeks and the Turks Yami talked about.  They look more like Roman legionaries!”

“Or Persians!”

suggests one of his companions.  The younger of the two anxiously asks:

“Do you think that we risk anything?”

Guthrie replies:

“Of course not!  It’s surely only a mirage…  See, when we stand up, the legs of the “Shades” seem to evaporate!”

The elder of his two companions replies:

“I’ve seen lots of mirages in Africa, but never anything like this!  You can clearly see their helmets and their chainmail…  and some of them are a lot bigger than others!”

Guthrie says:

“It’s strange!  There are only foot soldiers…  Now they are going straight for the ruins!  Dawn isn’t far off…  look!  You can see the spears glittering…  It’s really crazy!  I must absolutely see this close up.  Yami!…”

The Crete guide has gathered his mules who are moving nervously.  He cries out:

“In the name of Saint Panasia, let us leave!  The Shades are a bad omen!”

“Right…  I’ll go on foot!  Try not to let me out of your sight!”

His companions want to stop him, but the engineer has already taken off running.  Five minutes have gone by since the beginning of the apparition and the little group that has remained near the sea, watches, petrified, as the Englishman goes towards the head of the column which is now less than one hundred metres from the castle.  A few seconds later, the witnesses see him traverse the column and go towards the heights which surround the fortress on the mountains side.

Guthrie is 400 metres from them now, but his companions still clearly see him transparently through the fantastic troop, whose progression had in no way been disturbed when the Englishman opened a passage through it.

Still through the column, they again see him waving his arms, moving forward, moving back, and making signs to them to make them understand that he is seeing the phenomenon too, from the side on which he is.

Only a quarter of an hour has passed.  Those who are contemplating, fascinated, this incredible spectacle, have to crouch down again to continue to see it.  Already, the legs and trunks of the spectres have become invisible again…  Soon the only thing left of the warriors of the shadows, is a flash of light on a sword or a shield.  Shadows returned to the shadows, evaporated like the dew in the rising sun…

***

To be continued.

Walking on fire

This Hindu, who is participating in a ritual ceremony, is walking on a carpet of red embers.

Seated near a fire with a few Hermit Brothers, Giovanni Buono, the founder of the Hermits of Saint Augustin, is exhorting his companions to persevere in their faith.  We are in the 1230’s, on a Winter’s evening, in an Italian convent in Botrioli.  Suddenly, as if to give more power to his words, Buono rises and goes towards the tall fireplace which is heating the monastery’s big room.  He steps over the grate and starts to walk with bare feet on the red embers.  He smiles as he says, while stirring the embers with his hands as if they are cool water,

“God is ready to perform prodigies for his friends”.

An edifying story coming from the depths of time for the use of the little catechists of the XIXth Century?…

It is not certain, for the life of Saint Giovanni Buono is filled with similar prodigies as is indicated in the Acta sanctorum published by the Bollandists, those men of science recruted mostly among the Jesuits, and given the task of writing the lives of the saints.

In what concerns Buono, they are inspired by the minutes of the procedure for beatification begun in 1251.  Under oath, his companions, notably Brother Salveti, bear witness…

Brother Giovanni remained with bare feet in the embers for exactly the time that it takes to say half of the psalm Miserere mei Deus.

Then he invites some of his Brothers, including Salveti, to join him in his cell.  Salveti says:

“I was very happy to receive this invitation for it would allow me to examine Buono’s feet which I expected to be considerably damaged.”

Salveti attentively inspects the Brother’s feet and has to believe the evidence:  they have escaped any burns, as has his long tunic which bears no mark from the fire…

***

This Macedonian fire dancer must absolutely look in front of her. If she turns to look back, she immediately burns herself.

In the XVth Century, Saint Francesco di Paola, the founder of the Order of the Minimes, is actively participating in the construction of the Paola Convent in Calabra.  Toward the end of the work, a chalk oven, which has been alight for twenty-four hours, cracks in several places.  As all the chalk risks being spoilt, Francesco asks the workers to go away, and patches up the cracks.

When the masons return, they find the stove repaired and the Franciscan in the process of washing his hands…  It is absolutely impossible, and this figures in the procedure for beatification, to repair such an oven…  without entering inside it.

Francesco di Paola shows several times that he is insensitive to fire.  As he likes a good laugh, he one day plays a joke on a high-born canon.

The canon estimed that Francesco’s austerity was normal since he was of very low extraction, and therefore used to difficult living conditions…  Francesco says:

“It’s very true that I’m a country bumpkin!…  If I wasn’t a real country boy, I wouldn’t be able to do this for example…”

Taking up handfuls of embers from the fire, he holds out two fistfuls of burning coals to the canon.  The canon finds nothing better to do than to throw himself at his feet and ask for his blessing.

Catherine of Sienna falls one day into the enormous fire of her father who was a dyer.  She was in ecstasy, and it is Lysa, her sister-in-law [or step-sister – it is the same word in French] who pulls her from the flames with no damage to her body or clothes.

As they concern saints, sceptics are always tempted to explain these prodigies by a few pious exaggerations by witnesses…  divine intervention, in their minds, paradoxically removing a great part of the mystery of these phenomena…

Things become complicated when it is known that a lot of human beings, never having heard of Christian mysteries, or not caring much about them, also present the same incombustibility characteristic.

In an article in Le Journal des savants in 1677, diverse exercises of a famous English side-show performer are described.  In front of the most trustworthy witnesses, he swallows sulphur and flaming coals, puts a glowing coal on his tongue and gently simmers a closed oyster on it until it opens, nicely cooked.

Not at all affected by this exercise, he swallows for dessert a flaming mixture of melted glass, flax fibres, sulphur and wax, in such a way that “this composition makes as much noise in his throat as a hot iron that it dipped into water”.

If he had lived at the same epoch in France, his prowesses would doubtless have led him straight to the stake, as happened to a certain Thomas Boulle, accused of sorcery because he could walk on embers without burning himself.  He is burnt alive in Rouen on 22 August 1647.

When the famous Marie Sonnet, known as the Salamander, appears less than a century later, sorcerers are no longer being burnt.  Anyway, it could be asked whether the flames would have gotten the better of this young woman, the Muse of the Saint-Medard Convulsionists.

Her talents explain, for a lot of people at least, the loss of control of the Fools for God who manifest themselves around this church in the Mouffetard quarter of Paris.

Minutes of extraordinary precision, dated 12 May 1731 and counter-signed by fourteen priests, Doctors in Theology, Sorbonne licencees, Parliamentary Councillors, Treasurers of the Chambre des Comptes, etc., indicate that:

“This day, between eight and ten o’clock in the evening, Marie Sonnet, being in convulsions, her head on one stool and her feet on another, the said stools being entirely inside the two sides of a great fireplace and under the mantel of the same, so that her body was in the air above the fire which was of extreme violence, and that she remained for thirty-six minutes in this situation, in four different times, without the sheet in which she was wrapped, having no clothing, burning, although the flame sometimes passed over it, which seemed to us totally supernatural.  In faith of which we have signed this day 12 May 1731.  Signed: (here follow different names of people in high places in Paris).  Plus, we certify that, while we were signing the present certificate, the said Sonnet put herself back on the fire for nine minutes, seeming to sleep above the brazier which was very ardent, having fifteen logs and faggots burnt during the said two and a quarter hours.”

So the Sonnet remained stretched over the fire for the length of time necessary “for roasting a piece of veal or mutton”.

To be continued.

It has been said that the exceptional conservation of these bodies must come from the particular composition of the soil or the air at the place of burial.  Unfortunately, this explanation is not possible…

If we have another look at one of these cadavres exquis, we can see that, in the case of the little girl at Brive, the authorities had proceeded to a general exhumation of a whole part of the cemetery.

The collection of tombs situated around that of the young dead girl were in a state of total ruin.  Hers had not been spared and was in no way different from the others.  It was in a lugubrious pile of overturned gratings, fallen tombstones covered in moss, pieces of coffin, humus, fragments of bone falling into dust, that the little dead girl was found, miraculously preserved.  Her eyes were wide open and she looked as if she was smiling.  Her white dress was slightly stained by a few traces of earth and humidity…

Anyway, it is enough to see that the remains of certain very rich Americans sheltered inside several metallic coffins, one inside the other, do not resist one day longer to normal corruption.

If it were possible to preserve bodies from putrefaction by using hermetic containers, men would have been doing it for a long time now.  The Egyptians notably, who had perfected the techniques of embalming bodies, over a period of three thousand years.

As for the composition of the soil, it doesn’t explain anything either.  It is enough to see what happened to the bodies placed in Father Chabrel’s crypt.

This hypothesis is even less credible in certain cases where quicklime was added to the soil in which the dead were buried…

For example, when Francois-Xavier dies on 2 December 1552, his body is put into a big box which is packed with quicklime.  This was done so that, the flesh being consumed quickly, the bones could be taken rapidly to Goa.

When, on 17 February 1553, the coffin is opened to recuperate the bones, the body is found perfectly preserved.  The face notably, which had been covered with a thick layer of quicklime, was fresh with a slight vermilion tint “as can be seen in people who are asleep” say the minutes drawn up at the time.

One hundred and sixty years later, it is in the same state, and when they want to detach the right arm to send it to Rome, light red, very fluid blood escapes from it.

***

These two little Sicilian girls, who died over two centuries ago, are in an astonishing state of conservation.

Although Francois-Xavier is one of the greatest Christian saints, the conservation of his body is not a very exceptional thing, for in 1727, in the Quebec Hospital tomb, the perfectly conserved cadavers of five nuns who had died in 1707 were discovered reposing in quicklime.

In the same way, the body of Saint Teresa of Avila was buried in a very deep grave which was then filled with a mixture of limestones and damp soil.  It is true that, as she was the reformer of Carmel and one of the greatest Spanish spiritual writers, we are again in the presence of an exceptional saint.

The tribulations and avatars of her remains are also extraordinary.  It is to be remembered that her body exhales, from the first months following her inhumation, extremely pronounced perfumes of violet, iris and lily.

When the grave was re-opened eight months after her death, a cadaver whose clothes had been completely dissolved is discovered.  The body is entirely covered with a light green froth but is perfectly intact.  It bathes in a sort of balsamic oil that the cadaver slowly exudes and which is the origin of these suave odours.

In 178 years, the cadaver is many times exhumed, exhibited, put in a shrine, and several times mutilated to take relics from it.  Examined carefully too, by all that Christendom counts in scholarly doctors and hagiographers…  It escapes all corruption, and the saint even conserves the extra weight that she carried naturally.

In certain places, the body presents the real aspect of life:  when pieces of cloth are applied to it, they are immediately tinted bright blood red.  This phenomenon of tissular osmose appears particularly inexplicable.

***

This photograph of the Sicilian crypt was taken in 1900. Since that date, the bodies suspended upright, which date from the XVIIIth Century, have not changed.

Among this race of living-dead, the saints can appear to be better represented than others…  This is not certain.  Let us just say that people were a lot more interested in those who passed for saints than in the others.  With the evident goal of religious edification.  And it is also for this reason that incorruptible bodies seem to us to be miracles, in the Roman Catholic sense of the word.

Once again, examples are fairly numerous of preserved cadavers not having received Catholic Unction or not belonging to people professing this sainthood faith.

During the pontificate of Sixtus IV (1471-1484), the body of a young, very beautiful blonde girl was discovered under the Appian Way.  The body is almost entirely immersed in a sort of dark brown maceration, and had been buried there necessarily before the construction of the Appian Way in 312 before the present era.

Closer to us, in 1960, an English taxi-driver discovers at Rhyl, Wales, the cadaver of a woman dressed in a floral dressing-gown and pink pyjamas…  standing in a cupboard.

The apartment had not been occupied for twenty years, and the taxi-driver was in the process of repainting it to live there.  The cadaver of this woman, a certain Mrs Alec Knight, was in a perfect state of conservation.  The Police made enquiries and concluded that she had been assassinated…  twenty years earlier.

***

If the lady’s cupboard had emitted light intermittently, like Father Chabrel’s tomb, she would have been discovered sooner.  These luminous phenomena are absolutely inexplicable, even though they appear in two cases at least of “living-dead” people.

In the case of Father Chabrel, the Region’s Prefet himself notices the phenomenon, and it is he who convinces the monks, at first sceptical, of its reality.

A similar case is evoked in the book by J. Moschus, Le Pre spirituel.  Roman peasants discover a kneeling Anachorete monk in a cave situated on a mountain.

They had climbed the mountain because, for several months, luminous signals had been coming to them from the cave.  When they approached, they saw that the hermit was dead.  He had written this last message on a paper placed next to him:

“I, humble John, died at the fifteenth indiction.”

By a calculation made thanks to the ecclesiastical comput, they determined that this man had died over seven years before.  However, his physical appearance seemed to indicate that he had only just died.

***

There are a certain number of living-dead among animals.  On 23 June 1851, three workers were deepening a well near the Bolis Station.  At a depth of nineteen metres, they came to an enormous silex which they had to break.  Between two pieces of perfectly dense, homogenous rock, there is a cavity, and inside this cavity, perfectly filling the whole volume, there is a toad.  The rock appears as if it is moulded onto it and…  it is alive.  The Academie des Sciences examines it.  A Commission of four scholars give an account of the event, and the toad survives until 11 August the same year.

In 1862, some miners in Newport discover, in a block of coal twenty centimetres thick and two metres long, another living toad.

The block of coal was found two hundred metres deep.

Living lizards have been found in limestone quarries, at Lux and at Talbott, Indiana.  Having no ocular globes, they were a curious copper colour.  They survived only a few minutes, but had been there, according to scholars, for a few tens of thousands of years.

***

Once again, no explanation.  Except that death, in spite of what we know of it, is surely not quite what we think.

The presence of fresh blood on some cadavers seems to indicate that certain constituting elements of blood, as yet unknown, are apt to reproduce themselves almost indefinitely after death.

Unless we retain the thesis of Robert Amberlain who believes – and cleverly attempts to prove it – that the living-dead, whoever they are, are also always at the same time…  vampires.  Who survive by regularly going to visit the jugulars of people living close to their tombs…

***

Gilles de Rais

The real mystery of the Gilles de Rais case is in the depth of Christian sentiments which change a story of Hell into a manifestation of Grace.  Louis Pauwels writes:

“Nothing seems to me to be more moving than the short dialogue between the Bishop of Nantes and the accused, after the Bishop has veiled the Christ’s face.

“And nothing seems to me to be more beautiful – and farthest away from our mentality of today – than the crowd of parents of the victims praying for this soul’s salvation.  That is spiritual nobility.”

***

The original manuscripts of the trial, in Latin, are in the Archives of the Prefecture de Nantes.  The Acts of the ecclesiastical trial and of the civil trial are at the Bibliotheque de Nantes.  Louis Pauwels thinks that the best use of these documents, in modern times, has been by Michel Bataille for his work consecrated to Gilles de Rais.

***

The estimation of around one thousand victims is the one usually retained.  But there has been some controversy about it.  According to some historians, including Pierre de Sermoise, Gilles de Rais did indeed commit a few sexual and diabolical crimes, but only a small number of them.  And the trial (at a time when one did not bring a High Lord to Justice for having raped and killed a few peasant children) would have been political, inspired by jealousy and personal interest.  Gilles de Rais, short of money, had sold part of his possessions to Jean, Duke de Bretagne, and to Jean de Malestroit, Bishop of Nantes (who owed him large sums of money).  But he had sold, “a remere”, which means with the possibility of buying back.  If he managed to restore his fortune (through acts of war, the King’s friendship, or alchemy), it would be a bitter disappointment for his buyers.  The two Jeans are said to have built the case, bought witnesses, and obtained confessions, by torture, from the two people closest to Gilles de Rais, his valets Henriet and Pontou, executed with him.  This is, however, a very doubtful thesis.

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One curious thing!  Prelati, the Florentine alchemist who was the probable instigator of the human sacrifices, was not executed.  He was “forgotten” in prison.  And Rene d’Anjou came to get him out and make him his personal alchemist.  Justice was done, however, a little while later, but in another circumstance.  Prelati, a few years later, was arrested and executed for forgery.  He had taken the ducal seal to establish false Acts for his own profit.

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Although Gilles de Rais was a companion of Jeanne d’Arc, he was neither the only, nor the most illustrious Captain at her side.  He is not as present as Dunois, La Hire, or Xaintrailles.  Although he follows Jeanne to Paris, he is hardly to be seen in the army afterwards.  Although he is made Field-Marshal of France, it is mostly because of his family’s prestige.  A family to which La Tremoille belongs.  But his feelings for Jeanne are sincere.  The cult that he devotes to her is real.  As the historian, Jean Pesez, says:

“There remains in him the tenacious memory of the time when he followed Jeanne, of that parenthesis of Light in his life of blood and shadows.”

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All of Gilles de Rais’ possessions are not confiscated after his execution.  His niece, Marie de Croizil, who is later the sole heiress of the Houses of Rais and Laval, marries, in 1516, Sieur Joachim Foucher, bringing him in her dowry the Barony of Rais and the Seigneury of Machecoul.

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For his judges, as well as for the families of the children he has killed, Gilles de Rais suddenly ceases to be a person convicted of dreadful crimes.  Or rather, he ceases to be only that.  He is the image of a man who is the Demon’s prey, is fighting for the salvation of his soul, and needs the whole of Christendom to participate in the communion of the Faith, so that he can present himself before God.  There is no longer an atmosphere of vengeance.  Human justice has been done.  But, over and above the guilty man who is going to pay with his life, there is a soul who is asking for salvation, and it has to be helped to this salvation.  Which is also connected to the salvation of each individual.  An old Christian writer, Bernanos, said that if only one man is cold from despair, the whole world’s teeth chatter.  Gilles must not feel despair as he climbs to the gibbet.  That is why this crowd, who has been so odiously plunged into grief by him, kneels in prayer for him…

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Gilles de Rais has sometimes been identified with Bluebeard.  In fact, this character in Perrault’s tale seems to have existed in oral tradition before the XVth Century, as certain specialists have shown.

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