The Sorceress, by Jules Michelet, , at sacred-texts.com
OF all the Religious Orders, that of the Ursulines seemed the calmest, the least liable to give way to irrational impulses. The Sisters were not idle, employing a portion of their time in the education of little girls. The Catholic reaction, which had started with all the lofty aspirations of the Spanish cloister towards an ecstatic perfection, quite incapable of realisation under existing conditions, and had recklessly built a host of conventsCarmelite, Feuillantine, and Capuchinhad soon found its vigour exhausted. The poor girls they immured so rigorously within monastic walls as a way to get rid of them, died off promptly, and by this rapid mortality showed up the cruelty of families in lurid colours. What killed them was not the mortifications they were called upon to endure, so much as sheer ennui and despair. After the first burst of enthusiasm, that dread disease of the cloister (described as early as the fifteenth century by Cassien), leaden ennui, the gloomy ennui of afternoons, the tenderly melancholy ennui which loses itself in vague languors and dreamy reverie, quickly undermined their health. Others were more like mad women; their blood was so hot and turbulent it seemed to choke them.
A nun, to die decently, without causing her relatives overmuch remorse, should take about ten years to the business,this is the average duration of life in monastic establishments. Some relaxation of discipline thus became a necessity, and men of sense and experience realised that, to prolong their days, occupation must be found for them and they should not be left
too much alone. St. François de Sales founded the Visitandines, whose business was to visit the sick, always going in pairs. César de Bus and Romillion, who had brought into existence the Doctrinaire Fathers (Priests of the Doctrine), in connexion with the Oratorians, now founded what might be styled the Sisters of the Doctrine, the Ursulines, teaching nuns to whom these priests acted as Confessors. All were under the general supervision of the Bishops, and to a limited, a very limited degree, monastic, not being as yet confined to the cloister. The Visitandines could go freely abroad, while the Ursulines received visitors,at any rate their pupils relatives. Both were in intimate communication with the world outside, under the direction of well-reputed Confessors. The underlying danger of all this was mediocrity. Both Oratorians and Doctrinaires had produced men of conspicuous ability, it is true, but the general spirit of the Order was systematically ordinary, moderate, careful to avoid too lofty a flight. The founder of the Ursulines, Romillion, was a man of ripe age, a convert from Protestantism, who had gone through, and seen through, all phases of religious emotion. He believed his young Provençal Sisters to be already as discreet as himself, and hoped to keep his little flock contentedly browsing on the meagre pasturage of a monotonous and unemotional faith, as understood by the good Oratorians. This was opening the door wide to ennui, and one fine morning the mine exploded.
The Provençal mountaineer, the traveller and mystic, the man of disconcerting energy and passion, Gauffridi, who visited the convent as Madeleine's Director, produced a very unlooked-for effect there. The nuns felt his mastery, his inherent power, and no doubt from hints dropped by the silly love-sick child, discovered it was nothing less than a diabolic power. One and all are terror-stricken, several love-stricken into the bargain. Imaginations are heated, heads turned. Presently we have five or six of the Sisterhood weeping, screaming, howling, convinced they are in the Devil's grip already.
If only the Ursulines had been confined to their cloister, immured within the convent walls, Gauffridi, as their sole Director, would doubtless have found means to bring them to reason. It might have ended, as it did in the Convent of Le Quesnoy in 1491, by the Devil, who is always ready enough to take the shape of the beloved object, constituting himself, under the guise of Gauffridi, lover-general of the nuns. Or else, as happened in the Spanish nunneries Llorente describes, he would have persuaded them that the priest sanctifies by his priesthood those he loves, and that sin with him is a form of consecration. This was a doctrine widespread in France, and prevalent even in Paris, where these priests mistresses were called "the sanctified." 1
Did Gauffridi, finding them all in his power, confine himself to Madeleine? Did he not go on from love to licence? Impossible to say,though the act of accusation certainly mentions a nun who was not brought forward at the trial, but who reappeared at its conclusion, as having given herself to the Devil and to him.
The Ursulines were a house open to all, where anyone could come and scrutinise whatever was doing. Besides, were they not under the safeguard of their spiritual fathers, the Doctrinaire priests, honourable, and what is more, jealous men?
The founder himself was on the spot, indignant and despairing. What a calamity for the rising Order, which at that very moment was prospering so well and making headway in all parts of France! Its special pride and distinction was discreetness, good sense, placidity; and lo! without an instant's warning sheer midsummer madness! Romillion would fain have hushed up the whole scandal. He had the young women privately exorcised by one of the Doctrinaire Fathers; but the devils made small account of exorcists of that feather. The little fair-haired Madeleine was possessed by no less a fiend than Beelzebub, a high-
born devil, the demon of pride, who did not deign so much as to open his teeth.
Among the possessed was one girl in particular, the special protégée of Romillion, a young woman of twenty to twenty-five, highly educated and well trained in polemics. Born a Protestant, but having neither father nor mother, she had fallen under the influence of the Father, like herself a converted Protestant. Her name, Louise Capeau, has a bourgeois ring about it. She was gifted, as appeared only too plainly later on, with a remarkable intellect, passionate determination, and, be it added, terrific force of character. For three whole months she sustained, to say nothing of the diabolic storms raging within, a desperate struggle that would have killed the strongest man in a week.
She declared she had three devils,Verrine, a good-natured Catholic devil, and a volatile, one of the demons of the air; Leviathan, a bad-hearted devil, a freethinker and a Protestant; lastly, one she admits to be the demon of impurity. But there is yet another she forgot to mention, the demon of jealousy.
She hated with a vindictive hatred the little pretty, fair-haired favourite, the proud, well-born Madeleine. This latter, in her mad fits, had claimed to have attended the "Sabbath," and to have been crowned Queen there. She said she had been adored by the others, and had been loved,by the Prince himself. . . . Prince! what Prince? Louis Gauffridi, Prince of the Magicians.
Louise, whom such an avowal stung like a whip, was too much enraged to doubt its truth. Maddened, she believed the other's mad words, that she might thereby work her ruin. Her demon was backed up by the other demons in all these jealous hearts. With one voice they all chimed in, declaring that Gauffridi was indeed the King of the Wizards. Then it was noised abroad everywhere a great capture had been made, nothing less than a Priest-King of the Magicians, the Prince of Magic in all lands.
[paragraph continues] Such was the fatal diadem of fire and iron these she-devils forced on his brow.
All men lost their heads, even Romillion. Whether from hatred of Gauffridi, or fear of the Inquisition, he withdrew the matter from the Bishop's hands, and carried his two devil-possessed nuns, Louise and Madeleine, to the Convent of La Sainte-Baume, the Prior of which was Father Michaëlis, a Dominican and Pope's Inquisitor in the papal territory of Avignon, claiming to exercise the same office also for the whole of Provence. The primary question was only one of exorcising the evil spirits; but as the two women were bound to accuse Gauffridi, the latter was on the high-road to fall under the disciplinary powers of the Inquisition.
Michaëlis was to preach the Advent sermons at Aix before the Parlement there assembled. He at once saw how well these dramatic occurrences would serve to bring him into prominence, and seized the opportunity offered with all the eagerness our modern pleaders at Assizes display when a sensational murder comes their way or a curious case of crim. con.
The correct thing in affairs of this sort was to carry on the drama throughout Advent, Christmas-time, and Lent, and only come to the burning in Holy Week, on the eve of the great festival of Easter Day. Michaëlis reserved his chief efforts for the final Act, entrusting the bulk of the work to a protégé of his, a Dominican from Flanders, one Doctor Dompt, a Louvain man, who was already practised in exorcism, and well posted in these follies.
Besides, the very best thing the Fleming could do was to do nothing at all. In Louise he had a redoubtable helper, three times as zealous as the Inquisition, endowed with a fierce untiring energy and a burning eloquence, wild indeed and sometimes grotesque, but always terror-striking, a veritable brand of hell.
The matter resolved itself into a duel between the two devils, between Louise and Madeleine, fought out in public.
Simple folk who came there on pilgrimage to the Holy Balm
[paragraph continues] a worthy goldsmith, for instance, and a draper, both natives of Troyes in Champagnewere ravished to see Louise's demon belabour the other demons so cruelly and cudgel the Magicians. They positively wept for joy, and wended homewards giving thanks to God.
A terrible sight, for all that (terrible even as depicted in the heavy, colourless, official report as drawn up by the Flemish Doctor), to watch the unequal contest,to see the stalwart Louise, both an older and a stronger woman than her adversary, a true Provençal, as hard as the stones of her own desert of the Cran, day by day pelt and pummel and demolish her shrinking victim, so young and childish-looking, but already so sore a sufferer, love-sick and shame-sick, writhing in the pains of epilepsy. . . .
The Fleming's volume, together with the additional matter supplied by Michaëlis, in all some four hundred pages, is a brief abstract of the invectives, insults, and menaces which the woman vomited unceasingly for five long months, as well as of her sermons, for she would preach on any and every subject,the sacraments, the coming appearance of Antichrist, the frailty of women, etc., etc. This over, in the name of her devils she would take to raving again, twice every day renewing her torture of poor Madeleine, without ever taking breath, without for one instant checking the awful torrent of her words, till the other, utterly confounded, "one foot in hell," to use her own words, fell into convulsions, knocking the floor with her faltering knees, and fainting body, and drooping head.
Louise is three parts a mad woman, it cannot be denied; no amount of knavery could have enabled her to keep the lists so long. Nevertheless her bitter jealousy teaches her, wherever she can find a chance to stab her victim's heart and wound her feelings, a dreadful lucidity is expressing herself.
All ordinary laws are clean upset. This impious, devil-ridden creature communicates as often and as freely as she will. She rates and rebukes personages of the highest dignity. The venerable
[paragraph continues] Catherine de France, Lady President of the Ursulines, comes to see the wonder, questions her and instantly convicts her of downright misstatement and silly misconception. Thereupon the woman turns insolent and ends the matter by retorting, in the name of her devil, "Well! is not the Devil the Father of Lies?"
A friar, a man of sense, who is present, takes her at the word, and retorts, "Then you are lying!" and turning to the exorcists, "Why do you not stop this woman's mouth?" he gives them an account of a certain Martha, a woman at Paris who had falsely pretended to diabolic possession. For answer, they make her communicate in his presence. The Devil taking Communion, the Devil receiving God's body in the Sacrament! . . . The poor man is staggered, and humbles himself before the Inquisition. The sight is too much for him, and he dares not say another word.
One of Louise's favourite devices is to terrorise her audience, crying out suddenly, "I can see Magicians there, . . . there!" setting each individual trembling for his skin.
Triumphant at La Sainte-Baume, she extends her efforts to Marseilles. Her Flemish exorcist, now reduced to the extraordinary office of secretary and confidant of Satan, writes to her dictation five letters:
To the Capuchins of Marseilles, urging them to call upon Gauffridi to repent and be converted; to the same Capuchins, directing them to arrest Gauffridi, bind him hand and foot with a stole, and hold him prisoner in a certain house she designates; letters to the moderates, to Catherine de France, to the Doctrinaire Fathers, who themselves were for declaring against her. Eventually, reckless and regardless of consequences, she insults her own Lady Superior. "You told me," she says, "when I left you, to be humble and obedient . . . Well! I give you back your own advice!"
Verrine, Louise's devil, demon of the air and the wind, was for ever whispering in her ears mad words of folly and senseless
pride, that wounded friends and enemies alike, and even the Inquisition. One day she deliberately made fun of Michaëlis, who she said was kicking his heels at Aix preaching in the desert, while all the world was thronging to La Sainte-Baume to hear her. "Preach away, Michaëlis! your words are true enough, but fall on deaf ears,while Louise, who has never studied Theology, has comprehended the summum bonum and attained perfection!"
She was filled with savage self-satisfaction,above all at her victory over Madeleine, whose spirit she had broken. One phrase had contributed more to this result than a hundred sermons, the cruel, brutal words, "You will be burned!" (December 17th). From that day the poor girl lost all heart, and said whatever the other wished,became, in fact, her abject and submissive slave. She grovelled to everybody, asked pardon of her mother, of her Superior Romillion, of the audience, of Louise herself. If we are to believe what the latter says, the trembling girl drew her aside and besought her to take pity on her, not to be too harsh upon her.
The other, as gentle as a rock, as merciful as a reef of the sea, felt that she was hers, to do what she would with her. So she seized her victim, enveloped and strangled her, robbing her of the few sparks of vitality still left her,a second enchantment, the reverse of Gauffridi's, a possession by fear and horror. The poor fainting creature stepped on beneath the rods and whips, and day by day they urged her further along the agonising road of repeated accusations, repeated attempts on the life of the man she still loved.
Had Madeleine shown a firm front, Gauffridi would undoubtedly have escaped; for everybody was set against Louise.
Michaëlis, even at Aix, the effect of whose sermons she had quite eclipsed and whose dignity she had treated so lightly, would sooner have quashed the proceedings altogether than leave the prestige with this woman.
Marseilles was ready to defend Gauffridi, terrified as its citizens
were to see the Inquisition of Avignon pushing its advances so far as actually to seize a native of their town inside their own walls.
The Bishop in particular, and the Chapter, were for defending a priest of their own diocese. Their contention was that the whole affair meant nothing more than a piece of jealousy between rival confessors, another example of the well-known animus of the monks against the secular priests.
The Doctrinaire Fathers for their part would fain have hushed up the whole matter, being bitterly grieved at the scandal. Not a few of their number were so deeply chagrined they came near leaving all and quitting their House altogether.
The ladies were indignant, especially Madame Libertat, the lady of the Chief of the Royalists, who had surrendered Marseilles to the King. All bewailed Gauffridi's fate, and declared none but the Foul Fiend could attack so pure a lamb of God.
The Capuchins, whom Louise so peremptorily ordered to arrest him, were (like all the Orders connected with St. Francis) enemies of the Dominicans. They were jealous of the prominence given the latter by the events which had occurred amongst them. Moreover, their wandering life, which brought the Capuchin Fathers into such frequent contact with women, often involved them in questions of morals. They had an instinctive dislike to people's looking so closely into the private lives of ecclesiastics. They took sides for Gauffridi. Persons possessed of the Devil were not such rare phenomena it was impossible to get hold of one, and they soon found what they required. Their new protégée's devil, under Franciscan influence, said precisely the opposite of what St. Dominic's devil had announced. He said, and they wrote it down in his name, "That Gauffridi was in no sense a Magician, and could not be arrested."
This was quite unexpected at La Sainte-Baume. Louise was nonplussed, and could only say, that apparently the Capuchins had not made their devil swear to speak the truth,a poor retort,
which, nevertheless, was backed up by the trembling Madeleine.
This latter, like a whipped hound, trembling in dread of a repetition of the thrashing, was capable of anything, even of biting and tearing. Indeed, it was by her instrumentality that Louise in this emergency bit savagely and cruelly.
All she said herself was that the Bishop was, unknowingly, hurting God's cause, exclaiming likewise "against the Sorcerers of Marseilles," without mentioning any names. But the cruel and fatal words she put into Madeleine's mouth. A woman who had two years before lost her child was denounced by the latter as having strangled it. The accused, fearing torture, fled or kept herself in hiding. Her husband and father arrived in tears at La Sainte-Baume, no doubt hoping to move the Inquisitors. But Madeleine dared not withdraw what she had once said, and only repeated the odious charge.
Who was safe? From the moment the Devil was elected avenger of God's anger, and they started writing down under his dictation the names of those in danger of the flames of ecclesiastical punishment, each man shuddered at every hour at the horrid nightmare of the blazing stake.
Marseilles, confronted with so presumptuous an invasion of its privileges by the Papal Inquisition, should by right have looked for aid from the Parlement of Aix. Unfortunately the Marseillais were only too well aware of their own unpopularity at Aix. The latter city, a small place dominated by officialdom and full of magistrates and nobles, has always looked with jealous eyes on the wealth and magnificence of Marseilles, the Queen of the South. As a matter of fact, it was the adversary of the Marseillais, the Papal Inquisitor, who in order to anticipate Gauffridi's appeal to the Parlement, was the first to have recourse to its assistance. It was an intensely bigoted body, the bigwigs of which were chiefly nobles enriched in the preceding century at the time of the massacre of the Vaudois. Moreover, as lay judges, they were delighted to see an Inquisitor of the
[paragraph continues] Pope create a precedent of the sort, and admit that where a priest was concerned and a question of alleged Sorcery involved, the Inquisition could only proceed so far as the preliminary examination. It was as good as a formal resignation on the part of the Inquisitors of all their ancient privileges. Another point which pleasantly flattered the vanity of the men of Aix, as it had done in the case of those of Bordeaux, was this, that laymen though they were, they had been set up by the Church herself as censors and reformers of ecclesiastical morals.
In this business, where everything seemed bound to be extraordinary and miraculous, not the least miraculous feature was to see so savage a demon grow suddenly complimentary towards the Parlement, and turn politic and diplomatic. Louise enchanted the King's friends by a panegyric of the late King, Henry IV. who (who would have thought it possible?) was canonised by the Devil. One fine morning, à propos of nothing, she broke out into eulogiums "of that pious and sainted monarch who had but now risen to the skies."
An alliance of this sort between two such old enemies as the Parlement and the Inquisition, the latter henceforth assured of the assistance of the secular arm, of soldiery and executioner, a special commission despatched by the Parlement to La Sainte-Baume to examine the victims of diabolical possession, to hear their depositions and accusations, and draw up lists, was indeed a terrifying eventuality. Louise made no more ado, but denounced the Capuchins, Gauffridi's champions, in so many words, and declared "they would be punished temporally" in their persons and in their flesh.
The unhappy Fathers were quite broken-spirited, and their Devil had not another word to say. They went to the Bishop to tell him they could not really very well refuse to produce Gauffridi at La Sainte-Baume and make a formal act of submission; but this done, that the Bishop and Chapter might reclaim him and bring him once more under the protection of the episcopal jurisdiction.
Another effect, moreover, had no doubt been calculated upon, namely that the sight of the man they had loved so deeply would shake the equanimity of the two women, that the redoubtable Louise herself would be deeply moved by the promptings of her heart.
As a matter of fact her sensibility was awakened at the approach of her guilty lover, and the Fury would seem to have shown a moment's weakness. I know of nothing more ardent than her supplication to God to save the man she has herself been driving to his death, "Great God, I offer you all the sacrifices ever offered since the beginning of the world, and that shall be offered to the end of time . . . all for Louis! . . . I offer you all the tears of the Saints and all the ecstasies of the angels . . . all for Louis! I would there were more souls yet, that the oblation might be more complete . . . all, all for Louis! Pater de clis Deus, miserere Ludovici! Fili redemptor mundi Deus, miserere Ludovici!" (O God the Father of Heaven, have mercy upon Louis! O God the Son, Redeemer of the world, have mercy upon Louis! )
Vain compassion!and sinister, to boot! . . . What she would fain have had, was that the accused should not harden his heart, but plead guilty,in which case he was certain to be burned under the existing jurisprudence of the country.
Louise herself was at the end of her forces, incapable of further effort. The Inquisitor Michaëlis, humiliated at owing his success solely to her, and exasperated with his Flemish exorcist, who had allowed himself to fall so completely under her ascendency and let all the world see into the secret springs of the drama, Michaëlis was now coming finally to crush Louise, to rescue Madeleine and, if he could, set her in the other's place in the popular imagination. The attempt was not ill conceived, and implies a certain comprehension of the appropriate mise en scène. Winter and the Advent season had been occupied by the awful Sibyl, the wild Bacchante. In the gentler weather of a Provençal springtide, in Lent, would have figured a more touching
personality, a soft, feminine demon incarnate in a sick girl and speaking from trembling lips. The child coming as she did of a distinguished family, the nobility took an interest in her case and the Parlement of Provence.
Far from listening to his Flemish colleague, Louise's man, Michaëlis, when the former tried to enter the privy council of the Parlement, slammed the door in his face. A Capuchin, another fresh arrival, cried out at the first word Louise uttered in his presence, "Silence, accursed Devil!"
Meantime Gauffridi had arrived at La Sainte-Baume, where he cut a very poor figure. A man of sense and ability, but weak and sinful, he foresaw but too plainly the inevitable termination of a popular tragedy of the sort, and in the cruel catastrophe beheld himself abandoned, betrayed by the child he loved. He gave himself up to despair, and when confronted with Louise, stood before her as if she were his judge, one of those old ecclesiastical judges, cruel and subtle in his inexorable logic. She put doctrinal questions to him, to all of which he answered yes, granting her even the most disputed points,for instance "that the Devil may be believed in a Court of Justice on his word and oath."
This lasted only a weekfrom the 1st to the 8th of January; then the clergy of Marseilles claimed him. His friends, the Capuchins, stated they had visited his lodging, and found nothing there connected with Magic. Four Canons of Marseilles arrived armed with authority to take him, and carried him home again.
Gauffridi was brought very low; but neither did his adversaries occupy a particularly proud position. Even the two Inquisitors, Michaëlis and the Fleming, were scandalously in disagreement. The partiality of the latter for Louise and of the former for Madeleine went beyond mere words and was embodied in action. All this chaos of accusations, sermons, revelations, which the Devil had dictated by the mouth of Louise, the Fleming, who had written it down, maintained was in its integrity,
and without exception God's own words, and feared any interference with it. He avowed much distrust of his chief Michaëlis, dreading lest, in the interests of Madeleine, he should falsify these papers in such a way as to ruin Louise. He defended them with all his might, shut himself up in his room and stood a regular siege. Michaëlis, who had the members of the Parlement on his side, could only get hold of the manuscript by using the King's name and breaking in the door.
Louise, who was afraid of nothing, was for setting up the Pope against the King. The Fleming laid complaint against his chief Michaëlis before the Papal Legate at Avignon. But the prudent Papal Court shrunk back terrified before the scandal of seeing one inquisitor levelling accusations against another. The Fleming found no support, and had nothing else to do but to submit. Michaëlis, to make him hold his tongue, gave him back the papers.
Those of Michaëlis which form a second portfolio, sufficiently dull and uninteresting and not to be compared for an instant with the other, are full of Madeleine and nothing else. They play music to her by way of calming her agitation. They note with the utmost care whether she eats or refuses her food. They fuss round her, in fact to excess, often in not over-edifying particulars. They ask her strange questions about the Magician, and about the localities of her person which might bear the Devil's mark. She was also actually examined. Though it would seem this had been done already at Aix by the physicians and surgeons of the Parlement (p. 70), Michaëlis, in his extreme zeal, examined her again minutely at La Sainte-Baume, and gives his observations in detail (p. 69). No matron was called in. The judges, lay and monkish, agreed for once, and having nothing to fear from each other's surveillance, mutually consented, it would seem, to wink at this neglect of the proper formalities.
But they had a stern judge in Louise, who, with her characteristic outspokenness, branded these indecencies with fiery words:
[paragraph continues] "They that were swallowed up by the Deluge had not done so wickedly as these men! . . . Nothing to equal the enormity was ever related of Sodom and Gomorrah! . . ."
She said further, "Madeleine is delivered over to impurity!" And indeed this was the saddest feature of all. The poor mad creature, blinded by her love of life, her joy at not being burned after all, or perhaps with some confused feeling that it was she now who could influence her judges, sang and danced at times with a shameful, indecent, alluring freedom of mien and gesture. The old Doctrinaire priest, Romillion, blushed for his Ursuline protégée. Shocked at seeing the judges admire her long hair, he said it must be cut off, and this stumbling-block removed.
She was gentle and submissive in her more composed hours, and they would have made another Louise of her if it had been possible. But her devils were vain and amorous; not eloquent and fierce like her rival's. When they should have been preaching they spoke only silly trivialities. So Michaëlis was forced to play the piece by himself. As Inquisitor-in-Chief, feeling bound to far outdo his subordinate, the Fleming, he declared he had already drawn out of the child's body an army of six thousand six hundred and sixty devils, only a hundred now remaining. The better to convince the public, he made her bring up the charm or spell she had swallowed, so he said, and extracted it from her mouth in the form of a glutinous, sticky substance. Who could hold out against this? The audience was left dumb-foundered and convinced.
Madeleine was now on the high-road to save her life. The only obstacle lay in her own impudence; she kept continually saying injudicious things likely to rouse her judges' jealousy and exhaust their patience. She confessed that every object reminded her of Gauffridi, that he was constantly before her eyes. She did not try to hide her erotic dreams. "Last night," she would say, "I was at the 'Sabbath,' and the Magicians were adoring my statue, which was gilt all over. In its honour each
of them made an offering of their blood, which they got by cutting their hands with lancets. He, he was there, on his knees, a rope round his neck, beseeching me to come back to him and not to betray him. . . . But I held back. . . . Then he said, 'Is there any here ready to die for her?' 'Yes, I am,' cried a young man, and the Magician immolated him."
Another time she saw him praying her just for one of her beautiful golden hairs. "And when I refused he said, 'Well, give me half a hair at any rate.'"
Meantime she assured them she was always firm in her resistance. But lo! one day, the door happening to stand open, the virtuous convert is away at top speed to rejoin Gauffridi once more.
She was recaptured,at least her body was. But her soul?Michaëlis was puzzled how to recapture it. By a happy inspiration, he thought of her magic ring. This he took from her, cut it in pieces, ground it to powder and burned it. Moreover, suspecting that her obstinacy, unaccountable in so gentle a creature, was fostered by invisible Sorcerers who slipped unperceived into the room, he stationed a man-at-arms there, a stalwart fellow armed with a sword, who lashed out in every direction and hacked the invisible tempters into bits.
But the best medicine towards Madeleine's conversion was the death of Gauffridi. On February 5th, the Inquisitor visited Aix to preach the Lenten sermons, saw the judges and stirred them up to action. The Parlement, readily adopting his suggestions, sent to Marseilles to arrest the rash offender, who seeing himself so well supported by the Bishop, the Chapter, the Capuchins and everybody, had never supposed they would venture on so bold a step.
Madeleine from one quarter, Gauffridi from another, arrived at Aix. Such was her excitement they were forced to bind her; her state of agitation was terrible, and anything might happen. A very bold experiment with a girl in her morbid condition was tried, to give her one of those frights that throw a woman into
convulsions, that are sometimes fatal. A Vicar-General of the Archbishop's mentioned that there was in the Archiepiscopal Palace a dark, narrow charnel-house,what in Spain they call a pudridéro, such as we see at the Escorial. In former days a quantity of old bones of dead men whose names were forgotten had been thrown there to rot. Into this sepulchral vault they brought the trembling girl, and exorcised the demon within her by putting these cold dead bones in contact with her cheeks. She did not die of horror, but from that time she was absolutely at their disposal; they had got what they wanted, the death of conscience, the extermination of all that was left of moral sense and free will.
She became a pliant instrument, ready to do whatever was desired, with a flattering alacrity seeking to guess what would be agreeable to her masters. They showed her Huguenots, and she cursed them. They confronted her with Gauffridi, and she told him by heart the counts of accusation against him more glibly than the King's officers could have done. Nor did this in any way prevent her snarling and snapping like a wild beast when she was taken to church and set to stir up the populace against Gauffridi by making her devil blaspheme in the name of the Magician. Beelzebub would exclaim by her mouth, "I forswear God, in the name of Gauffridi, I forswear God," and so on. Then, at the instant of the elevation of the host, "On me be the blood of the Just One, on me,in the name of Gauffridi!"
A grim partnership, whereby this twofold devil damned the one out of the mouth of the other; for whatever he said through Madeleine, was surely imputed to Gauffridi. So that this crowd was eager and anxious to see the stake make a speedy end of the blasphemer, whose impiety, dumb though he remained, yet spoke loudly and hatefully by Madeleine's voice.
The exorcists asked her a cruel question, one they could have answered far better themselves than she could: "How is it, Beelzebub, you speak so ill of your bosom friend?" Her answer was in these appalling terms: "If there are traitors among men,
why not among demons? When I feel myself with Gauffridi, I am his to do whatsoever he bids me. But when you force me, I betray him and make a mock of him."
However, she could not keep up this vein of horrid mockery. The demon of terror and servility seemed to have entered into every fibre of her soul, but there was room left for despair. She could no longer take the least nourishment; and these good folks who for five months had been racking her with exorcisms and who pretended they had relieved her of six or seven thousand devils, are obliged to admit she had no wish left but to die, and eagerly sought any means of suicide. Her courage failed, that was all. Once she pricked herself with a lancet, but had not determination enough to push it home. Another time, she grasped a knife, and when this was taken from her, tried to strangle herself. She drove needles into her flesh, ending by a mad attempt to force a long pin through one ear into her head.
What befell Gauffridi? The Inquisitor, who is so full of details about the two women, has next to nothing to tell us about him, passing lightly over so risky a subject. What little information he does give is strange enough. He relates how his eyes were bandaged while they searched with needles all over his body to find the insensible spot that meant the Devil's mark. On the bandage being removed, he learned with wonder and horror that in no less than three different places the needle had been driven home without his knowing it; so that he was manifestly marked triply with the sign of Hell. And the Inquisitor adds, "If we were at Avignon, the man would be burned to-morrow."
He saw his case was desperate and offered no defence. His only idea now was that some enemies of the Dominicans might perhaps save his life, and he expressed a wish to confess to the Oratorians. But this newly founded Order, which might fairly be called the media via of Catholicism, was too cold and too prudent to take such an affair in hand, to say nothing of its having already gone so far and reached such a desperate pass.
Next he turned again for succour to the Begging Order, and
making confession to the Capuchins, admitted all, and more than all the truth, hoping to buy his life at the price of infamy. In Spain, he would undoubtedly have been relaxed,barring a period of penance in some monastery. But the French Parlements were more severe, and made a point, besides, of proving the superior integrity of the lay jurisdiction. The Capuchins, not over-firm themselves on the question of morals, were not of the sort to draw down the lightning on their own heads. They made much of Gauffridi, kept him safe and offered him consolation day and night,but solely to the end that he might be induced to confess himself a Magician, and so, the practice of magic arts remaining the main count of accusation, a decent veil might be drawn over the crime of seduction by a confessor, an incident so compromising for the clergy.
Thus eventually his own friends, the Capuchins, by persistency, by gentle treatment and soft words, drew from him the fatal admission, which, so they said, was the salvation of his soul,but which very certainly meant giving his body to the stake.
The man being settled and done with, they made an end with the two girls, who, however, were not to be burned. The finale was a broad farce. Before a great assembly of the clergy and Parlement Madeleine was brought forward; then addressing her, they formally called upon her devil, Beelzebub, to quit the field, or else give satisfactory reasons for his contumacy. He had no reply to make, but departed ignominiously.
Then Louise was produced, with her devil Verrine. But before driving out a spirit so friendly to the Church, the monks regaled the gentlemen of the Parlement, who were novices in these matters, with an exhibition of the savoir-faire possessed by the devil in question, making him go through an extraordinary pantomime. "How do the Seraphim and Cherubim and Thrones do before God?" "Difficult! difficult!" Louise answered; "they have no bodies." However, on the order being repeated, she did her best to obey, imitating the flight of the first,
the divine ecstasy of the others, and finally the adoration of all, bending low before her judges, and prostrating herself head bowed to the earth. All saw the far-famed Louise, so proud and so indomitable, humiliated, kissing the floor, and with arms outstretched lying her length on the cold stones.
An extraordinary exhibition, foolish and indecent to the last degree, by which she was made to expiate her redoubtable success with the populace! Even now she partially won over the Assembly again by an adroit stab she administered to Gauffridi who was present in chains. "At the present moment," she was asked, "where is Beelzebub, the devil expelled from Madeleine?" "I see him plainly, there at Gauffridi's ear," was her cruel answer.
Enough surely of these horrors and abominations? Why inquire what the unhappy man said under torture? For he was subjected to the question, both ordinary and extraordinary. The revelations he must have made would no doubt throw considerable light on the dark and mysterious history of nunneries. The Parlement greedily collected all such particulars, as weapons that might prove useful, but they kept them to themselves "under seal of the Court."
The Inquisitor Michaëlis, much blamed by public opinion for so much animosity that was hardly distinguishable from petty jealousy, was recalled by his Order, which was sitting in Assembly at Paris, and did not see Gauffridi's execution. The latter was burned alive at Aix four days later (April 30th, 1611).
The reputation of the Dominicans, which had suffered in this affair, was not much mended by another case of diabolic possession which they got up at Beauvais (November of the same year) in such a way as to give themselves all the honours of war, and a report of which they printed at Paris. As one chief objection against Louise's devil had been that he could not talk Latin, this new victim of the Fiend, Denise Lacaille, could gabble a few words of that language. They made a great ado, frequently showed the woman in procession, and even took her
from Beauvais to Notre-Dame de Liesse. But there was no enthusiasm; this Picard pilgrimage had none of the dramatic effects, the terrors of La Sainte-Baume. The Lacaille woman, for all her Latin, did not possess the burning eloquence of her Provençal predecessor, and had neither her fiery spirit nor her savage energy. The only result of the whole thing was to give the Huguenots something to laugh at.
What became of the two rivals, Madeleine and Louise? The first, or rather her shadow, was kept within the papal territory, for fear of her being induced to talk about the dismal and disreputable affair. She only appeared in public to be stared at as an edifying example of penitence, and was employed generally along with a number of poor women in cutting wood to be sold for charitable purposes. Her family were ashamed of her and had cast her off and deserted her.
As for Louise, she had declared during the trial, "I shall win no glory from it all. . . . The trial ended, I shall die!" But she was wrong; she did not die, but went on killing instead. The murderous devil that was in her raged more savagely than ever. She began deliberately to denounce by name, Christian name and surname, all whom she imagined mixed up with Magic and Sorcery,among others a poor young girl, by name Honorée, "blind of both eyes," who was burned alive.
"Let us pray God," says the good Father Michaëlis, in conclusion, "that all may redound to His glory and the glory of His Church!"
170:1 Lestoile, edit. Michaud, p. 561.