The Devils of Loudun Page 49

Thus placed above the law and armed with unlimited powers, the Cardinal’s agent returned to Loudun early in April and began at once to set the stage for the next act of his gruesome comedy. The city, he found, had no prison strong enough, or uncomfortable enough, to house a magician. The attic of a house belonging to Canon Mignon was placed at the Commissioner’s disposal. To make it devil-proof, Laubardemont had the windows bricked up, the door fitted with a new lock and heavy bolts, and the chimney (that witches’ postern) closed with a stout iron grating. Under military escort, Grandier was brought back to Loudun and locked up in this dark and airless cell. No bed was allowed him and he had to sleep, like an animal, on a truss of straw. His gaolers were a certain Bontemps (who had borne false witness against him in 1630) and Bontemps’ shrewish wife. Throughout the long trial they treated him with unwavering malignity.

Having secured his prisoner, Laubardemont now turned all his attention to the principal, indeed the only, witnesses for the prosecution—Sœur Jeanne and the sixteen other demoniacs. Disobeying the orders of their Archbishop, Canon Mignon and his colleagues had been working hard to undo the salutary effects of six months of enforced quiet. After a few public exorcisms the good sisters were all as frantic as they had ever been. Laubardemont gave them no respite. Day after day, morning and evening, the wretched women were taken in batches to the various churches of the city and put through their tricks. These tricks were always the same. Like modern mediums, who go on doing exactly what the Fox Sisters did a hundred years ago, these earlier demoniacs and their exorcists were incapable of inventing anything new. Time after time there were the all too familiar convulsions, the same old obscenities, the conventional blasphemies, the boastful claims, constantly repeated, but never substantiated, to supernormal powers. But the show was good enough, and dirty enough, to attract the public. By word of mouth, in pamphlets and broadsheets, from hundreds of pulpits, news of the possession spread far and wide. From every province of France and even from abroad, sightseers came flocking to the exorcisms. With the eclipse of the Carmelites’ miracle-working Notre-Dame de Recouvrance, Loudun had lost almost the whole of its tourist trade. Now, thanks to the devils, all and more than all was restored. The inns and the lodging-houses were filled to capacity, and the good Carmelites, who had a monopoly of the lay demoniacs (for the hysterical infection had spread beyond the convent walls), were now as prosperous as in the best of the good old days of the pilgrimages. Meanwhile the Ursulines were growing positively rich. From the royal treasury they now received a regular subsidy, which was augmented by the alms of the faithful and the handsome gratuities left by those tourists of high rank for whom some specially miraculous performance had been staged.

During the spring and summer of 1634 the main purpose of the exorcisms was not the deliverance of the nuns, but the indictment of Grandier. The aim was to prove, out of the mouth of Satan himself, that the parson was a magician and had bewitched the nuns. But Satan is, by definition, the Father of Lies, and his evidence is therefore worthless. To this argument Laubardemont, his exorcists and the Bishop of Poitiers replied by affirming that, when duly constrained by a priest of the Roman Church, devils are bound to tell the truth. In other words, anything to which a hysterical nun was ready, at the instigation of her exorcist, to affirm on oath, was for all practical purposes a divine revelation. For inquisitors, this doctrine was a real convenience. But it had one grave defect; it was manifestly unorthodox. In the year 1610 a committee of learned theologians had discussed the admissibility of diabolic evidence and issued the following authoritative decision. “We, the undersigned Doctors of the Faculty of Paris, touching certain questions which have been proposed to us, are of the opinion that one must never admit the accusation of demons, still less must one exploit exorcisms for the purpose of discovering a man’s faults or for determining if he is a magician; and we are further of the opinion that, even if the said exorcisms should have been applied in the presence of the Holy Sacrament, with the devil forced to sweai an oath (which is a ceremony of which we do not at all approve), one must not for all that give any credit to his words, the devil being always a liar and the Father of Lies.” Furthermore, the devil is man’s sworn enemy, and is therefore ready to endure all the torments of exorcism for the sake of doing harm to a single soul. If the devil’s evidence were admitted, the most virtuous people would be in the greatest danger; for it is precisely against these that Satan rages most violently. “Wherefore St. Thomas (Book 22, Question 9, Article 22) maintains with the authority of St. Chrysostom, DAEMONI, ETIAM VERA DICENTI, NON EST CREDENDUM. (The devil must not be believed, even when he tells the truth.)” We must follow the example of Christ, who imposed silence on the demons even when they spoke truth, by calling Him the Son of God. “Whence it appears that, in the absence of other proofs, one must never proceed against those who are accused by devils. And we note that this is well observed in France, where judges do not recognize these depositions.” Twenty-four years later, Laubardemont and his colleagues recognized nothing else. For the humanity and good sense of the orthodox view the exorcists had substituted, and the Cardinal’s agents had eagerly accepted, a heresy that was both monstrously silly and dangerous in the extreme. Ismaël Boulliau, the astronomer-priest who had served under Grandier as one of the vicars of Saint-Pierre-du-Marché, qualified the new doctrine as “impious, erroneous, execrable and abominable—a doctrine which turns Christians into idolaters, undermines the very foundations of the Christian religion, opens the door to calumny and will make it possible for the devil to immolate human victims in the name, not of Moloch, but of a fiendish and infernal dogma.” That the fiendish and infernal dogma was fully approved by Richelieu is certain. The fact is recorded by Laubardemont himself and by the author of the Démonomanie de Loudun, Pillet de la Mesnardière, the Cardinal’s personal physician.

Prev Next
Romance | Vampires | Fantasy | Billionaire | Werewolves | Zombies