The Devils of Loudun Page 87

At Tours she was received, with marks of “extraordinary kindness,” by the Archbishop, Bertrand de Chaux, an old gentleman of eighty, much addicted to gambling, who had recently made himself notoriously ridiculous by falling head over ears in love with a lady fifty years his junior, the charming Mme. de Chevreuse. “He’ll do anything I like,” she used to say. “All I have to do is, when we are at table, to let him pinch my thigh.” After listening to Sœur Jeanne’s story, the Archbishop gave orders that the sacred names should be examined by a committee of physicians. The examination was made, and the Prioress came through with flying colours. From four thousand a day the crowds of sightseers besieging the convent, in which she was lodged, rose to seven thousand.

There was another interview with the Archbishop, this time to meet Gaston d’Orléans, detained at Tours by his liaison with a sixteen-year-old girl called Louise de la Marbelière, who later bore him a son, was duly abandoned by her royal lover and finally became a nun. “The Duke of Orléans came to meet me as far as the door of the drawing-room; he welcomed me warmly, congratulated me on my deliverance and said, ‘I once came to Loudun; the devils who were in you gave me a great fright; they served to cure me of my habit of swearing, and there and then I resolved to be a better man than I had been up till that time.’ After which he hurried back to Louise.”

From Tours the Prioress and her companions proceeded to Amboise. So many people wanted to look at the sacred names that it was necessary to keep the convent parlour open until eleven at night.

At Blois, next day, the doors of the inn at which Sœur Jeanne was dining were forcibly broken open by the crowd.

At Orléans, she was visited at the Ursuline convent by the bishop, who examined her hand and then exclaimed, “We must not hide God’s work, we must give satisfaction to the people!” The doors of the convent were then thrown open, so that the crowds could gaze their fill at the sacred names through the grating.

In Paris the Prioress lodged at the house of M. de Laubardemont. Here she was visited frequently by M. de Chevreuse and the Prince de Guémenée, as well as by a daily multitude of twenty thousand members of the lower orders. “What was most embarrassing,” writes Sœur Jeanne, “was that people were not content merely to look at my hand, but asked me a thousand questions about the possession and the expulsion of the devils; which obliged us to issue a printed booklet, in which the public was informed of the most considerable events which had occurred during the entrance of the demons into my body and their departure therefrom, with additional matter regarding the impression of the sacred names upon my hand.”

There followed a visit to M. de Gondi, Archbishop of Paris. His politeness in accompanying the Prioress as far as her coach made such an impression that all Paris now thronged to see her and it became necessary to seat this supernatural equivalent of a movie star at a window on the ground floor of the Hôtel de Laubardemont, where the mob could look at her. From four in the morning until ten at night she sat there, her elbow on a cushion, her miraculous hand dangling out of the window. “I was given no leisure to hear Mass or to eat my meals. The weather was very hot and the crowd so increased the heat that my head began to swim and I finally fell in a faint on the floor.”

The visit to Cardinal Richelieu took place on the 25th of May, and a few days later, at the command of the Queen, the Prioress was taken in Laubardemont’s coach to Saint-Germain-en-Laye. Here she had a long conversation with Anne of Austria, who for more than an hour held the miraculous hand between her own royal fingers, “gazing in admiration at a thing which, until then, had never been seen, since the first beginnings of the Church. She exclaimed, ‘How can anyone disapprove of a thing so marvellous, a thing that inspires so much devotion? Those who decry and condemn this marvel are the enemies of the Church.’”

A report of the marvel was brought to the King, who decided to come and see for himself. He looked attentively at the sacred names, then said, “I never doubted the truth of this miracle; but seeing it as I now see it, I find my faith strengthened.” Then he sent for those of his courtiers who had shown themselves most sceptical as to the reality of the possession.

“What do you say to that? “the King asked, showing them Sœur Jeanne’s hand.

“But these people,” writes the Prioress, “would not give in. Moved by a principle of charity, I have never mentioned the names of these gentlemen.”

The only embarrassing moment in what was otherwise a perfect day came when the Queen asked to be given a little piece of the sacred chemise, “in order that she might obtain from God, through the prayers of St. Joseph, a happy delivery.” (At this time Anne of Austria was six months pregnant with the future Louis XIV.) The Prioress had to answer that she did not think it was the will of God that a thing so precious should be cut in pieces. If Her Majesty absolutely commanded it, she was ready to leave her the whole chemise. However, she ventured to point out that, if the chemise were left in her possession, an infinite number of souls devoted to St. Joseph would derive great consolation from seeing with their own eyes a true relic of their patron saint. The Queen allowed herself to be persuaded, and the Prioress returned to Paris with her chemise intact.

After that visit to Saint-Germain everything seemed a little flat—even a two-hour interview with the Archbishop of Sens, even crowds of thirty thousand, even a chat with the papal Nuncio, who said that “it was one of the finest things ever seen in the Church of God,” and that he simply couldn’t understand how “the Huguenots contrived to persist in their blindness after so sensible a proof of the verities they had opposed.”

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