The Devils of Loudun, by Edmund Goldsmid, , at sacred-texts.com
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AT the beginning of the 17th century, the curate of Loudun was Urbain Grandier. To those talents which lead to success in this world, this man united a corruption of morals which dishonoured his character. His conduct had made him many enemies. These were not merely rivals, but husbands and fathers, some of high position, who were outraged at the dishonour he brought on their family. He was, nevertheless, a wonderfully proud man, and the bitterness of his tongue and the harshness with which he pursued his advantages only excited them the more. And these advantages were numerous, for he had a marvelous faculty for pettifogging. His iniquities had rendered him the scourge of the town, whose principal curate and greatest scandal he was at one and the
same moment. This is proved by the dispensations obtained by many fathers of families to assist at the divine service in some other parish, and by the permissions granted them to receive the sacrament from some other hand. *
But what was still more serious is, that while setting so many people against him, he had been able to form as formidable a party of his own. These were almost all Huguenots, † of which Loudun
was then full. He had gained their good graces so much that they upheld him to the utmost of p. 24 their power. This gave rise to the suspicion that he was merely a disguised Calvinist; a by no p. 25 means unusual occurrence. Thus Grandier, believing himself safe, put no bounds to his audacity. p. 26 [paragraph continues] He treated those from whom he differed with contempt, and in his preachings even dared to question p. 27 the privileges of the Carmelites. He publicly ridiculed their sermons. He even encroached on p. 28 episcopal jurisdiction, by granting dispensations from the publication of marriage banns. This p. 29 last act caused a sensation, and was reported to Louis de la Rocheposay, Bishop of Poitiers, to p. 30 whom, at the same time, were addressed numerous complaints of the irregular conduct of the curate p. 31 and of the scandal he caused. The prelate had him arrested, and imprisoned till his trial, which p. 32 took place on the 2nd June 1630, when he was condemned to fast on bread and water every Friday for three months, forbidden to officiate in the diocese for five years, and interdicted for all time from performing divine service in the town of Loudun. Grandier appealed against this sentence to the Metropolitan, M. d’Escoubleau de Sourdis, Archbishop of Bordeaux, and since then created Cardinal; and the prosecution appealed to the parliament of Paris against this attempt to evade p. 33 the jurisdiction of the Bishop. But as many witnesses had to be heard, most of whom lived in the diocese, the parliament remitted the case to the Courts of Poitiers. Grandier was thus enabled to face his adversaries, thanks to the friends he had in the district. The following fact proves this.
Amongst other witnesses, two priests, Gervais Méchin, and Louis Boulieau deposed that they had found Grandier lying with women and girls flat on the ground in his Church, the gates leading to the street being shut; that several times, at extraordinary hours, both during the day and during the night they had seen women and girls come to his room; that some remained there from one o'clock its the afternoon, till past midnight, and had their suppers brought there by their maidservants; who used to withdraw at once; that they had also seen him in his Church, with the doors wide open, and, that some women having entered, they were at once closed.
Such evidence was absolute ruin to Grandier consequently his friends moved heaven and earth. They used bribery and threats against these priests, and obtained from them a retractation of their evidence. René Grandier, brother of the accused, wrote it with his own hand, as was afterwards proved, and the two priests signed it. This evidence destroyed, the cabal had little trouble in
turning the legal proceedings to the advantage of Grandier. The Court of Poitiers pronounced his acquittal of the charges brought against him. He was so triumphant, that he insulted his enemies and treated them with public contempt, as if he were entirely 'out of the wood,' He had yet to appear before the tribunal of the Archbishop of Bordeaux, to whom he had appealed. But here again his friends stood by him, and he obtained a second acquittal and an order reinstating him in all his functions (22nd Nov. 1631). The verdict contained a warning to him "to behave well and decently, according to the Holy Decretals and Canonical Constitutions."
At the same time, the Archbishop, in slew of the animosity of his adversaries, thought it would be better and safer for him to exchange livings; and he advised him to leave a town where he was looked upon with such disfavour.
Grandier did not think proper to follow the advice or obey the order: far from showing the modesty which was enjoined him, he looked upon his acquittal as a triumph, and returned to Loudun with a laurel branch in his hand, for the mere purpose of insulting his opponents.
Neutral persons were shocked at so little modesty of conduct, his enemies were irritated, and even his friends blamed him. Without pausing an instant he set to work to obtain every advantage
over his adversaries. He was not satisfied with having obtained the full mead he was entitled to; he resolved to carry his vengeance as far as law would allow him; and prepared to prosecute before the Courts all those who had taken steps against him, and to claim damages of various amounts, and the restitution of the revenues of his cure, the sentence of the Archbishop. of Bordeaux entitling him thereto. In vain did his best friends use every means to turn him Iron so imprudent a design: God, who intended to cut off this gangrenous member from the body of His Church, and to make of him an example memorable to all ages, abandoned him to his own wilful blindness. Nevertheless, amidst all these proceedings, nothing had been as yet heard of Magic, and up to this time no one had even thought of suspecting him of that crime.
Six years previously, a convent of nuns of the order of St. Ursula had established itself at Loudun. This community, like every new institution, was in somewhat straitened circumstances; though the social position of its members was good. Most of them were daughters of the nobility, while the remainder belonged to the best "Bourgeoisie" of the country. The good reputation of the new order (it was not quite fifty years old), and the high character it bore in Loudun, had also attracted to it a great number
of pupils. The nuns were therefore enabled, with economy, to make ends meet, and could look forward to the future with confidence.
The Mother Superior, Madame de Belfiel, daughter of the Marquis de Cose, was related to M. de Laubardemont, Counsellor of State and afterwards Intendent of the provinces of Touraine, Anjou, and Maine. Madame de Sazilli was a connection of the Cardinal de Richelieu. The two ladies de Barbesiers, sisters, belonged to the house of Nogeret. Madame de la Mothe was daughter of the Marquis de la Motte Baracé in Anjou. There was also a Madame d’Escoubleau , of the same name and family as the Archbishop of Bordeaux. Thus they could flatter themselves with dreams of future successes, when they happened to lose their Prior Moussaut, who had charge of their spiritual welfare.
A successor had now to be sought. Grandier, who had never had any connection with the convent, offered himself nevertheless as a candidate. The proposal was scornfully rejected; and the Superior, Madame de Belfiel, had a great quarrel with one of her friends, who urged her to appoint this priest. The choice of the convent fell on Canon Mignon, a man of considerable merit, and in whom spiritual gifts were only equalled by intellectual ones. Grandier, already irritated at his own want of success, was still more annoyed
at Mignon's appointment. The contrast in all points between his character and that of the Canon was too great for any other result to have been looked for. Every honest man takes a pride in the blamelessness of his profession, and cannot look favourably on a colleague who dishonours it, nor speak favourably of him. The curate, then, had nothing to expect from the Canon, who was very intimate with the Bishop, * and he had already been made aware of the opinions Mignon had expressed at the time of the first trial. These circumstances were not likely to induce Grandier to look with a kindly eye on his successful competitor, and he consequently determined to give plenty of work to the confessor and to his penitents.
Of the various functions the priest is called upon to perform, none requires such delicacy of treatment as the ministry of the tribunal of Penitence. †
[paragraph continues] It becomes still more delicate where the consciences of nuns are concerned. But the burden is intolerable, and few could bear it, if extraordinary agencies are employed to increase the difficulty. The anxiety of a newly-appointed confessor in such a situation would be easily understood by Grandier, and would tend to console him for his failure in obtaining the coveted position.
However this may be, extraordinary symptoms began to declare themselves within the convent,
but they were hushed up as far as possible, and not allowed to be known outside the walls. To do otherwise would have been to give the new institution a severe blow, and to risk ruining it at its birth. This the nuns and their confessor understood. It was therefore decided to work in the greatest secrecy, and to cure, or at least mitigate, the evil.
It was hoped that God, touched by the patience with which the chastisement was borne, would Himself, in His mercy, send a remedy.
That was all that prudence could devise, but human prudence, always infinitely limited in its views; Divine prudence is quite another thing. God had resolved that the mystery of iniquity should no longer lie buried. As the church, at its birth, gained great credit through similar events, * so again, in this case, did they serve to revive the faith of true believers, end so it will be again in future times.
Loudun was fated to behold events of this nature, and they were to produce their ordinary effect, viz., to enlighten those whose consciences, though distorted, had preserved some remnants of original good, and to blind souls darkened with pride, and hearts full of perversity.
As usually happens, the extraordinary phenomena displayed in the persons of the nuns were taken for the effects of sexual disease. But soon suspicions arose that they proceeded from supernatural causes; and at last they perceived what God intended every one to see.
Thus the nuns, after having employed the physicians of the body, apothecaries and medical men, were obliged to have recourse to the physicians of the soul, and to call in both lay and clerical doctors, their confessor no longer being equal to the immensity of the labour. For they
were seventeen in number; and everyone was found to be either fully possessed, or partially under the influence of the Evil One.
All this could not take place without some rumours spreading abroad; vague suspicions floated through the city; had the secret even been kept by the nuns, their small means would soon have been exhausted by the extraordinary expenses they were put to in trying to hide their affliction, and this, together with the number of people employed in relieving them, must have made the matter more or less public. But their trials were soon increased when the public was at last made acquainted with their state. The fact that they were possessed of devils drove everyone from their convent as from a diabolical residence, or as if their misfortune involved their abandonment by God and man. Even those who acted thus were their best friends. Others looked upon these women as mad, and upon those who tended them as visionaries. For, in the beginning, people being still calm, had not come to accuse them of being imposters.
Their pupils were first taken from them; most of their relations discarded them; and they found themselves in the deepest poverty. Amidst the most horrible vexations of the invisible spirit, they were forced to labour with their hands, to earn their bread. What was most admirable was
that the rule of the community was never broken. Never were they known to discontinue their religious observances, nor was divine service ever interrupted. Ever united, they retained unbroken the bonds of charity which bound them together. Their courage never failed, and when the seizure was past, they used to return to their work or attend the services of the Church with the same modesty and calmness as in the happy days of yore. I know that malice will not be pleased at such a pleasing portraiture. But this base feeling, too natural in the human heart, should be banished thence by all men of honour, who know its injustice and only require that history should be truthful. Probability itself is in favour of our statements. For when God permits us to be attacked so violently by our common enemy, it is as a trial to ourselves, to sanctify us and raise us to a high degree of perfection, and simultaneously He prepares us for victory, and grants us extraordinary grace, which we have only to assimilate and profit by.
It became necessary to have recourse to exorcisms. This word alone is for some people a subject of ridicule, as if it had been clearly proved that religion is mere folly and the faith of the church a fable. True Christians must despise these grinning impostors. Exorcisms, then, were employed. The demon, forced to manifest himself,
yielded his name. He began by giving these girls the most horrible convulsions; he went so far as to raise from the earth the body of the Superior who was being exorcised, and to reply to secret thoughts, which were manifested neither in words nor by any exterior signs. Questioned according to the form prescribed by the ritual, as to why he had entered the body of the nun, he replied, it was from hatred. But when, being questioned as to the name of the magician, he answered that it was Urbain Grandier, profound astonishment seized Canon Mignon and his assistants. They had indeed looked upon Grandier as a scandalous priest; but never had they imagined that he was guilty of Magic. They were therefore not satisfied with one single questioning: they repeated the interrogatory several times, and always received the same reply.
v1_22:* Our author takes care not to mention that the Bishop of the Diocese was Grandier's greatest enemy.
v1_22:† Huguenots, the name given to the early adherents of the Reformation in France. The origin of the word has been variously accounted for, but it was most probably introduced from Germany as a corruption of the German-Swiss Eidgenossen, confederates, or those bound together by an oath. Like many other names it was first given by opponents as a badge of reproach, and subsequently became honourable from its associations. The movement of the Reformation made its appearance in France at the beginning of the sixteenth century; and at the period when Luther was defending its principles before the Diet of Worms, Briconnet, bishop of Meaux, Lefevre, and Farel were labouring zealously for the same cause in France. At first the new doctrines, which seemed to be chiefly directed against the more open sins and derelictions of the clergy, enjoyed the toleration of the king, Francis I. p. 23 and his sister Margaret of Valois, the queen of Navarre, was an active supporter of the cause. As it progressed however, the alarm and anger of the clergy became fully aroused, and as some of its manifestations had given offence to the king, a determined effort was made to extirpate it by means of fire and sword. In 1535 a solemn procession in vindication of the faith was made at Paris, in which the king walked bareheaded and bearing a taper; as part of the proceedings six Lutherans were burned, having their tongues cut out and being affixed to a movable gallows, which alternately rose and fell over a fire kindled beneath. This was followed by many executions of a similar kind, and by the more wholesale slaughters which exterminated the Vaudois of Provence; but in spite of these persecutions the number of those who adopted the principles of the Reformation continually increased. Under the influence of Calvin, who took very great interest in the work of the Reformation in France, the French Protestants about the middle of the sixteenth century began to organize themselves into churches, and to unite these churches into groups or districts for the purposes of mutual aid and counsel. The first French Protestant church was established at Paris in 1555, and very soon afterwards others were established in most of the large p. 24 towns where the principles of the Reformation had obtained followers. These churches were established according to the Presbyterian form, a pastor being appointed as the leader, with elders and deacons to assist in the government and worship, each church being independent of the rest, though several churches might combine in any movement for their mutual benefit or for the promotion of their common cause. The first synod of the reformed churches was held at Paris in 1559. At this assembly, to which eleven churches sent deputies, a confession of faith and a series of articles of discipline were drawn up and issued, and these, with a few alterations, became subsequently the doctrinal and ecclesiastical standards of the Protestants of France. It is not easy to estimate the number of the Huguenots at this period, but according to Beza they were not less than 400,000, and the party included about one-third of the nobility of France. The persecutions of the Roman Catholic party, however, had become more fierce and intolerable as the number of the Protestants increased, and at last, driven to desperation, the Huguenots took up arms in their own defence and sought to change the government in order that they might gain liberty of worship. In February, 156o, at a meeting at Nantes) they resolved to petition the king, Francis II., for p. 25 liberty of worship and for the removal of the two brothers, Francis duke of Guise, and Charles of Lorraine, cardinal and archbishop of Rheims, who were the real rulers of the kingdom and the foremost in the persecution. In the event of a refusal they conspired to seize the person of the king and appoint their own leader, Louis I., prince of Bourbon Condé, as governor-general of the kingdom. The conspiracy failed completely, and a terrible vengeance was exacted: some 1200 of the Huguenots were slaughtered without investigation or trial, their bodies being flung into the Loire until the stream was almost choked by the number. In January, 1562, owing to political changes in France, Catherine de Médicis being obliged to rely upon the aid of the Protestant party in defence of her son Charles IX., who was under age, an edict was issued which gave the Huguenot noblemen the right to the free exercise of their religion on their own estates. A few months only after this a party of Huguenot worshippers in the little town of Vassy, in the province of Champagne, were attacked by the Duke of Guise and his followers, sixty being slain upon the spot, and 200 more severely, some mortally, wounded. For this butchery he was received with acclamation by the people of Paris, and emboldened by his reception he seized upon the persons of the p. 26 young king and the queen-mother, and proclaimed the Protestants rebels against the royal authority. The latter rallied round the standard raised by Condé at Orleans, and the civil war was commenced which was to devastate France for nearly thirty years. At the outset the Huguenots were defeated at Rouen, 19th September, 1562, and again at Dreux, 19th December, the same year. In 1563 the treaty of Amboise was concluded, but its stipulations were observed by neither party, and the war was soon recommenced, the Huguenots being again defeated 10th November, 1567, at St. Denis. Reinforced by aid from Germany, they were able to threaten Paris, but their leader Condé allowed himself to be again duped by Catherine de Médicis, and signed the peace of Longjumeau, "leaving his party at the mercy of their enemies, with no other security than the word of an Italian woman." The queen-mother, as soon as the pressure of danger was removed, promptly recommenced the persecution, and within a few months several thousands of the Huguenots were either assassinated or publicly executed. Condé and Coligny fled to La Rochelle, where they were joined by the Queen of Navarre and her son Henry, afterwards Henry IV. of France, at the head of 4000 men. Assistance was also received from Germany and England, and the third war of p. 27 religion was begun. The Huguenots were defeated 13th March, 1569, at Jarnac, and again at Moncontour, 3rd October, 1569, but they managed to take Nîmes, relieve La Rochelle, and gain the victory of Luçon. Their successes led again to the proposal of terms of peace; and a treaty, in which an amnesty and the free exercise of their religion everywhere except at Paris was granted to the Protestants, was signed at St. Germain-en-Laye, 8th August, 1570.
As with the treaties previously signed, the queen-mother and the leaders of the Roman Catholic party had no intention of observing its conditions, but on the contrary they sought to obtain by treachery that which they had failed to procure by force of arms. In two years their plans were ripe for execution, and the leaders of the Huguenot party having been enticed to Paris, a general massacre of the Protestants was commenced on St. Bartholomew's Day, 24th August, 1572. In the ghastly slaughter that followed, according to the lowest computation, 30,000 of the Protestants of France were destroyed, but many historians place the number killed at a much higher figure. Most of the leaders of the Huguenot party were destroyed in the massacre, but the remainder rallied their scattered forces, and a fresh war was commenced which continued with but few intermissions until the p. 28 accession of Henry of Navarre in 1589. His reign marks a tranquil period in the history of the French Protestants, and in 1598 they obtained the celebrated Edict of Nantes, which though it granted them less than they had anticipated, was yet for a long period the foundation of their liberty. The period succeeding the reign of Henry IV. was marked by numerous outbreaks on the part of the Huguenots, who were distrustful of the plans and purposes of the French court, and ultimately Cardinal Richelieu determined to finally break their power by the capture of their chief stronghold, La Rochelle. This he effected in 1628, and with its fall and the subsequent surrender of the remaining Protestant towns the religious wars of France came finally to an end. Still the Huguenots were left in the enjoyment of freedom of religion, and being excluded from the court and service of the state, they devoted themselves to manufacture and commerce until they became the industrial leaders of the nation. They followed agriculture in the rural districts, and their farms were among the finest in France. The wine trade of Guienne, the cloths of Caen, the maritime trade on the sea-board of Normandy, the manufactures in the north-western provinces, the silk trade of Lyons, with many other branches of commerce, were almost entirely carried on by the Huguenots, who bore p. 29 a high reputation for industry and integrity even among their enemies. The consolidation of the power of the king was, however, fraught with danger to the liberties of the Protestants, and as Louis XIV. in his declining years became morbidly superstitious, he sought, under the direction of Madame de Maintenon and his confessor Lachaise, to atone for his own crimes by the suppression of heresy. At first bribery was tried, and a regular fund of secret-service money was set apart for procuring conversions. Then persecution was recommenced, and many thousands were terrified into abjuring their religion by the means of the Dragonnades.
Finally, in 1685 Louis revoked the Edict of Nantes, and followed up the revocation with laws of terrific severity against Protestantism. All Protestant worship was forbidden under penalty of arrest and confiscation of property. Ministers were to leave the kingdom within fourteen days unless they became converted. All Protestant schools were closed, and all children born after the passing of the law were to be baptized and brought up as Roman Catholics; all marriages, unless celebrated by the Roman Catholic clergy, were declared null, and the Protestant laity were strictly prohibited from leaving the kingdom.
The provisions of the edict were carried out with p. 30 relentless rigour, and a desperate flight of the Huguenots ensued. Many thousands had been forced to emigrate by the dragonnades, but now the flight became wholesale, though every effort to check it was made by the authorities, Vauban, who wrote a year after the revocation, estimated the loss of France at 100,000 inhabitants, 60,000,000 francs in specie, 9000 sailors, /2,000 veterans, 600 officers, and her most flourishing branches of manufacture and trade. Sismondi considers the loss to have exceeded 300,000 men, while some modern estimates put the number lost during the whole period of the persecution at not less than 1,000,000. A large number abjured their religion, but a remnant remained who neither fled nor abjured, and whose endurance and determination during the long years of persecution that followed form one of the most remarkable of the records of religious history. The loss of France was the enrichment of other lands, and England, America, Germany, Switzerland, Denmark, Sweden, and Holland all profited by the advent of the emigrants. It is estimated that during the ten years that followed the revocation nearly 80,000 of the Huguenots established themselves in England, and their influence upon the trade and manufactures of the country was both widespread and lasting. The long windows of the silk-weavers’ houses still mark p. 31 the quarter of Spitalfields, London, where not so very long since a considerable French colony, with English assistants, drove a thriving trade, though not a weaver is now to be found there.
The majority of the Huguenots, however, became merged in the general population of England, and their descendants heartily accepted the change of nationality. Many of the latter have since attained to eminence in their adopted country, and are to be found among the leaders of the nation in all branches of its activity. Similar results may be traced in other nations where the refugees took up their abode, and it is said that when the Emperor of Germany rode into Paris at the head of his victorious troops at the close of the war in 1871, not less than eighty members of his personal staff were descendants of the Huguenots who had been driven by persecution from France.
During the early part of the eighteenth century the rigour of the persecution was maintained, but gradually the spirit of the age began to be averse to such methods of maintaining the power of the priesthood, and the interference of Voltaire, after the judicial murder of John Calas, did much towards bringing the persecution to an end. In 1787 an edict of Louis XVI, restored civil rights to the Huguenots, and the Revolution of 1789 and the passing later of the Code p. 32 Napoleon gave them equal rights with Roman Catholics, At the present time the Protestants of France number about 500,000, and many of their pastors receive a small salary from the state. They nevertheless enjoy a considerable amount of self-government, and they have an excellent reputation as industrious and orderly citizens. In the Protestant churches of France, as in those of other countries, there is a tendency to divide over the questions arising from the progress of scriptural and historical criticism. Some of the leaders are well known for the liberalism of their ideas, and for the work they have done in connection with the advancement of the science of theology, while others, fearing the Rationalizing tendencies of modern studies, cling more closely to the Calvinistic standards of their forefathers. [See "History of the Rise of the Huguenots," by Prof. M. Baird, 1880.]
v1_37:* The friendship of the Bishop would account for Mignon's envy towards Grandier.
v1_37:† When and under what circumstances confession, either public or private, was first deemed absolutely necessary for the remission of sins is a subject of controversy. Innocent III., in the fourth Lateran Council, A.D. 1215 (Canon 21), made confession (meaning auricular or private) obligatory upon every adult person once a year; and that continues to be p. 38 one of the rules of the Roman Catholic church to the present day. The Council of Trent, in its Catechism, defines it to be "a declaration by the penitent of his sins made to a priest in order to receive the penance and absolution." Penitence, therefore, consists of four parts—confession, contrition, penance, and absolution; and it is a positive doctrine of the same church, that without the concurrence of all these parts or conditions the sacrament is null and void. The penance which the priest imposes consists generally of satisfaction to be given if the penitent has injured any one in his property, honour, &c., in a manner that can admit of reparation, and also of prayers, abstinence, or other religious practices to be performed. The secrecy imposed on confessors is strict and unconditional; whatever be the crime of which a penitent may accuse himself, they are solemnly bound to keep p. 39 it secret, under the most severe denunciations and penalties, both here and hereafter, that of excommunication included. The box in which the priest sits in the church to hear the penitent is called a confessional. But the act of confession may be performed out of church, in private houses, or in any place, in short, of which the bishop approves, provided it be not within hearing of any person except the priest and the penitent. The Greek Church retains the practice of auricular confession, but differs from that of Rome in the form of the absolution. The reformed churches do not as a rule encourage the practice, and in Scotland it is not even recognized. In the Church of England, although admitted by the Prayer Book, private confession has long been viewed with extreme suspicion, but of late years attempts have been made by a certain section to revive it.
v1_40:* The reference is evidently to Mark XVI., p. 17 and 18.