The Case of Abbé Vachère
- Everard Feilding -
IT IS sometimes suggested that the Society for Psychical Research does not publish as many reports as it should of investigations of the numerous cases of supposed supernormal phenomena, especially physical phenomena, reported to it. The reason for this reticence - at all events in my own case as regards such investigations (and they have been a good many) as I have undertaken, and I think probably in the case of others - is the disinclination one feels to put before the public a case in an incomplete form, without conclusions, or without evidence sufficient to lead fairly clearly to a conclusion of some kind. Now, since the case dealt with in this paper is precisely one of these incomplete investigations and one upon which I was unable, even in my own mind, to come to any kind of conclusion, or to decide which of all the possible hypotheses about its character seemed the most probable, or the least improbable, I should, although it is, I think, the strangest in the whole course of my experience, never have troubled myself to write, nor troubled anyone else to consider the facts. Had it not been for the publication of a book upon it by a German writer, Dr. Birven. Dr. Birven has been able to supply many more facts for consideration. He has even attempted an explanation of the whole case. And though I do not find myself either able to accept his explanation or in any better position to advance one of my own, I think the case now sufficiently documented to justify me in asking you to hear about it.
My own knowledge of the matter began in 1913 with a letter from a German friend who asked if I had heard of the "blood miracles" which had been happening for the last two years at Mirebeau en Poitou, near Poitiers, and described how several oleographs of the Sacred Heart in the possession of the Abbé Vachère appeared to be continually bleeding; how, further, the Hosts consecrated at Mass by the Abbé had on several occasions dripped or become covered with blood, and how the stone plaster figure of the dead Christ, part of a Pietà in a neighbouring grotto, had recently bled, while the accompanying figure of the Virgin had wept. I later secured an introduction to the Abbé from a German priest who had visited him and seen these marvels, and in May of 1914, finding myself in Paris with Mr. W. B. Yeats and Mrs. MacBride (formerly Maud Gonne), I suggested to them that we should go to Mirebeau and see them ourselves. We were courteously received by the Abbé, who told us the following story, the details of which I have filled in from a written record received later, and from other sources.
The Abbé Cesaire de Grateloup, of excellent descent; in his younger days acting as a tutor in various noble families in Belgium and elsewhere; later, a person of considerable activity in certain ecclesiastical matters and in good favour in Rome, where he was given the title of Monsignore; now, at the age of over 60, lived in retirement in a little house at Mirebeau.
In 1906 two pictures of the Sacred Heart had been given to him in Rome by a pious friend. One of these he fastened to the wall above the altar in his little private chapel at Mirebeau. On September 8, 1911, when going to say Mass at 6.30 a.m., the Abbé noticed on the forehead of the face of Christ some dark red marks. That afternoon these marks appeared to liquefy. At 6 a.m. on September 10 the Abbé and others found on the forehead fresh wounds from which blood oozed. On September 11 a further wound had developed from which blood oozed "as from a little spring." On September 13 so many wounds appeared on the brow that it seemed as if a crown of thorns had been added. On September 14 a wound appeared on the heart, while on the afternoon of September 15 blood began to flow from the hands also. Almost every day fresh wounds and fresh traces of blood were seen. On October 16 new phenomena were produced: at Mass, the Host was stained with blood, and at half-past two in the afternoon the Abbé saw the lips of the Christ open and heard a voice issuing from them, uttering lamentations. These latter events were the precursors of many others of similar character. The words from time to time spoken from the picture by the voice, which the Abbé called la Voix du Bon Maître (which no one heard but himself), were written down by him and consisted of lamentations over the indifference and defects of the clergy, and over the sins of France, accompanied by menaces of a terrible punishment shortly to fall upon her. On October 17 and 18, tears flowed abundantly from the eyes.
For some time past the fame of these events had been spreading, and visitors came in crowds from far and near to the house, asking to see the picture. On October 13 the Abbé wrote to the Bishop of Poitiers-Monseigneur Humbrecht, who had just assumed the episcopate, informing him of what was happening, and October 19 he received instructions to deliver the picture at once to the Superior of the Seminary at Poitiers to be kept under observation, and he obeyed forthwith.
On December 15 the picture was restored to the Abbé with strict injunctions that it should not be shown to anyone. It was therefore kept in a special room. The bleeding, however, was resumed at irregular intervals, and the other manifestations, that is, the bleeding of the Host and the utterances of the Voice, were frequently repeated. On May 27, 1912, the Host, after consecration, developed a rent of four or five centimetres in length. The Abbé deposited it on the altar, procured a fresh Host and recommenced consecration, and as Mass proceeded, blood flowed from the former Host on the corporal (white cloth) on which it lay. It was left there and on several occasions emitted a fresh flow of blood, which, as I was to see a year afterwards, became eventually so abundant as to reach the front edge of the altar and run down till caught by pieces of linen placed at the foot of it. This altar was in consequence abandoned by the Abbé, who thenceforward said his Mass at a dresser at the side of the chapel.
On March 14, 1913, the Abbé received a decree of the Holy Office (Inquisition) ordering him to deliver the picture again to the Bishop, and the Vicar General came to claim it. In February, however, the Abbé, who was engaged in building a series of large Stations of the Cross on a hill at Gâtine, about three-quarters of a mile from his house, and had a cottage there which he used as a kind of recreation room for the workmen, had pinned up in this room a replica of the picture of rather smaller size. Until March 19 nothing abnormal had happened to this picture, but on that day the carpenter came to the Abbé and reported that it in turn had suddenly begun to bleed and weep. The Abbé told us that, having been so much bothered in consequence of what happened to the first picture, he at first refused to pay any attention, but at length, the next day, he went up and found it was as stated, and that since then the bleeding had continued at irregular intervals.
His recital of the foregoing occupied about an hour. We then asked if we could see the picture. He assented, but said he did not know if it was bleeding at the moment, as he had not been up to Gâtine to visit it for some days and there was often an interval of several days between the manifestations. He fetched a large key and led us to the cottage, which was locked and empty. I went straight to the picture and found on it several drops of what looked like blood and scrum standing at the bottom of discoloured channels down which they had run. The Abbé made no objection to my drying these in a handkerchief for later analysis, and we waited some time to see if a fresh flow would take place, but in vain.
On our return to Mirebeau, the Abbé took us into the tiny chapel, decorated with frescoes painted by himself, and hung with a great number of ex voto lamps sent as thank-offerings for graces received. He removed the altar-cloth, disclosing beneath it a Host, saturated with what looked like congealed blood, which caused it to adhere to the corporal on which it lay. From it issued a stream of the same fluid a foot or more in length, this being, the Abbé told us, the result of the further effusions which had followed the original manifestation. In addition to this were several other hosts, preserved in a pyx, also more or less heavily stained with blood.
After the Abbé had solemnly warned Mrs. MacBride, who lived in Paris, to leave it at once, for terrible events were presently to take place, we took our leave.
On our return to England I delivered my samples to the Lister Institute for analysis and received the following somewhat discouraging communication from Mr. E. E. Atkin, bacteriologist:
A further report from Mr. E. Ross stated that one of the samples revealed an organism usually found only in extremely foul water.
This was something of a damper. But six years later the same analyst, Mr. Atkin, as will be seen, gave a contrary report on fresh samples, thus confirming the conclusions of other investigations reported in Dr. Birven's book. I scarcely know which is the more disconcerting, to be told that it is, or that it is not human blood. If the truth of the hypothesis of the Abbé and his supporters be assumed, that the manifestation is miraculous and of divine origin, would it be more, or less, in accordance with that hypothesis that the red matter should prove to be blood, and human blood? I do not know. Why should blood be expected at all? And if blood, why human blood? If human blood, then whose? Christ's? I think that to believers in the doctrine of transubstantiation the notion that the Host, which is already through transubstantiation the Body of Christ, should emit untransubstantiated blood (or, if in fact transubstantiated, simulating an untransubstantiated appearance), would be philosophically inadmissible and absurd, as well as religiously shocking. Is it conceivable that if the Abbé really believed that the blood was Christ's natural blood he would allow all and sundry to take samples of it for analysis? And on the other hand, if the manifestations were deliberate fraud, what substance would be chosen to lend them the maximum verisimilitude? Obviously, human blood, if attainable.
A few weeks later, war broke out - to those to whom the bolt fell from an unclouded sky a not unimpressive fulfilment of the Abbé's prophetic warnings. I became involved in the natural turmoil and not for nearly two years could I pay further attention to this matter.
At Easter, 1915, I was granted a week's leave, and by way of a complete change from Naval censorship decided on a flying visit to Mirebeau. I wrote and informed the Abbé of what I contemplated. He replied briefly that he hoped I would not come. Nevertheless, without further warning, I went. I was shown at once into the garden, where I found him piously saying his Rosary. He was not at all pleased to see me, but gradually thawed and explained that owing to the tracasseries of the Bishop of Poitiers, he had been made the victim of a continuous and vindictive persecution. This prelate, Monseigneur Humbrecht, he represented as a person of extreme prejudice and invincible stupidity. "Que peut-on s'attendre d'un évêque qui condamne les boy-scouts?" he asked triumphantly. "Boche de nom, et Boche d'esprit." This Bishop had not only condemned him without so much as conducting any sort of inquiry, but had denounced him not only to Rome - with the result that he had been excommunicated - but also to the civil French authorities, the ground for the latter move being apparently that among the devotes to "the Cause" was a French lady married to a German, and therefore bearing a German name, who had bought the land at Gâtine on which the Stations of the Cross had been erected and on which stood the cottage containing the picture. This association with the enemy had therefore rendered the Abbé suspect. Not only had the land been sequestrated, but he himself had been visited by the police and an investigation made into the following charges: 1: that the platform on which the Calvary stood was really a masked gun-emplacement; 2: that a wireless installation was concealed in the arms of the large crucifix, and 3: that an underground passage had been made from Gâtine to the Castle of Chinon! He feared that if now he were visited by another foreigner, even one wearing the naval uniform of an ally, he would become a still more suspicious character.
I asked about the picture, which he told me he had had to remove from Gâtine and had placed in his chapel. We thereupon went into the chapel to inspect it. It was, as on the former occasion that I had seen it, covered with wet "blood." I stayed at Mirebeau three nights. On almost each occasion that I visited the picture I found it wet. I would dry it, and spent much time watching over it to see if the blood would start afresh, but in vain. At last I asked the Abbé to allow me, after drying the picture, to lock and seal the door of the chapel. He was furious. It was an insult to his honour. Never, even if the Pope himself wished to do it, would he permit seals to be placed in his house. But, inconsistently enough, he said he had no objection to my locking the door and keeping the key. I had to be content with this. I dried the picture, locked the door with a large key and secretly inserted a little piece of paper in the hinge, which would fall if, by the aid of a duplicate key, the door were opened. Some hours afterwards I returned, and found the picture again wet. But the piece of paper had fallen. The temptation to inform the Abbé was irresistible and I foolishly did so. He nearly exploded with rage, but said that his sacristan, not knowing that the door was locked, had tried to get in and he had heard him shake the door. No doubt, he said, this had caused the dislodgement of my paper. I replaced the paper and shook the door to try, and the paper fell, so I was no further advanced.
Peace was externally concluded with the Abbé and I saw much of him during my stay. Notwithstanding the negative conclusions to which, altogether apart from the inherent difficulty of supposing that pictures should bleed of themselves, my own experiences with the analysis, the failure of the picture to bleed under observation, and the above incident with the paper, now led me, I found it increasingly difficult to believe that this simple, almost childish-minded, pious but volcanic old priest could be consciously perpetrating frauds which, associated as they must be with the most sacred and intimate elements of his faith, could not but be repugnant to him. I did my best to inquire about his reputation in the neighbourhood. I found that he was respected for his charity to the sick poor, whom he treated with herb medicines of his own. Also that the fact that he had been condemned by the Bishop and excommunicated and termed "Vitandus" (to be avoided), by Rome had naturally alienated all the croyants, by whom he was subjected to a rigorous boycott. On the other hand, the fact that he was championing a miracle had also exasperated the incroyants. So between the two the time he was having can only be described as thin. Having heard that a leading inhabitant had, among others, witnessed the "bleeding" in the absence of the Abbé, I called on him and asked for details. He seemed an educated, level-headed man belonging to neither of the above sections. Wishing to satisfy himself of the truth of the stories he had heard, he had taken advantage, he told me, of the Abbé's temporary absence from Mirebeau to let himself into the cottage at Gâtine. He found the picture perfectly dry, but stayed in the room to watch events and at the end of about two hours saw blood ooze out and run down to the bottom of the picture.
The aspect of the Host lying on the altar had changed much since I had seen it the previous year. According to the Abbé it had again on occasions sent out fresh effusions of blood, the stream of which had flowed as far as the front edge of the altar and run down till absorbed in linen cloths placed beneath. (See photographs, p. 128 of Dr Birven's book.)
Duty recalled me to England in three days and in 1916 moved me to Egypt. That autumn I made arrangements from there that Mademoiselle J. Lichnerowicz, a French lady well known to me, should go and spend as long a time as she could manage at Mirebeau, not disclosing that she came from me. Typed extracts from her sprightly correspondence describing two visits, the first for a few days after Christmas, 1916, and the second for six or seven days in May, 1917, are to be found in the Society's Library. I translate some extracts. On the way she called on the Bishop to get his point of view. "He received me very graciously," she writes, "but with the grace of a bear. He is a fat and vulgar man... After telling me that there was nothing in it, he ended by admitting that there was blood, real human blood according to the experts. As for his explanation, it was that Lucifer is a powerful savant, who amuses himself with mystifying mankind... I arrived at Mirebeau unexpected, and found the phenomenon going on. There was nobody there except the Abbé's cousin, who left us alone the whole day long ..." I had particularly requested her to try and observe the beginning of the bleeding, or its continuance during a longish time. "I saw a linen cloth become covered with blood before my eyes, as follows. The Abbé had, while I watched him, placed a piece of white linen under the picture, and in front of me the blood continued to flow with sufficient speed to soak into (imbiber) the whole of the linen in the space of about an hour. It seems that such intense manifestations as these are rare ..." "I confess I don't see how any kind of trick could have been performed before my eyes like this." It may be noted that the picture was an oleograph pinned unglazed to a simple wooden frame standing on the vestment chest. The frame could be taken in the hand and examined back and front in every way.
In May my correspondent wrote again that she had returned to Mirebeau, this time confessing that she was my emissary. "Nothing comparable to what I saw in December... The most remarkable manifestation was our being able to put blood on forty-eight pictures like the enclosed." [Accompanying the letter were some specimens, of little photographs of the picture, each marked with a blood-stain, which it was the Abbé's practice to send out to soldiers at the front as a kind of pious protective talisman.] "The Abbé and I drew the blood from the little cavity of the buffet on the left cheek ... [The dried blood formed scabs in certain places, and it was from these scabs that the wet blood seemed to flow.] ... "I have spoken to the workmen who saw the thing when the picture was at Gâtine. They were ready to affirm under oath that they were the first witnesses of the manifestations on the present picture. However, they still had doubts and accordingly, in the Abbé's absence, they had a false key made so as to be able to let themselves into the house at all hours and the result was that they were entirely convinced... I went to Mass, arriving too soon. The picture ... was quite dry. During the Holy Sacrifice I was so placed that I could unfortunately not well see the picture. The priest himself could not see it well, as it was hidden by the crucifix. After the prayers the Abbé called me. He said the blood was again flowing. But I did not myself see it actually start. Some large drops issued from the heart, from the left of the forehead and from the place of the buffet on the cheek, apparently from a source under the scab. They flowed extremely slowly. But a sort of little pool had soaked on to the [linen] stuff, easily distinguishable by its scarlet colour from the dark dried background. During the hour that I stayed there, the drops made very little progress in their downward path, barely three or four centimetres. They increased very perceptibly in size without however presenting anything comparable to what I saw on December 29 [above described]... At two o'clock I went to look at the picture again. The drops had stopped running, had merged into the former deposit and all was dry. I then stayed with the Abbé, not leaving him, and at three o'clock we went together to the chapel. There was a flow at the place of the buffet on the cheek in the little cavity made by the hollow of the pictures on the coagulated liquid which is in relief. We each put a drop of this blood on to replicas of the picture [described above]. As one removed the blood with a finger it seemed to re-form. We obtained [enough for] forty-eight of these pictures before the little well ran dry..."
In 1919 I returned to England, married in November, went to the South of France for a honeymoon and, on our return journey early in January 1920, visited Mirebeau for a couple of nights. We found things as before. The Abbé who, maintaining that the decree of excommunication had been founded on false information, rejected its authority and refused to obey its injunction to abstain from saying Mass - was still vitandus. The former Bishop had been moved from Poitiers - the Abbé said it was in disgrace, because he had been running an opposition miracle, a voyante whom he had sent up to Paris on what the Abbé pronounced the preposterous mission of persuading the authorities to add the emblem of the Sacred Heart to the national flag of France, "that flag which," he said, "should wave over Frenchmen of whatever colour, croyants and incroyants alike." [I had certain doubts that the Abbé's view might be tinged with a sense that the Sacred Heart was his own special preserve, and as the Bishop had become an Archbishop, of Besançon, the disgrace was certainly veiled.] The new Bishop, he said, was a more amiable man and a gentleman, but, until the Abbé had yielded to the extent of submitting himself to the decree, would have no commerce with him. I had called on him in Poitiers, hoping to hear his view of the case. His secretary was sent down to see what I wanted. When he learnt that I was on my way to see a man who was "vitandus" he refused to see me unless I undertook not to go. And when the secretary learnt that I preferred to see the Abbé rather than the Bishop our interview ended abruptly, and with some heat on both sides.
The Abbé received us in the most friendly manner. The blood phenomena, he said, were going on as formerly. Indeed, a small statue of the Infant Jesus which, it being Christmas time, was lying on the steps of the altar in the little chapel, had also taken to bleeding. The Abbé escorted us to the chapel. The picture near the door had by now become almost entirely covered with blood streams, but was dry. He led us to the altar to see the little statue, and left us examining this for two or three minutes. My wife kept the tail of her eye on him. She reported afterwards that while I was looking at the statue, on which were several blood-stains, she saw the Abbé approach a ledge on which stood some flowers and then, approaching the picture, make a motion towards it with his hand. He called us to come and see the picture, saying it had begun to bleed. We found on it several drops of red fluid. At the place where my wife had seen the Abbé first stand she found behind the flowers a small pot of water, and her conviction was that while he thought we were engaged in examining the statue, he had seized the opportunity of dabbing the picture with water, and that this, falling on the congealed blood, had dissolved it and reddened. It will thus be seen that so far as any personal observation of either my wife or myself went, the conclusion must be regarded as entirely negative. I had never seen the beginning of the bleeding, nor the movement of the blood, nor been able to control the beginning in the absence of the Abbé. My attempt to do so with the piece of paper in the door hinge had failed, while the Abbé's refusal to permit the scaling of the door was obviously a suspicious circumstance. Finally, my wife's report, although not conclusive in view of the extremely short time that elapsed between the supposed addition of water and the finding of it coloured, was still more suspicious.
On our return to England I again submitted samples of blood, of which I had taken more abundant specimens. Mr. Atkin, the assistant bacteriologist of the Lister Institute, who had pronounced on the first specimen given in 1914 not to be blood, now reported, after a description of the method used, that there was little doubt that the substance was, or contained, human blood. Dr. Schutze, of the same Institute, performed an independent analysis and reported that "on this occasion it has been possible to type the blood and say definitely that it belongs to Group IV, the largest of the four in Western countries, containing about forty per cent. of all persons; consequently should any suspected person be found to be of the same group it will mean very little, but should he be diagnosed as of another group, it will exclude him as source of supply... If at any time you would wish me to establish the grouping of any individual associated with the picture I should be only too glad to do so."
I had in various ways tried to get the case examined by some competent authority, clerical or lay. In 1916 I wrote to Cardinal Merry del Val, who was intimate with my family, telling him of my own observations and asking the ground of the excommunication. He replied that he had always thought the Abbé a bit toqué and a coureur de miracles, but would otherwise say nothing.
In 1917 I wrote to Cardinal Gasquet who took much kind pains, but was thwarted in his efforts to obtain a proper examination by the Abbé's obstinate refusal, notwithstanding my urgent recommendation, to submit to the Decree forbidding him to say Mass.
In 1917 I saw the Cardinal, who told me that the traditions of secrecy of the Holy Office were so severe that although Cardinal Merry del Val was an old friend of his he could tell him nothing about the case. I told him I had thoughts of setting some sensational newspaper on to the case, or turning it, faute de mieux, into a Press stunt. He was rather amused and thought it quite a good idea, or that it might force the hands of the Vatican.
I wrote to Mlle Lichnerowicz urging her to return and observe further and that as soon as I could get a little more evidence to go on and establish a really good prima-facie case that was what I proposed to do, "and then we shall have all the Vatican picking up its skirts and rushing to Mirebeau to be in at the finish." Mlle Lichnerowicz failing, I then had recourse to the Institut Général Psychologique of Paris and tried, with the Abbé's enthusiastic support, to persuade Professor Courtier to undertake a serious investigation of the whole affair, with the bait of being in at the birth of a miracle, or, alternatively, of exposing a monstrous and blasphemous fraud.
He wrote promising to make a journey to Mirebeau, but never did.
At length in April, 1920, I heard from the Abbé that he had just returned from Rome, that he had there been able to refute many calumnies about himself, that the Pope had sent him sympathetic messages to the effect that an inquiry was necessary, and that the Bishop of Poitiers should be communicated with, and finally that he had been asked, in deference to the Holy Office, to cease saying Mass, and that he had promised to do so, a promise he was now observing. And that is the last I heard of the Abbé till a letter I wrote him about a year later was returned marked "Décédé."
I learn from Dr. Birven's book that on June 5, 1920, the Abbé had arrived at a hotel in Aix-la-Chapelle, presented himself that morning at the Cathedral and there said Mass, after which he went to the house of a widow lady where two rooms were put at his disposal for himself and his servant, and where he might meet various friends from different parts of Germany. There, says Dr Birven, in these entirely strange surroundings, the language of which he did not understand, there appeared shortly after his arrival the same strange, inexplicable phenomenon which for nine years had been associated with him... A small statue of the Sacred Heart belonging to the lady of the house and also a picture of the same on the wall, began to issue blood at the wounds and at the heart - real human blood as was attested by a number of analyses. These bleedings, which took place in daylight, happened in such a way that at the places named small drops seemed to issue forth and then to run down in little streams ... Also watery tears were found in the eyes. Those appearances lasted as a rule from half an hour to an hour, when the mysterious source of the liquid gradually closed and the blood coagulated. These phenomena were repeated for several days. They attracted numerous onlookers, who were witnesses of them, and although these had the bleeding objects just before their eyes and could take both statue and picture in their hands and examine them from every side, they were unable to discover anything suspicious or to perceive the slightest possibility of a natural explanation.
Among the spectators were numerous priests who, knowing of the Abbé's excommunication, of which he made no secret, were very sceptical in his regard. A tremendous excitement arose in the city, and great crowds besieged the Platz in front of the house ... With his departure in the afternoon of June 11 the blood ceased to flow. The newspapers were flooded with every kind of suggestion from people who had not seen the thing happen, but those who had seen it remained under the conviction that no natural explanation was possible. The only explanation which, assuming fraud, could possibly account for it, namely that blood had been secreted on a paint brush and put on to the pictures, was not seriously put forward, obviously because in face of the occurrences it was considered too preposterous (plump) and was unsupported by the slightest evidence... Although here was an opportunity for an ecclesiastical investigation for which the Abbé had long been clamouring, the Archbishop of Cologne, who was urgently begged by a messenger from Aix to investigate the affair, merely telegraphed that the Abbé was excommunicated and should be avoided by the faithful.
Dr. Birven, from whose book the above description is summarized, then gives a detailed account of the Abbé Vachère's past; of the beginning of the blood phenomena; the action of the Bishop; the excommunication without examination; the efforts of the Abbé to obtain a proper enquiry, and the persecution by both ecclesiastical and lay authority during the war; of the fantastic promptings of the voice of le Bon Maître ordering him to build a great basilica to cost sixty millions and an immense monstrance of silver (of both of which he showed me the deplorable designs); of the Stations of the Cross and Calvary at Gâtine seized by the authorities as German property, and his futile efforts to raise sufficient money to buy them back, and of his sudden death on June 17, 1921, of a stroke of apoplexy. His little property, the house and chapel and the picture and Hosts, and other objects associated with the blood phenomena went to his relative, Mademoiselle Philippot, who maintained them intact, waiting for the long desired enquiry so that the Abbé, like Joan of Arc, might posthumously be rehabilitated. This lady, however, died in 1927 intestate. The property fell to be divided between three distant relations and was scattered. Of the fate of the picture Dr. Birven says nothing; the two Hosts that lay so long on the altar were taken by the parish priest, and by him respectively destroyed and consumed.
The author considers the evidence in detail and after discussing, on this evidence, all the alternative explanations of fraud whether conscious or unconscious (i.e., in a state of temporary spontaneous amnesia), on the part of the Abbé himself, or by tricks played by his entourage, concludes in favour of the reality of the phenomena. He dismisses, however, the theory that they were of miraculous origin, if the word "miraculous" be held to connote divine action of deliberate religious significance, and with this view I think that even the most convinced believer in miracles would find it impossible not to agree. The inherent futility of the manifestations; the fantastic, almost childish instructions given by the Voice associated with them - such as to stop the war by petitioning Joffre to parade the picture along the trenches; the failure of the prophecies in detail (excepting always the triumphant success of the main prophecy of the war itself and of its final issue in the victory for France), and the ultimate collapse of the whole drama through the defeat and death of the unfortunate Abbé must suffice to disillusion on this score even the most devoted of his adherents. For much the same reason must, I think, the Bishop's theory of the agency of Lucifer equally be set aside. For, ex hypothesi of the Bishop himself. Lucifer is a "savant" and no fool.
As Dr. Birven shows, the phenomena in themselves are not without parallel in history. Raphael has made famous one instance of a Host shedding blood during Mass in the fresco of The Miracle of Bolsena in the Vatican, where also is a somewhat similar picture, "The Mass of Pope Gregory I" by Andrea Sacchi. Nearer our own time and having a far closer resemblance to the case of the Abbé Vachère are the phenomena of the bleeding crucifix of the ecstatic nun, Columba Schonath of Bamberg (1730-1787), and the bleeding Hosts of the so-called workman prophet, Eugene Vintras of Tillysur-Seulles, whom readers of Maurice Barre's La Colline inspirde will remember as figuring in that deeply interesting book. (See also for further details of both the latter cases pp. 145, 146 of Dr. Birven's book and also Vintras, Heresiarque et Prophete, Maurice Garçon, Paris.)
Dr. Birven's own theory to account for the manifestations seems to be shortly as follows: He relates the circumstances of a correspondence which took place through an intermediary between the Abbé and the stigmatised German religious secress Rosalie Putt, whom he treated as a kind of oracle and to whom, with a childlike unquestioning faith, he attributed boundless influence with the Almighty. Extracts from his letters are given in the book and seem to me almost overwhelmingly conclusive of the Abbé's bona fides, confirming the impression made on me, and apparently on every one else by his personality. Dr. Birven believes that this association, together with the constant contemplation of the picture, produced in the Abbé, already predisposed by nature to a love of the marvellous, a condition of psychological dissociation which resulted in hallucinations of hearing and in the externalization, in the form of the voice of le Bon Maître, of his own fantastic imaginings, and he eventually finds in a dialogue between le Bon Maître and the Abbé himself, what he believes to be the key to the whole mystery. "Si je te demandais," says the Voice, "le sacrifice de ta vie, jusqu'à l'effusion de ton sang, me Paccorderais-tu?" "Oui, Seigneur," replies the Abbé, "mais de grâce ne me donnez pas une telle mission" (See in SPR library copy of Paroles de Notre Seigneur prononcées depuis 1911 et concernant tous les évènements présents et futurs.) This, says Dr. Birven, starts the idea of effusion of blood. I cannot adequately deal here with his argument, but it appears to amount to a contention that the Abbé, as a result of this idea mingling with his religious fervour and disequilibrated system, becomes a stigmatic, and that by some kind of telekinetic action the blood, instead of appearing on his own body, is transferred to the picture. By thus baldly stating his theory, I fear I do Dr. Birven an injustice. I have not the space to follow the steps by which he seeks to make it reasonable. It is not unsupported by parallel claims made by modern scientific experimenters in spiritualism and in suggestion. It seems to me, however, to overlook the fact that, according to the Abbé's own account, the bleeding preceded the Voice, and that before the Voice, with its exhortation to an apostolate of sacrifice, there was no particular exciting cause to throw the Abbé into a condition where stigmatization, even on his own body, let alone on a picture, would be likely to be provoked. Further, although there may be warrant for believing that matter may be transported from one place to another by some occult force, to suppose that a person's blood can be transported, unknown to him and without leaving any trace on him, to a picture sometimes at least a kilometre distant and there accurately deposited upon appropriate places, involves an excursion into regions so transcendental that I must confess myself unable to reach them. Dr. Birven is the editor of a magazine Hain der Isis (J. Wiesike, Brandenburg, Havel), devoted to Magic and the Occult, and claims that the Abbé was, unknown to himself, a magician. Having proclaimed his conviction of the authenticity of the phenomena, Dr. Birven finds himself, I suppose, before the necessity of offering some kind of explanation of them. As a mere reviewer I am glad to feel myself able to evade this necessity. And as a layman and no magician there is no explanation which seems to me less improbable than the rest. Finally, like so many other problems in psychical research, I have to leave it at that, a shadow just eluding the grasp I thought I was about to close upon it.
The article above was taken from "Transactions of the Fourth International Congress for Psychical Research. Athens 1930" published by the Society for Psychical Research on behalf of the International Congress Committee.
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