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Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 35.djvu/17

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7
NEW CHAPTERS IN THE WARFARE OF SCIENCE.

false inference regarding the contents of each: the result was that at the presentation of the holy water the devils were perfectly calm, but when tried with the ordinary water they threw Martha into convulsions.

The next experiment made by the shrewd bishop was to similar purpose. He commanded loudly that a book of exorcisms should be brought, and, under a previous arrangement, his attendants brought him a copy of Virgil. No sooner had the bishop begun to read the first line of the "Æneid" than the devils threw Martha into convulsions. On another occasion a Latin dictionary, which she had reason to believe was a book of exorcisms, produced a similar effect upon the devils.

Although the good bishop was thereby led to pronounce the whole matter a mixture of insanity and imposture, the capuchin monks denounced this view as godless. They insisted that these tests really proved the presence of Satan, showing his cunning in covering up the proofs of his existence. The people at large sided with their preachers, and Martha was taken to Paris, where various exorcisms were tried, and the Parisian mob became as devoted to her as they had been twenty years before to the murderers of the Huguenots,—as they became two centuries later to Robespierre,—and as they are at the present moment to General Boulanger.

But Bishop Miron was not the only skeptic. The Cardinal de Gondi, Archbishop of Paris, charged the most eminent physicians of the city, and among them Riolan, to report upon the case. Various examinations were made, and the verdict was that Martha was simply a hysterical impostor. Thanks, then, to medical science, and to these two enlightened ecclesiastics who summoned its aid, what fifty or a hundred years earlier would have been the center of a wide-spread epidemic of possession was isolated, and hindered from producing a national calamity.[1]

But during the seventeenth century a theological reaction set in, not only in France but in all parts of the Christian world, and the belief in diabolic possession, though certainly dying, flickered up hectic, hot, and spiteful through the whole century. In 1611 we have a typical case at Aix. An epidemic of possession having occurred there, Gauffridi, a man of note, was burned at the stake as the cause of the trouble. Michaelis, one of the priestly exorcists, declared that he had driven out sixty-five hundred devils from one of the possessed. Similar epidemics occurred in various parts of the world.[2]

Twenty years later a far more striking case occurred at Loudun, in western France, where a convent of Ursuline nuns was "afflicted by demons."

  1. See Calmeil, "La Folie," tome i, livre 3, c 2.
  2. See "Dagron," chap. ii.