Saturday, 16 April 2016

A Convulsionist - Gabrielle Moulère

Gabrielle Moulère (sometimes Moller), and her sister Jeanne were among the best known practitioners of les grands secours, made famous - or notorious - largely through Montgeron's account and the set of anonymous engravings included in Book 3 of La vérité des miracles. Gabrielle was born in Paris on 10th March 1722, rue Saint-Victor, in the parish of Saint-Nicolas-du-Chardonnet.  Her father was a cobbler. There  were five children in all  - Jeanne (born 1712);  Marie (born 1715); Jean (born 1719); Gabrielle (born 1722) and Louison (born 1728).The whole family were involved in the oeuvre des convulsions,  with Madame Moulère  assisting at the secours of Jeanne and Gabrielle, in their own home or at the houses of their rich adherents.  Gabrielle was scarcely in her teens at the time.  The girls rapidly ran foul of the authorities: Jeanne was arrested at the home of the marquise de Vieuxpont on 22 November 1737 and Gabrielle on October 30th 1738 (according to some sources 1739) at the country house of  M. d'Arginvilliers in Lardi.  After a brief spell in the Bastille, they were incarcerated in La Salpêtrière and, in Jeanne's case, in Sainte-Pélagie.  Gabrielle was to languish in prison for nine years.

Illustration 1 - Gabrielle is beaten with a heavy iron bar
Despite the inevitable accusations of hysteria or deliberately manipulation of her well-to-do patrons, Gabrielle's commanding presence and sincere belief in her mission were widely attested.  Sympathetic eye-witnesses were deeply impressed by the power of her prophetic gifts. She refused steadfastly to abandon her faith in the secours, preferring to remain in the harsh confines of La Salpêtrière where she died at the age of only twenty-six on 29th March 1748.  After her death she was venerated as a Jansenist saint and the miraculous cure of one Mlle Cécile d'Achon, daughter of an advocate of the Présidial in Nantes, attributed to her intercession.

A biography which appeared in 1749 emphasised that Gabrielle demonstrated extreme piety and charity from earliest age;  as a small child she protected the identity of a boy who almost killed her by throwing a stone at her head (the source of her later mental state - who knows?)   At the age of nine - in 1731 at the high point of the miracles at Saint-Médard - she was sent as a day girl to the Soeurs Noires of Saint-Étienne, a fervently Jansenist convent.  At any other time her religiosity might have found a more conventional outlet; as it was, she was embued with Jansenist Millenarianism and the theology of the secours:

From the age of nine or ten, she was in the habit, in the evening when she returned home to her mother, of kneeling beside her bed before a Crucifix to pour out her heart in fervent prayers which she composed herself on the spot.

It was while occupied in this saintly exercise, that she was taken with her first convulsions, on the 10th April 1734.  In the midst of her prayers she fell into an ecstasy; she believed she saw and heard the Blessed Pâris and M. Desangins  who exhorted her to submit with full confidence to the will of God, making the sign of the Cross over her.  Since she replied to them out loud, her mother asked to whom she was speaking.  She replied that it was the  Blessed Pâris and M. Desangins.  Her mother was astonished at her reply and, scrutinising her, saw clearly that she was in a supernatural state.  After this ecstasy, Gabriel continued her prayers with even more fervour than before.  Her mother, seeing that she was not going to stop even though it was late into the night, ordered her to bed.  She obeyed but as soon as she was in bed she felt a sort of violent wind that pushed her out and on to the floor.  She declared to her mother that henceforth she would no longer sleep on a bed but on the floor, fully dressed, summer and winter, until God ordained otherwise.  Indeed, from that day on she slept on the ground, until the 30th October when she was confined to the Bastille; and on Sundays and Feast Days she didn't go to bed at all but passed the whole night in prayer, God having relieved her of the need for sleep.

She told her mother that the supernatural state, that God had caused her to enter, was a state of penitence, and warned her that she no longer needed trivial comforts, because she must follow promptly everything which God ordered.

For several months her convulsions consisted only in almost continual prayer and  these sorts of ecstasies, in several of which she was instructed to undertake harsh penances; which she did, not only with perfect submission, but with a joy mixed with humility.  She was often heard to repeat "How is it possible, My God:  that you wish to a miserable little creature like me a part in so great a work?"...

[The only thing which caused her anxiety was that in violent secours she would be obliged to allow men to approach her.  After a fortnight of fasting, God declared to her that he wished her to receive terrible secours, but that her modesty would not be compromised.]

After she made her First Communion on 29th September 1734, the Feast Day of St. Michael and the Holy Angels, she began to receive according to this ordinance of God, secours which were so marvellous they seem unbelievable;  this continued until 30th October 1738 when she was imprisoned in the Bastille....

M. le curé de S. Germain, her confessor, told everyone that she was not a girl but an angel, whose thoughts and every action were formed by God.

She always laid down in advance the manner, the day and the hour of the different secours to which she was to be subjected in the course of a novella; for each day there was a new one, each one more prodigious than the last.  All the details were noted down, and everything that she said.....
Court récit de la vie et des secours de Gabrielle Moler (1749), p.161-5.

The secours

Published details of the secours practised by Gabrielle Moulère derive mainly from Montgeron, who reproduces passages from a deposition signed by twenty-one eye witnesses (vol.iii, p.700ff.) The sources follow Montgeron in emphasising the high social standing of those concerned, who included  the comte de Novion and Edward Drummond, later 6th Earl of Perth, as well as several magistrates, officers of the King's Household, Army officers and priests of great piety. (The Jacobite Drummond was arrested along with Jeanne Moulère, and later with Gabrielle herself - on this second occasion, despite his high rank, he too was detained in the Bastille.)

The testimony records a series of secours of escalating violence, concentrating on beatings to the upper abdomen ("le creux de l'estomac") (p.703-4). Gabrielle laid on the ground on her back and had herself set upon with "a great iron bar weighing 48 livres."  One of her assistants raised the bar two feet into the air and allowed it to fall with full force 30 times on her stomach.  The furniture in the room, the windows and floor boards all shook, but she herself remained uninjured.  Standing with her back to the wall she had herself hit in the stomach with full force using an iron hammer.  (Elsewhere Montgeron recounts a similar beating which he himself had administered to Jeanne Moulère with a firedog; using similar force against the wall, he had knocked a hole in it.)

Illustration 2:  Gabrielle is stabbed repeatedly in the stomach
In the succeeding feats, Gabrielle commanded her assistants to stab her repeatedly with a heavy pointed iron bar, and to smashed her face into the floor by allowing a stone weighing sixty pounds to fall on her.  A series of four engravings highlight the weirdness of the proceedings.  Although these are not generally attributed to the pen of Jean Restout,  they follow his example in emphasising  the respectability and restraint of the protagonists.  
Illustration 3:   A crushing weight is applied to the back of Gabrielle's head
The final illustration shows the famous secours des épées of 1736, which was acknowledged as Gabrielle's particular invention. Supposedly guided by supernatural forces, Gabrielle pushed a sword into her stomach;  Instead of piercing her body, the blade merely curved, leaving Gabrielle herself unscathed.  Later she wielded the sword against her throat to similar effect, and finally swallowed the tip down into her esophagus without injury.  All these exploits, Montgeron emphasises, were carried out repeatedly and openly in homes of her adherents, with the upmost decorum. He himself was convinced of their divine provenance.  Gabrielle herself articulated their religious significance;  her acceptation of violence constituted a tableau vivant, representing the sufferings of the disciples of Elijah and figuring the spiritual invulnerability enjoyed by servants of the truth.  The plates are accompanied by a quotation from Exodus III, iii. on the miracle of the burning bush - flaming but invulnerable -  which embodies God's promise to deliver the Children of Israel.

Illustration 4 - Gabrielle undergoes the secours des épées

Imprisonment and death

The 30 October 1738 she was arrested at Lardi at the home of M. Dangervillers. She was just over sixteen-and-a-half years old;  she had experienced convulsions for four-and-a-half years, the most violent for more than four years.  

She was only held at the Bastille until 17th December.  M. de Marville judged it too great an honour for this sainted girl to be incarcerated in this notorious prison for State criminals. For people as guilty as Jeanne and Gabrielle Moler, ignominy must be joined to bad treatment.  In consequence, he ordered their transfer to La Salpêtrière, a prison for monstrous impure women who devote themselves to being the public victims of the libertine's debauchery....

The doctor of La Salpêtrière had the sisters bled excessively to calm their sufferings (caused by the absence of secours); but, far from bringing relief, this caused Jeanne  Moulère to develop hydropsy. The elder sister was cured suddenly and perfectly with relics of M. Paris.  But Gabriel died on 29th March 1748, refusing to the last to give up her belief in the secours:

When she was on her deathbed and  could no longer speak, a priest who was one of her persecutors,  took her hand to make her signal that she renounced, Paris, the miracles, convulsions and secours.  But Gabriel shook her head from right to left and left to right.
Court récit de la vie et des secours de Gabrielle Moler(1749), p.173-9.

"Court récit de la vie et des secours de Gabrielle Moler"
Suffrages en faveur des deux derniers tomes de M. de Montgeron (1749), p.161-219;

Louis Basile Carré de Montgeron, La vérité des miracles opérés par l'intercession de monsieur de Paris  vol.3(1747)

Here are some from Montgeron, translated into English: 
Agénor comte de Gasparin, Science versus modern spiritualism, 1857, p. 60-3.

I give below the account derived from Carré de Montgeron, which is on every point confirmed by the pamphlet entitled: "Vains efforts des mélangistes." The two hostile parties unite in attesting the following facts, that are supported, moreover, by numerous certificates.
"It is a matter of daily experience" (I quote, now, from Montgeron), "that the convulsionaries are more or less relieved in proportion as the blows administered are more or less heavy. . . . It has been proved by innumerable witnesses that when they are violently struck in the pit of the stomach with an iron instrument (this is one of the secours they most ordinarily demand), the instrument buries itself in their body, sometimes appearing to penetrate as far as the spine; and the further it enters into the stomach, the more relief the convulsionary experiences.

"The author of Vains efforts says : 'Jeanne Mouler, a young woman of twenty-two or three years of age, having supported herself against the wall, one of the stoutest men seized a firedog, weighing, it was said, twenty-five or thirty pounds, and struck her powerful blows in the stomach. This operation was repeated on various occasions, and at one time more than a hundred blows were counted. Another day, having given her sixty, he tried the effect of similar blows on a wall, and it is stated that at the twenty-fifth blow, he made an opening in it.' . . . The fire-dog here in question weighs twenty-nine or thirty pounds. It was with this instrument that the convulsionary submitted to the most terrible blows in the very pit of the stomach. ... I declare that I am the man of whom the author speaks as the brother who tried on a wall the effect of blows similar to the ones he had just given to this convulsionary. ... It was in vain that I employed, throughout, all the strength I could exert to redouble the weight of my blows ; the convulsionary complained that they procured her no relief. She compelled me to give the fire-dog into the hands of a very large, strong man, standing among the spectators. This person did not spare her. Instructed by my experience, that the blows could not be too violent, he struck her with so much force in the pit of the stomach, as to shake the wall against which she was leaning. The convulsionary made him give her in succession the hundred blows she had at first demanded, counting for nothing the sixty received from me." . . 

"'The exercise of the plank succeeded,' continues the author of Vains efforts. 'They placed upon the convulsionary, lying on the ground, a plank which entirely covered her; then, as many men mounted on this plank as it could hold. The convulsionary bore the weight of them all.' . . . More than twenty men have been seen gathered together on this plank, which was supported by the body of a young convulsionary. .... The body of this girl resisted the weight of more than three thousand, sometimes more than four thousand pounds— more than sufficient to crush an ox." . . .
"' The exercise of the stone (caillou) was not less perilous,' again remarks the author of Vains efforts. 'The convulsionary, lying on her back, a brother took a stone weighing twentytwo pounds, and with it inflicted repeated blows on her breast.' . . . It is to be observed that the person who struck her with this stone, placed himself on his knees at the side of the convulsionary, who was lying on the floor, that he raised the stone nearly as high as he could, that, after a few light trials, he precipitated it with all his strength upon the breast of the convulsionary, and gave her in succession a hundred similar blows. At each blow, the whole room shook." . . .....

"' The Salamander,' says the author of Vains efforts, ' cried: "Barley sugar!" This barley sugar was a stick thicker than the arm, sharp and pointed at one end. The convulsionary, in the centre of the chamber, curved her body in the form of a bow, and, balancing herself by her hands, rested on the point of the barley sugar; in this position, she cried out, 'Biscuit! Biscuit!' This was a stone weighing about fifty pounds. It was attached to a cord which passed through a pulley nailed to the ceiling of the room. Raised to the pulley, it was several times allowed to- fall on the stomach of the sister, her loins bearing all the time on the barley sugar.' . . . Neither the skin nor the flesh received the least injury, or suffered the slightest pain."
"A certain convulsionary receives, three time a week, the most terrible secours. Seated on the ground, the back against the wall, she induces those who come to witness her convulsions, to kick her in the stomach two thousand times in succession. . . . Extended on the ground, she causes herself to be violently struck with billets of wood on every part of the body. . . . Standing erect, her back against the wall, she takes a spit used in roasting meat, the strongest she can find; she places its point against the pit of her stomach, in the region of the short ribs; she then makes four, five, and six persons push against it, with all their strength, so that the spit bends perfectly crooked. . . . She sometimes puts the point of the spit to her throat or her forehead. ... In short, for the last two months, she has submitted every part of her body to sword thrusts. . . . Although her skin is indented by their points, and a slight red mark sometimes remains, yet the flesh is never cut." . . .

"Gabrielle caused the point of a certain rod to be put to her throat, just below the chin, and the point of a similar rod to be placed in the cavity at the back of her neck. Two persons, at the same time pushed against these two rods, with all their strength, repeating the operation several times in succession. But in vain did they try to make the points of the two rods penetrate beneath the skin—not the slightest puncture could be perceived. . . . Gabrielle, lying on her back, placed the edge of a shovel against her larynx, that is to say, exactly over the windpipe. She persuaded one of the spectators to exert himself to the utmost in pushing this shovel perpendicularly against her throat. . . . and she felt only an agreeable and salutary impression." . . . (See Montgeron vol. iii. p.693ff.)

For details of Edward Drummond, see:  Ruth Clark, Strangers and sojourners at Port-Royal (1932)p.248-9

In 1737 he was at the house of a Mme de Vieuxpoint where some thirty people, priests and laymen, were engaged in prayer with Jeanne Mouler.   The police burst in.  At first those present refused to give their names, but finally a list was made out and carried to Hérault.  After two hours orders were received to convey twelve of the prisoners to the Bastille. "Milord Perth Comte de Drummont"  was liberated this time, but two years later, on October 30th 1739, he was imprisoned. (See Nouvelles ecclésiastiques 1737, p.194-5

On that morning at six o'clock the police entered the country house of M. d'Angervillers at Lardy.  Everyone was still in bed, but they arrested Gabrielle Mouler, Lord Drummond and three others, piled them on a cart and sent them to the Bastille. (Archives de la Bastille xv, p.33-40)

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