Week 11: Margaret of Navarre's Heptameron

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DAY 4 STORY 33: The Virgin with Child

Reading time: 4 minutes. Word count: 700 words.

The next story starts off in a comic tone, but you may find that the ending is more serious and shocking than you imagined! This combination of comedy and tragedy in the same story is something that can be found in modern-day urban legends as well.

Geburon said, "But let us see to whom Madame Oisille will give her voice."

"I give it," she said, "to Simontault, who I know will spare no one."

"That is as much as to say that I am rather given to evil speaking," said he. "I shall nevertheless let you see that people who have been regarded in that same light have yet spoken the truth. I believe, ladies, you are not so simple as to put faith in everything a person tells you, however sanctified an air he may assume, unless the proof is clear beyond doubt. Many an abuse is committed under the guise of a miracle. Therefore I intend to relate to you a story not less honorable to a religious prince than shameful to a wicked minister of the church."

THE Count Charles d'Angoulême, father of Francis I, and a prince of great piety, being one day at Coignac, someone told him that in a village named Cherves there was a maiden who lived with such austerity that it was a marvel, yet she was with child, and did not even make any secret of it, but assured everybody that she had never known man, and that she knew not how it had happened to her, unless it was the work of the Holy Ghost.

The people readily gave credit to this delusion, and looked upon the girl as a second Virgin Mary, the more so as she had been known to be so well-behaved from her childhood, and never to have shown the least sign of a disposition to mundane vanities. She not only fasted at the seasons appointed by the church, but also made several voluntary fasts every week, and never stirred from the church as long as there was any service going on in it. The common people made so much account of this manner of life, that every one flocked to see her as though she were a living miracle, and, fortunate was he who could touch her gown.

The priest of the parish was her brother, a man in years, of an austere life, and a reputed saint. So rigorously did he treat his sister, that he had her shut up in a house, whereat the people were greatly displeased, and the affair made so much noise, that it came, as I have already said, to the ears of Count Charles, who seeing the delusion into which everybody had fallen, resolved to put an end to it.

To this end, he sent a referendary and an almoner, both of them worthy men, to ascertain the truth. They went to the spot, inquired into the fact as carefully as possible, and applied to the priest, who was so vexed at the affair, that he begged them to be present at the verification he hoped to make of it.

Next morning the priest celebrated mass, his sister, who was very big, being present on her knees. After it was over, he took the corpus Domini and said to his sister in presence of the whole congregation, "Wretch that thou art, here is He who suffered death for thee, in whose presence I ask thee if thou art a virgin as thou has always assured me."

She replied boldly and fearlessly that she was so.

"How, then, is it possible that thou art pregnant, yet still a virgin?"

"All I can say," she replied, "is, that it is the grace of the Holy Ghost, who does in me whatever he pleases; but also I cannot deny the grace which God has done me in preserving me a virgin. Never have I had even a thought of marrying."

Her brother then said to her, "I give thee here the precious body of Jesus Christ, which thou wilt take to thy damnation if thou dost not speak the truth; whereof will be witnesses these gentlemen, who are here present on the part of my lord the count."

The girl, who was about thirteen years of age, then made oath as follows: "I take the body of Our Lord here present to my condemnation before you, sirs, and you my brother, if ever man has touched me any more than you." So saying, she received the body of Our Lord.

Questions. Make sure you can answer these questions about what you just read:

  • why did some people believe that this girl might be pregnant by a miracle?
  • how did the brother react to his sister's condition?
  • where and how did the brother make the sister swear to the truth of her story?

Source: The Heptameron by Margaret, Queen of Navarre. Translated by Walter K. Kelly. Website: A Celebration of Women Writers. (Kelly's translated is not dated; it is based on a French edition published in 1853.)

Modern Languages MLLL-2003. World Literature: Frametales. Laura Gibbs, Ph.D. This work is licensed under a Creative Commons License. You must give the original author credit. You may not use this work for commercial purposes. If you alter, transform, or build upon this work, you may distribute the resulting work only under a license identical to this one.
Page last updated: October 9, 2004 12:48 PM