The Virgin with Child
(Day 4, Story 3)
"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.