3 comments

Fiction Mystery Funny

Blood on Her Hands

By Reed Ide

 “Bonjour, monsieur.” The voice interrupted my concentration. I was in the kitchen, struggling to bring order to an array of herbs and spices, their jars strewn across my sturdy chestnut table. I turned toward the screen door. There she stood, slightly bent, shawl wrapped tightly about her, a faded housedress partly visible, her hair muddled carelessly in a hairnet. “Madame Boucher,” she said, extending a veined hand.

In 1999, I bought an 18th century farm in the mountainous Ardeche region of southern France. With sweeping views that took in valleys and fields, it remains my beloved summer getaway. Madame Boucher, well beyond a certain age, lived across the lane when I moved in. She was my first welcoming caller.

“Some wine would be quite nice,” she said in flawless English after I had settled her in a comfortable chair. I was able to produce a respectable Vouvray, which she consumed with obvious pleasure. For the next two hours, Madame, urged onward by the bottle of Vouvray, rambled through a narrative rich in local detail.  According to her, my picturesque French village (Nozières, elevation 1000 meters), had been around since God created the earth. It had seen its share of philanderers and drunks, and, according to Madame Boucher, her now-dead husband ranked near the top of both lists. But it also had its Christian side, and its very own “miracle.” Well before I came on the scene, when religious authority reigned more forcefully than it does today, the local church and neighboring convent in the village center were a constant reminder that God and his minions were watching, never very far away.

“Sometime in the mid 18th century,” said my neighbor, “the Sisters of St. Joseph founded a convent in Nozières.” The how and why of this were both beyond the reach of Madame’s story-telling knowledge. “Nevertheless,” she said, jumping over two centuries of history, “we can assume cloistered life carried on peacefully through the centuries, unassisted by anything that resembled the miraculous.” The sisters undertook religious duties, prayed several times a day, worked the convent gardens, and harvested a cash crop of the region’s main crop – raspberries. As the village grew, a school developed. The nuns were a teaching mainstay well into the 20th century.

As to what my neighbor did know, it was in 1970 that Sister Claudine Maria arrived at the convent. According to Madame Boucher, Sister Maria was transferred from an African convent to Nozières in the hopes that the mountain air might strengthen her delicate health following a bout of tropical fever.  By 1973 – Madame could show me newspaper clippings if I wished – local accounts proclaimed her “Miracle.” She was a stigmatic. Always fervently devout, Sister appeared on Good Friday afternoons bearing the stigmata on both hands – blood springing from her palms like they were fountains of youth.

News of such a ‘holy mystery’ was not restricted to Nozières for long. Secular word of mouth and leaks from Catholic cognoscenti insured that crowds gathered. The church quickly moved to codify and sacramentalize the event.

The surrounding fields and orchards became campgrounds during Holy Week. There wasn’t a resident within a 15-kilometer radius who didn’t have at least a couch to rent. According to Madame Boucher, even the fields of my farm were tenting grounds. The Archdiocese provided PortaPotties at strategic locations. Village women mobilized to provide meals – “at a price.” Madame Boucher was emphatic on that financial point.

Within the convent walls, Mother Superior, after prayerful consideration, moved the large crucifix at which Sister prayed into Sister’s cell, along with a private prie dieu. Miraculously, every Good Friday afternoon, the blood erupted.

Lack of a Vatican imprimatur did not stop the Archbishop from moving Good Friday services from his seat in Viviers to Nozières. He developed a Good Friday rite that included washing Sister’s hands in holy water at the steps of the Convent, followed by a procession across the stone-paved alley to the parish church, L’Église St. Pierre, where the traditional Good Friday service was conducted en plein air. The bloodied holy water was administered as a reverential climax, the Archbishop and his assistants using it to mark the sign of the cross on the foreheads of the faithful – a kind of homeopathic Christianity. “Oh, I went several times.” Madame nodded vigorously.

In October 1989, things took a disastrous turn. On a Saturday afternoon, Sister Claudine Marie arose from a nap, croaked, “Ave Maria, gratia plena, Dominus tecum,” and fell back dead, a faint trickle of blood leaking, this time, from her mouth.

In May, 1991, amid financial difficulties, the convent abruptly closed. Père André, priest of the church, moved the large crucifix and private prie dieu to a side chapel in L’Église St. Pierre. Nozières became a pilgrimage destination. The resulting tourism still guarantees a year-round revenue stream for church and village. The church even produced a handkerchief said to be stained with Sister’s blood of the stigmata. It sits near the alter in a golden frame.

Two years after that first neighborly visit, Madam Boucher herself passed on to light and glory. The convent building still stands, now a marketplace of small specialty stalls and shops selling religious articles.

Several years later, my friend Rafael visited from Mexico. I took him to visit L’Église St. Pierre. Rafael stood silent before Sister’s crucifix. Suddenly he chuckled. “Now my friend, I’ll show you something,” he said, reaching behind the statue. I heard a click, and from each side of the base popped out two very small, sharply pointed blades. “There,” said Rafael, “is the source of your stigmata. These statues were once quite common in Mexico. As a child, I saw one in my grandmother’s village church. A person grasps the base of the statue’s cross in prayer, then pushes on a spot in the back. The blades pierce the skin just enough to cause the flow of blood.”

We returned to my farmhouse where I produced a salade niçoise and a raspberry tart for lunch. We never spoke of stigmata again.

June 24, 2022 18:39

You must sign up or log in to submit a comment.

3 comments

Charlotte Morse
07:06 Jul 03, 2022

Hi Reed, this sounds memoir-ish, did you have a house in France? Did Madame Boucher exist? Did she initially peak your interest in this story? Well done either way, it's well written and I love the truth shown at the end. I see like me you've only submitted one story so far, I'd love you to read mine and suggest some improvements... cos I don't think anyone's read it yet and it took me ages to write 😭

Reply

Reed Ide
17:24 Jul 03, 2022

Hi - This was to be part of a "Fake memoir" novel that never got written. I never had a house in France, but I have friends there who had an 18th century farm that I visited, located in the outlying lands around Nozieres. I have long been fascinated by the Stigmata, and the two came together in this piece. There was actually a convent in Nozieres, and it is today a bed and breakfast, not a marketplace of religious ephemera. Right across the alley is the Church of St. Pierre. -- Would love to read your story! -- Reed

Reply

Show 0 replies
Show 1 reply
Alice Richardson
08:55 Jul 02, 2022

A good story well written. You appear to have done your homework on historical facts.

Reply

Show 0 replies