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The Tragic Tale of Claire Ferchaud and the Great War

The Tragic Tale of Claire Ferchaud and the Great War

Raymond Jonas
Copyright Date: 2005
Edition: 1
Pages: 231
https://www.jstor.org/stable/10.1525/j.ctt1pnw68
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  • Book Info
    The Tragic Tale of Claire Ferchaud and the Great War
    Book Description:

    This is the moving and improbable story of Claire Ferchaud, a young French shepherdess who had visions of Jesus and gained national fame as a modern-day Joan of Arc at the height of World War I. Claire experienced her first vision after a childhood trauma in which her mother locked her in a closet to break her stubborn willfulness. She developed her visionary gifts with the aid of spiritual directors and, by the age of twenty, she had come to believe that Jesus wanted France consecrated to the Sacred Heart. Claire believed that if France undertook this devotion, symbolized by adding the image of the Sacred Heart to the French flag, it would enjoy rapid victory in the war. From her modest origins to her spectacular ascent, Claire's life and times are deftly related with literary verve and insight in a book that gives a rare view of the French countryside during the Great War.

    eISBN: 978-0-520-93828-1
    Subjects: History

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-viii)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. ix-x)
  3. List of Illustrations
    (pp. xi-xii)
  4. ACKNOWLEDGMENTS
    (pp. xiii-xiv)
  5. The Great War in the European Imagination
    (pp. 1-8)

    Claire Ferchaud was born in the west of France at a place called Rinfillières. The date was 5 May 1896. The same day, Claire’s parents dressed her in a white christening gown and took her to the church at Le Puy-Saint-Bonnet, where she was christened Claire-Yvonne-Marie-Louise. There was nothing particularly auspicious about Claire’s birth or early youth, but her modest origins made her improbable ascent only more spectacular. By the end of 1916, in the midst of the First World War, Claire’s admirers compared her to Joan of Arc, the young woman who heard voices, put on men’s clothing, fought...

  6. Miracle or “Miracle”?
    (pp. 9-14)

    The opening of the war of 1914 seemed at first to be startlingly simple. It was common knowledge that if war broke out again between Germany and France, France would seek to recover the territories of Alsace and Lorraine lost in 1871. Accordingly, and predictably, during the first week, French troops entered territory annexed by Germany at the end of the last war. They encountered resistance in Alsace from the German Sixth and Seventh Armies but reached and reoccupied Mulhouse between 8 and 10 August. They then lost the city and retook it on the nineteenth, before losing it again....

  7. Carnal Vision and Saintly Ambition
    (pp. 15-25)

    The French West, like the American West in the late nineteenth century, was long known for its expanses of land and its scattered population. The area south of the Loire River—comprising the regions of la Vendée, la Vienne, and les Deux-Sèvres—has a distinctive topography of rolling hills, narrow roads, and high hedgerows that fence in fields, livestock, and farms. For some, particularly those who had never lived there, the impenetrability of the landscape and the isolation of its inhabitants described the region’s population—insular, backward, and out-of-touch.

    In fact, the proximity of the Atlantic seaboard and the great...

  8. Spiritual Patronage and a Mission to Save France
    (pp. 26-34)

    Claire packed her things for Saint-Laurent-sur-Sèvre in November of 1916. Her spiritual retreat had been in the works for some time. Father Audebert, the pastor at Loublande, had been increasingly impressed with Claire’s singular spiritual gifts, but his experience with such persons was limited. After all, how often do parishioners claim to have seen and spoken to Jesus directly? Claire was special, of that he was convinced. At the very least, she must have seemed a promising candidate for a religious vocation, but as a parish priest there were limits to what Audebert could do for Claire; in fact, her...

  9. Silent Eruptions: Claire and Her Public
    (pp. 35-46)

    Loublande had a “little visionary.”¹ This sobriquet adopted by the press left plenty of room for the imagination. A child? A visionary? What does she see? Would she lead an army and fight like Joan? Crowds of pilgrims descended upon Loublande in search of answers.

    Loublande was a village totally unprepared for the crush of visitors. It didn’t have a train station. Pilgrims from Angers, like those from Nantes, could get no closer to Loublande than the station at Cholet, a good six or seven miles away. From there the average visitor had to make do with a wagon, while...

  10. In the Footsteps of Joan
    (pp. 47-61)

    Public enthusiasm for Claire rose as despair about the war deepened. Early in January 1916, Erich von Falkenhayn, chief of the German general staff, resolved to raise the stakes in the war by concentrating his forces on the fortresses at a place called Verdun. The aim was to trap France in a war of attrition, to bleed the nation dry. The significance of the fortresses of Verdun was both symbolic and strategic. If concentrated attacks on Verdun, an exposed salient on the long Western front, forced France to abandon Verdun, the psychological effect could be devastating. But if France defended...

  11. A Kind of Apotheosis: Claire Goes to Paris
    (pp. 62-83)

    No modern army can prevail without the support of the home front—at least not in the long run. That is why it is called a “front.” Like any other front, once it gives way, it soon brings an end to the war.

    In modern times, states are as vulnerable to mercurial public opinion as they are to armies. Impatience and war-weariness led to a spectacular collapse of the home front in Russia in early 1917, followed by a revolution that brought down Nicholas II, the czar of Russia. A new fear haunted Paris and London—the fear that the...

  12. The Sacred Heart and the Union Sacrée: Claire’s Story Goes Public
    (pp. 84-95)

    Raymond Poincaré, it was said, had a stone where his heart should be.¹ If so, he had concealed the fact from Claire, who left his office feeling that somehow she had touched him, that they had an understanding. In fact, he had merely humored Claire before sending her on her way.

    It was probably a familiar role to him; as president he must have received dozens of concerned citizens who approached him with all manner of schemes, from blueprints for whizbang secret weapons to surefire plans for victory. In Claire’s case, the stakes were somewhat higher. Poincaré was trying to...

  13. Consecration by Proxy
    (pp. 96-117)

    Spirituality has a history, just like anything else. One of the most enduring features of the spirituality of wartime is the sense, even conviction, that war serves a divine plan—war gets theologized. Theologizing war is an ancient reflex, as old as Athena watching over the Greeks at Troy, as old as stories of waters parting to save a people and closing again to crush an army. Theologizing war was also a powerful reflex in 1914. Spirituality, not to mention spiritualism, enjoyed a remarkable recovery among European men and women after 1914.¹ How else to comprehend the enormity of such...

  14. The Unraveling
    (pp. 118-132)

    On 25 June 1917, as morning mass in a makeshift church came to an end, a military chaplain asked his congregation to stay for a brief ceremony. The chaplain, a man named Devezy, handed out half-page sheets in small stacks to be distributed among the men. “The completed forms,” he called out, “will be sent to Montmartre and placed on the altar of the Basilica of the Sacré-Coeur.” As the forms were passed from hand to hand, Devezy gave instructions. “Those who wish to consecrate themselves to the Sacré-Coeur,” he said, “need only complete the form, sign it, and return...

  15. The Unmaking of a Saint
    (pp. 133-159)

    When war broke out in August of 1914, Father Servant, pastor of Saint-Gervais parish, had an idea. He would write a private history of the war. He took out a pen and a bound booklet of lined paper. He opened the booklet to the first page. With his pen he scratched the lettersJMJat the top of the page. His gesture consecrated his journalistic efforts to three sacred personages: Jesus, Mary, and Joseph. Beside these initials he wrote the numeral1—the first day of the war. In the days, weeks, months, and years to come, he followed the...

  16. Prologue as Epilogue: The Story of Jonas
    (pp. 160-162)

    I was awakened to the power of Claire’s story by a chance encounter I had in the spring of 1998. I didn’t know Claire’s story very well then, but I knew enough of it to be curious about her, and to want to know more. I rented a Renault Twingo at the Angers train station, then headed southwest toward her home town of Loublande.

    I’m not sure what I expected to see. I knew that Claire was a farm girl, a peasant, so I wanted to visit her home, to see the fields she had helped to cultivate and the...

  17. NOTES
    (pp. 163-188)
  18. BIBLIOGRAPHY
    (pp. 189-210)
  19. INDEX
    (pp. 211-217)