- Leonarde's Ghost: Popular Piety and "The Appearance of a Spirit" in 1628
In 1628 a feverish and bedridden woman who had recently given birth claimed to receive numerous visitations from a spirit. At first, the ill woman (Huguette Roy, the wife of a guard in the local militia who was most likely a tradesman) could not identify the ghost, and the ghost was stubbornly unforthcoming about her identity. Eventually, however, it was revealed that it [End Page 815] was the spirit of Roy's deceased aunt, Leonarde Colin. Colin, so Roy reported to the clergymen who were notified of the visits, had been sent by God to assist Roy in her daily housekeeping duties that she could not perform herself. Eventually Colin revealed that this was penance for her earthly sins and had to be performed to release her from purgatory. Roy was the only earthly creature who ever heard or saw Colin, but the local clerical authorities, and Christophe Mercier in particular, were convinced of the reality of the ghost. Indeed, Mercier wrote "The History of the Appearance of a Spirit which Happened in the City of Dole" (1628), the text that the editors translated for this volume.
The editors/translators try to preserve "the roughness, vitality, rhythms, and ambiguities of the original manuscript" (p. xiii), but they are cautious to avoid didactically telling readers how to interpret the text. They do, however, offer an extended introduction (forty-one pages) that provides a useful setting for Mercier's account. We are encouraged to see the connections between the popular piety in the daily lives of ordinary people alongside and in conjunction with the concerns and teachings of the institutional church during a period of intense Catholic reformation. A sort of skepticism was invoked by the authorities to determine the veracity of the spirit (demonic or not), but along the way, we glimpse how ordinary people like Roy understood theological teachings of purgatory and, in the demand by the spirit for pilgrimage to Marian shrines in the region, how redemption immersed itself in their own sense of salvation. Roy's religiosity comes through clearly, but, given the apparent skepticism in the gossip of townsfolk and neighbors, readers might wish for more of an interrogation of how the news of this spirit spread and might have been understood by fellow townsfolk.
This modest volume could be useful as an ancillary text in an undergraduate course on early-modern religiosity. It holds few surprises for specialists in the field, but the able introduction provides useful insights into popular piety not easily gained from printed texts. If readers grant that the story is based on Roy's projection of what spirits are and can do, then they can discern from this text popular notions of the other world—how it intrudes on this one, what spirits from it can do, what the relation between the living and the dead might be, and what role these notions can fulfill in the ever-changing schemes of salvation to which early-modern folk like Roy and her neighbors were presented with, and upon which they did so earnestly seize.