Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

GILLES DE RAIS

Summoning the Devil

Gilles wasnt solely interested in alchemy to restore his wealth, he wanted power as well. Harnessing a demon to do his bidding would make him the most powerful man in France, he was told. But how? He sent his priest Blanchet in search of a man who had control over the netherworld. Blanchet found such a man in Italy, a Frenchman named Francois Prelati. Spinning stories of the fabulous lifestyle that de Rais could provide, Blanchet convinced Prelati to accompany him to the estate of Gilles de Rais.

Prelati was a handsome, 22-year-old conjurer and charlatan who exuded confidence and charm. He was intelligent and clever, fluent in Latin, Italian and French, and Gilles was taken with him at once. The way the 33-year-old Gilles reacted to Prelati is like a young man in love. He could not see that Prelati was playing him for a fool and taking advantage of Gilles hospitality.

Prelati and Blanchet arrived at Tiffauges sometime around the middle of May, 1439, but it is not until the eve of the vernal equinox, Midsummers Night Eve, a time when spirits and mystical forces are particularly active, that Prelati and Gilles get down to the business of summoning a demon. Throughout Europe peasants often celebrated this night by lighting fires in streets and marketplaces. Although the fires were often blessed by priests, the celebration was generally conducted by the laity. Midsummer eve celebrations were a continuance of the Teutonic pagan festivals and fertility rites associated with agriculture at the time of the summer solstice.

This would not be the first time that de Rais attempted to summon the devil for his own purposes, but it would represent the first time he played an active role in the ceremony. In the 15th century, when so many natural events were not understood the way they are in modern times, God played a much more active and visible role in the everyday lives of citizens through rapid changes in the weather, untimely deaths or mysterious coincidences, for example. So it was not unusual that a man who proved his bravery in battle as did Gilles would act like a frightened child at the idea of beckoning a demon. It is unfair to judge Gilles de Rais a coward because he trembled as Prelati prepared his hokum incantations.

Shortly before midnight, Gilles, Prelati, Poitou, Henriet, Blanchet and Gilles de Sille went into the lower hall of the chateau at Tiffauges. There, amid the tapestries, coats of arms and artifacts of war, Prelati drew a large circle on the floor and began tracing crosses, mysterious symbols and signs within it. Gilles de Rais carried with him a large book, leather-bound with a great metal lock. Inside the pages were written in red ink or was it blood? There was a rumor swirling around the village that Lord de Rais was kidnapping children, murdering them and using the blood to write a book of spells and incantations that was filled with the names of many demons under his control (if only! Gilles must have thought).

Ever the showman, Prelati warned his audience that under no circumstances were they to make the Sign of the Cross, no matter how frightened they became. He ordered the four windows of the great hall opened. Then, with the candles burning and the room prepared, the lord of the manor ordered his servants to leave him and Prelati alone. This dismissal must have come as a relief to de Sille, who was terrified of the supernatural and had once jumped out a window of Champtoce when a magician managed to convince the two cousins that a demon was present in the room. The servants waited in Gilles de Rais bedchamber as Prelati went to work.

In addition to the childs blood book, Gilles held in his hand a note he planned to give to Satan when the Dark One appeared. In it, he promised to give Lucifer anything he desired, except his soul and his life, if the Devil would only grant him fabulous wealth. Sometimes kneeling, other times standing, Prelati lead Gilles de Rais through a farcical ceremony to summon the demon Prelati calls Barron. For two hours they pleaded and cajoled Barron to appear, but the demon did not.

Up in Gilles bedroom, the others waited nervously. Once they claimed to have heard the sound of hooves on the roof of the chateau, but shortly after two in the morning, Prelati and de Rais joined the others, disappointed that Barron had snubbed them. The pair said nothing of any hoofed creatures appearing. Fortunately for Prelati, a weather front did appear during the ceremony, bringing with it a significant change in the wind as well as rain and thunder. The sign only served to confirm Gilles confidence in the young man.

Perhaps he was bluffing, as it is unlikely that de Rais had confided in Prelati his perverse sexual habit, but Prelati unfortunately told de Rais that Barron wants a sacrifice of a childs heart, eyes and sex organs. Soon after, Gilles de Rais fulfilled Prelatis gruesome demand. The sacrifice came after Prelati managed to make Barron appear of course, the magician was alone at the time only to have the demon beat him mercilessly. Locked out of the room, de Rais and his cohorts could only listen in horror as Prelati was roughed up. Blanchet, who was clearly a non-believer in sorcery, compared the sound to that of someone hitting a feather bed.

Another time, Prelati, alone again, conjured up a mighty serpent. Terrified, he ran from the room into the waiting arms of Gilles de Rais who also became afraid and fled to his chapel where he grabbed a crucifix that contained a sliver of the True Cross. Returning to the site of the serpents appearance, he was both disappointed and relieved to find it had returned to the netherworld.

The shenanigans went on for more than a year, and ended only when Gilles de Rais was arrested.

 

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