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Wanted for theft: Nostradamus

Nostradamus. Whenever the name is heard, it conjures up wild discussion. Was he a prophet? A charlatan? Whatever the opinion, most have not labelled him a “thief”. Yet this newest in a long list of allegations made against Nostradamus might be the only one that comes closest to explaining the enigma of his “prophecies”.

Philip Coppens

Michel de Nostradame was born in Saint-Remy, in December 1503. The son of a notary in this small Provencal town, he would study with the likes of Scaliger, travel across Europe, settle as a doctor and become one of the most famous prophets ever – a fame he already acquired when still alive; fame that brought him into contact of the Catherine de Medici, Queen and later Regent of France.
Nostradamus is currently best known for his prophecies, titled “Centuries”. They are four-verses poems which do not particularly inspire poetic wonderment. They are largely unintelligble and hence the perfect document for creating one of the biggest mysteries of the past few centuries. Hundreds of books have been written trying to link the centuries with actual events, or events about to happen. The Nazis apparently were interested in using them as propaganda for their cause. The Second World War saw Capt. Louis de Wohl, a Hungarian born astrologer and refugee to Britain in 1935 in charge of battling section VI RSHA, a section of the Ministry of Propaganda, using astrology and fake prophecies to convince the people of Germany’s cause and success. Germany’s destiny was foretold in the stars. To counter German propaganda, de Wohl wrote astrological articles arguing against the astrological possibility of a German victory. At the same time, he adapted quatrain 3-30, substituting Hister for Celuy, thus apparently removing a reference to Hitler. As Randi observes: it was a poor attempt, for anyone could lay their hands on an original copy of the centuries and spot the fake. Finally, after September 11 2001, a fake verse circled the Internet, “illuminating” the visionary powers of Nostradamus.

A new form of allegation has now occurred, which is different from the previous ones. Sceptics have often stated that Nostradamus did not have any visionary powers. Some have stated that Nostradamus would sit alone at night in secret study, and that he used the methods of the 4th century neo-Platonist Iamblichus. In this, a bowl of water was used into which the seer gazed until the water became cloudy and pictures of the future were revealed... A reprint of Iamblichus’ book De Mysteriis Egyptorum was published at Lyons in 1547 and almost certainly read by Nostradamus... At the same time, the sceptics believe that many authors, like John Hogue, have done a rather poor job in trying to explain the verses, often opting for fire and brimstone and always trying to re-interpret them to make them fit with important events, in an attempt to impress the reader with the accuracy of Nostradamus’ prophetic powers.
“The Centuries were written between 1323 and 1328 by a Cistercian monk, whose mother tongue was Picard, the vernacular spoken in a region of Flanders between the Dendre and the Escaut. The story of this text that flowed from the pen of Yves de Lessines, Prior of the Cistercian Abbey of Cambron, in Hainaut, in the beginning of the 14th century, is more extraordinary than the most extraordinary prophecies that the disciples and translators of Nostradamus have ever been able to think up.” That is the conclusion of Rudy Cambier, a retired professor, who chanced upon the centuries and noted that the French used by Nostradamus was not 16th century French, but rather Picard from the 14th century. Why, asked Cambier, would Nostradamus write in a language that was completely strange to Nostradamus, which he had not grown up with, and for by using it he would not receive any additional benefits. Cambier felt obviously something was not right and he started his quest: reading the Centuries the way they were supposed to be.

His analysis, recently published, is a revelation: all the little enigmas of the Pyrenees apparently located near Athens disappear, as Cambier is able to interpret the bizarre words which people thought were 16th century French but actually are 14th century Picardian. The outcome? The document reveals the name of its author, Yves de Lessines, prior of a Cistercian abbey who had been entrusted with safeguarding certain documents when the Templars were about to be suppressed. De Lessines writes how before the end of the Temple, certain people within the Temple knew of its imminent demise, even though not all were convinced. Nevertheless, they prudently wanted to safeguard certain Templar possessions and moved them to Cambron, an area nicknamed “Terre des debats”, The Disputed Land, as the area was a sore point between France, Flanders and other claimants, throughout the centuries. It was a no-one’s land, where everyone lay claim to, but no-one ruled over. The idea was that after the demise of the Templars, envoys would be sent to collect the possessions. Three people were enthrusted with knowledge of the whereabouts of the cache, but all died before an envoy arrived. When de Lessines was the sole survivor, he realised an envoy was not on his way and not wanting to take the secret with him to his grave, he wrote the story down in 1000 verses – often repeating parts of the story, describing the location of the treasure and how to reach it, depending from what direction you come. And it was near Cambron that Cambier realised that there were locations named both Pyrenees and Athens – the mysteries of the Centuries had suddenly found their correct surroundings. And not only this verse, but all others suddenly made sense. But rather than prophecies, they were a poetic guide.

Cambier has thus linked an answer to the Nostradamus enigma with the big question of whether the Templars survived. So on the one hand it seems that one enigma is answered by adding another one… The survival of the Templars has been the subject of many books. The Knights Templar were originally warrior-monks defending pilgrims to the Holy Land. But they became more, including powerful bankers, and it was the loss of the Holy Land and their powerful allies and economic position that made the French king to act, calling for the arrest of all Templars in France on Friday, October 13, 1307. Originally arguing their innocence, torture made them confess; when they later retracted their confession, there was a legal loophole to condemn them – some to death, the Order into dissolution. But in October 2001, an Italian historian has discovered that there is still an existing document detailing that the Templars were indeed found innocent by papal investigators; but innocence was not enough cause for the Pope not to follow the desires of the French king.
Particularly in the 18th and 19th century, with the rise of freemasonry, Scottish and French aristocrats stated they had evidence for the secret survival of the Templars beyond 1312. They allegedly became some sort of underground esoteric resistance force. In the 20th century, this idea took on new momentum: the myth of the Priory of Sion was created, in which certain Templars were said to have continued a belief if not knowledge that there were descendants of Jesus and Mary Magdalene still living, ready to take on the throne of a United Europe. It has lead to many bogus claims by people claiming to possess secret documents that if revealed will show the true dimensions of the Templar mystery. It has also lead to the mass suicides of the Order of the Solar Temple in Switzerland, France and Canada, all of them believing they were continuing a Templar tradition and that their actions would somehow herald in a “New Age” for the Temple.

At first, it might seem that Cambier has merely added to this mythology. But instead, he has actually stated that it seems the Templar tradition did not continue. If his interpretation of the verses is correct, the Temple was not continued and the treasure remained where it was buried so long ago. When Cambier located the position detailed in the verses, superficial digs revealed that there was indeed a now filled-in chamber. When he officially informed the authorities of his intent to dig in land which was in his name, he was at first gently denied permission. He then ordered for groundscans to occur. These showed that there were indeed barrels in the underground. The scans were even able to show there was some metal in them, thus identifying what de Lessines wrote in his verses: documents (detailed as the rules, the decisions of the chapters, and writs proving the betrayal of the Pope) and also, because they are practical people, silver and gold, the whole stored in twenty-one barrels duly greased on the outside to protect their contents from water damage.
So documents which the Templars felt would be important are still in existence. They are ready to be excavated, an enterprise which will require great care to guarantee the survival of the documents once exposed to air. But the Belgian authorities try to block the enterprise, which has received massive amounts of interest from neo-Templar organisations, who obviously hope the discovery will look benign on their own efforts.

So what is the case for Cambier? A lot hinges on the fact that for some bizarre reason, Nostradamus did destroy the original manuscript of the Centuries – whereas he preserved his other manuscripts. Why did he, as he mentions himself, thrown them into the flames? For Cambier, the only logical answer is that he was destroying the evidence: he had profited from his crime, now he did away with the evidence. The absence of the manuscript has been a major issue. In 1930, an anyomous author even wrote a twelve-page essay arguing there never was an original manuscript. Others, throughout the centuries, have searched the widths of Europe in search of an original edition of Nostradamus’ prophecies, often to be disappointed. The evidence seemed to argue that Nostradamus never wrote them, and that only after his death, they created Centuries, attributing them to Nostradamus. However, more recently, the accepted theory is that Nostradamus indeed wrote what he said he wrote… or, to use Cambier’s position, that he published what de Lessines had written two centuries earlier.

Is it possible Nostradamus is a thief? Nostradamus had a tormented early life, losing his family as well as losing the support of Scaliger, a renowned scholar and his best friend. As a result, Nostradamus travelled for five years (1540-1545) across Europe. He had nothing to lose and seems to have been paranoid. In essence, this is a five-year vacuum that some have tried to fill with legends of how he apparently knelt in front of a poor Franciscan novice Felice Peretti, who many years later would become pope. It is said he sailed to Egypt or even Persia, and that he was initiated in the ancient mysteries. There is no evidence for such voyages, but it is known he did travel: he visited Lyons, Vienne, Valence, Marseille, Aix-en-Provence and Arles, where he eventually would settle down. The area of his voyages seem to have been Southern France, but it seems he also went further north.
A French author, Patrick Ferté, believes that Nostradamus stayed in Orval, where he was known as the “Solitaire d’Orval”. This prophet wrote some predictions in 1542, which included references to the “Great Monarch”, which also show up in the writings of Nostradamus. The author, Philippe-Dieu-donné-Noel, Olivarius, was, according to Ferté, as Nostradamus, a doctor, surgeon and astrologer. However, others feel that the “Solitaire d’Orval” was an invention of Napeolonic times.
Others, building on this theory, stated that Nostradamus had become exposed, in Orval, to secret teachings, linked to the mystical Priory of Sion. As such, he became a “secret agent” of the Guises and Lorraines family. “There is abundant evidence to suggest that Nostradamus was indeed a secret agent working for Francois de Guise and Charles, cardinal of Lorraine”, writes one author on the Internet. In truth, there is no evidence. Nevertheless, these people have seen the centuries not as prophecies, but as coded, cryptic messages, to inform his allies of plans to topple the regime.

Whatever the truth, it does not matter, as it is known that Nostradamus stayed in the castle of Fain, near Bar-le-Duc, one hour’s walk from Orval. Orval is close to Cambron, where according to Cambier, the Centuries were stowed away in the library. Even though there is no record of Nostradamus visiting Cambron, it is possible as the house, like all religious centres, doubled as hotel for pilgrims and travellers, of which Nostradamus was one.
Others have alleged that Nostradamus was not an opportune thief. They believe he had a mission. One of these authors, André Douzet, believes that Nostradamus hung out with a group of people that were interested in “lost knowledge” to do with the Templars and that Nostradamus’ travels around France and abroad were a reconnaissance mission. Even if true, it is clear that he seems to have missed the importance of the Centuries of Cambron, as he nor anyone else ever took an effort to retrieve the cache of documents and valuables from their hiding place.

What is known is that Nostradamus after his travels settled down. In 1547, he remarried: Anne Ponsard like Nostradamus was a young widow from Salon-de-Provence. Nostradamus, obviously having excorcised the ghosts of his past, started a new family, etching his life as a writer, specifically that of an astrologer. After the successful publications of almanacs, it is clear that Nostradamus wanted more. In short, Nostradamus saw a hole in the market, and felt the publication of the Centuries would be a success. Did he do a hurried job and write nonsensical texts on purpose? Or did he decide to publish the stolen verses of Cambron? The answer remains hidden under ground. It is known something is hidden near Cambron and only when the Belgian authorities relent, will it be discovered whether a part of the Templar treasure is indeed located there – and whether or not Nostradamus should be labelled a thief.

This article originally appeared in Frontier Magazine in 2002 (the Netherlands/Belgium) and in Hera Magazine (Italy) in 2003.