Hero of the Marseilles Plague, Bishop Henri Francois-Xavier de Belsunce de Castelmoron, the Bishop of Marseilles tends the sick in the featured color photo..
“I am still, by the grace of God, on my feet among the dead and dying. Everyone at my side has been stricken, and of the many ministers of the Lord who have accompanied me, I have only one remaining. My household itself has fallen ; eleven have died and five are still ill, though out of danger…the plague has been in Marselleises for three months and still shows no sign of abating.
What horrors have I not seen or heard? For eight whole days two hundred corpses rotted around my house and under my windows. I was obliged to walk in streets flanked on both sides of half rotten, dog-chewed bodies, with so much plague-ridden debris and filth underfoot that it was impossible to know where to tread.
I was forced, with a vinegar soaked sponge over my nose and my soutane hitched up, to clamber among the corpses to seek out, and offer confession and consolation to the dying who had been thrown out of their houses on mattresses among the dead
The piles of dogs and cats that had been killed and left to rot added to the unbearable stench. An! Monseigneur, what moments of biterness and despair have I no suffered? How terrible it is to be in such a situation! From a letter of Mgr. de Belsunce, bishop of Marseilles, to the Bishop of Toulon, 1720
Case Study: Infectious Diseases at the Edward Worth Library 1720: (Fair Use Disclaimer)
“This Mortal Distemper, the Plague, wherewith this City has been thus visited, was unhappily brought among us by a Ship From Sydon (a noted Town near Tyre, in Asia, as mentioned in the New Testament) which came into our Road the 15th of June last: The Porters first employ’d in opening her cargo were immediately seized with violent Pains in the Head, reaching to vomit, and a general Faintness all over their limbs and bodies; and in 6 or 8 hours time Bubo’s and Plague sores began to rise, of which they died in three days.
Those that succeeded them were taken and died in the same manner. Upon this all the the noted Physicians and Chyrugeons were summoned together by the Magistrates, to consult the Nature of the distemper, who all agreed that it was really the plague. How , proper care was not immediately taken; instead of burning the said Ship and Goods (which ought to have been done) the goods only were removed to a desert Island, called Jarre, 2 Leagues off, where all those that went to air them died suddenly of the same distemper. Several officers belonging to the ship were admitted to come into the City, and the Sailors brought abundance of goods on shoar by stealth, by which means a considerable mortality soon began to spread in that part of theTown where they had lodged. Notwithstanding all this, proper Care and Remedies to prevent its fatal consequences, were still neglected ’till the beginning of August, by which time the number of the Infected was too great for the hospitals to contain and they began to die a thousand in a day. The infection now being spread into other parts of the City, runs from one Family to another like Wild Fire, so that 20 liked often dead at once in a House: And the worst of all is, that they cannot be buried, but lie in the Houses or Streets many days, which are full of dead bodies and beddign. 27 carts appointed to carry them out , not being sufficient.
The Magistrates have been assisted with 500 Galley slaves to clear the streets of the dead, they there are still above 3000 dead bodies that lie about the streets unburied, which cause an untolerable stench. And it is computed that in all about 80,000 are dead of the Plague, 2 Thirds of which are observed to be women, most of them with Child, whose died of the Infection after Miscarriages or Lying in, purely for want of help. In short, the Calamity is so bad, that the poor can hardly even get Water, because no on will go near them. The rich and able are gone into the Country with all manner of Provisions, and there is no a Church or Shop left open. So that we, we were but 4 Months ago in flourishing a condition, are now overwhelm’d with Misery.
The Consecration of Marseile to the Sacred Heart of Jesus
It was decided by Bishop Belsunce that Marseille would be consecated to the Sacred Heart. King Louis XV was now reigning and the national consecration had not been made. He wanted a celebration on the Feast of the Sacred Heart in June 1721, and sent a letter to all the dioceses. Men and Women worked to make a beautiful outside altar for the monstrance to rest on which would be holding the Holy Eucharist. It was built at a spot where Marseille meets the sea. When finished, it was wrapped in expensive fabric and covered with beautiful flowers.
Jean Pierre Moustier, the Chief Executive of Marseilles accepted the logic of Bishop Belsunce and agreed to read the consecration.
In the following month, the officers of the town dressed in their official red robes and began the procession to Notre Dame of Marseilles where Belsunce met them and they all went down on their knees before the altar. The Church bell rang as a signal to begin and all the citizens of Marseilles joined in a prayer of consecration to the Sacred Heart of Jesus.
“AS Belsunce raised the gleaming monstrance containing the Eucharist, the air of Marseille was filled with prayer and the tumult of the guns and cannons as if to drive out the plague.
By September, the remaining cases of the plague had passed
Drawn from the excellent book by Raymond Jonas: France and the cult of the Sacred Heart (available from Amazon)