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A Popular History of France from the Earliest Time

Offered Monseigneur de Belzunce the bishopric of Laon


The

plague showed a preference for attacking robust men, young people, and women in the flower of their age; it disdained the old and the sick; there was none to care for the dying, none to bury the dead. The doctors of Marseilles had fled, or dared not approach the dying without precautions, which redoubled the terror. "The doctors ought to be abolished," wrote Dubois to the Archbishop of Aix, "or ordered to show more ability and less cowardice, for it is a great calamity."

Some young doctors, arriving from Montpellier, raised the courage of their desponding brethren, and the sick no longer perished without help. Rallying round the bishop, the priests, assisted by the members of all the religious orders, flew from bedside to bedside, and from grave to grave, without being able to suffice for the duties of their ministry. "Look at Belzunce," writes M. Lemontey; "all he possessed, he has given; all who served him are dead; alone, in poverty, afoot, in the morning he penetrates into the most horrible dens of misery, and in the evening, he is found again in the midst of places bespattered with the dying; he quenches their thirst, he comforts them as a friend, he exhorts them as an apostle, and on this field of death he gleans abandoned souls. The example of this prelate, who seems to be invulnerable, animates with courageous emulation--not the clergy of lazy and emasculated dignitaries, for they fled at the first approach of danger, but--the parish-priests,

the vicars and the religious orders; not one deserts his colors, not one puts any bound to his fatigues save with his life. Thus perished twenty- six Recollects and eighteen Jesuits out of twenty-six. The Capucins summoned their brethren from the other provinces, and the latter rushed to martyrdom with the alacrity of the ancient Christians; out of fifty- five the epidemic slew forty-three. The conduct of the priests of the Oratory was, if possible, more magnanimous. The functions of the sacred ministry were forbidden them by the bishop, a fanatical partisan of the bull Unigenitus; they refused to profit by their disqualification, and they devoted themselves to the service of the sick with heroic humility; nearly all succumbed, and there were still tears in the city for the Superior, a man of eminent piety."

[Illustration: Belzunce amid the Plague-stricken----96]

During more than five months the heroic defenders of Marseilles struggled against the scourge. The bishop drew the populace on to follow in his steps, in processions or in the churches, invoking the mercy of God in aid of a city which terror and peril seemed to have the effect of plunging into the most awful corruption. Estelle, Moustier, and Chevalier Roze, heading the efforts attempted in all directions to protect the living and render the last offices to the dead, themselves put their hands to the work, aided by galley-men who had been summoned from the hulks. Courage was enough to establish equality between all ranks and all degrees of virtue. Monseigneur de Belzunce sat upon the seat of the tumbrel laden with corpses, driven by a convict stained with every crime.

Marseilles had lost a third of its inhabitants. Aix, Toulon, Arles, the Cevennes, the Gevaudan were attacked by the contagion; fearful was the want in the decimated towns long deprived of every resource. The Regent had forwarded corn and money; the pope sent out three ships laden with provisions; one of the vessels was wrecked, the two others were seized by Barbary pirates, who released them as soon as they knew their destination. The cargo was deposited on a desert island in sight of Toulon. Thither it was that boats, putting off from Marseilles, went to fetch the alms of the pope, more charitable than many priests, accompanying his gifts with all the spiritual consolations and indulgences of his holy office. The time had not come for Marseilles and the towns of Provence to understand the terrible teaching of God. Scarcely had they escaped from the dreadful scourge which had laid them waste, when they plunged into excesses of pleasure and debauchery, as if to fly from the memories that haunted them. Scarcely was a thought given to those martyrs to devotion who had fallen during the epidemic; those who survived received no recompense; the Regent, alone, offered Monseigneur de Belzunce the bishopric of Laon, the premier ecclesiastical peerage in the kingdom; the saintly bishop preferred to remain in the midst of the flock for which he had battled against despair and death. It was only in 1802 that the city of Marseilles at last raised a monument to its bishop and its heroic magistrates.


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