Around the year 585, a curious woman was making a name for herself through interesting means. One part psychic, and the other part private detective, this woman (whose name has unfortunately been lost to history) was reportedly able to solve crimes and locate criminals with little difficulty. As she charged a fee for her services, or at least expected a reward for her skills, she became quite wealthy from her impeccable sleuthing. Yet, her accomplishments, reputation and riches drew suspicion and jealously among the men who held power in her home region. Such men accused her of using divination, witchcraft or other supernatural or diabolical talents to achieve her craft.
On the other side of France, the exploits of this crime-fighting woman reached the ear of Bishop Gregory of Tours (c. 539-594), who was a historian as well as a clergyman. He wrote down the story of the anonymous psychic, and commented on the effect that her skills had on the population:
“If anyone had been the victim of a robbery or any other disaster, she would immediately announce where the thief had fled, to whom he had handed over his ill-gotten gains, or what else he had done with them. Every day she acquired more and more gold and silver, and she would walk about so loaded with jewellery that she was looked upon by the common people as a sort of goddess” (Gregory of Tours, History of the Franks, VII.44).
Whereas Bishop Gregory of Tours was content to read and write about the woman’s deeds, his clerical comrade in Verdun, Bishop Ageric, felt more threatened by the crime-fighting prophetess and decided to launch an investigation. Ageric ultimately had the woman arrested and during the course of his interrogations, the bishop became convinced that the psychic was possessed by a demon. He even tried to perform an exorcism to prove his theory. Yet, as Bishop Gregory of Tours was informed, “Ageric was not successful in freeing the woman of this devil, and she was allowed to depart” (History of the Franks, VII.44).
Despite winning her battle of wits against Bishop Ageric, the psychic woman no longer felt at home in the bishopric of Verdun. Not wanting to put up with any further harassment from the local clergy, the prophetess decided to pack up her bags and relocate. As the story goes, she found a place for herself in the entourage of Queen Dowager Fredegund, mother of King Chlotar II (r. 584-629).
Written by C. Keith Hansley
- The History of the Franks by Gregory of Tours, translated by Lewis Thorpe. New York: Penguin Classics, 1971.