On that Easter Sunday, in the Cotentin Peninsula’s little village of Blanchelande, the church was crammed full. Aristocrats, farmers, and the bourgeoisie were all present on that sacred day.
At the appointed hour, the clergy entered in procession, followed by the children of the choir carrying their candles and the cross, the priests of neighboring churches, and finally, the village’s officiating priest, Father Jehoel of Croix-Jugan.
Aware of his reputation and the rumours surrounding him, people practically stood on the pews to be able to get a good look at him, but he was wearing a black hood that hid his face.
The ecclesiastic procession reached the altar, and Mass was about to begin. At that moment, the abbot removed his hood. He was a giant with a nightmarish face, stitched with scars, disfigured, monstrous, and yet, he was a man that radiated magnetism, a force, a superiority that didn’t fail to impress. Those present could not take their eyes off this face, this silhouette, this priest.
Mass began and took place like all other Easter Masses, although perhaps a little longer. At the end, the Abbot of Croix-Jugan knelt before the altar. At that moment, the sound of a gunshot coming from the church door rang out. The abbot, his head covered in blood, collapsed at the altar.
Panic ensued. People screamed, trying to escape, running in all directions, while the other priests tried to calm them. One of them went to the pulpit and in a stentorian voice ordered the faithful to stop running and leave the church calmly. Some semblance of order returned to the church.
The priests assisting the Abbot of Croix-Jugan carried his bloodied body into the sacristy. They hastily cleaned his vestments, the altar’s tablecloth covered in his blood.
No one saw who fired the shot; the assassin disappeared, never to be found. Not even his identity would ever be discovered. However, there was an investigation that went back, decades earlier, to the youth of the murdered abbot.
The revolution of 1789 that became known as the Terror was in full swing. In Normandy, the Chouans fought against the revolutionary “Blues”. There were atrocities on both sides. It was said that Jehoel was heavy-handed and had quite a few revolutionary deaths on his conscience. It was also said that this infamous man had had numerous affairs, for not only did he have a sensational personality, he was also surprisingly handsome.
When the Chouan army suffered yet another defeat, Abbot Jehoel of Croix-Jugan predicted that all was lost and returned from the battlefield alone, on foot, in the dark of night. He decided to kill himself; he didn’t want to survive the disaster. He shot himself in the face and collapsed, but did not die.
That was when, a few hours later, in the early morning hours, a woman found him. He was still alive. She managed to take him all the way to her home in order to treat him. She too belonged to the Chouannerie, or at least her son was fighting with the Chouans.
The “Blues” knew who had suddenly invaded her cottage. They saw the dying man, guessed he was one of their adversaries, and wanted to help him meet his fate. The woman begs them to spare him, saying that he was her son who had had an accident.
The revolutionaries wouldn’t hear it. They took embers from the chimney and placed them on the abbot’s bloodstained face, and then, while laughing and joking of their horror, they left. Against all odds, the Abbot of Croix-Jugan survived, in all probability thanks to the woman’s attentive care.
Years passed, and the revolution was long since over. Internal peace had returned to France. And the abbot found himself priest of Blanchelande.
His magnetism did not go unnoticed. Among his flock was Jeanne Le Hardouey. She came from an old aristocratic family, but she had married a nouveau-riche man who made his fortune on property confiscated from other aristocrats during the revolution.
She didn’t want to marry him under any circumstance, but she conceded to his insistence. She was unhappy. And then she met the abbot. She was instantly paralyzed, fascinated, bewitched. Soon enough, tongues would wag in the village. Jeanne would become the abbot’s mistress.
One fine morning, Jeanne’s body was found drowned in a pond. Officially, it was announced a suicide, but the villagers whispered of a crime. The husband, Hardouey, had disappeared, and the villagers affirmed it was a sure sign of guilt. He was jealous of the abbot. The abbot, on the other hand, remained impassive, as though nothing had happened, and never spoke of Jeanne.
Later came that fatal Easter Sunday when he was murdered during Mass in front of the whole village. Then the speculations multiplied. Perhaps Jeanne’s husband had returned to take revenge on the abbot.
But according to many, it was much more likely to be revenge taken by former revolutionaries. They had to endure the abbot’s harshness and cruelty during the Chouan’s war, and where they had survived, their friends and parents had decided to make the abbot pay for all he made them suffer. Which theory was true, we would never know.
Nonetheless, very quickly, a rumor began. A villager entered the church in the dead of night, despite the late hour, because he had noticed the church was still lit up through the windows, which he found strange. He saw a priest from behind saying Mass, only his neck and ornaments were covered in blood. He realized it was the ghost of the Abbot of Croix-Jugan, and ran away.
Another time, the church bells began ringing in the middle of the night. A peasant, one more courageous than most, went to the church to see who the bell ringer was. It was again the Abbot of Croix-Jugan.
The next day, a villager died. As it often happened, the abbot’s bells announced the death of a village resident. He stopped ringing the bells, but he did not stop appearing. It is said that on some nights, he continues to say the Mass that he never had the chance to finish.