The Knights Templar are recognized by the Pope

On this day in 1128, Pope Honorius II grants a papal sanction to the military order known as the Knights Templar, declaring it to be an army of God.

Led by the Frenchman Hughes de Payens, the Knights Templar organization was founded in 1118. Its self-imposed mission was to protect Christian pilgrims on their way to the Holy Land during the Crusades, the series of military expeditions aimed at defeating Muslims in Palestine. The Templars took their name from the location of their headquarters, at Jerusalem's Temple Mount. For a while, the Templars had only nine members, mostly due to their rigid rules. In addition to having noble birth, the knights were required to take strict vows of poverty, obedience and chastity. In 1127, new promotional efforts convinced many more noblemen to join the order, gradually increasing its size and influence.

A humble beginning. Immediately after the deliverance of Jerusalem, the Crusaders, considering their vow fulfilled, returned in a body to their homes. The defense of this precarious conquest, surrounded as it was by Mohammedan neighbours, remained. In 1118, during the reign of Baldwin II, Hugues de Payens, a knight of Champagne, and eight companions bound themselves by a perpetual vow, taken in the presence of the Patriarch of Jerusalem, to defend the Christian kingdom. Baldwin accepted their services and assigned them a portion of his palace, adjoining the temple of the city; hence their title "pauvres chevaliers du temple" (Poor Knights of the Temple). Poor indeed they were, being reduced to living on alms, and, so long as they were only nine, they were hardly prepared to render important services, unless it were as escorts to the pilgrims on their way from Jerusalem to the banks of the Jordan, then frequented as a place of devotion.

The Templars had as yet neither distinctive habit nor rule. Hugues de Payens journeyed to the West to seek the approbation of the Church and to obtain recruits. At the Council of Troyes (1128), at which he assisted and at which St. Bernard was the leading spirit, the Knights Templars adopted the Rule of St. Benedict, as recently reformed by the Cistercians. They accepted not only the three perpetual vows, besides the crusader's vow, but also the austere rules concerning the chapel, the refectory, and the dormitory. They also adopted the white habit of the Cistercians, adding to it a red cross.

Notwithstanding the austerity of the monastic rule, recruits flocked to the new order, which thenceforth comprised four ranks of brethren:

1. The knights, equipped like the heavy cavalry of the Middle Ages;
2. The serjeants, who formed the light cavalry;

and two ranks of non-fighting men:

3. The farmers, entrusted with the administration of temporals;
4. The chaplains, who alone were vested with sacerdotal orders, to minister to the spiritual needs of the order.

The order owed its rapid growth in popularity to the fact that it combined the two great passions of the Middle Ages, religious fervour and martial prowess. Even before the Templars had proved their worth, the ecclesiastical and lay authorities heaped on them favours of every kind, spiritual and temporal. The popes took them under their immediate protection, exempting them from all other jurisdiction, episcopal or secular. Their property was assimilated to the church estates and exempted from all taxation, even from the ecclesiastical tithes, while their churches and cemeteries could not be placed under interdict. This soon brought about conflict with the clergy of the Holy Land, inasmuch as the increase of the landed property of the order led, owing to its exemption from tithes, to the diminution of the revenue of the churches, and the interdicts, at that time used and abused by the episcopate, became to a certain extent inoperative wherever the order had churches and chapels in which Divine worship was regularly held. As early as 1156 the clergy of the Holy Land tried to restrain the exorbitant privileges of the military orders, but in Rome every objection was set aside, the result being a growing antipathy on the part of the secular clergy against these orders. The temporal benefits which the order received from all the sovereigns of Europe were no less important. The Templars had commanderies in every state. In France they formed no less than eleven bailiwicks, subdivided into more than forty-two commanderies; in Palestine it was for the most part with sword in hand that the Templars extended their possessions at the expense of the Mohammedans. Their castles are still famous owing to the remarkable ruins which remain: Safèd, built in 1140; Karak of the desert (1143); and, most importantly of all, Castle Pilgrim, built in 1217 to command a strategic defile on the sea-coast.

In these castles, which were both monasteries and cavalry-barracks, the life of the Templars was full of contrasts. A contemporary describes the Templars as "in turn lions of war and lambs at the hearth; rough knights on the battlefield, pious monks in the chapel; formidable to the enemies of Christ, gentleness itself towards His friends." (Jacques de Vitry). Having renounced all the pleasures of life, they faced death with a proud indifference; they were the first to attack, the last to retreat, always docile to the voice of their leader, the discipline of the monk being added to the discipline of the soldier. As an army they were never very numerous. A contemporary tells us that there were 400 knights in Jerusalem at the zenith of their prosperity; he does not give the number of serjeants, who were more numerous. But it was a picked body of men who, by their noble example, inspirited the remainder of the Christian forces. They were thus the terror of the Mohammedans. Were they defeated, it was upon them that the victor vented his fury, the more so as they were forbidden to offer a ransom. When taken prisoners, they scornfully refused the freedom offered them on condition of apostasy. At the siege of Safed (1264), at which ninety Templars met death, eighty others were taken prisoners, and, refusing to deny Christ, died martyrs to the Faith. This fidelity cost them dear. It has been computed that in less than two centuries almost 20,000 Templars, knights and serjeants, perished in war.

These frequent hecatombs rendered it difficult for the order to increase in numbers and also brought about a decadence of the true crusading spirit. As the order was compelled to make immediate use of the recruits, the article of the original rule in Latin which required a probationary period fell into desuetude. Even excommunicated men, who, as was the case with many crusaders, wished to expiate their sins, were admitted. All that was required of a new member was a blind obedience, as imperative in the soldier as in the monk. He had to declare himself forever "serf et esclave de la maison" (French text of the rule). To prove his sincerity, he was subjected to a secret test concerning the nature of which nothing has ever been discovered, although it gave rise to the most extraordinary accusations. The great wealth of the order may also have contributed to a certain laxity in morals, but the most serious charge against it was its insupportable pride and love of power. At the apogee of its prosperity, it was said to possess 9000 estates. With its accumulated revenues it had amassed great wealth, which was deposited in its temples at Paris and London. Numerous princes and private individuals had banked there their personal property, because of the uprightness and solid credit of such bankers. In Paris the royal treasure was kept in the Temple. Quite independent, except from the distant authority of the pope, and possessing power equal to that of the leading temporal sovereigns, the order soon assumed the right to direct the weak and irresolute government of the Kingdom of Jerusalem, a feudal kingdom transmissible through women and exposed to all the disadvantages of minorities, regencies, and domestic discord. However, the Templars were soon opposed by the Order of Hospitallers, which had in its turn become military, and was at first the imitator and later the rival of the Templars. This ill-timed interference of the orders in the government of Jerusalem only multiplied the intestine dessentions, and this at a time when the formidable power of Saladin threatened the very existence of the Latin Kingdom. While the Templars sacrificed themselves with their customary bravery in this final struggle, they were, nevertheless, partly responsible for the downfall of Jerusalem.

To put an end to this baneful rivalry between the military orders, there was a very simple remedy at hand, namely their amalgamation. This was officially proposed by St. Louis at the Council of Lyons (1274). It was proposed anew in 1293 by Pope Nicholas IV, who called a general consultation on this point of the Christian states. This idea is canvassed by all the publicists of that time, who demand either a fusion of the existing orders or the creation of a third order to supplant them. Never in fact had the question of the crusaders been more eagerly taken up than after their failure. As the grandson of St. Louis, Philip the Fair could not remain indifferent to these proposals for a crusade. As the most powerful prince of his time, the direction of the movement belonged to him. To assume this direction, all he demanded was the necessary supplies of men and especially of money. Such is the genesis of his campaign for the suppression of the Templars. It has been attributed wholly to his well-known cupidity. Even on this supposition he needed a pretext, for he could not, without sacrilege, lay hands on possessions that formed part of the ecclesiastical domain. To justify such a course the sanction of the Church was necessary, and this the king could obtain only by maintaining the sacred purpose for which the possessions were destined. Admitting that he was sufficiently powerful to encroach upon the property of the Templars in France, he still needed the concurrence of the Church to secure control of their possessions in the other countries of Christendom. Such was the purpose of the wily negotiations of this self-willed and cunning sovereign, and of his still more treacherous counsellors, with Clement V, a French pope of weak character and easily deceived. The rumour that there had been a prearrangement between the king and the pope has been finally disposed of. A doubtful revelation, which allowed Philip to make the prosecution of the Templars as heretics a question of orthodoxy, afforded him the opportunity which he desired to invoke the action of the Holy See.

Their tragic end

In the trial of the Templars two phases must be distinguished: the royal commission and the papal commission.

The Royal Commission. Philip the Fair made a preliminary inquiry, and, on the strength of so-called revelations of a few unworthy and degraded members, secret orders were sent throughout France to arrest all the Templars on the same day (13 October, 1307), and to submit them to a most rigorous examination. The king did this, it was made to appear, at the request of the ecclesiastical inquisitors, but in reality without their co-operation.

In this inquiry torture, the use of which was authorized by the cruel procedure of the age in the case of crimes committed without witnesses, was pitilessly employed. Owing to the lack of evidence, the accused could be convicted only through their own confession and, to extort this confession, the use of torture was considered necessary and legitimate.

There was one feature in the organization of the order which gave rise to suspicion, namely the secrecy with which the rites of initiation were conducted. The secrecy is explained by the fact that the receptions always took place in a chapter, and the chapters, owing to the delicate and grave questions discussed, were, and necessarily had to be, held in secret. An indiscretion in the matter of secrecy entailed exclusion from the order. The secrecy of these initiations, however, had two grave disadvantages.

As these receptions could take place wherever there was a commandery, they were carried on without publicity and were free from all surveillance or control from the higher authorities, the tests being entrusted to the discretion of subalterns who were often rough and uncultivated. Under such conditions, it is not to be wondered at that abuses crept in. One need only recall what took place almost daily at the time in the brotherhoods of artisans, the initiation of a new member being too often made the occasion for a parody more or less sacrilegious of baptism or of the Mass.

The second disadvantage of this secrecy was, that it gave an opportunity to the enemies of the Templars, and they were numerous, to infer from this mystery every conceivable malicious supposition and base on it the monstrous imputations. The Templars were accused of spitting upon the Cross, of denying Christ, of permitting sodomy, of worshipping an idol, all in the most impenetrable secrecy. Such were the Middle Ages, when prejudice was so vehement that, to destroy an adversary, men did not recoil from inventing the most criminal charges. It will suffice to recall the similar, but even more ridiculous than ignominious accusations brought against Pope Boniface VIII by the same Philip the Fair.

Most of the accused declared themselves guilty of these secret crimes after being subjected to such ferocious torture that many of them succumbed. Some made similar confessions without the use of torture, it is true, but through fear of it; the threat had been sufficient. Such was the case with the grand master himself, Jacques de Molay, who acknowledged later that he had lied to save his life.

Carried on without the authorization of the pope, who had the military orders under his immediate jurisdiction, this investigation was radically corrupt both as to its intent and as to its procedure. Not only did Clement V enter an energetic protest, but he annulled the entire trial and suspended the powers of the bishops and their inquisitors. However, the offense had been admitted and remained the irrevocable basis of the entire subsequent proceedings. Philip the Fair took advantage of the discovery to have bestowed upon himself by the University of Paris the title of Champion and Defender of the Faith, and also to stir up public opinion at the States General of Tours against the heinous crimes of the Templars. Moreover, he succeeded in having the confessions of the accused confirmed in presence of the pope by seventy-two Templars, who had been specially chosen and coached beforehand. In view of this investigation at Poitiers (June, 1308), the pope, until then sceptical, at last became concerned and opened a new commission, the procedure of which he himself directed. He reserved the cause of the order to the papal commission, leaving individuals to be tried by the diocesan commissions to whom he restored their powers.

The second phase of the process was the papal commission, which was not restricted to France, but extended to all the Christian countries of Europe, and even to the Orient. In most of the other countries — Portugal, Spain, Germany, Cyprus — the Templars were found innocent; in Italy, except for a few districts, the decision was the same. But in France the episcopal inquisitions, resuming their activities, took the facts as established at the trial, and confined themselves to reconciling the repentant guilty members, imposing various canonical penances extending even to perpetual imprisonment. Only those who persisted in heresy were to be turned over to the secular arm, but, by a rigid interpretation of this provision, those who had withdrawn their former confessions were considered relapsed heretics; thus fifty-four Templars who had recanted after having confessed were condemned as relapsed and publicly burned on 12 May, 1310. Subsequently all the other Templars, who had been examined at the trial, with very few exceptions declared themselves guilty.

At the same time the papal commission, appointed to examine the cause of the order, had entered upon its duties and gathered together the documents which were to be submitted to the pope, and to the general council called to decide as to the final fate of the order. The culpability of single persons, which was looked upon as established, did not involve the guilt of the order. Although the defense of the order was poorly conducted, it could not be proved that the order as a body professed any heretical doctrine, or that a secret rule, distinct from the official rule, was practised. Consequently, at the General Council of Vienne in Dauphiné on 16 October, 1311, the majority were favourable to the maintenance of the order.

The pope, irresolute and harrassed, finally adopted a middle course: he decreed the dissolution, not the condemnation of the order, and not by penal sentence, but by an Apostolic Decree (Bull of 22 March, 1312). The order having been suppressed, the pope himself was to decide as to the fate of its members and the disposal of its possessions. As to the property, it was turned over to the rival Order of Hospitallers to be applied to its original use, namely the defence of the Holy Places. In Portugal, however, and in Aragon the possessions were vested in two new orders, the Order of Christ in Portugal and the Order of Montesa in Aragon. As to the members, the Templars recognized guiltless were allowed either to join another military order or to return to the secular state. In the latter case, a pension for life, charged to the possessions of the order, was granted them. On the other hand, the Templars who had pleaded guilty before their bishops were to be treated "according to the rigours of justice, tempered by a generous mercy".

The pope reserved to his own judgment the cause of the grand master and his three first dignitaries. They had confessed their guilt; it remained to reconcile them with the Church, after they had testified to their repentance with the customary solemnity. To give this solemnity more publicity, a platform was erected in front of the Notre-Dame for the reading of the sentence. But at the supreme moment the grand master recovered his courage and proclaimed the innocence of the Templars and the falsity of his own alleged confessions. To atone for this deplorable moment of weakness, he declared himself ready to sacrifice his life. He knew the fate that awaited him. Immediately after this unexpected coup-de-théâtre he was arrested as a relapsed heretic with another dignitary who chose to share his fate, and by order of Philip they were burned at the stake before the gates of the palace. This brave death deeply impressed the people, and, as it happened that the pope and the king died shortly afterwards, the legend spread that the grand master in the midst of the flames had summoned them both to appear in the course of the year before the tribunal of God.

Such was the tragic end of the Templars. If we consider that the Order of Hospitallers finally inherited, although not without difficulties, the property of the Templars and received many of its members, we may say that the result of the trial was practically equivalent to the long-proposed amalgamation of the two rival orders. For the Knights (first of Rhodes, afterwards of Malta) took up and carried on elsewhere the work of the Knights of the Temple.

This formidable trial, the greatest ever brought to light whether we consider the large number of accused, the difficulty of discovering the truth from a mass of suspicious and contradictory evidence, or the many jurisdictions in activity simultaneously in all parts of Christendom from Great Britain to Cyprus, is not yet ended. It is still passionately discussed by historians who have divided into two camps, for and against

While the individual knights were not allowed to own property, there was no such restriction on the organization as a whole, and over the years many rich Christians gave gifts of land and other valuables to support the Knights Templar. By the time the Crusades ended unsuccessfully in the early 14th century, the order had grown extremely wealthy, provoking the jealousy of both religious and secular powers. In 1307, King Philip IV of France and Pope Clement V combined to take down the Knights Templar, arresting the grand master, Jacques de Molay, on charges of heresy, sacrilege and Satanism. Under torture, Molay and other leading Templars confessed and were eventually burned at the stake. Clement dissolved the Templars in 1312, assigning their property and monetary assets to a rival order, the Knights Hospitalers. In fact, though, Philip and his English counterpart, King Edward II, claimed most of the wealth after banning the organization from their respective countries.

Today there are many claims made about the templars: That many fled France and went to Switzerland and founded the famous Swiss banking system, that they buried large amouts of gold they found in the Holy Land, that they are the forerunners of the Freemasons*. These claims are made more and palatable by movies such as the Di Vinci Code, National Treasure, and by the History Channel's so called investigative programmes. For a nation who lives by sound bites and whose attention span is only two hours these all make sense. The truth however it is probably no more than what is written above.


Find the Primative Rule here:

* The youth organization of Freemasonry is called DeMolay.


For I was hungry...

For I was hungry, and you gave me to eat; I was thirsty, and you gave me to drink; I was a stranger, and you took me in: Naked, and you covered me: sick, and you visited me: I was in prison, and you came to me. Then shall the just answer him, saying: Lord, when did we see thee hungry, and fed thee; thirsty, and gave thee drink? And when did we see thee a stranger, and took thee in? or naked, and covered thee? Or when did we see thee sick or in prison, and came to thee? And the king answering, shall say to them: Amen I say to you, as long as you did it to one of these my least brethren, you did it to me.

There is a problem when in a world as rich in reasources as ours there is starvation.


Le juif Alphons Ratisbonne/Vaincru Par Notre Dame

Qui ne connaît le récit de l’extraordinaire conversion d’Alphonse Ratisbonne, obtenue par l’intercession des prières de l’archiconfrérie de Notre-Dame des Victoires ? (...)

Issu d’une famille israélite très aisée, de Strasbourg, Alphonse Ratisbonne, encore tout jeune, fut bouleversé par la conversion de son frère Théodore et par son entrée dans les Ordres ; il l’avouera : « Cette conduite me révolta, et je pris en haine son habit et son caractère. » (...)

Alphonse suivit de brillantes études de Droit à Paris où il menait une vie mondaine de jouissance et de fête.

« J’étais juif de nom, voilà tout ; car je ne croyais pas même en Dieu. Je n’ouvris jamais un livre de religion et dans la maison de mon oncle, pas plus que chez mes frères et sœurs, on ne pratiquait la moindre prescription du judaïsme. »

Il était fiancé à une nièce âgée de seize ans mais, avant son mariage, il se rendit en Italie pour un voyage d’agrément. C’était à la fin de l’année 1841. Il faut lire toutes les péripéties et les rencontres ménagées par la Bonne Providence pour conduire le jeune impie aux genoux de Marie. Encore...

Le vrai ecuminism est la conversion...


The Miraculous Conversion of Alphonse Ratisbonne

In November 1830, the Blessed Virgin Mary appeared to a young novice in the convent of the Sisters of Charity at Rue du Bac, Paris. The novice's name was Catherine Laboure'.

This was not the first time she had seen Our Lady, but it was the most significant. Our Lady appeared holding a globe, which she lifted while gazing prayerfully heavenward (signifying that she is praying for the entire world). Then the globe disappeared, and the vision changed. Our Lady extended both hands, from which rays of light streamed. Around her formed an arch with the words: "O Marie concue sans peche, priez pour nous qui avons recours a vous" -- O Mary, conceived without sin, pray for us who have recourse to you."

Our Lady asked that a medal be struck showing this vision. On the back of the medal, she asked for the depiction of two hearts (her own and that of Christ), with a cross surmounting the letter M. She promised that God would grant great graces through this medal to Christians who would wear it prayerfully.

With great difficulty, Sister Laboure' convinced her confessor to arrange for the striking of the medal. It was finally approved, struck, and circulated.

Originally known as the Medal of the Immaculate Conception, it quickly became known as the Miraculous Medal, because so many miracles of healing and conversion attended those who wore it. Nonetheless, although the Pope himself possessed a Miraculous Medal, it was initially most popular in France; it did not become firmly established at Rome and worldwide until after the miraculous conversion of Alphonse Ratisbonne....

Rue de Bac, Paris, where the Miraculous Medal was first revealed to St. Catherine Laboure

In January 6, 1842. Alphonse, a young Jewish banker, just arrived in Rome. The son of Strasbourg's most important Jewish family, he is a man of the world: wealthy, refined, sophisticated, agnostic (a former atheist)...a friend of the Rothschilds, entirely at ease in the salons of the nobility. At 28, he is engaged to his own niece, Flore Ratisbonne, whom he plans to marry the following August. Right now, he is touring Europe and the East, partly for pleasure and partly for his health -- one last fling before settling down with Flore and assuming a partnership at his uncle's bank.

Alphonse hasn't intended to visit Rome. He is fiercely anti-Catholic: As he himself puts it, the very name of the Jesuits provokes him to fury. He has always harbored this antipathy to Catholicism, but it has intensified exponentially since his elder brother, Theodor, became a convert and subsequently a priest.

Therefore, the very last place in the world Alphonse wants to visit is Rome. But somehow he has ended up here. At Naples, he'd somehow stumbled into the wrong ticket line...and in a fit of pique, even after he realized what was up, he remained there and booked his passage on the steamer to Rome. So here he is, making the best of it, avidly touring Roman ruins and museums in the company of a paid guide.

Suddenly he hears his name called and wheels around. It is his old classmate from Strasbourg, Gustave de Bussieres, a Protestant. (Alphonse doesn't mind Protestant chums; it's just Catholics he objects to. )

The two eagerly rekindle their friendship. Later, when Alphonse calls on Gustave, he encounters the latter's older brother, the Baron Theodor de Bussieres, a convert to Catholicism and a close friend of Alphonse's priest-brother. Alphonse feels instinctive abhorrence toward this zealous Catholic convert, but he knows the baron is an expert on Constantinople (which Alphonse plans to visit) so he rashly agrees to call upon him for travel advice.

This hasty promise proves to be Alphonse blessing in disguise.

Within the next day or two, Alphonse visits the Church of the Aracoeli, where the "chants solennels" stir him deeply; he is so moved he weeps, although he can't put his finger on what it is that has touched him. Directly afterward, though, he visits Rome's notorious Jewish ghetto, where the palpable misery of his people renews his fury against everything Catholic.

From there, he goes to pay his call on the Baron de Bussieres. He did not intend to actually visit however. Rather, he will merely leave his card and depart. But the baron's doorman mistakes Alphonse's intention and bustles him into the drawing room, where the baron, his wife, and his young daughters are en famille.

At first, the baron and Alphonse merely exchange meaningless pleasantries. Then Alphonse happens to mention his visit to the Aracoeli; he recounts the strange emotion he felt, the vague religious awakening....

Suddenly he notices the baron's eager expression, which seems to say: "You will be a Catholic someday!" Repelled by the baron's zeal, Alphonse describes his visit to the Jewish ghetto. He launches into a vicious attack on the Catholic Church, which he holds responsible for all the misery endured by Jews since the time of Christ.

Unfazed, the baron responds by extolling the glories of Catholicism. Alphonse replies sarcastically, openly ridiculing Catholic "superstition." Only the presence of Mme. de Bussieres and the children keeps him from outright blasphemy.

Finally, the baron makes an extraordinary proposition.

"Since you abhor superstition and espouse such liberal views," he asks, "would you consider submitting to a simple test?"

"What test?"

"To wear something I'm going to give you. It's a medal of the Holy Virgin. It appears quite ridiculous to you, no doubt. But as for me, I attach great importance to it." And he shows Alphonse the Miraculous Medal attached to a cord.

Alphonse is dumbstruck. He can scarcely believe the baron's impertinence. But as a man of the world, he doesn't want to seem to be making too much of a trifle. So he consents, breezily quoting a line from The Tales of Hoffman: "If it does me no good, at least it will do me no harm."

The baron's little daughter puts the medal around Alphonse's neck. And Alphonse breaks into laughter: "Ah! Ah! Me voila catholique, apostolique et romain!"

But the baron presses further. Merely to wear the Medal isn't enough, he says. Alphonse must also agree to pray a simple prayer, the Memorare of St. Bernard.

This is too much. "Laissons ces sottises!" exclaims Alphonse -- "Let's stop this foolishness!" For the mention of St. Bernard has reminded him of his brother, Abbe' Theodor Ratisbonne, author of a biography of the Cistercian saint. Anything that reminds Alphonse of his traitor-brother arouses his rage.

However, the baron persists. If Alphonse refuses to pray this short prayer, he insists, he'll thereby render the whole "test" null and void. So, Alphonse consents. At the Baron's behest, he even agrees to copy out the Memorare. Then he pockets it and leaves, greatly amused at the entire absurd episode.

But later that night, when he mechanically copies the prayer, something happens. He can't get the words of the Memorare out of his mind. They haunt him, he recounts later, like an annoying tune one can't dislodge from one's head. Over and over again, with mounting irritation, he murmurs this obtrusive prayer of St. Bernard.

Several times, during the following days, the baron takes Alphonse sightseeing. Always, no matter what monument they're visiting, the baron manages to work the conversation around to the subject of religion. This annoys Alphonse, but he's unflappable. Often, he lightly deflects the Baron's proselytism with raillery bordering on blasphemy.

At one point the baron assures Alphonse, "I'm convinced you'll one day become a Christian...even if the Lord has to send an angel from Heaven to bring it about."

"A la bonne heure," Alphonse responds drily, "car autrement la chose serait difficile." (The delicate French sarcasm of these words is truly untranslatable, but here's the gist: "The sooner the better, for otherwise the matter would be rather difficult." [Imagine the lip very slightly curled in a sneer...])

On the same occasion, as the carriage passes the Scala Sancta, the baron suddenly removes his hat and exclaims, "Hail, holy steps! Here is a future penitent who will one day ascend you on his knees!"

This staggers Alphonse. He cannot believe his companion is saluting "a bunch of stupid steps." A few minutes later, as they pass through the delicious gardens of a local villa, Alphonse doffs his own hat and parodies the baron: "Hail, true glories of nature! It is to you we should pay homage and not to a stupid staircase!"

In fact, the baron's relentless proselytism is starting to get on Alphonse's nerves. Far from drawing him toward Catholicism, it is repelling him further. Yet the baron, undaunted, persists.

But the baron is not relying on argument alone. He's also praying very hard. And so are his friends, his fellow members of Rome's tight-knit community of aristocratic French expatriates. Notable among these friends is the Comte de la Ferronays, ex-diplomat, once a notorious roue' and now a devout, fervent Catholic.

Moved by the baron's pleas, the Comte drops into a church and fervently prays "more than 20 Memorares" for the conversion of the "young Jew."

That very same evening, the Comte suffers a fatal heart attack. After receiving his final Sacraments, he dies devoutly, surrounded by his loving family.

Now the stage is set for the conversion of Ratisbonne.

It is the night of January 19-20. Alphonse plans to leave Rome the following day. In the middle of the night, he is abruptly awakened. At the foot of his bed, he sees a large Cross (not crucifix), quite distinct, "sans Christ." He tries to shake the unwelcome sight, but he can't. No matter where he looks, there it is. Even when he closes his eys, he sees it. At last, exhausted, he falls asleep. When he awakens in the morning, he has forgotten his night-vision.

Alphonse packs, breakfasts, and goes out to pay his farewell calls. He runs into his pal Gustave, and the two discuss an upcoming religious ceremony, the papal Blessing of Animals at St. Peter's. They're both greatly amused by the whole notion of such a ceremony, so they take this opportunity to mock and deride Catholicism. "There followed a volley of jests and witticisms," Alphonse later reports, "such as you'd imagine between a Jew and a Protestant."

After leaving Gustave, Alphonse stops at the Cafe Greco to read the newspapers. He runs into a few more expatriate friends, and they chat of frivolous things such as the brilliant ball given the previous evening. Then Alphonse exits into the brilliant Roman sunshine. It is just after noon.

Within moments, he encounters the carriage of the Baron de Bussieres. The baron invites him inside for one final sightseeing tour. But first, de Bussieres explains, he must stop at the Church of San Andrea delle Fratte for a quick errand. A dear friend of his, the Comte de la Ferronays, has just died, he says, and he must finalize the funeral arrangements.

They stop at the church. De Bussieres says he'll be only a few minutes, so Alphonse should wait in the carriage with Mme. de Bussieres, but Alphonse decides instead to come inside to see the church interior.

There's not much to see. The church is "poor, bare, and ugly," devoid of distinctive art or architecture. Alphonse looks around mechanically as de Bussieres hurries away to consult with the friars.

Alphonse is alone. Suddenly a large black dog bounds menacingly in front of him. But then, in the next moment, the dog disappears. In fact, everything disappears, as if a veil has been drawn over the church interior. A brilliant light blazes from a side chapel, the Chapel of the Archangels. It's as if all light has been concentrated at that one spot.

And in the center of the light, Alphonse sees her. She is standing on the altar: "tall, brilliant, full of sweetness and majesty." She is so blindingly beautiful that, after one glance at her face, he casts down his eyes. Repeatedly he tries to raise his eyes again, to behold that beautiful face. But he cannot. He can't raise his eyes past the level of her hands, which are outstretched, with light streaming from her fingers -- just as in the image on the Miraculous Medal.

But her hands are very expressive. To Alphonse, they speak of "all the tenderness of the Divine Pity."

With one hand, she gestures to him to approach. He does so, on his knees. After he has advanced a few paces, she gestures again, as if to signify: "Enough--that's good!"

Then, as he gazes on the light streaming from her fingers, he receives the gift of Infused Knowledge. Faster than thought, he understands all: his own profound sinfulness (especially the enormity of Original Sin); God's infinite love and mercy toward poor sinners, revealed in the Incarnation and Crucifixion; the beauty and truth of Catholicism; the reality of Christ's Real Presence in the Blessed Sacrament.

A Jewish agnostic reared in a skeptical milieu, he has never even heard the term "Original Sin"; now he instantly knows what it is, more profoundly than if he'd been studying the subject for years.

The entire experience takes mere moments.

The Baron de Bussieres returns from his conference with the friars. He looks around the nave. Where is Ratisbonne? Finally, he spots the young man: slumped, kneeling, with his head against the altar rail in the Chapel of the Archangels.

The baron approaches. Once, twice, a third time, he taps Alphonse on the shoulder. No response. Finally Alphonse is roused. He turns toward the baron "a face bathed in tears," clasps his hands together, and exclaims, "Oh! How that gentleman has prayed for me!"

"That gentleman" is the Comte de la Ferronays, whom Alphonse has never met. No one has told Alphonse that the Comte had been praying for him. Rather, it has just been revealed to him...in the same supernatural light wherein he has received infused knowledge of Catholic Truth.

De Bussieres is stunned. He begs Alphonse to explain himself, but Alphonse cannot. He is sobbing too hard, murmuring between sobs, "How happy I am! How good God is! How unbelievers are to be pitied!"

The baron helps Alphonse outside and into his carriage. He takes him to the Hotel Serny, where Alphonse is staying, and loosens his cravat so he can breathe. But Alphonse is still sobbing, clasping his Miraculous Medal, murmuring thanks to God. At last he turns to the baron, embraces him, and with a face "presque transfiguree" says: "Take me to a confessor! When can I receive baptism, without which I can no longer live?"

"What has happened?" exclaims the baron. "What have you seen?"

"That," says Alphonse, "I can reveal only on my knees and to a priest."

So...the baron takes him to the Gesu, the Jesuit mother-church, to see Pere de Villefort. There, Alphonse tries to explain himself, but he is still sobbing so hard that he is unintelligible. At last he calms down, takes the Miraculous Medal from his neck, holds it up, and cries: "Je l'ai vue! Je l'ai vue!"

Then, as the baron and the priest listen in amazement, Alphonse recounts the whole story. He concludes with an enigmatic statement that strikes his listeners forcefully: "Elle ne m'a rien dit, mais j'ai tout compris!" "She spoke not a word, but I understood all."

Eleven days later, Alphonse is baptized at the Gesu. Everyone who is anyone is there, for the news of Alphonse's conversion has caused a sensation. (His family is renowned throughout Europe.) Attendees strain to catch a glimpse of the young convert, but he is oblivious. All he cares about is baptism...and then, the Holy Eucharist. He is so overcome by the experience of receiving the Eucharistic Lord that he has to be sustained by de Bussieres, his baptismal sponsor, while returning from the altar to his place.

The following month, the Vatican holds a canonical process to investigate the circumstances surrounding Alphonse's conversion. After lengthy investigation and many depositions, it concludes that his sudden conversion was entirely miraculous -- an act of God wrought through the powerful intercession of the Virgin.

The conversion of Ratisbonne is widely perceived as a confirmation by Heaven of the efficacy of the Miraculous Medal. The devotion spreads...and spreads....

The following July, Alphonse enters the Jesuits. He spends 10 fruitful years in the bosom of the Society. Then, with papal permission, he leaves to help his brother Theodor found the Congregation of Our Lady of Sion, dedicated to the conversion of the Jews. Alphonse spends the rest of his life as a holy priest, laboring among Jews and Arabs in the Holy Land. He establishes orphanages and schools for poor children, builds the Church of the Ecce Homo, and lives a life of extraordinary sanctity. He dies at Ain Karem, reputed site of the Visitation. On his deathbed, he goes into ecstasy -- apparently seeing, one last time before death, the Lady of the Miraculous Medal.