Nostradamus (de Notredame, Michel)

Michel de Nostradame, more commonly known as Nostradamus, a French astrologer and physician, was born in St. Remy de Provence on 14 December 1503. He became famous for his breakthroughs in the medical field and later for his book of rhymed prophecies, the fulfilment of some of which significantly added to his established reputation. His parents were of simple lineage from around Avignon in the south of France. He was the eldest son, and had four brothers. Of the first three little is known but Jean, the youngest, became Procureur of the Parliament of the Provence. His high intellect became apparent when he was still a youngster, and his education was left in the hands of his grandfather who taught him the basics of Latin, Greek, Hebrew, Mathematics and Astrology.

After the death of grandfather Jean, he was sent to Avignon to study. He already showed a huge interest in astrology, and it was widely discussed among his fellow students. He supported the Copernican theory that the world was round and revolved around the sun more than 100 years before Galileo was prosecuted for the same belief. He obtained the bachelor’s degree in liberal arts after three years.

After that he graduated from the medical school at the University of Montpellier and began a private practice where he succeeded at treating bubonic plague victims in Montpellier and the surrounding areas. He decided to go out into the countryside, and to assist the many sufferers of the plague. His religious leanings indicate that he grew up as a devout Catholic. He lost his first wife and two children during the plague and settled in the town of Salon in France in 1554 where he married his second wife, Anne Ponsart Gemelle. His known decendants are, as far as known, Delphine, Jehan, Pierre, Hector, Louis, Bertrand, Jean and Antoine. The house in which he spent the remainder of his days can still be seen off the Place de la Poissonnerie.

Nostradamus became the physician-in-ordinary to Charles IX after the latter’s accession in 1560. He was known for his rhymed prophecies as published in “Centuries” in 1555. A second, and larger edition was dedicated to Henry II of France in 1558 as it caught the contemporary imagination. Nostradamus became famous for his innovative use of medicines and pioneer treatments during plague outbreaks at Aix and Lyons between 1546 – 47. His prophecies continued to spark speculation and controversy, and in 1781 they were condemned by the Roman Catholic Congregation of the Index. He had no wish to be tried, and stayed well clear of the Church authorities for the next six years.

After his second marriage Nostradamus started his career as a prophet. In 1555, when he was aged 52, he wrote his first collection of Centuries – it is a set of 100 quatrains. Over the next few years he completed a total of ten Centuries. He referred to the ten chapters of his famous book, The Centuries, as “centuries”, even though they have nothing to do with 100-year phases. Each of the centuries (or chapters) contain 100 prophetic quatrains, except for Century VII, which has 42, for a total of 942 prophecies. He used both astrology and astronomy to interpret the visions, which he received at night.

The visions that Nostradamus had, and which he later recorded in verse came to him while staring into water or flame late at night. The quatrains (four line verses) that came from the visions are oblique and elliptical, and he used puns, anagrams and allegorical imagery. Almost all of the quatrains are open to multiple interpretations, and some make no sense whatsoever. Some of them are chilling, literal descriptions of events, giving specific or near-specific names, geographic locations, astrological configurations, and sometimes actual dates. The main source of his magical inspirations was a book called De Mysteriis Egyptorum. It is this quality of both vagueness and specificity which allows each new generation to reinterpret his work. Nostradamus wrote that he deliberately confused the time sequence of the prophecies so that its secrets would not be revealed to the non-initiate.

According to his supporters, he predicted the French Revolution, the birth and rise to power of Hitler, and the assassination of John F. Kennedy. They say that he also predicted some of history’s most monumental events from the Great Fire of London (1666) to the destruction of the America’s space shuttle, the Challenger.

Later in his life the gout from which he suffered changed to dropsy and he, as a doctor, recognized that his end was near. He made his last will on 17 June 1566 and left the large sum of 3444 crowns (a substantial amount even in modern times) over and above his other belongings. Two weeks later, on 1 July 1566, he sent for the local priest to give him the last rites. When Chavigny, the priest, said “Until tomorrow” that night, Nostradamus made his final prediction to him. He is said to have replied: “You will not find me alive at sunrise.” As he himself had predicted, his body was found the next morning.

Nostradamus was buried upright in one of the walls of the Church of the Cordeliers at Salon, and his wife, Anne, put up a splendid marble plaque to his memory. He was re-interred in the Collegiale St-Laurent at the French Revolution, where the tomb remains to this day.