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  Columnist: Patrick Bernauw

Image credit: Wikipedia

The Satanist Chaplain

Posted on Saturday, 4 July, 2009 | 0 comments
Columnist: Patrick Bernauw

In 1891 Joris-Karl Huysmans published his novel "Là-bas" in which he paints a fantasy of Satanism and the occult, such as it was reportedly still practiced at that time in Paris. One of the most sinister figures however, the so-called "canon Docre", turned out to be Louis Van Haecke, chaplain of the Holy Blood Chapel of Bruges...

In 1891 Joris-Karl Huysmans published his novel "Là-bas" (translated as "Down There" or "The Damned") in which he painted a fantasy of Satanism and the occult, such as it was reportedly still practiced at that time in Paris. One of the most sinister figures in the story is the debauched character of the canon Docre, celebrating black masses.

The book caused a scandal, as you can read in Down There: A History of Satanism. Being an already famous novelist of the naturalist school of Zola (see also: J.K. Huysmans and the Essence of Decadence) Huysmans had been heading for a passionate rendition of facts, fictionalized non-fiction and "faction". His canon Docre was not just a fictional character, he was an authentic person. Some said it was the ex-priest Joseph-Antoine Boullan who lived in Lyon and claimed to be the successor of the famous "heretic" Eugène Vintras. Huysmans however, for the sake of truth, released a press note in which he asserted that there was no relationship between Boullan and the canon Docre. The demonic priest of "The Damned" actually was a Belgian "abbé", a rabid satanist who had a cross tattooed under his feet for the exquisite pleasure of being able to walk always on the symbol of the Saviour.

The curious citizens of Paris soon learned that the Belgian priest was Louis Van Haecke, the chaplain of the Holy Blood of Bruges (Belgium). His photograph was exposed in the window of a book shop on the corner of the Rue de Sèvres and the Place de la Croix-Rouge. Some clever Parisians even organized city trips to Bruges to see this monstrous priest in action. Between 1949 and 1965, the Belgian journalist Herman Bossier published a book and several articles on the subject. He mentions, for example, an eye witness who recounts the events of 24 February 1895: "I have seen the miserable hero of ‘The Damned'! I have seen this sacrilegious monster with the white hair in the Gothic gem that is the Chapel of the Holy Blood in Bruges, where every Friday the Precious Blood of Jesus Christ - brought to the city by a Count of Flanders - is shown to the faithful!"

Of course, this improbable story ended up being known to the diocese of Bruges, where one was far from suspecting what was buzzing around in Paris concerning the popular chaplain of the Holy Blood. The diocese opened an investigation. We do not know what the result was, but in all cases, there was no disciplinary penalty charged against father Van Haecke.

Now what caused J.K. Huysmans to bring out such terrible accusations against the chaplain? The writer lived in Paris, where he was working for the Department of the Interior. How did he succeed in identifying an anonymous "abbé" in the medieval city of Bruges, in the heartland of Flanders?

It was Mrs Courrière, the mistress of the author Remy de Gourmont, who provided Huysmans with some information regarding "a very curious and bad priest she had once known". These are the words of Remy de Gourmont himself, written down in his "Memories of Huysmans". In 1911, André du Fresnois wrote in "La Grande Revue" that the canon Docre still was alive. Louis Van Haecke indeed died at the age of 83, on 24 October 1912.

Berthe Courrière was a native of Lille, but she lived in Paris. On 8 September 1890, at the age of 38, she surprised the police of Bruges when she was found near the house of Van Haecke, naked and giving signs of insanity. She declared she had fled the house of the chaplain because of "the strange things he was doing". Berthe was immediately taken to the Institut Saint-Julien and remained there until 11 October. Sixteen years later she was again confined in an institution in Brussels. In his preface to a book by Jules Bois ("Satanism and Magic", 1895) Huysmans said she was "one of the victims of Docre". He also stated that his information on some priests "who have formed clubs where they celebrated the Black Mass, as the canon Docre did" was genuine, and that he knew this for sure because he had checked and double-checked it repeatedly.

We know that Huysmans, while researching the history of satanism, came to visit Van Haecke in Bruges. And we also know that Berthe Courrière introduced Huysmans in the satanist and occultist circles of Paris and Lyon. It was Berthe who gave Huysmans the opportunity to attend a black mass in Paris. Was she in Bruges also the go between?

After 1895, when the diocese of Bruges opened a discreet inquiry into the actions of Van Haecke, Huysmans grew every day more formal in his charges against the chaplain of the Holy Blood. When he was requested by father Henry Moeller of Brussels to provide information on the identity of Docre, Huysmans wrote to him: "I've already given the investigators all the documents I had in my possession. Why was Docre not punished? Why, after having this great fire, everything seems to cool down now? We really need to do more research! But maybe it is more prudent to stay away from it... And that is also what I advise to you, without being able to tell you more."

On 1 February 1899, Huysmans published in "L'Echo de Paris" an article on Bruges, in which he again referred to the satanist chaplain of the Holy Blood: "Here, in these locked houses, painted yellow, and in these skeleton buildings dating from the Middle Ages, black masses are celebrated in sacrilegious meetings of young people..."

In July 1899 Huysmans, living at this time in the Oblate House of Notre-Dame, in the shadow of the Benedictine abbey of Ligugé, was visited by his friend Dr. Michel de Lézinier. "Come," Huysmans should have said at some point. "I'll show you a new portrait of this canaille Docre. Ah, the b******!" And Huysmans handed him a photograph of the canon Docre, who turned out to be a handsome man with beautiful long white hair.
It is possible that Huysmans, before his conversion to Catholicism, had been the victim of his own credulity. But years later, and being converted now, he never felt obliged to withdraw his accusations. This would have been his duty if he discovered he had made a mistake. But his "most admirable Christian end forces us to conclude that his conviction remained untouched until the very last moment," Bossier says. "This leaves us with two possibilities: either the diocese of Bruges did not inform Huysmans of the outcome of its investigation, or the author of ‘The Cathedral' was not convinced of Van Haecke's innocence."

Bossier states that Van Haecke could be guilty of something other than "crimes" or "an imprudence". According to the statement of an eminent priest who at that time was director of the Beguinage of Bruges and had entries in the diocese, Van Haecke had "compromised" himself. But since there was no scandal raised in Bruges and as the facts in the case Van Haecke didn't prove the chaplain himself was a satanist, why should the diocese arouse unnecessary suspicion among the people by punishing a popular priest?

Huysmans didn't destroy before his death certain confidential and incriminating documents regarding Van Haecke case, as he did with other pieces. There can be no doubt that Huysmans witnessed a black mass in Paris in the presence of Van Haecke. After his conversion, Huysmans said to an intimate friend that, when he visited Van Haecke in Bruges, he expressed his surprise of seeing the chaplain there. "Don't I have no right to be curious?" Van Haecke replied, visibly embarrassed. "Who told you I was not there as a spy?"

Bossier thinks this is the key to the mystery: an excessive and perhaps unhealthy curiosity in all things occult, and even in satanism. It caused Van Haecke to lead a double life for some time. Despite his apparent poverty, he made several times a trip to Paris. He stayed there in a hotel known for its clientele of defrocked priests and he attended not only occultist meetings, but also all sorts of satanist gatherings. He has left in Paris several copies of his photograph that was made there. He visited in Paris the dark poet Edouard Dubus and this young morphine addict visited Van Haecke in Bruges.

Once unmasked and although he was aware of the charges against him, Van Haecke thought it to be not appropriate to defend himself, or even raise the slightest public protest against the monstrous accusations. This only reflects the silence of the diocesan authority, which probably knew the truth, but may have been afraid of some facts that were not yet revealed. Father Van Haecke, as well as the religious authority, may have hoped that the unfortunate story soon would be forgotten.

Interesting to note is that the infamous chaplain of the Holy Blood of Bruges, published – in French – the fourth edition of his book "The Precious Blood of Bruges". And this really is a strange piece of writing, not only because of what has been written down, but also because of what Louis Van Haecke does not mention. For instance, he starts his book on the Holy Blood with some pages on the topic where the name "Belgium" comes from: the Belgae were the most "belligerent", Caesar said. This reminds us of another priest, the friend of abbé Saunière of Rennes-le-Château, Henri Boudet, and the strange etymology of "La Vraie Langue Celtique". But what has the etymology of "Belgium" to do with the Holy Blood? Nothing...

Van Haecke ends his book with a chronogram code, making us aware there is probably more to be found on this pages than we thought at first sight... And indeed, in the book there are a number of well hidden references to Nostradamus and his quatrains. All these quatrains can be interpreted as pointing to the secrets of the abbey of Orval, in Belgium. This famous monastery also plays a part in the Rennes-le-Château Saga. Nostradamus has written here some of his "prophecies", which maybe are no prophecies at all, but coded information which leads to “a Templar treasure”, the Grail or the Secret of the Bloodline…

As for Joris-Karl Huysmans, he added a note to the manuscript of his memories concerning the Van Haecke case, saying: "They prefer Silence..."

Read here all about The Code of the Holy Blood

Here is a photo reportage about The Treasures of an Abbey in Ruins: Orval

And this is a photo reportage about the Procession of the Holy Brood in Bruges (2009)

Copyright by Patrick Bernauw, The Lost Dutchman’s Historical Mysteries

Article Copyright© Patrick Bernauw - reproduced with permission.

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