Tuesday, August 10, 2010


The Virgin of Ville Bonheur

Zora Neale Hurston (1891-1960), Tell My Horse: Voodoo and Life in Haiti and Jamaica (Philadelphia: J.B. Lippincott, 1938; rpt. New York: Harper & Row, 1990), pp. 230-231:
This great shrine of Haiti got its first breath of life in 1884, they say. In that year a beautiful, luminous virgin lit in the fronds of a palm tree there and waved her gorgeous wings and blessed the people. She paused there a long time and the whole countryside saw her. Seeing the adoration of the people, the Catholic Priest of the parish came out to drive off the apparition. Finally she sang a beautiful song and left of her own volition. She had not been disturbed at all by the priest. People came to the palm tree and were miraculously cured and others were helped in various ways. The people began to worship the tree. The news spread all over Haiti and more and more people came. The Catholic Church was neglected. So the priest became so incensed that he ordered the palm tree to be chopped down, but he could find no one who would chop it. Finally he became so incensed at the adoration of the people for the tree that he seized a machete and ran to the tree to cut it down himself. But the first blow of the blade against the tree caused the machete to bounce back and strike the priest on the head and wound him so seriously that he was taken to the hospital in Port-au-Prince, where he soon died of his wound. Later on the tree was destroyed by the church and a church was built on the spot to take the place of the palm tree, but it is reported that several churches burned on that site. One was destroyed by lightning. That is the story of the Virgin of Ville Bonheur.
There are some interesting parallels. See, e.g., Lucan 3.429-431 (tr. J.D. Duff):
But strong arms faltered; and the men, awed by the solemnity and terror of the place, believed that, if they aimed a blow at the sacred trunks, their axes would rebound against their own limbs.

sed fortes tremuere manus, motique verenda
maiestate loci, si robora sacra ferirent,
in sua credebant redituras membra securis.
Anonymous, Life of St. Nicholas of Sion 16 (tr. Ihor Ševčenko and Nancy Patterson Ševčenko):
And Nicholas, the servant of God said: "What are those gashes in the tree?" They said to him: "Some man of old came to fell the tree with two hatchets, and an axe. And as he began to fell it, the unclean spirit snatched away the blades, and slaughtered the man, so that his grave was found at the roots of the tree."
Related post: A Spirit Protects the Trees.


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