By Raymond Jonas
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Extra resources for The tragic tale of Claire Ferchaud and the Great War
At Saint-Laurent, Claire was free to contemplate her life on her own account and on her own terms. Free of parental demands and the mundane concerns of farm life, she could ﬁnally see her way free of the modest expectations and limited horizons normally available to a sharecropper’s daughter. At Saint-Laurent, she was no longer simply Claire, the Ferchaud’s middle child. At Saint-Laurent she became Claire the voyante, the visionary, the child blessed by divine favor, the privileged interlocutor of Jesus.
She turns to lead the soldiers in a heroic charge across no-man’s-land. The Germans, the boches, panic and ﬂee in disarray. Like the original story of Joan, it had the right blend of simplicity, valor, and improbability. Add to that the prospect of the triumph of virtuous Right (France) over wicked Might (Germany) and the image of men taking courage from the example of an indomitable woman—it was a scenario with just the right mix of magic and crazy. Who knows? It just might work. Alas, it was not to be.
In the 1850s, when a typhus epidemic threatened the nearby village of Vihiers, Sister Saint-Luke convinced the pastor to protect the village’s children by promising to build a chapel to Notre-Dame de la Salette. When the epidemic passed, regional dignitaries, including the archbishop of Poitiers, attended the ceremonial laying of the chapel’s ﬁrst stone in 1858. 7 It still stands today, a vigilant sentry on the hilltop high above Vihiers. The Ferchaud’s chapel was more modest: a tile-and-stucco structure barely larger than a tool shed.