Allan Lang

(Investigator 12, 1990 May)

On August 27 1989 the Seven Network presented a program: Nostradamus: The Final Chapter?

This program was advertised as a first release feature, although it recycled considerable material from a 1979 Nostradamus program,

The introductory sequence had a subtitle 'France 1791' and showed a number of soldiers digging up a grave.

The narrator spoke;

"There was a legend that whoever drank from the skull of Nostradamus would inherit his incredible powers. But for 200 years his grave had remained undisturbed because the legend also said that whoever did so, would immediately die. One night, at the height of the French Revolution, three drunken soldiers set out to test the legend.

It was not the skeleton that suddenly sobered the soldiers, but the plaque around its neck, with the date: May 1791, which could only have been placed there at the time of burial in 1566, Nostradamus had predicted, 200 years before, the exact date when his body would be dug up."  

Anyway one of the soldiers poured some wine into the skull and took a swig. As he did so, a shot rang out, and he dropped, dead as well as drunk.

John Waters, who fronted this program (and also the 1979 edition), appeared (in his 1979 incarnation) and said;

"The shot that killed that soldier was fired from the riot of the surrounding French Revolution. A stray bullet. A freak accident that fulfilled the legend of Nostradamus. Nostradamus. What kind of a man was he, who predicted the date of the desecration of his own grave?"

I do not propose here to examine how the writings of Nostradamus have been interpreted over the ages, but to give some background on the life of Nostradamus as it is usually told.

While a considerable amount of detail is "known" about Nostradamus, much of this is very unreliable.

Over the centuries his biographers have added details to his life without giving any historical source, and one suspects that most of the life of Nostradamus is a fiction that has been building over the centuries.

The following is the "Life of Nostradamus" as it is usually told:

Nostradamus was born December 14 1503, at Saint-Remy in Provence of formerly Jewish Parents. His father Jacques had been baptised as a Christian, in 1501.

His grandfather Jean, a physician, undertook his education and taught him mathematics, Latin, Greek, Hebrew and astrology. On Jean's death, his other grandfather Pierre, also a physician, took over his education until Michel went to study philosophy at Avignon. In 1522 he went to Montpelier to study medicine, graduating in 1525.

After a career in medicine, he remarried a rich widow in 1547 and settled at Salon and began his more well known career of a prophet, beginning with the publication of Alamanacs in 1550, making predictions by a combination of astrology, clairvoyance and occult sciences such as the Jewish Kabbala.

In 1555 he produced the first edition of his Centuries, a collection of predictions for the next 2242 years.

The literary form was to be a Milliade, a collection of ten Centuries, each comprising 100 quatrains, or four line verses. The editions prior to 1558 are incomplete. The first nearly complete edition is dated 1568, two years after Nostradamus' death.

In addition to the 942 quatrains which appeared in 1568, some 25 additional quatrains appeared by 1605 which may also be the work of Nostradamus.


The usual background is certainly distinguished enough.

Grandfather Jean de Saint-Remy, physician and adviser to King Rene of Provence.

Grandfather Pierre de Nostredame, physician to Rene's son, Jean, the Duke of Calabria & Lorraine.

This lineage would appear to be from an unimpeachable source, being reported by Jean Aymes de Chavigney, a former Mayor of Beaume, who in 1554 came to Nostradamus as a pupil to study astrology, and became Nostradamus's friend, secretary and disciple and biographer.

Chavigney is also the source of most of the early legends about Nostradamus.

However Chavigney may have misrepresented his association with Nostradamus, in order to advance his own career.

This is implied by:

1.) Nostradamus does not mention Chavigney in any of his letters, or writings.

2.) Nostradamus' detailed will does not mention Chavigney, and states that his notes and books were to be given to whichsoever of his sons became a scholar wishing to use them – none of them did. Until they became adult (the oldest was only 11 at the time) the papers and books were to be sealed and locked away.

It seems churlish of Nostradamus not to have considered his supposed disciple of the last 12 years as at least a residuary beneficiary. Nostradamus even made a specific condition that no attempt was to be made to sort or catalogue the papers, again hard to understand if Chavigney was as close to Nostradamus and his work as claimed.

3.) This section of Nostradamus's will also disproves Chavigney's claim that Nostradamus had given him the secret of interpreting the Centuries.

4.) When Chavigney Frote his interpretation of the Centuries in 1594 he gave no indication of any "inside knowledge" of the meaning of Nostradamus's obscure anagrams and allusions. This is hard to understand if he had been there at the creation. Even just living as a disciple of Nostradamus for 12 years should have given some insight into the way Nostradamus's mind worked.

It seems probable that Chavigney was no more than an occasional acquaintance of Nostradamus, and, like Nostradamus's biographers since, invented much of his biography. A second, not exclusive, possibility is that on the occasions they did meet, Nostradamus told a few lies about his background.

Recent research in the archives of Provence has revealed the Nostradamus's father did not come from a line of physicians but from a long line of Avignon Ograin-dealers. And while Grandpere Jean was a physician and in the service of the King, it was as a tax collector, an occupation he entered after failing in the career of a doctor. (LeRoy, 1941)

If Chavigney did invent much of his biography of Nostradamus he was setting a precedent the later biographers were only too keen to adopt. Details have been added to the Nostradamian life over the centuries, in most cases with only the enthusiasm and imagination of the biographers to support them.

An example of this is the grave robbing sequence that introduced the TV program.

While the grave was despoiled during the French Revolution in 1791, the usual legend actually states that the grave was first opened in 1700, and that the plaque read 1700. Only the less reliable writers tell the story of the plaque, and it is probably apocryphal. It is almost certain that the grave remained undisturbed from 1566 until 1791.

As for the soldier who supposedly drank from the skull, early versions of the tale said he was later caught with some stolen silver and hanged. This apparently was not felt to give the immediate retribution warranted. And in 1940 Reynuad-Plense said that the soldier was killed in an ambush the next morning.

The death at the moment of drinking appears to have been introduced by the makers of the TV program in 1979.

Incidentally, the program was also wrong when it showed the soldiers lifting the coffin out of the ground. Because Nostradamus was buried standing up, in a wall.

(c) 1990 by Allan Lang