Nostradamus (Michel de Nostradame) was born on either 14 or 21 December 1503 in Saint-Rémy-de-Provence, Provence, France, where his claimed birthplace still exists, Michel de Nostredame was one of at least nine children of notary Jaume (or Jacques) de Nostredame and Reynière, granddaughter of Pierre de Saint-Rémy who worked as a physician in Saint-Rémy. Jaume’s family had originally been Jewish, but his father, Cresquas, a grain and money dealer, based in Avignon, had converted to Catholicism around 1459-60, taking the Christian name “Pierre” and the surname “Nostredame” (Our Lady), the saint on whose day his conversion was solemnised. The earliest ancestor who can be identified on the paternal side is Astruge of Carcassonne, who died about 1420. Michel’s known siblings included Delphine, Jean (c. 1507–77), Pierre, Hector, Louis, Bertrand, Jean II (born 1522) and Antoine (born 1523). Little else is known about his childhood, although there is a persistent tradition that he was educated by his maternal great-grandfather Jean de St. Rémya tradit ion which is somewhat undermined by the fact that the latter disappears from the historical record after 1504, when the child was only one year old.
At the age of 15 Nostredame entered the University of Avignon to study for his baccalaureate. After little more than a year (when he would have studied the regular trivium of grammar, rhetoric and logic, rather than the later quadrivium of geometry, arithmetic, music and astronomy/astrology), he was forced to leave Avignon when the university closed its doors during an outbreak of the plague. After leaving Avignon, Nostredame, by his own account, traveled the countryside for eight years from 1521 researching herbal remedies. In 1529, after some years as an apothecary, he entered the University of Montpellier to study for a doctorate in medicine. He was expelled shortly afterwards by the student procurator, Guillaume Rondelet, when it was discovered that he had been an apothecary, a “manual trade” expressly banned by the university statutes, and had been slandering doctors. The expulsion document, BIU Montpellier, Register S 2 folio 87, still exists in the faculty library. However, some of his publishers and correspondents would later call him “Doctor”. After his expulsion, Nostredame continued working, presumably still as an apothecary, and became famous for creating a “rose pill” that purportedly protected against the plague.
In 1531 Nostredame was invited by Jules-César Scaliger, a leading Renaissance scholar, to come to Agen. There he married a woman of uncertain name (possibly Henriette d’Encausse), who bore him two children. In 1534 his wife and children died, presumably from the plague. After their deaths, he continued to travel, passing through France and possibly Italy. Nostradamus’s house at Salon-de-Provence, as reconstructed after the 1909 Lambesc earthquake. In 1538, an offhanded remark about a religious statue resulted in charges of heresy against Nostradamus. When ordered to appear before the Church Inquisition, he wisely chose to leave Province to travel for several years through Italy, Greece and Turkey. During his travels to the ancient mystery schools, it is believed that Nostradamus experienced a psychic awakening. One of the legends of Nostradamus says that, during his travels in Italy, he came upon a group of Franciscan monks, identifying one as the future Pope. The monk, called Felice Peretti, was ordained Pope Sixtus V in 1585, fulfilling the prediction of Nostradamus.
Feeling he’d stayed away long enough to be safe from the inquisition, Nostradamus returned to France to resume his practice of treating plague victims. On his return in 1545, he assisted the prominent physician Louis Serre in his fight against a major plague outbreak in Marseille, and then tackled further outbreaks of disease on his own in Salon-de-Provence and in the regional capital, Aix-en-Provence. Finally, in 1547, he settled in Salon-de-Provence in the house which exists today, where he married a rich widow named Anne Ponsarde, with whom he had six children three daughters and three sons. Between 1556 and 1567 he and his wife acquired a one-thirteenth share in a huge canal project organised by Adam de Craponne to irrigate largely waterless Salon-de-Provence and the nearby Désert de la Crau from the river Durance.
Nostradamus also published two books on medical science by this time. One, was a translation of Galen, the Roman physician, and a second book, The Traite des Fardemens, was a medical cookbook for treating the plague and the preparation of cosmetics. Within a few years of his settling into Salon, Nostradamus began moving away from medicine and more toward the occult. It is said that he would spend hours in his study at night meditating in front of a bowl filled with water and herbs. The meditation would bring on a trance and visions. It is believed the visions were the basis of his predictions for the future. In 1550, Nostradamus wrote his first almanac of astrological information and predictions of the coming year. Almanacs were very popular at the time, as they provided useful information for farmers and merchants and contained entertaining bits of local folklore and predictions of the coming year. Nostradamus began writing about his visions and incorporating them into his first almanac. The publication received a great response, and served to spread his name all across France, which encouraged Nostradamus to write more.
Most of the quatrains deal with disasters, such as plagues, earthquakes, wars, floods, invasions, murders, droughts, and battles—all undated and based on foreshadowings by the Mirabilis Liber. Some quatrains cover these disasters in overall terms; others concern a single person or small group of people. Some cover a single town, others several towns in several countries. A major, underlying theme is an impending invasion of Europe by Muslim forces from farther east and south headed by the expected Antichrist, directly reflecting the then-current Ottoman invasions and the earlier Saracen equivalents, as well as the prior expectations of the Mirabilis Liber. All of this is presented in the context of the supposedly imminent end of the world—even though this is not in fact mentioned a conviction that sparked numerous collections of end-time prophecies at the time, including an unpublished collection by Christopher Columbus. Nostradamus has been credited, for the most part in hindsight, with predicting numerous events in world history, from the Great Fire of London, and the rise of Napoleon and Adolf Hitler, to the September 11 attacks on the World Trade Center.
Nostradamus suffered from gout and arthritis for much of his adult life. In the last years of his life, the condition turned into edema or dropsy, where abnormal amounts of fluid accumulate beneath the skin or within cavities of the body. Without treatment, the condition resulted in congestive heart failure. In late June of 1566, Nostradamus asked to see his lawyer to draw up an extensive will, leaving much of his estate to his wife and children. On the evening of July 1, he is alleged to have told his secretary Jean de Chavigny, “You will not fine me alive at sunrise.” The next morning he was reportedly found dead lying on the floor next to his bed.
Most of the quatrains Nostradamus composed during his life dealt with disasters such as plagues, earthquakes, wars, floods, invasions murders, droughts, and battles. Nostradamus enthusiasts have credited him with predicting numerous events in world history including the French Revolution; the rise of Napoleon and Hitler; the development of the atomic bomb; and the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center. Nostradamus’s popularity seems to be due in part to the fact that the vagueness of his writings and their lack of specific dates make it easy to selectively quote them after any major dramatic events and retrospectively claim them as true. Some scholars believe he was not writing to be a prophet, but writing to comment on events of his time and the people in it. Whatever his method or intentions, Nostradamus’ timeless predictions continue to make him popular to those seeking answers to life’s more difficult questions.
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