Heavenly Visitors and the Credulous in the 1700s

The belief in heavenly visitors in the 1700s resulted in one credulous 62-year-old woman coming face-to-face with Saint Paul and the angel Gabriel. It all began because the widow had an incredible devotion to the gospel and such unshakeable faith in Saint Paul that she would spend several hours each day at an altar dedicated to Saint Paul. Because she came so frequently and so regularly, two villains observed her, and as they knew she was rich, they decided to take advantage of her gullible nature.

Heavenly Visitors in the 1700s: Saint Paul by Bartolomeo Montagna

Saint Paul by Bartolomeo Montagna, 1482. Courtesy of Wikipedia.

One day, about the time of her devotions, one of the villains hid behind the altar. When the widow arrived and when she was not looking, he threw a letter out that she assumed had dropped from Heaven as it was signed, “Paul, the apostle.”

In the letter the widow was praised for her devotion and for the many prayers she offered up to the saintly apostle. Moreover, she was told that because of her remarkable faith and devotion, tqwo heavenly visitors, the apostle and the angel Gabriel, would come from and sup with her that very evening at 8pm.

The widow was so believing, she ran home to prepare the meal for her heavenly visitors. She wanted everything to be perfect. She brought out her best plate but decided it was not elegant enough and sent her maid to her brother with a note asking to borrow all his plate. She also warned the maid to only tell her brother that someone was company coming to supper and not let him know the details.

Her brother was a well-respected man, and as his sister was never showy and always frugal, he became suspicious. He thought that perhaps a fortune-hunter was coming to dinner and that the fortune hunter might try to take advantage of his sister. So, her brother refused to send the plate unless the maid told him why his sister wanted it. The maid was alarmed and worried about the expected guests and therefore told the brother about Saint Paul’s letter arriving from Heaven and that he and the angel Gabriel were coming for dinner.

Image of the Angel Gabriel from Pinturicchio's The Annunciation (1501), Courtesy of Wikipedia

Image of the Angel Gabriel from Pinturicchio’s The Annunciation (1501). Courtesy of Wikipedia.

The brother immediately suspected the heavenly visitors to be villains and went straight to the local magistrate. As the brother was busy recounting what he had learned to the magistrate, a white bearded man dressed in saintly vestments and a man with large white wings, exited a hackney-coach and knocked on the widow’s door. She allowed them entrance and they sat down to a fine and sumptuous dinner.

Within moments of the widow’s guests arriving, her brother and the magistrate appeared with twelve Paris guards. However, when they knocked on the door, the widow refused to let them in and told them she had important company and could not be disturbed. The magistrate insisted they be admitted, and when he and the guards brushed past her, they discovered Saint Paint and the angel Gabriel, who were also astonished to find twelve muskets pointed at them.

Saint Paul and the angel Gabriel were quickly hauled off to jail. At trial it was learned one man was a French foot guard and the other a barber’s apprentice. The men claimed that they their only objective was to obtain a free meal at the expense of the superstitious and gullible widow. Thus, having no evil designs, they were acquitted.

However, no sooner were they discharged than the Archbishop of Paris seized them, and took them to the ecclesiastical prison. There they were tried and this time convicted of assuming the countenance of a “holy apostle and a blessed angel.” Their punishment was executed the next day at the Place de Grève, the same spot where Charlotte Corday, Jean-Baptiste Carrier, and Antoine Quentin Fouquier-Tinville were eventually executed. Fortunately, in the case of the two heavenly visitors their punishment was not as drastic, but it was harsh and included a public whipping, an iron branding with the letters G.A.L., and fourteen years working in the kitchen galley.


  • The New London Magazine, 1785

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