Tuesday, September 20, 2016


The cabinet maker’s story

Henri Ravier was a 28 year old cabinet maker and joiner in 1870 when he was called to measure up a coffin for a seven year old boy. As he bustled about with his mate in the courtyard a couple of doctors emerged from the house discussing the death certificate.  

“Nothing could have been done to save the child.”

“Not even if we’d been called earlier. Do you agree with my diagnosis of meningitis?”

“I’m sure you’re right.”

“Anyway, the little glass of eau-de-vie that father Chapas gave us wasn’t bad was it!”

And so without further thought to child or grieving parents they left. No sooner had they done so than two young men hurried up.

“It took ages to find you. He must be dead by now. The doctor said he’d been in a coma. Do you know what that is?”

“It’s nothing, nothing! But we must hurry!”

They knocked at the door and a man opened up who obviously knew them.  

“Monsieur Claude, we’ve just heard the news and have come to offer our condolences.”

“That’s very good of you, Nizier. Come on in. He’s on the bed.”

Nizier Philippe also greeted Madame Chapas, who did not speak.

They mounted the stairs.  The mother passed them in the passageway and opened the bedroom door for them.

The 21 year old Nizier Philippe crossed himself and indicated the others to sit.  Then he presented Madame Chapas with a strange question:

“Are you willing to give me your son now?”

She answered “Yes” almost automatically.

Nizier stood before the child’s bed in contemplation for a few moments, and then said in a clear voice: “Jean, I bring  your soul back to you!”

Amazingly, the chalk white face of the body began to regain colour,  looked up at Nizier Philippe, and smiled.

The strange question Philippe directed at the child’s mother harked back a few years to when she had asked his help when her husband fell ill. On that occasion he had simply said “Go home and make him some soup and he will be all right.” And so it had occurred. But when asked how much she owed him he replied: “Nothing, but you can give me your son if I ask for him.” An enigmatic remark, all the more strange coming from a young Nizier Philippe who could have been no more than a teenager at the time.

No more was said until little Jean Chapas grew up. Like his father and grandfather before him, he sought the life of a waterman on the great rivers of the Rhône and  Saône. But having passed the necessary examinations – he would then have been aged about 20 and the year 1883 –  his mother received a message from Monsieur Philippe: “Tell your son to come and see me tomorrow, I need him.”

The informal apprenticeship he had thus begun as a spiritual healer was not an easy one. The boy put himself completely at the disposal of Monsieur Philippe but the first day passed with nothing for him to do. The same thing happened next day. Then on the third day he was sent on a few errands, to buy tobacco, some postage stamps, and deliver a prescription. Then little by little he was admitted to minor jobs at public meetings.

For several years he diligently performed all the tasks set him by Monsieur Philippe, some of which involved some kind of testing.  One day, for instance, Monsieur Philippe received word from a lady who was very upset by the loss of her hair. He told Jean Chapas to buy some lotion at a pharmacy and take it to her, and then meet him at a café where he would be waiting.

Jean Chapas found on his arrival that the woman was in complete despair and threatening to throw herself from the sixth floor of the building. For a whole hour he tried to reason with her, far beyond the time fixed for meeting Monsieur Philippe. Eventually he arrived, very late, to find his master still there, smoking his pipe but frowning heavily. Jean Chapas tried to explain what had happened but Monsieur Philippe cut him short and reprimanded him. He should have realised it would have been quite easy for him to have stopped the woman’s hysterics from a distance if he had been informed of them. So...“When I give you a time to meet me, be there!”

Eventually Monsieur Philippe, in the presence of his girl friend, gave him a kind of rosary he had fashioned, a cord full of knots, with the instruction “Take this for an hour each day to your room; and when you reach this knot here, you will be in the presence of the Holy Spirit.”  Presumably he did so, but he never spoke about it to anyone.

Eventually, in February 1894, after a decade of gradually increasing responsibility, Monsieur Philippe presented him at a public meeting with the words, “From now on Monsieur Chapas is charged to do what I have done up to now ...We are fishermen come to fish for those that would escape”. And the following year he announced that “from now on great powers are granted to Monsieur Chapas. Whom, however, he always referred to his as“the corporal!”  By all accounts – no light rank!

From Thursday 13th December 1894, Henri Ravier began to fulfil his mission of taking notes of  meetings and carried on through until 31st March 1903. They are not as comprehensive or systematic we might wish but the random jottings of a retired carpenter and joiner. There are about a hundred of them altogether, the first taken at typical public meetings but later moving on to events at practitioner classes laid on at the recently founded School of Magnetism. His sense of their importance is however revealed by his referring to himself as Jean-Baptiste Ravier.  He was one of a growing band who tended to regard Maïtre Philippe as a second coming of Christ.  Not a view that was shared by the man himself – although he had occasional apparent lapses as when he reportedly said that it had taken him several years to find a mother and father who had the single forenames of Marie and Joseph. I suspect a certain sense of irony in his make-up. But raising people from the dead was not in the gift of any old spiritual healer! And Jean Chapas died a second time in the typhoid fever epidemic of 1899 and was once again resuscitated by Nizier Philippe after a death certificate had been issued. Which led Jean Chapas, who also had an ironic sense of humour, to refer to himself ever after as “a dead man on leave”.

After a lifetime of continuing healing ministry, increasingly haunted by precognition of the coming 2nd World War, he eventually died a third and last time in September 1932, whilst fishing beside the Rhône. His master, also a keen fisherman,  had once predicted “Jean, you will just have time to get your coat and rod and follow me.” He arguably chose a good time to do it as the Holocaust gathered strength in Europe!

References: Confirmation de l’Évangile par les actes et les paroles de Maïtre Philippe de Lyon by Jean-Baptiste Ravier (Le Mercure Dauphinois 2005) and Vie et Enseignement de Jean Chapas, le disciple de Maïtre Philippe de Lyon by Philippe Collin (Le Mercure Dauphinoise 2006).

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