One of the most fascinating personalities of 16th century France was Michel de Nostradame, better known to us by his pseudonym, Nostradamus. He is famous for his prophesies. More than one thousand were contained in his ten volume mystical work The Centuries which he began writing in 1554. Modern devotees believe that Nostradamus correctly predicted such events as the stock market crash of 1929, the Second World War, the Kennedy assassination and the end of the Cold War.
Michel de Nostredame was born in the small Provencal town of St Remy where his father was a prosperous notary. From an early age, the boy showed a talent for prophecy and as a student he was skilled in mathematics and astrology and learned Greek, Latin and Hebrew. Both of his grandfathers were court physicians and were influential in Michel's education participating in his instruction in medicine and herbal folk medicine as well as the "forbidden" arts of Kabbalah and alchemy.
When the French king, Louis XII ordered all Jews to be baptized, Nostradamus' family complied, but continued to secretly follow their religious tradition. Michel entered the University of Montpellier as a medical student in 1522, but was dissatisfied with the ignorance of his teachers about such matters as personal hygiene and the dangers of bleeding and catharsis. On completion of his studies he took to the countryside with his medical and astrological books and assisted in the care of victims of the Bubonic Plague. His approach was to prescribe fresh, unpolluted air and water and clean bedding. He also would have all the corpses removed and the streets cleaned. Each morning before sunrise, Nostradamus would go into the fields to oversee the harvest of rose petals which he then would dry and crush into fine powder. From this he made "rose pills" which patients were advised to keep under their tongues at all times without swallowing them. He was reputed to have saved thousands from plague in Narbonne, Carcassone, Toulouse and Bordeaux.
A master astrologer, Nostradamus was sought out by wealthy citizens to prepare their horoscopes. He travelled widely, practicing medical arts by day while at night participating in an underground network of alchemists and Kabbalists. Gradually, he became famous for his healing powers and when he returuned to Montpellier to take his doctorate degree, a large crowd gathered to hear him defend his unorthodox practices. He was awarded his degree and held a place on the medical faculty for three years before moving on to practice in Toulouse and then in Agen.
In 1537 plague struck Agen and Nostradamus confidently applied his methods, but when his own family was fatally afflicted, his medical reputation was destroyed. He ran afoul of the Inquisition and had to flee spending six years wandering throughout Europe. It was during this period that he began prophesying in earnest. After another period of personal and professional success when he successfully treated plague victims in Aix and then Salon, bad fortune recurred and again he was accused of heresy. In 1554 he began writing the first of his books of prophecy. His fame spread throughout Europe and he became a favorite of Queen Catherine de Medici. Nostradamus died at the age of 66 [sic 63], probably of renal complications of gout, and his name is still familiar today. However, few know that he was a Jewish doctor.
Sources: Article written by Michael Nevins, MD - courtesy of Jewish Medical History—Chevra/SIG
Hogue, John. Nostradamus: The New Revelations. (Barnes & Noble Books, 1995).