Tag Archives: Pope Leo XIII

You’re Having A Laugh – Part Twenty Seven

The Taxil hoax

There’s nothing like a good conspiracy theory and, even better, a sinner who spectacularly renounces his sins. The incredible story of Léo Taxil, the nom de plume of Marie Joseph Gabriel Antoine Jogand-Pagès, has these elements and more.

Despite, or perhaps because, being earmarked by his parents for a life as a Catholic priest in France, Taxil developed fervent anti-religious, anti-Catholic views. As a journalist he wrote a series of satires exposing the perceived follies of the Catholic church, his pièce de resistance being the semi-pornographic book, the Secret Loves of Pius IX, published in 1881 and for which he was accused of libel. Then, to the astonishment of many, in 1885 Taxil publicly converted back to Catholicism, renouncing his past indiscretions and swearing to rectify the damage he had brought on the Church through his satirical exposés.

During the latter half of the nineteenth century the Catholic church had had an increasingly fractured relationship with the Freemasons. In 1884 Pope Leo XIII had issued an encyclical entitled Humanum genus in which he set out a Manichaean vision of a struggle between those who served “the kingdom of God” and those who served “the kingdom of Satan”. The Pope’s particular ire was directed at the Masons and gripped by a serious case of conspiracy theory he wrote “the partisans of evil seem to be combining together, and to be struggling with united vehemence, led on or assisted by that strongly organised and widespread association called Freemasons”.

What better way for Taxil to demonstrate his newly found Catholic zeal than to use his investigative skills to penetrate into the deepest recesses of the world of freemasonry. He began to publish a series of pamphlets denouncing the freemasons in the 1890s and in a book on Satanism claimed to have met a woman called Diana Vaughan. Vaughan was no ordinary woman, her memoirs, penned by Taxil, claiming that she had penetrated into the heart of the Palladian Order, a sect of the American Freemason movement. Through their offices she had visited Mars, had seen demons summoned by Masons during their black masses, and gave details of a secret factory in the arctic which produced anti-Church and pro-Satanist propaganda.

No matter how outlandish and bizarre the claims Vaughan made were, they were manna from hell for Pope Leo who promulgated them as evidence of the fact that Satanists were amongst God-fearing folk, determined to frustrate the workings of the Church. Those of an anti-masonic disposition were also prepared to believe Vaughan’s testimony but Masons were not convinced, challenging Taxil to produce this remarkable woman. Bowing to the pressure, Taxil agreed to give a public lecture on April 19, 1897 at which all would be revealed.

In front of a packed house in Paris, including several priests priests, Taxil revealed that he was a serial prankster with a string of elaborate hoaxes to his name. This was the most elaborate and he thanked the Church for allowing the oxygen of publicity to expose the fanatical hatred of masonry amongst the Church establishment. He the produced Diana who was his typist and had gone along with the deception for a laugh.

The audience was in uproar and the police had to be summoned to escort Taxil off the premises to the safety of a nearby café. Taxil soon left Paris and saw out his days in Sceauxin until his death in 1907.

But his legacy lived on. In fundamentalist Catholic circles his work was accepted as proof of a Satanist plot to control the world. After all, we do like a good conspiracy theory, even if it is hogwash.

If you enjoyed this, why not try Fifty Scams and Hoaxes by Martin Fone


Quacks Pretend To Cure Other Men’s Disorders But Rarely Find A Cure For Their Own – Part Thirty Seven


Angelo Mariani and John Pemberton

Colombian Marching Powder aka Cocaine is an illicit substance in many parts of the world these days but just 150 years ago some quacks were keen to market its medicinal properties.

The first half of our unholy duo is Angelo Mariani, a French chemist, who in the early 1860s was fascinated with coca and its effects. By 1863 he had come up with a hooch which went by the name of Vin Mariani or to give it its full title, Vin Tonique Mariani (a la Coca du Perou). A mix of Bordeaux wine and coca leaves, the ethanol acted as an agent extracting the cocaine from the leaves. It must have been a heady mix as it contained 6 milligrams of cocaine for every fluid ounce of wine. The colourful advertisements, often featuring girls dancing whilst sipping the red tincture from a glass, boasted that it would restore health, energy, strength and vitality.


It sold like hot cakes and the list of its users included the great and the good. Queen Victoria was partial to a drop as were the Popes, Leo XIII and Saint Pius X. Pope Leo even went so far as to award Mariani the Vatican gold medal and appeared on a poster endorsing the wine. The headline, Pope on Coke, clearly had a different impact in those more innocent times and was a boon to sales in Catholic countries. Thomas Edison claimed, not unsurprisingly given the contents, that it helped to stay awake longer and Ulysses S Grant found it useful in writing his memoirs, a sentiment anyone unfortunate enough to read them would readily understand.

In attempting to crack the export market Mariani had to up the cocaine content to 7.2 milligrams a fluid ounce to compete with some of the cocaine based drinks available in the United States. And this is where our other quack, former Confederate colonel John Pemberton, comes in. Addicted to morphine following on from his war wounds Pemberton was keen to find an alternative to the opiate. Almost certainly inspired by Mariani’s tincture, Pemberton developed his prototype drink, registered in 1885 as French Wine Coca Nerve Tonic, at the Eagle Drug and Chemical House in Columbus in Georgia.


Timing is everything and in 1886 the state of Georgia passed prohibition legislation that, you might think, would have sounded the death-knell for Pemberton’s hooch. But think again. Pemberton simply removed the alcoholic content from his drink and relaunched it as Coca-cola. It was dispensed from soda fountains at five cents a glass and was marketed as a patent medicine. The early advertisements proclaimed that it would cure amongst other things morphine addiction, dyspepsia, neurasthenia, headaches and impotence. Pemberton’s potion cashed in on the belief in America that carbonated water was good for your health.

Coca-cola was heavily marketed. In 1888 tickets were printed and distributed entitling the bearer to one glass of free Coca-cola at the fountain of any genuine dispenser of the drink. By 1913 8.5 million of the tickets had been redeemed. The product was well on the road to global domination.

Coca-cola, of course, is now one of the world’s leading carbonated drinks and it is fascinating to note that it owed its origins to a cocaine based alcoholic drink, developed in France and promoted by the papacy. Today it is better known for its contribution to obesity and tooth decay and for its astonishing ability to clean jewellery. But that is another story.