Michel de Nostredame (1503-1566) was born in Saint-Rémy de Provence on 14 December 1503. His paternal grandfather, Guy Gasson of the Issachar tribe, took the name of Pierre de Nostredame at the time of his conversion – the name Nostredame was then very common amongst Jewish converts. A Jewish ascendancy is also suspected on his maternal side, whose ancestors would have taken the name Saint-Rémy.
It was his maternal grandfather, the famous Doctor Jean de Saint-Rémy who took charge of his education and introduced him to mathematics, astronomy, medicine and to Kabbalah since he was of Jewish origin. He gave him this taste for knowledge which was characteristic of the Renaissance and which soon led him on the roads to France and Italy to complete his training. He studied rhetoric and philosophy in Avignon, and completed his medical studies in Montpellier; he became a Doctor in 1530 under the applause of his professors. Above all, he devoted himself to healing plague victims in different towns. In 1545 he set himself up in Salon, and threw himself into the study and practice of astronomy and astrology. He proclaimed himself an “Astrophile Doctor” and became a reputable astrologist whose clientele spanned all levels of society Europe-wide.
From 1550 until his death, Nostradamus published almanacs, but it was only those published after 1555 that left significant traces. The almanacs (collections of calendrical and astronomical data, information, advice and prognostications) were very popular from the beginning of the 16th century. Following a series of visions, he wrote a collection of prophecies: the Centuries, comprising one thousand quatrains subdivided into sets of a hundred. The collection of the first 353 quatrains of the Centuries was published in Lyon, by Macé Bonhomme, in 1555. It had an immediate success amongst princes and sovereigns of the time, and for a good reason: the Centuries claimed to foretell historical events until the Year 3797. Catherine of Medicis, Charles IX and his brothers generously rewarded him for those predictions that were favourable to them. He published the second part of the Centuries in 1556. Finally, the Letter to Henry II, which is the preface of the last sequel of the Prophecies, is dated 14 March 1557. The last quatrains were published in 1558.
According to the author himself, the work requires a reading key, which he did not give. Hence the multiplicity of possible interpretations of these quatrains; written in an archaic French, not always easy to understand, and in which the symbolic escapes us for the most. Not to mention the numerous “forgeries” which have “enriched” the Centuries throughout history, rendering it difficult to distinguish with certainty the additions to the original.
The number of interpretations – often contradictory – of these almanacs should suffice to discredit their “prophetic” use.