A renovation of a historic chateau in the French countryside has revealed handwritten confessionals on the underside of old floorboards written by a carpenter in the 1880's.
The new owners of the chateau of Picomtal in France could never have imagined what they would find as they began to tear up the old floorboards of their centuries-old estate: more than 70 planks of parquet flooring were discovered to have notes underneath written by a man named Joachim Martin.
Martin first began writing in pencil on the backsides of the floorboards that he was installing in 1880 when he was 38 years old, making his testimony nearly 140 years old.
Little else is known about Martin other than the work he left behind and the account he painstakingly details that, were it discovered at the time, would have rocked the small village where the castle stands.
What the notes left behind by Martin would account, once they were properly arranged and ordered, have stunned the scholars and public alike who have read them.
The author details, in sordid candidness, a terrible secret involving adultery, cruelty, and murder, making it clear that the weight of such crushing knowledge was torture.
Martin apparently found the floorboards to be the only mode in which he could get out his thoughts about the scandal, which had occurred 12 years before.
"In 1868 I was passing at midnight before the doorway of a stable. I heard groans. It was the mistress of one of my old friends and she was giving birth," he wrote.
Martin names the childhood friend in his notes on the floorboards as a man called Benjamin. Having waited years to share what he knew, Martin still found it entirely impossible to tell authorities about Benjamin's alleged crime due to a sense of loyalty to him. But neither could he reconcile with the truth.
In an amazing coincidence, Martin reveals that Benjamin's mother was actually the mistress of his own father.
"All I have to do is say one word and point my finger at the stables and they'd all be in prison," wrote Martin. "But I won't. He's my old childhood friend. And his mother is my father's mistress."
According to Martin's recollection, Benjamin's mistress mothered 6 of his children, born under the cover of darkness in the very same barn where Benjamin would do the inconceivable:
He murdered 4 of the babies to hide the truth about having the affair, a monstrous deceit that would have gone forgotten had it not been for Martin.
The murder of children is incomprehensible in our modern era, as it also seems to have been to Joachim when he wrote about it. He had a variety of opinions about life in 1880's France that he shared in his writings, ranging from the secret of his friend's affair to his thoughts about sex and religion.
Joachim realized that his memoir would be uncovered someday, addressing the reader at one point, "Happy Mortal. When you read this, I shall be no more." In his last entry, he penned his feelings about that prospect. "My story is short and sincere and frank because none but you shall see my writing."
Historian Jacques-Olivier Boudon believes Joachim has given today's world the gift of context for understanding a time of great change in French history, as the Third Republic brought reforms limiting the powers of the church.
"These are the words of an ordinary working man, a man of the people. And he is saying things that are very personal because he knows they will not ever be read except a long time in the future," said Boudon.