Nostradamus's final secret revealed: there's one born every minute

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The Independent Online

"And on the fourteenth day of the twelfth month in the year 2003, there will be a great gathering of travellers from many nations, and they will meet at St Rémy and Salon in the south of the land known as France, and they will talk in wonder, and buy T-shirts and mouse mats and 'other cool stuff'. All this will be to honour the name and work of Michel de Notredame."

The Independent on Sunday can reveal that De Notredame - aka Nostradamus, scientist, soothsayer and undisputed king of I-told-you-so - will have been born 500 years ago on the 14 December.

To mark the event, and pay homage to what some call the high art of prognostication, a band of die-hard enthusiasts for the man and his oeuvre will converge on St Rémy in Provence, where Nostradamus was born, as well as nearby Salon, where he worked and died.

Organised by the Nostradamus Society of America (NSA) and the Nostradamus Museum at Salon, the 500th anniversary celebrations in France will include a "Table Ronde Nostradamique", featuring leading lights from his intensely loyal band of followers, whose enthusiasm is undiminished even by the failure of the world to implode in 1999 - as some readings of his texts implied.

Nostradamus was born at St Rémy in 1503 to a Jewish family that had converted to Catholicism. He studied medicine and astrology and worked as a doctor and keen proponent of modern notions such as hygiene and strongly opposed to the practice of blood-letting. He was also a radical in his assertion that the world was round, and orbited the sun.

Falling foul of church dogma, he travelled outside France, before settling in Salon. In his fifties he began to write his predictions, called "Centuries" as each book contained 100 verses. In all, he made more than 6,300 predictions, as well as a collection of "Perpetual Prophecies" setting the fate of the world until the year 3797. His fame spread, and he was fêted at the French court. He died in 1566, a very rich man.

But was he right? His famous prediction of Hitler arises from an assertion that "a captain of Greater Germany" will rise, though the name "hister" is now thought to refer to an ancient name for the river Danube. Also allegedly foretold were the World Wars, the Kennedy assassinations and, inevitably, the terrorist attacks in America ("the great king of terror who comes from the sky to the New City"). Even followers of Nostradamus now claim a "hit-rate" of only about 10 per cent correct predictions.

But more gloom is in store, according to Victor Baines, director of the NSA. "The future? More war and terror with the Muslims and big earthquakes in the US before 2025," he exclusively revealed to The Independent on Sunday.

Five centuries on, the master still generates money. "We have about 25,000 visitors a year," says Jacqueline Allemand, director of the museum at Salon, based in the house where he lived and died. "People here are very proud of him, lots of shops and businesses are called Nostradamus this, and Nostradamus that."

The NSA boasts its own "cool stuff" range of personalised gifts, among them the $15.99 Nostradamus lunchbox - perfect for that last picnic - and the "angelic mouse pad" is just $12.99. In the days following the 11 September 2001 terrorist attacks, sales of his predictions soared, reaching best-seller lists across much of the western world.

Not everyone is impressed by his legacy. "There's always his appeal to the dotty, isn't there," says Dr Gillian Evans, professor of medieval theology and intellectual history at Cambridge University. "One falls about laughing."

Dr Evans sees human gullibility as the key ingredient. "He said lots of things in lots of ways that people wanted to hear, and in every generation there is a large raft of people with bad taste."

One prediction at least did come true. On 1 July 1566 a friend bade him goodnight, saying "Until tomorrow." "You will not find me alive at sunrise," replied the master, who went on to bed. And died that night.