NUNS - TOUCHED BY EVIL
Mysterious 17th century coded letter written by a nun
"possessed by the devil" is finally translated
The devilish letter, found in a Sicilian convent, claims God was created by man and that 'God thinks he can free mortals'
Scientists from Ludum Science Centre in Catania, Sicily have decoded its nonsensical message, which describes God, Jesus and the Holy Spirit as "dead weights".
It was penned by Sister Maria Crocifissa della Concezione, a 31-year-old nun living at the convent of Palma di Montechiaro in Sicily. On Aug. 11, 1676, she was found on the floor of her cell, her face covered in ink, holding a note written in an incomprehensible mix of symbols and letters, according to historical records. Sister Maria apparently said the letter was written by the devil in an attempt to get her to turn away from God and toward evil.
The nuns believed her and displayed the letter at the convent, hoping someone will be able to make sense of its code.
The message, just 14 lines of jumbled, archaic letters, has for centuries defied every attempt at understanding its meaning.
Now, scientists at the Ludum science museum in Sicily have used an intelligence-grade code-breaking software to solve the mystery. They also looked at historical records of the nun and her life, to learn more about the woman.
"When working on historical decryption, you cannot ignore the psychological profile of the writer. We needed to know as much as possible about this nun," said Ludum Director Daniele Abate.
Sister Maria Crocifissa della Concezione, born Isabella Tomasi (she was an ancestor of Italian writer Giuseppe Tomasi di Lampedusa), entered the Benedictine convent when she was only 15 years old, according to historical records.
"The letter appeared as if it was written in shorthand. We speculated that Sister Maria created a new vocabulary using ancient alphabets that she may have known," Abate said.
To find out for sure, the researches first tested the software they used with some standard shorthand symbols from different languages. They found that the nun's letter contained a mix of words from ancient alphabets such as Greek, Latin, Runic and Arabic.
"We analyzed how the syllables and graphisms [or thoughts depicted as symbols] repeated in the letter in order to locate vowels, and we ended up with a refined decryption algorithm," Abate said.
He said the team did not have great expectations for the outcome.
"We thought we could just come out with a few words making sense. But the nun had a good command of languages," he said, adding "the message was more complete than expected."
Rambling in nature and not entirely understandable, the letter, in addition to calling the Holy Trinity "dead weights," goes on to say that "God thinks he can free mortals ... The system works for no one ... Perhaps now, Styx is certain."
In Greek and Roman mythology, Styx is the river separating the netherworld from the world of the living.
Abete said the letter suggests that Sister Maria suffered from schizophrenia or bipolar disorder. "The image of the devil is often present in these disorders. We learned from historical records that every night she screamed and fought against the devil," Abate said.
For the church of that time, the letter was instead considered the outcome of her struggle against "innumerable evil spirits," according to a written account about the occurrence by Abbess Maria Serafica.
According to Serafica's account of the nun's behavior written shortly after the incident, the devil would have forced Sister Maria (who was later blessed) to sign the letter. She heroically opposed the demand by writing, "Ohimé" (oh me), which is the only comprehensible word in the letter.
The Tanacu exorcism was a case in which Maricica Irina Cornici, a mentally ill nun at the Romanian Orthodox Church monastery of Tanacu in Vaslui County, Romania, was killed during an exorcism by priest Daniel Petre Corogeanu with the help of four other nuns. The case was widely publicized in the Romanian media and, following a lengthy trial, the five were convicted for murder.
In January 2005, 23-year-old Maricica Irina Cornici moved to the Tanacu monastery. She was born into a broken family, and, following her father's suicide, she and her brother grew up in an orphanage. When she was 19, she worked as a nanny in Germany, and then for a family in Banat. A friend of hers from the orphanage became a nun at the Tanacu monastery and she encouraged her to also become a nun.
Soon after, she began giggling during Mass and, by April, her mental state deteriorated and the doctors at the local psychiatric hospital diagnosed her disease as schizophrenia and, after a two-week treatment, they released her into the care of the monastery.
Daniel Petre Corogeanu was the 29-year-old priest of the monastery. A decade before the events, he was a football player in Vaslui, his home town. He began following religious studies at the Iași University after he failed to get into the Bucharest University, where he wanted to study sports or law. A year later, a businessman from his home town recruited him to help build a monastery in the hills near the city. He was ordained by the local bishop, who expected that he would continue his studies. Nevertheless, he gave up his university education in order to devote himself to running the monastery.
In 2003, Father Corogeanu had some disputes with the diocese and the bishop came to read him the canon law, he argued that the rules are "19th century innovations" made by the Freemasonry. The original community of monks broke as they left to become priests and, instead, Corogeanu organized a community of nuns, who were, according to all accounts, "completely devout to him".
Father Corogeanu thought that it was not just a mental illness, but rather Cornici was possessed by Satan. He would later claim that "you can't take the Devil out of people with pills" and that an exorcism was necessary.
The nuns bound her hands and feet and locked her in her room while they celebrated the Ascension of Jesus. A few days later, they chained her to a cross with her arms stretched and they carried her into the church. Her wrists and her forehead were anointed with holy oil and she was kept in the church for three days. They put a towel into her mouth to stop her from cursing and they prayed to cast out the Devil as they wet her lips with holy water.
Cornici was then moved to her room and they removed the chains. She was, according to Father Corogeanu, "cured". When the nuns could not wake her up and sensed that her pulse was weak, they called an ambulance, but, by the time she reached the hospital, she was dead.
The police were notified by the doctors at the hospital, who noticed the marks that were left on her wrists and ankles by the chains. The autopsy found that she died of dehydration, exhaustion and a lack of oxygen.
The Romanian Orthodox Church closed down the monastery and had Corogeanu defrocked.
Father Corogeanu and the four nuns that helped him were charged with murder and depriving a person of liberty. Prosecutors sought a life sentence for Corogeanu, but he was sentenced in 2007 to 14 years in prison, while the nuns to between 5 and 8 years. The Court of Appeals reduced his sentence to 7 years and Corogeanu was freed on parole in November 2011 after serving two-thirds of his punishment.
The case had dominated Romania's news coverage, prompting headlines such as "Romania in the Middle Ages". The 2012 movie Beyond the Hills directed by Cristian Mungiu was based on the novels written by Tatiana Niculescu Bran and inspired by the Tanacu case.
Nun Dies After Convent Exorcism
June 24, 2005
The whispers started in April in the mind of the 23-year-old nun.
In the heart of an Orthodox convent in Romania's impoverished northeast, doctors say, Maricica Irina Cornici believed she heard the devil talking to her, telling her she was sinful.
She was treated for schizophrenia, but when she relapsed, a monk and four nuns tried a different method: exorcism.
Last week, Cornici was bound to a cross, gagged with a towel and left in a dank room at the convent for three days without food where she died of suffocation and dehydration.
The case has stunned this impoverished nation where rural youths, many raised in orphanages like Cornici, have flocked to Orthodox monasteries and convents for spiritual help or food and shelter. Polls show the Orthodox Church to be the nation's most trusted institution.
In April, Cornici was admitted to a psychiatric hospital in the northeast city of Vaslui.
"She thought the devil was talking to her and told her that she was a sinful person," said Dr. Gheorghe Silvestrovici, a psychiatrist who treated her. "It's a symptom of schizophrenia, and she was probably having her first episode."
The nun was given medication and released on April 20 to the care of the Holy Trinity convent in the nearby village of Tanacu, an isolated community of about 1,000 people in a hilly area cultivated with vineyards and corn.
She was supposed to return in 10 days, but never did.
Daniel Petru Corogeanu, a 29-year-old red-bearded monk who served as the convent's priest and allegedly led the exorcism, told the media he was trying to take devils out of the nun. He said she had to be restrained because she was violent and that she refused to drink holy water.
Corogeanu and the four nuns were charged with aggravated murder on Wednesday in Cornici's death after testifying for 11 hours to prosecutors. If found guilty, they could face up to 25 years in prison.
The monk said Friday outside the courtroom that he and the nuns were innocent and blamed media pressure for their arrests.
His lawyer has asked for the case to be moved to a different location, citing the intense media and public scrutiny in the area. Romania's Supreme Court is expected to rule on a location for the trial.
"I am scared that if I went to the monastery they would crucify me, too," said Ioan Hristea, a 52-year-old former welder who suffers from epilepsy and said he was hospitalized with Cornici.
Others said the prosecutors were swayed by the public pressure and went too far by charging the suspects with aggravated murder, and that a lesser charge of manslaughter would have been more appropriate.
Aggravated murder implies intention and committing the crime with intentional sadism," said Aurelian Pavelescu, a lawyer and member of Romania's parliament. "But they believed they were helping the woman, that they were curing her from her pains."
In Cornici's native village of Perieni, about an hour drive from the convent, her relatives demanded justice for the young woman, who they said joined the convent just days before she was admitted to the hospital.
"She was disfigured, she had marks on her hands, her ankles and her stomach," said her aunt, Anisoara Antohi, 29, standing by Cornici's grave, marked with a simple wooden cross with the words "Sister Irina" scribbled on it.
"She was a good girl. It was too cruel, God, much too cruel," her great-uncle, Gheorghe Antohi, 53, said as he burst into tears. Those who allegedly killed her "should all be crucified like her."
In Tanacu, a couple said they met Corogeanu, the monk accused in the case, when he baptized their godson at the convent, a wooden building with a metal roof that overlooks a rolling hill.
"He held a beautiful service," said Petrica Pintilie. "Who knows what happened there?"
The church has closed the convent, and its gates were chained Friday. A nearby sign warns that no men are allowed in after 4 p.m. and that only Orthodox believers who are properly dressed can enter.
"Here we only talk to God and we sing with the angels in silence and with much prayer," says another sign posted on the convent's white fence.
The Orthodox Church has strongly condemned the exorcism ritual in Tanacu as "abominable." It has banned Corogeanu from the priesthood and excluded the four nuns from the church.
Orthodox monasteries and convents have flourished in Romania since the 1989 fall of Nicolae Ceausescu's brutal communist regime, which suppressed religion.
The Tanacu convent was built in 2001 by a private donor and had not yet been sanctified by the church.
Cornici's death and the revelation that Corogeanu was ordained as a priest without having finished his theological studies have prompted the church to impose stricter rules for entering monasteries, including psychological tests.
'Crucified' Romanian nun exhumed
The body of a trainee nun who was allegedly crucified in an exorcism at a monastery in eastern Romania has been exhumed, the state news agency reports.
Irina Cornici, 23, died in June after being tied to a cross and starved.
Principal monk Daniel Petru Corogeanu, who said the novice was possessed by the devil, has been charged with murder and illegal confinement.
He, and four nuns also charged, had asked for an autopsy on the exhumed body in a bid to prove their innocence.
A first autopsy concluded the nun died due to dehydration, exhaustion and lack of oxygen, state news agency Rompres reported at the time.
The agency quoted defence lawyer Maria Ilisei as saying that they hoped a second autopsy would uncover "the real causes of the death".
"It will be a complex affair to provide all the answers that remained unanswered from the first examination."
Prosecutors and forensic doctors arrived at the village of Perieni where Ms Cornici is buried on Wednesday morning, Rompres reported.
Her parents had prayed at the graveside before the exhumation began.
"It is good that they exhumed her, maybe this way the truth will come out and those who killed her will pay," her father, Costica Antohi, was quoted by Rompres as saying.
Irina Cornici, who grew up in an orphanage, is said to have arrived at the remote Holy Trinity monastery in Tanacu three months before her death.
She was reported to suffer from schizophrenia.
It is thought the symptoms of her condition may have led the priest and four nuns to believe she was possessed by the devil and the crucifixion was part of an exorcism ritual.
Another novice from the monastery, Iustina Galca, told the BBC that the nuns had not even given Ms Cornici water during her ordeal.
When asked if the nuns had tried to protest against the woman's treatment, she said they had all obeyed the priest.
The Orthodox Church condemned the incident as "abominable", banned Father Daniel from the priesthood and excluded the four nuns from the church.
The five accused, who deny murder, are on bail pending trial. They could face 20 years in jail if found guilty.
Romanian Priest Gets 14 Years for Killing Nun in Exorcism
February 19, 2007
A Romanian priest was sentenced to 14 years in prison Monday for causing the death of a nun during an exorcism ritual. Four nuns were also sentenced in connection with her death.
Irina Maricica Cornici, 23, died in June 2005 at the secluded Holy Trinity convent in the northeast Romanian village of Tanacu.
She was tied up for several days without food or water and chained to a cross during an exorcism ritual led by Daniel Petru Corogeanu, 31, a monk who served as the convent's priest, and four other nuns.
The court in the northeast city of Vaslui convicted Corogeanu and the nuns of holding Cornici captive, resulting in her death. One of the nuns — Nicoleta Arcalianu was sentenced to eight years in prison, and the other three — Adina Cepraga, Elena Otel and Simona Bardanas — received five-year sentences.
Dozens of Corogeanu's supporters packed the courtroom and prayed for the priest, with several bursting into tears when the verdict was announced.
The defendants' lawyers plan to appeal, saying the prison sentences were too harsh.
Cornici's death stunned Romania and prompted the Orthodox Church to promise reforms, including psychological tests for those seeking to enter monasteries.
The church, which has benefited from a religious revival in recent years, condemned the Tanacu ritual as "abominable" and banned Corogeanu from the priesthood and excommunicated the four nuns from the church.
In 1999, when the Vatican issued its first new guidelines since 1614 for driving out devils, it urged priests to take modern psychiatry into account in deciding who should be exorcised.
Three of Tanacu nuns jailed for exorcism death have been released
January 17, 2011
Three of the four nuns at the Vaslui monastery of Tanacu serving prison time for the exorcism death of a fellow nun in 2005 were released from the Targusor Penitentiary late last week. Petru Corogeanu, a priest at the same monastery, was also sentenced to prison over the case, which involved the exorcistic crucifixion on a wooden cross of a nun at the same monastery. The nuns, who were sentenced to five years in jail, had originally been detained at the Vaslui Penitentiary, from where they were transferred to the Targusor Penitentiary, Prahova County.
The nuns were released early from prison for good conduct. “During their time in prison, the nuns had a good conduct, including their participation in the cultural and educational activities of the penitentiary. They also attended religious services at the prison chapel and performed over 100 days of labour. All that led to their jail time being reduced and their early conditional release,” Claudiu Stefan, the spokesman for the Targusor Penitentiary, told Mediafax. The fourth nun, the Tanacu abbes, sentenced in connection with the case is due for release during this year. In his turn, Priest Petru Daniel Corogranu will be released from jail in the spring of 2012, when he completes his seven-year jail sentence. He is serving his sentence at the Vaslui Penitentiary.
Priest who killed nun by crucifixion in botched exorcism chased out of town
Jul 16, 2014
Sarah Ann Harris
Father Daniel Corogeanu, 33, and four nuns had been attempting to cure her of her "possession" - which was actually schizophrenia.
He claimed the ritual, performed near the remote Tanacu Monastery in eastern Romania, was actually “quite normal” and it was the fault of medics that she died.
But Corogeanu was convicted of killing the nun in an exorcism carried out in June 2005 and given a seven year sentence. He just been released from jail and attempted to set up a new monastery dedicated to the nun's memory.
However angry locals have made clear they can never forgive and he has been chased out of town and is now believed to be hiding in the woods.
At the time of the trial, Corogeanu said: “I consider myself not guilty because Irina Conrici's death was not down to the fact that we kept her locked up.
"We tied her up because she kept hitting and harming herself and we would have found her dead in her room eventually.
"I admit I tied her up and stuck a towel in her mouth and kept her like this for five days. I admit that I used to cover her mouth with tape while she took part in daily mass, but only because I did not want her to disturb the service.
"Four nuns helped me tie her up and guarded Irina for days. They tried to give her food and water but she refused. All she accepted was holy water.
"This was the best solution for her because she had to recover from her constant agitation."
"My biggest mistake was that I called the ambulance when I saw she was not moving. I think she died because the medics who came with the ambulance tried to resuscitate her by giving her too much adrenaline.
"Had I not called the ambulance, she would have been well now.
"It was the last stage of her exorcism and it is normal that a person possessed by demons faints when all the prayers end. She was supposed to recover after that."
The Loudun possessions was a notorious witchcraft trial in Loudun, France in 1634. A convent of Ursuline nuns said they had been visited and possessed by demons. Following an investigation by the Catholic Church, a local priest named Father Urbain Grandier was accused of summoning the evil spirits. He was eventually convicted of the crimes of sorcery and burned at the stake.
The case contains similar themes to other witchcraft trials that occurred throughout western Europe in the 17th century, such as the Aix-en-Provence possessions (France) in 1611 or the Pendle witches (England) in 1612 before reaching the New World by the 1690s.
Early trials and conspiracy
The pact was allegedly signed between Urbain Grandier and the Devil, stolen from the Devil's cabinet of pacts by the demon Asmodeus. This page shows the signatures of all demons in possession of the Ursuline nuns at Loudun and the note added Dictionnaire infernal by Collin de Plancy (1826)
The alleged pact signed between Grandier and the Devil
Urbain Grandier was appointed parish priest of St-Pierre-du-Marché in Loudun, a town in Poitou, France, in 1617. Grandier was considered to be a very good-looking man, and was both wealthy and well-educated. The combination made the priest a target for the attention of girls in Loudun, one of whom was Philippa Trincant, the daughter of the King's solicitor in Loudun. It was believed by the people of Loudun that Grandier was the father of Trincant's child. In addition to Trincant, Grandier openly courted Madeleine de Brou, daughter of the King's councillor in Loudun. Most assumed that Madeleine was Grandier's mistress after he wrote a treatise against the celibacy of priests for her.
Grandier was also a very well-connected man, high in political circles. When he was arrested and found guilty of immorality on June 2, 1630, it was these connections that restored him to full clerical duties within the same year. Presiding over the case was Chasteigner de La Roche Posay, the Bishop of Poitiers, a man who was known to dislike Grandier and admitted to wanting him out of the parish.
Two stories exist about what happened next. Either the Bishop of Poitiers approached Father Mignon, confessor to the Ursuline nuns, and a plan was made to persuade a few of the sisters to feign possession and denounce Grandier, or Father Mignon was approached by the Mother Superior Jeanne des Anges (Joan of the Angels) for help.
Joan of the Angels
According to the first story, Father Mignon readily persuaded the Mother Superior, Jeanne des Anges, and another nun to comply. They would claim that Father Grandier had bewitched them, falling into fits and convulsions, often holding their breath and speaking in tongues.
The second story claims that Jeanne had illicit dreams about Father Grandier, who appeared to her as a radiant angel. As an angel, he enticed her to sexual acts, causing her to rave loudly at night. Jeanne suffered flagellation and did penance for the night-time disturbances, but she was no less troubled and soon it was found that other nuns were being haunted by hallucinations and vulgar dreams. It was then, this version claims, that Mother Superior Jeanne des Anges called for Father Mignon to hear her confession and purge the convent of demons.
However it came about, Father Mignon and his aide, Father Pierre Barré, saw in the activity an opportunity to remove Grandier.
Fathers Mignon and Barré immediately proceeded to perform exorcisms on the possessed nuns. Several of the nuns, including Jeanne des Anges, suffered violent convulsions during the procedure, shrieking and making sexual motions toward the priests. Following the lead of Jeanne des Anges, many of the nuns reported illicit dreams. The accusers would suddenly bark, scream, blaspheme, and contort their bodies. During the exorcisms, Jeanne swore that she and the other nuns were possessed by two demons named Asmodeus and Zebulun. These demons were sent to the nuns when Father Grandier tossed a bouquet of roses over the convent walls.
Nearby and realizing the danger he was in, Father Grandier pleaded with the bailiff of Loudun to isolate the nuns; the bailiff's orders were ignored, and the exorcisms and denouncements continued. Desperate, Grandier wrote to the Archbishop of Bordeaux, who sent his personal doctor to examine the nuns. No evidences of true possession were found, and the Archbishop ordered the exorcisms to cease on March 21, 1633. The nuns were sequestered in their cells.
Having failed to remove Grandier, his contemporaries continued their efforts in earnest. One of these was Jean de Laubardemont, a relative of Jeanne des Anges' and favored by the powerful Cardinal Richelieu. Laubardemont and a Capuchin monk, Tranquille, visited the Cardinal with news of the unsuccessful exorcisms and added further evidence against Grandier by providing a copy of a libelous satire Grandier had written about Richelieu. Aware that a relative of his, Sister Claire, was in the Loudun convent, Richelieu asserted his power and organized the Royal Commission to arrest and investigate Grandier as a witch. Laubardemont was appointed head of the commission.
Public exorcisms at Loudun
When exorcisms resumed at Loudun, they were led by the expert exorcists Capuchin Father Tranquille, Franciscan Father Lactance, and Jesuit Father Jean-Joseph Surin, and they were held publicly; up to 7,000 spectators attended. The priests employed dramatic commands, threats, and rituals to both direct and encourage the nuns in their accusations against Grandier.
Adding to the hysteria prompted by the public exorcisms were the stories told by both nuns and Father Grandier's former lovers. As in both the Louviers possessions and the Aix-en-Provence possessions, the claims made against Grandier were overtly sexual and showed visible physical responses. Because they were public and dramatic, the citizens of Loudun and surrounding areas were set against Grandier.
In addition to the dreams that Jeanne des Anges and other nuns had related, Jeanne added a third demon to the array of possessors afflicting the nuns: Isacaron, the devil of debauchery. After admitting to this third demon possessor, Jeanne went through a psychosomatic pregnancy. In all, Jeanne and the other nuns claimed to be possessed by a multitude of demons: Asmodeus, Zabulon, Isacaaron, Astaroth, Gresil, Amand, Leviatom, Behemot, Beherie, Easas, Celsus, Acaos, Cedon, Naphthalim, Cham, Ureil and Achas.
In an effort to clear his name, Father Grandier performed an exorcism on the nuns himself. He spoke to the nuns in Greek, testing their knowledge of languages previously unknown to them (a sure sign of possession). The nuns had been coached, and responded that they had been ordered in their pact to never use Greek.
In another exorcism, performed by Father Gault, the priest obtained a promise from the demon Asmodeus to leave one of the nuns he was possessing. Later, a devil's pact allegedly written between the Devil and Grandier was presented to the court. In this pact, stolen from Lucifer's cabinet of pacts by Asmodeus himself, was signed in blood by Grandier and various demons. Asmodeus had apparently written out the same promise he'd given to Father Gault on this pact:
I promise that when leaving this creature, I will make a slit below her heart as long as a pin, that this slit will pierce her shirt, bodice and cloth which will be bloody. And tomorrow, on the twentieth of May at five in the afternoon of Saturday, I promise that the demons Gresil and Amand will make their opening in the same way, but a little smaller - and I approve the promises made by Leviatam, Behemot, Beherie with their companions to sign, when leaving, the register of the church of St. Croix! Given the nineteenth of May 1629.
Later historians would prove that this note was written in Jeanne des Anges' hand. An image of the pact is presented at the top of this article.
Torture at Loudun
On December 7, 1633, Father Grandier was put in prison at the Castle of Angers. His body was shaved and a successful search for devil's marks was made by inquisitors. Protests by Dr. Fourneau, the physician who prepared Grandier for torture, and the apothecary from Poitiers were ignored. These protests claimed the inspection was a hoax, and stated that no such marks had been found.
Nicholas Aubin's 1693 The Cheats and Illusions of Romish Priest and Exorcists Discovered in the History of the Devils of Loudun describes what happened next:
They sent for Mannouri the surgeon, one of [Grandier's] enemies, and the most unmerciful of them all; when he [came] into the chamber, they stripped Grandier stark naked, blinded his eyes, shaved him every where, and Mannouri began to search him. When he would persuade them that the parts of his body which had been marked by the Devil were insensible, he turned that end of the probe which was round, and he guided it in such a manner, that not being able to enter into the flesh, nor to make much impression, it was pushed back into the palm of his hand; the patient did not then cry out, because he felt no pain; but when the barbarous surgeon would make them see that the other parts of his body were very sensible, he turned the probe at the other end, which was very sharp pointed, and thrust it to the very bone; and then the abundance of people [outside] heard complaints so bitter, and cries so piercing, that they [were] moved...to the heart
Other people spoke in Grandier's defense, even some of the possessed nuns proclaimed his innocence. Laubardemont, fulfilling his duty to convict Grandier, explained that the nuns' reactions were a ploy by Satan to save Grandier. Jeanne des Anges appeared in court with a noose tied around her neck, violently stating that she would hang herself if she could not recant her earlier lies. All defenses were ignored, and some defense witnesses were pressured to keep silent. Publicly, Laubardemont announced that any citizens who testified in favour of Grandier would be arrested as traitors to the King and have their possessions confiscated. Many of these witnesses fled France.
While the defense witnesses were forced to flee, 72 witnesses swore evidence against Grandier, who was denied the normal procedure of trial by a secular court. Had he been tried by secular court, Grandier could have appealed to the Parliament of Paris. Instead, Richelieu's committee took charge of the legal proceedings.
Grandier's trial took place in Loudun itself, and he was closely imprisoned in the converted attic of a house there for the duration of it.
Nearly a year later, August 18, 1634, the Royal Commission found Grandier guilty of all counts against him and passed sentence - Grandier would be burned alive at the stake:
We have ordered and do order the said Urbain Grandier duly tried and convicted of the crime of magic, maleficia, and of causing demoniacal possession of several Ursuline nuns of this town of Loudun, as well as of other secular women, together with other charges and crimes resulting therefrom. For atonement of which, we have condemned and do condemn the said Grandier to make amende honorable, his head bare, a rope round his neck, holding in his hand a burning taper weighing two pounds, before the principal door of the church of St. Pierre-du-Marché, and before that of St. Ursula of this town. There on his knees, to ask pardon of God, the King, and the law; this done, he is to be taken to the public square of St. Croix, and fastened to a stake on a scaffold, which shall be erected on the said place for this purpose, and there to be burned alive...and his ashes scattered to the wind. We have ordered and so do order that each and every article of his moveable property be acquired and confiscated by the King; the sum of 500 livres first being taken for buying a bronze plaque on which will be engraved the abstract of this present trial, to be set up in a prominent spot in the said church of the Ursulines, to remain there for all eternity. And before proceeding to the execution of the present sentence, we order the said Grandier to be submitted to the first and last degrees of torture, concerning his accomplices.
All details of the sentence were carried out.
Torture was a commonplace effort to extract confessions from accused witches during the seventeenth century, clearly recommended in the Malleus Maleficarum. Grandier was put to preliminary torture almost immediately after sentence was passed upon him. Most accused witches immediately confessed, telling their torturers exactly what they wanted to hear. Father Grandier never confessed, maintaining his innocence even under the most severe forms of torture. The method of torture used was the Brodequins, or Boot, which consisted of a total of sixteen to eighteen wedges driven between planks strongly bound to his legs, designed to slowly break the bones. He refused to name any accomplices, which drove Father Tranquille to break both Grandier's legs.
Burning at Loudun
Father Grandier was promised that he could have the chance to speak before he was executed, making a last statement, and that he would be hanged before the burning, an act of mercy. From the scaffold Grandier attempted to address the crowd, but the monks threw large quantities of holy water in his face so that his last words could not be heard. Then, according to historian Robert Rapley, exorcist Lactance caused the execution to deviate from the planned course of action—enraged by taunting from the crowd that gathered for the execution, Lactance lit the funeral pyre before Grandier could be hanged, leaving him to be burned alive.
The possessions failed to stop after Father Grandier's execution; as a result, public exorcisms continued. In his summary of the Loudun possessions, author Moshe Sluhovsky reports that these displays continued until 1637, three years after Grandier's death: "[t]he last departing demons left clear signs of their exit from her [Jeanne des Anges, the mother superior of the community] body, when the names Joseph and Mary miraculously appeared inscribed on des Anges's left arm." Allegedly, the Duchess d'Aiguillon, niece to Cardinal Richelieu, reported the fraud to her uncle. Having achieved his original goal, Richelieu terminated the investigations into the events at Loudun.
Some claim that it was actually Jeanne des Anges who had the public exorcisms stopped. Jeanne allegedly had a vision that she would be freed from the Devil if she made a pilgrimage to the tomb of Saint Francis of Assisi. She went to Annecy, then visited Cardinal Richelieu and King Louis XIII in 1638; the demons were apparently gone.
Jeanne des Anges remained convinced of her own saintliness until she died in 1665.
The demon Gressil is written of for the first time in the records of the Loudon possessions. Sebastien Michaelis (a French Inquisitor would later assign Gressil the status of demon of impurity and uncleanliness, third in the order of Thrones.
Post historical analysis and criticism
In post analysis studies, Augustin Calmet among others have compared this case to the pretended possession of Martha Broissier (1578), which received a great deal of circulation at the time. This criticism was in part due to the fact that the circumstances revolving the incidents and the examinations of possession in question show more indications of pretended possessions than that of more dominantly legitimate cases, such as the possession of Mademoiselle Elizabeth de Ranfaing (1621). In his Treatise, it is stated that the causes of the injustice committed at Loudun were a mixture of political ambition, the need for attention, and a basic desire to dispose of political opponents. The affair of Loudun took place in the reign of Louise XIII; and Cardinal Richelieu is accused of having caused this tragedy to be enacted, in order to ruin Urban Grandier, the Cure of Loudun, for having written a cutting satire against him.
Grandier later became an enemy of Cardinal Richelieu after an anonymously published libelous satire appeared in 1618 and was attributed to Grandier. Further actions by Grandier may have played a major role in gathering the cardinal's anger. While in Loudun, Jean de Laubardemont was to oversee the demolition of the town's fortifications, including the Castle of Loudun. Part of Richelieu's program to eliminate Huguenot strongholds by destroying local fortifications, and the success of his mission would have helped cement the cardinal's power both within the church and within France.
Protestant (Huguenot) and Catholic residents of Loudun were both against the removal of their battlements, which would leave them unprotected against mercenary armies. Grandier cited the King's promise that Loudun's walls would not be destroyed and prevented Laubardemont from demolishing the fortifications. Laubardemont promptly reported back to Richelieu with the tale of failed exorcisms, the libelous satire, and Grandier's recent hindering of Richelieu's plans.
Finally, another aim was achieved by the Loudun Possessions: conversion to Catholicism. Many of the Protestant townspeople converted to Catholicism as a result of the public exorcisms, further eroding any Huguenot sentiment in the region.
The 1952 book titled The Devils of Loudun by Aldous Huxley tells the story of the trial of Urbain Grandier, priest of the town who was tortured and burned at the stake in 1634. He was accused of being in league with the Devil and having seduced an entire convent of nuns.
John Whiting's 1961 theatre play The Devils (play), commissioned by Sir Peter Hall for the Royal Shakespeare Company, was based on Aldous Huxley's novel.
Ken Russell's 1971 film The Devils was based on Huxley's novel and Whiting's play.
Sister Magdalena of the Cross -The nun who made a pact with the devil
Sister Magdalena of the Cross (Magdalena de la Cruz) was born in Córdoba (Cordova) in Andalusia, Spain in 1487. Named after the mystic St. Mary Magdalene, the one whom Church tradition remembers as the great "..sinner from whom Jesus had cast out seven demons.” (Mark 16:9), and who was also known for her extraordinary repentance. As for herself, Magdalena of the Cross too would one day become an extraordinary mystic, and later a repentant sinner, doing severe penances for her sins. Not even the great Saint Teresa of Avila would ever have as much prestige across Spain in her lifetime as Sr. Magdalena of the Cross! Her (apparent) outstanding piety and the miracles that she performed were known throughout Spain, and even much of Europe. So much so, that even the Emperor Charles V, the sovereign ruler of the Roman and Spanish Empire asked for a piece of the habit of Magdalena of the Cross to wrap around the future Prince Philip II at his birth, to give his royal son the "assistance of a living saint from birth, to envelop him in Divine grace." Incidentally, prince Phillip II later became the King of Spain in 1556.
Little Magdalena's first vision
But for now, little Magdalena is just 5 years old, and she is already known in town for her remarkable devotion, which is out of the ordinary for a girl of her age. Not long after her fifth birthday, she is praying in Church when she hears music of remarkable sweetness. Then a beautiful young man, with thick, black hair appears to her, wearing a mantle so brilliant that she has to close her eyes. Hearing the story, some believe it to be Jesus. News of this event spreads throughout Córdoba, and many want to see little Magdalena.
Sorting out the heavenly apparitions from the demonic ones
The difficulty that we will now have in sorting out Magdalena's early life story is that as with all the mystics and their mystical graces, there is often the influence and appearence of the demonic along with the heavenly apparitions. Like in the case of the Biblical Job, God allows the devil to tempt and even attack the mystics, to test their faith, love and devotion. This is the case with most every mystic. And with Magdalena, the task of discernement of her obvious mystical gifts and graces is even more difficult in her early years, because there definitely was a period where Magdalena demonstrated authentic piety and deep devotion, with the sincerity and simplicity of a child. But we know that she made a pact with the devil, so there must have been a point where the heavenly apparitions slowed or even ceased altogether, and the diabolic apparitions took over.
Soon, a person whom she believes to be Jesus appears to her and asks her to somewhat moderate her asceticism, so as not to compromise her fragile childhood health. He informs her that a great destiny awaits her, and that she will need her strength. She flies to the church to thank Jesus and on the way meets a man with a severe limp who asks her to lend him her hand to climb the Church steps. He has hardly climbed a few steps when he stands erect and with great surprise and excitement he dashes through the whole town crying out that he is healed!
Magdalena herself goes into Church then falls into a deep ecstasy. Soon, someone comes in looking for her and realises that she is seeing a vision. Looking closely at her eyes, she sees in the reflection in her eyes the heavens and what seems to be the Holy Trinity surrounded by the Communion of Saints. Soon afterwards, like Jesus after the cure of the blind man, Magdalena is subjected to all sorts of interrogations to discover any subterfuge, none of which can apparently be found. Not long afterwards, a mute person also allegedly receives his speech through her intercession.
But for now, little Magdalena is living a simple life with her family who were poor artisans, and while Magdalena remains of exemplary modesty and conduct, the visions continue, one after another, and as time goes on this attracts the attention of many; so much so that one day she flees her home to take refuge in a nearby cave, where she once again falls into ecstasy. When she awakens, she discovers that she has been miraculously transported back to her bed by her guardian angel.
Magdalena attempts to crucify herself
In 1497 at the age of ten, Magdalena is already quite beautiful, and in her purity she is very cautious to hide herself under long black dresses and skirts. Even so, she still finds herself too beautiful, and one day for penance she tries to crucify herself on the wall of her bedroom. She starts by nailing her two feet, then her left hand. Blood flows, and she faints from the atrocious pain. Her flesh tears and, falling heavily onto a chest, she breaks two ribs. Her parents call the doctor and he bandages all of her nail wounds, yet she is burning with desire to suffer terribly for the reparation of sins, and she repeatedly takes off the bandages, so as to suffer more. But this soon makes her very ill.
On Easter Saturday, 1497, Magdalena is bedridden and seems to be dying, probaly because of infection from the wounds of her failed crucifixion. At midnight, she lets out a great scream, sits up on her bed, once more rips off her dressings, saying that she is healed. She says that it is Jesus himself, who has just appeared to her and has cured her.
A prolonged fast and her first Holy Communion
Three months before her First Holy Communion, Magdalena seemingly stops eating. The pleadings of her poor parents make no difference; she fasts right up until the Sunday of her first Holy Communion, surprisingly without losing her healthy appearance. On the day of the ceremony, at the precise moment of consecration, she lets out another cry and prostrates herself for a long time. When she exits the church, she explains that the Lord Himself put the Eucharist in her mouth, without her needing to approach the priest.
Wounds seemingly heal overnight and the story of two stubby fingers
At sixteen, Magdalena contunes to astound many with her apparent extraordinary devotion and her remarkable desire to make reparation for sin. Many see her as a living saint- for who else but a saint could do such extraordinary penances? When she whips herself to bleeding point while doing penance, her wounds are miraculously healed the next day to everyones great surprise. She is healthy, and everything about her seems wholesome, except two fingers which have not grown like the others: at sixteen, they are no larger than the size of a child's pinky. Some say that these two fingers are those that Christ touched one night in her childhood, during an apparition.
Magdalena becomes a Franciscan nun
In 1504, at age 17, Magdalena at last obtains what seems to be the great desire of her life: to become a Franciscan nun- a spiritual daughter of St. Francis and St. Clare. Because of her reputation for holiness, she is joyfully admitted to the Franciscan convent of Saint Elizabeth of the Angels in Cordova (Convento de Santa Isabel de los Ángeles), and she soon edifies and inspires the admiration of many of the nuns.
There are however some "red flags" though. She is seemingly not too discrete about her spiritual life and merits; she inflicts severe mortifications upon herself, carries a heavy cross all around the convent, kisses her companions’ feet, and she seemingly stops eating completely, apparently living only on Holy Communion. All of these facts are cause for some concern, but she does seem very devout and is willing to do even the most menial and unwanted tasks, so her "extravagances" are for the most part downplayed, at least for now.
After a few years as a postulant, in 1509, at age 22, she already has a reputation for sainthood, and because of this it is thought prudent to let her take her vows alone. The event is greatly anticipated and well prepared. All of the nobles seek to obtain a good place in the church and to add even more glory to the great day, the Archbishop himself has his throne covered by a dais of richly embroidered velvet.
At last, the day of the ceremony arrives. Magdalena will now be known as Sister Magdalene of the Cross, in memory of the heroic crucifixion of her youth. The ceremony begins and she comes forward and kneels outside the sanctuary, and waits to hear the Cardinal’s speech. But rather than exhort the novice to the practice of christian virtue and piety, as is usual, he publicly asks her for her prayers and protection in support of himself and the diocese.
The miraculous dove
Afterwards at the Kyrie Eleison, something very remarkable happens: a dove, which seems to descend straight from the high catherdral ceiling, catches the eye of everyone. The dove lands on Magdalena's shoulder, and seems to speak into her ear. Afterwards it ascends up to a parapet, and remains there as if watching until the end of the ceremony. Afterwards it flies outside of the Church and those who run out to follow it see it rise almost striaght up, and for so long, that the sky finally seems to close over it. The news of these events spread like wildfire across the country and even spills outside its borders.
As the weeks and months progress after her solemn profession, Sr. Magdalene de la Cruz (as she is know known as) soon exhibits extraordinary faculties. Without ever going outside the walls, she seemingly knows many things that happens in Cordoba and elsewhere, particularly in the neighbouring Franciscan convent, and also in the aristocratic and noble homes in Cordoba. As in the past she continues to go into ecstasy often, and if she happens to be out of her cell while doing so, her companions carry her to her cell then withdraw discretely. Sometimes their curiosity gets the better of them and they listen not far away and often hear a gentle muttering of unknown words and also moans of suffering too.
Her fame continues to spreads across Spain and abroad
As can be expected, the gossip around all of these remarkable events swells and continues to spill outside of Spain. Correspondence floods the convent; people from all over petitioning Magdalena of the Cross for her prayers and spiritual help. Generous donations pour in also, and Magdalena’s convent is buzzing like a beehive with activity.
It is at this time that another prodigious mystical gift of Sr. Magdalena appears: she can seemingly predict the future. In 1515, she announces the death of King Ferdinand for the following year, which comes to pass as foretold, and also the regency of Cardinal Francisco Jiménez de Cisneros over the kingdom of Castile. In sign of gratitude, Cardinal Jiménez has a beautiful vermilion ostensory given to her, which increases the admiration and devotion of her fellow sisters and others even more.
A unexpected and remarkable pregnancy on the day of the Annunciation
On March 25, 1518, the day of the Feast of the Annunciation, Magdalena discreetly tells her Abbess some news which fills the pious woman with great confusion and perplexity--Magdalena states that on the preceding night, that is, the solemn Vigil of the Annunciation, she had conceived the child Jesus by the power of the Holy Spirit. Thus Magdalene of the Cross, the shining light of the convent of Saint Elizabeth of the Angels, is pregnant.
Forseeing the enormous scandal that such news would inevitably provoke, the Abbess orders Magdalena to keep absolutely quiet about it for now, while she prays for guidence as to how to proceed. As the days pass, the Abbess discretely watches Magdalena and, after a few weeks, she is obliged to bow to the obvious evidence, for Magdalena's abdomen is noticeably rounding out, and the moment is going to come when they will no longer be able to hide this "work" of the Holy Spirit....or of nature?
The nuns are divided concerning Magdalena's alleged miraculous pregnancy
The nuns are all informed of the situation, and soon the convent is divided into two camps. On the one side, there are those who doubt the miraculous conception, some perhaps because they feel a hidden envy for Magdalena. Others because it is such a extraordinary thing that has never happened outside of the Blessed Virgin Mary, and there is nothing in Sacred Scripture that would point to such a second birth of Jesus into this world.
At this point most do not yet actually doubt her sainthood, however all these extraordinary things are without a doubt cause for careful discernment. And then there is all the generous donations that have been flowing in in honor of the "living saint", and the countless individuals who request her intercession and prayers...all of this tends to relegate the other sisters to a lesser position in the convent, and causes them to feel somewhat inadequate in their spirituality and the practice of virtue. Certainly many of them accuse themselves of jealousy to their confessor, and must have harbored some envy towards her. And so to some, for various reasons this supernatural pregnancy appears inconceivable, most importantly because such a miracle is not announced in the Holy Scriptures.
On the other side, there are those, also numerous, who say that God works in mysterious ways, and that the Most High has been pouring all sorts of extraordinary graces on his humble servant for many years. Understandably they cannot fathom how she could have possibly stained her purity; she who is so seemingly devout and pious, and besides she never leaves the convent grounds. To that, the doubters reply that she receives her confessor alone, and also that the bars on the convent fence are so widely spaced as to allow the passage of a much more cumbersome being than the Holy Spirit.
However, a vow of silence is agreed upon by both camps, however some cannot help themselves and soon the extraordinary news is spreading through all of Cordova and abroad. But how does Magdalena respond? She treats all of the news and insinuations with absolute and complete indifference.
Seemingly even more devout in the practice of virtue, she redoubles the severity of her penances, walking barefoot on pieces of broken glass and lashing her back and shoulders with instruments of severe mortification, along with wearing a rough cilice discipline.
The Archbishop orders a medical examination of Sr. Magdalena
Hearing the news, the Archbishop of Seville sends three experienced matron "midwives" to examine Magdalena. Having very carefully examined her, they announce that while it is indeed true that the nun is pregnant, it is also very much a fact that her virginity is completely intact and unquestionable. Prayers of thanksgiving explode in all the churches and throughout the land, and inside the convent the doubters and gossipers are reduced to utter silence and penances for their apparent doubts .
On Christmas Eve, 1518, Magdalena confirms that she will very soon give birth. A little house at the end of the garden is prepared for her, for in a vision her guardian angel recommends that she give birth alone, so as to suffer more without any human assistance. Magdalena remains locked up in the little house for three days, during which time the whole community remains in prayer. The story that Magdalena tells when she comes out is absolutely prodigious.
She relates that during Christmas night, at midnight, she gives birth to a magnificent baby who radiates so much light that she can see as if it were high noon. The cold air of her chamber is suddenly miraculously heated and the divine child doesn’t suffer at all from the cold.
During this time, strangely Magdalena’s hair begins to grow very fast and, from crow black that it was, it changes to the brightest blond, with its long length allowing her to swaddle the infant child in it, and keep him warm in the softest of tunics.
As proof of the miracle, she cuts a few of her blond curls before her hair turns back to normal. The nuns then compete for a few of the miraculous hairs to keep as precious relics.
Continuing with the story of the remarkable birth, Sr. Magdalene de la Cruz states that on the morning after Christmas she found herself alone, the beautiful little child gone, but with her breast chapped from suckling him, along with all of the stigmata of recent delivery still on her body. Soon the matron midwives are sent again to check on the veracity of these facts and to verify that Magdalena’s virginity has not suffered from the event. A solemn 'Te Deum' is then sung in the cathedral and donations flow in like never before. But in truth this entire event was orchestrated and perpetrated by the devil, in particular by two demons named Balban and Patorrio, as we will soon discover......
A few people continue to gossip, however, so in an attempt to put a definitive end to the calumnies an exorcist monk arrives at the convent one morning, while the nun is in ecstasy. He approaches her and pushes two long needles in her body, one into her foot, and the other into her hand. The needles penetrate deeply, yet Magdalena remains perfectly insensitive to them, without any reaction whatsoever, which confirms in the minds of many that her ecstasies are authentic. When the needles are are withdrawn, a little stream of blood flows from the wounds.
Her fast from food is subjected to a stringent test
In spite of this proof, Sr. Magdalena is subjected to another test, this time concerning her abstinence from food; a fast which she allegedly has been carrying out for eleven years. For, it was being insinuated that certain novices were secretly bringing her food.
So the Abbess then requests that a vigilant guard of two monks from the nearby Franciscan monastery be positioned at the entrance to Magdalena's cell with a 24 hour watch; the two monks taking turns with others in a rotating schedule. Additionally, she even orders that the window shutters of the chamber be nailed shut. After a few days, it is discovered that Magdalena has suddenly disappeared. They look for her everywhere, and soon find her in the completely opposite part of the garden, asleep near a fountain. The monks assure the abbess that they have not relaxed their surveillance for an instant. For her part, Sr. Magdalena reveals that it is Saint Francis himself who transported her to this place. Of course nobody is able to give any explanation for this prodigy, and it is concluded that this is but another miracle in the extraordinary life of Sister Magdalena of the Cross.
A Cathederal is built in greater part through the donations given to Sister Magdalena
At this point, Sr. Magdalena now has a greater prestige than the Abbess herself. She is consulted for all the major decisions that need to be taken by the community. Her advice is even sought from outside, by great and small alke, and soon Magdalena and the other nuns who have befriended her are better informed of what is happening in the city than the Archbishop himself.
In 1523, the Archbishop is in need of a new Cathederal, and because of the abundant donations sent to Sr. Magdalena her convent of Saint Elizabeth of the Angels is the richest in Spain, and is able to furnish by far the greatest part of the money needed for its construction. Because of this, Sr. Magdalena is consulted on the new cathedral’s appearance.
Sr. Magdalena de la Cruz is elected Abbess
And so it is that for twenty-nine years Magdalena's notoriety has grown in proportion to her alleged virtues, and she has led an existence which, although full of sometimes astounding events, has contributed for the most part in a positive way to the convent’s enrichment through her practice of virtue and the apparent signs from heaven which inspire the faithful. Always seemingly pious and disposed to sacrifice, she inspires and fascinates the Spanish high clergy, and many feel that she should have a higher position in the convent more suited to her merits. It is suggested that she should become the Abbess, since as time passes the current Abbess is becoming infirm. In a show of alleged humility, Magdalena protests and she uses her poor administrative abilities as a reason, stating:
“Let them elect Sister Isabella of the Holy Trinity instead.”
However, many of her fellow nuns want her as abbess so much that, on February 17, 1533 Magdalena is elected Abbess, in presence of the Order’s Superior, by forty-four votes as opposed to the seven given to Isabella of the Holy Trinity.
The new abbess Magdalena encourages severe mortifications and penances
With Magdalena now in charge, in the beginning life in the convent hardly changes, except Mother Magdalena seems to have a strong penchant for the practice of severe penances, and she exhorts her religious sisters to do likewise. In doing so, the new Abbess sometimes provokes very difficult scenes.
And so it is that during Confession the sisters, by hypocrisy or fear of too difficult penances, now usually only accuse themselves of small faults. Hearing of this, Mother Magdalena enters into holy wrath which soon causes unspeakable fear into her sisters. She orders them to admit to more severe sins, and the poor nuns become frightened by the severity of the abbess. Some burst into tears, and there are a couple of others who astonishingly go into a sort of semi-possession, rolling on the floor and arching their bodies, before slowly returning back to normal.
To reprimand the more guilty ones for their alleged spiritual weaknesses, the Abbess orders some to crawl on their knees in the refectory and make the sign of the cross with their tongues on the shoes of all the assembled nuns.
Soon, the confessions of the nuns are more to Mother Magdalena's liking, supposedly revelaing the sisters true state of sin. Penances are now measured to the alleged gravity of the faults, for according to Abbess Magdalena, it is necessary to totally expiate sins, and to succeed in this endeavor the common cord whip disciplines are replaced with iron tipped ones.
As for the manner and the times in which the discipline (ie- scourge or lash/whip) should be applied, the Abbess modernises it. Before, when the occasion came for extreme penance and use of the discipline (ie -scourge or lash/whip), the candles were extinguished, so that no one else could see the nuns who chose to use this form of severe mortification. It was the nuns own choice to do so, and it was done in darkness so that no one might know who is choosing to discipline themselves. This is to preserve the nuns humility.
But from now on, Mother Magdalena orers that the candles are to remain lit, and the nuns are given all the necessary time to openly whip themselves in the performance of bodily mortification and penance, in the full light and prescence of the other nuns. According to her, the sight of the self inflicted penance should be an encouragement for all of them to likewise do the same, or be exposed to the indignation of others, along with provoking interior feelings of inadequacy and spiritual weakness and discouragement amongst many of the nuns. Knowing that Mother Magdalena was being guided by the devil at this time (which we shall soon see), it is assumed that these exraordinary penances were an attempt by the devil to instill spiritual pride in some of the nuns, and discouragement and despair in others
Gone now are the "little penances" consisting of begging food from each table; for according to Mother Magdalena a soul with pride can submit to that easily enough. For acording to her it is severe mortification which is the salt of true penitence. The nuns are now encouraged to remain on their knees on boards garnished with rounded iron nailheads; they are encouraged to wear cilices or belts with small iron spikes pointing inwards and are encouraged to stretched out in doorways so that the others nuns can walk upon them and some wear a crown made of thorns. Yet these extreme severities seemingly do not harm the outward devotion of most of the community to their new Abbess. She is twice re-elected with the majority of the votes. No one dares, it seems, to question her authority and power within the community.
Mother Magdalena relaxes other rules of the Order
Yet, surprsingly, the abbess Magdalena of the Cross relaxes some long-standing rules of the Order that have exsisted for centuries. This of course causes concern first and foremost amongst the other Franciscan communities in her order, and also with the Archbishop and the priests within the local Church itself. Yet, as in the past, her reputation for holiness goes before her, and she is allowed to relax many rules of the Order within her own convent.
St Francis allegedly appears to her, and dispenses her from Confession
Not only does Magdalena on the one hand encourage severe penances and mortifications, and on the other hand she relaxes some of the rules of the Order, but now apparently because of her "saintliness" Saint Francis, the founder of her Order allegedly appears to her one night and dispenses her from having to go to Confession in the future.
And for the confessions of her fellow nuns, she explains that it is an insult to them to be separated from their confessor by a grille. In her opinion, they are to sit face to face with the confessor. This causes quite a stir amongst not only the sisters, but also with the priests themselves, as such a practice is unheard of throughout Catholic Spain at that time.
Additionally, Mother Magdalena of the Cross authorises the sisters to no longer fast on Fridays "so as to be able to support even greater mortifications". It is the belief of many of her fellow sisters that this great reform of the Franciscan Order that she is undertaking will bring new prosperity to the convent, and to the Order itself. It is no wonder then that within a couple of decades the great Spanish reformer and mystic, the Carmelite St. Teresa of Avilia would face such heavy opposition to the reforms that she was endeavoring to instill within the Carmelite Order in Spain only a few short years later.
Soon afterwards, Mother Magdalena states that on the previous evening, a dead woman, (presumably a soul from purgatory?) had come to confess to her. She immediately wants the young nuns and novices to confess to her at night in her cell. This most recent innovation of course causes even more murmurs and doubts, particularly from Isabella of the Holy Trinity who still hasn’t forgotten being beaten by Magdalena in the 1533 elections, and on whom Magdalena (as Abbess) has inflicted the severest humiliations upon ever since.
Mother Magdalena receives the admiration of many top dignitaries
Yet, amidst these troubling new reforms and directives from Mother Magdalena, the admiration that she receives from the greats of her time seem to easily blunt any criticisms– for Queen Isabella of Spain herself sends Mother Magdalena her portrait and beseeches Magdalena for her prayers, and also the Archbishop of Seville often writes to her, and in his letters he calls her "the happiest creature in the world”, presumably because of all the alleged heavenly graces that she supposedly receives.
The noblest ladies, while pregnant and nearing their deliveries would send the layette to be blessed by her, as did the Empress Isabel before the birth of Philip II. When, in 1535, the Emperor Charles V was starting from Barcelona for the expedition to Tunis, he sent his banner to C6rdova that she might bestow on it her blessing. Cardinal Manrique, the inquisitor-general, and Giovanni di Reggio, the papal nuncio, made pilgrimages to visit her, and it is said that even the pope sent to ask her prayers for the Christian Republic, although it should be said that this was often a common practice of the time for prioresses such as Mother Magdalena who were considered devout, for since they were in charge of their respective convents, the pope and the high prelates would often request their prayers in union with the sisters in their convents, for the benefit of the Church or their local dioceses.
The doubts about Mother Magdalena begin to mount
And so it is that the revelations and prodigies that direct and guide Mother Magdalena seem to cause her to make decisions that are more and more contestable and disconcerting. And now once again she reveals more troubling revelations one morning:
“The Holy Virgin has appeared to me and led me about the corridors last night. She smiled at you, Sister" and then gazing at one of those who had been opposing her "but she only gave a long look of scorn to you.”
Understandably, these revelations strongly displease those who are the victims. Their protestations join those of the families who, outside, see their daughters refused entrance into the convent, because for example one of their ancestors were perhaps Jewish. Mother Magdalena of course receives her information from the Holy Virgin Herself, but in the families, indignation and anger provoke the growing attitude of doubt concerning the supposed heavenly guidance recieved by the abbess.
The 1542 elections bring a surprising result
During the next elections for abbess, Mother Magdalena receives only a handful of votes, and Isabella of the Holy Trinity is elected by a large margin. In reparation (and perhaps some retaliation for her own humiliations?) that same evening, she obliges Magdalena to make as many signs of the cross on the floor with her tongue as there are tiles in the refectory.
In the middle of this, Magdalena the former Abbess falls into ecstasy. Always when this would happen in the past, the sisters would carry her to her cell. Now, she is left where she is in the refectory for a good part of the night. After the "ecstasy" she finally returns to her cell on her own.
With doubts continuing to mount, Magdalena is again suspected of receiving food clandestinely, as she is still said to be fasting on a daily basis for over thirty years now.
Add to this, one day, a little iron box containing Communion wafers is brought to the Abbess. This box, found under Magdalena’s bed, seems to prove that the miracle of spontaneous Communion, repeated many times in the past, has been just a trick.
A demonic presence is detected
In 1543, she falls gravely ill. This seems a good occasion for the Abbess to oblige her to make a general confession of her entire life. But at the moment when the confessor puts his stole on in preparation for her confession, Magdalena immediately goes into convulsions. The priest suspects a demonic prescence, so he sends for a doctor whom he knows to be also well versed in the spiritual life. He examines Magdalena and notices that during one of her ecstasies, Magdalena’s eyes do not remained fixed, which is one of the distinctive marks of real ecstasies. However, he stabs her with a needle and obtains no reaction. But when he wisely dips the needle in holy water, Magdalena lets out a moan. This immediately draws suspicion and concern that Sr. Magdalena may be infested or even possessed by a demon.
As time progrsses, Magdalena's illness continues to get worse. Seemingly out of character, she is now worried, and often asks the doctor to keep her informed on the evolution of her illness. One December day, she hears:
“You are dying. You will not see another Christmas.”
Greatly anguished, Magdalena suddenly twists on her bed and then rises up and lets out mysterious words:
“1544!...The forty years as announced!; I am a cursed dog! Take me to Hell!”
Then she falls back into her bed and begins uttering revolting blasphemies before suddenly being taken from her bed by an inisible force and held in mid-air. She then falls heavily onto the bed several times, but apparently without hurting herself.
After some reflection, the Abbess decides to have a very old and experienced priest, Rev. Don Juan of Cordova called in, and she asks him to examine, and if need be exorcise Magdalena immediately. Not long after visiting Magdalena the old man looks at her and orders:
“I order you in the Name of Jesus to leave this poor woman and dare to say your name!”
The demon first lets out a terrible cry in which the name “Balban” is recognised. Later during exorcisms it was discovered that another demon named "Patorrio" was also influencing her. The demonic laughing intensifies and the words uttered are horrible. The demon glories in all the disorder that he has been able to cause over so many years in the convent, and swears that he will return...
Sister Magdalena of the Cross, venerated by the whole of Spain, confessed, one day, that the Devil had been visiting her in her cell.
Thus the Rev. Don Juan of Cordova is able to establish at least a solid case of demonic infestation, and perhaps even possession, and the news spreads first among the nuns, and soon afterwards amongst the clergy and townsppeople of Cordova, and later throughout the whole of Spain. The following day however, the Provincial of the Franciscans goes in person to the dying nun’s bedside. He remains there for several hours and receives a complete confession, of which he says nothing.
Yet all those who meet him afterwards notice that he is carrying a very heavy burden, a frightful secret; a nightmare which has been a whole lifetime; the lifetime of the “saint” Magdalena of the Cross, the diabolic Abbess of Cordova.
Don Juan of Cordua, Doyen of the Spanish church, was given the task of exorcising Magdalena of the Cross.
Sister Magdalena of the Cross admits to a 40 year pact with the devil
Next, an Inquisitor is sent to investigate the thorny matter by the express order of Cardinal Juan Pardo de Tavera, the Primate of Spain. He is much younger than the Rev. Don Juan of Cordova and he inspires her with confidence. She reveals to him that the beautiful dark-haired young man who appeared to her at the age of five was in fact the devil. He had promised her fame and the respect of everyone, if she would consent to obey him always.
It is also satan who leaves his mark by touching her two fingers which from then forward stop growing. And it is also he who teaches her the subterfuge of the wafers, and he assists her with the simulation of ecstasies. Her cries in the night are in no way inspired by the ecstatic love that she has for the Creator, but by the demon’s evil caresses.
Upon hearing such disconcerting admissions, the Inquisitor is horrified and almost instictively he makes the sign of the Cross upon himself. Immediately, Sr. Magdalena starts to insult the priest with vile and abhorrent words. She then begins to roll around the floor in her cell, and bites anything she can, while striking indecent poses and mimicking the vile copulations that she has performed with Balban for nearly forty years.
Because he is an experienced Inquisitor, the good monk had asked the older, more experienced nuns to stay in the corridor to write down the fallen Magdalena's words, so as to be able to document and later serve as witnesses. From here, Sr. Magdalena de la Cruz' case is well documented and quickly prepared.
The Exorcisms of Sister Magdalena begin
During the extended course of interrogations that were part of the ongoing exorcism during which Balban is very reluctantly dislodged from Magdalena, it is discovered that the most wicked and hideous means were used to undermine Magdalena’s soul as a child. It was believed that he originally chose her because she was in fact very pious and devoted to God, and so in his terrible wickedness he earnestly sought to despoil God of one of His favorites. But, we shall soon see how God wins triumphantly in the end.
During the ongoing exorcisms it is learned that when Magdalena became a young adult, the demon Balban ceased to appear to her as a beautiful young man, as he had been doing since she was age five. One night, when the young girl was waiting for him as usual, he presented himself to her in the form of a schimmering mist which condenses and takes the form of a very tall man with long hair, who radiates a reddish light.
She cries out “Jesus”, but this, of course, greatly displeases Balban, who lifts her with his burning hand and drops her on the ground. She is then forced to contemplate this horrid creature who now rises before her in a horrible metamorphisis, from a man into a vile beast.
The infernal creature is repulsive and the possessed nun describes in horror his wide, flat nose, his twisted horns and his toothless mouth. He commanded her to immediately become his wife, and he assures her that she will not lose her virginity, and he promises that her apparent sainthood would only grow in measure with the supposed unimaginable pleasures that she would enjoy with him. Lacking in spiritual fortitude; vanquished, Magdalena then gives in, and it is again the dark-haired, and very attractive young man that she now receives in her.
Next she confesses that it was also the devil who came to feed her in secret, and that she had really been pregnant by him. She had been told by him that she risked nothing if she followed his instructions. It was to play a joke by troubling the minds of the nuns and the Spanish clergy and laity that he had made her pregnant with an montorous caterpillar, which escaped from her body with a loud wind that famous Christmas night, before changing into Balban, and re-possessing her with unprecedented vigor.
A few holy and well known individuals were not fooled
And so it is that the whole of Christendom discovers with horror that she of whom most everyone thought was God’s most-beloved, was in fact the most-beloved creature of the devil. Yet some of Sr. Magdalena's contemporaries were not so easily fooled by her false mysticism, like the great St Ignatius Loyola who was incredulous and in 1541, it is said that he severely reproved Martin de la Santa Cruz, who endeavored to win him over towards Sr. Magdalena, for accepting exterior signs without seeking for the true interior ones; and the great St John of Avila (who is soon to be declared a Doctor of the Church) was also very sceptical and, when he was in Cordova, he was discreetly denied access to her.
Sr. Magdalena of the Cross becomes like her namesake, St. Mary Magdalene and deeply repents of the demons that were possessing her
As the Scriptures relate, Jesus had cast out seven horrible demons that were possessing St. Mary Magdalene,(Mark 16:9) and she became known as the great, repentant sinner. Tradition tells us that she spent the rest of her life in a cave making penance and reparation for her manifold sins, and she became a most extraordinary Saint. In fact, Jesus chose St Mary Magdalene to be one of the first witnesses to His glorious Resurrection, as Holy Scripture tells us.
The judgement of the Religious Tribunal
As for the once renowned Sr. Magdelena de la Cruz, now fully exorcised and free of the demons Balban and Patorrio who are forced to reveal that they are leaving forever the body and soul of the possessed woman, she is then judged by the religious tribunal on May 3, 1546.
The Grand Inquisitor of the religious tribunal is Cardinal Jimenez, now the Primate of Spain, appointed by Isabella of Castile herself, and it is because of this that Magdalena is transferred to the Alcazar prisons to be further interrogated.
The demons Balban and Patorrio receive the majority of the blame
Sr. Magdalena is now sixty-one years old and she is extraordinarily repentant for all that she has done and she begs the court to put a rapid end to her torments and deliver her to the purifying flames. The judges however decide otherwise. Because of her great age, her sincere confessions and the quality of her repentance her deserved sentence is greatly mitigated. And rightfully so, they consider her to be a pitiful victim of the demon and perhaps they remember well the days of her glory when they too had exalted in having what was belived to be such an extraordinary saint in their midst. And so the inquisitors place a large portion of the blame on the demons Balban and Patorrio, most especially Balban, and not so much on Magdalena herself, since she was just an inexperienced youth when the demon(s) began influencing her. In short, they feel that as a youth Magdalena was heavily intimidated by the demon, so they conclude that her culpability is greatly lessened because of her age at the time.
The Catholic church relies on the principle that divine works are eternal and infinite. Those of the demon, on the other hand, are always limited in time and space. If Magdalena confesses, it is because, in 1544, her pact with the devil has arrived at its end. It is fear of Hell, as she says herself, which precipitates her revelations. And it is also God who in His infinite love and mercy inspires all of her admissions, and inspires and guides her deep repentance. And it is God who assures her that she will live if she confesses. She would become even more a heroine in repentance than she was in false virtue and fame.
So the judges decide that Sr. Magdalena is to be led to the scaffold with a gag in her mouth, a Spartan cord around her neck, and a candle in her hand. She is to remain exposed there for all to see for the time period of a High Mass, and that she should then abjure her manifold errors. For three months, she must keep her face exposed and cannot wear the black veil, and she must always walk last in all of the movements of convent life.
She abjures and repents in tears, in front of the Cathedral that she had had raised thanks to her deceptions in union with the demons Balban and Patorrio. She is also ordered to go to a different Franciscan convent in Burgos, where she lives long years or repentance and expiation without ever falling again into the slightest error.
At a young age, Magdalena succumed to a great pride and a false demonic promise that offered her prestige and power. But the great and small of her time were all later sure that her final deep humility and repentance had made her quite worthy of Paradise. Sister Magdalena de la Cruz died in 1560 at the age of 74.
Today, the name of this Sister Magdalena of the Cross is all but forgotten and her remarkable story is practically unknown. However, the great lawyer and writer, Maurice Garcon, for whom Magdalena is an important historical figure, documents how she was in fact very well-known throughout Christendom in the 16th and 17th centuries, and how many of the theological and demonological treatises make precise and detailed references to her case. In fact during this time period the many facts presented in theological books concerning demonic influences are illustrated by the statements and documents drawn from her trial.
And it is from the transcript of her trial that Maitre Maurice Garcon drew up his remarkable book on her life, using the transcript from her trial. Louis Pauwels used Maitre Garcon's book (among other references) for his resume of Sr Magdalena's life.
According to him there are only two copies of this very precious manuscript in the world, one in London and the other in Paris.
The important lessons learned through the extraordinary case of Magdalena of the Cross
Magdalena had arrived so high in her reputation for sainthood that she had been the counseller of kings, emperors, and above all, of the great Church dignitaries. Yet the trial’s conclusions about this are very interesting. The outcome of the long and detailed trial by the judges concludes that in the end the only real dupe in this affair is the devil, himself. His subterfuges have turned against him: by intimidating and perverting Magdalena, he has in the end only reinforced the faith of the people, and she who had been submissive to him for so long, gloriously escapes from his wicked rule in the end, through the power and mercy of God. And Truth overcomes the devils lies and the deceptions that he inspires through his demons.
For those who study the lives of visionaries and the mystics of the Church, Magdalena's extraordinary yet fraudulent mystical life replete with numerous alleged supernatural and mystical gifts that almost perfectly mimic the ones given to authentic mystics should serve as a very grave warning of how the devil can ape and mimic God's works, and can be exceedingly convincing while doing so. For as we see in the case of Sr. Magdalena, he was able to decieve even Cardinals, priests, theologians and others who were very experienced in the mystical life and spiritual matters.
Some references on the life of Sister Magdalena de la Cruz
"Magdeleine de la Croix-Abbesse Diabolique" by Maurice Garcon.
"The Diabolic Saint -Magdalena of the Cross" Lady Marilyn Kay Dennis, Parts 1-6
The Aix-en-Provence possessions were a series of alleged cases of demonic possession occurring among the Ursuline nuns of Aix-en-Provence (South of France) in 1611. Father Louis Gaufridi was accused and convicted of causing the possession by a pact with the devil, and he was executed by being burned at the stake, atop a pile of bushes because they burned slower and hotter than logs. This case provided the legal precedent for the conviction and execution of Urbain Grandier at Loudun more than 20 years later. In both cases, sexual themes dominated the manifestations of the possessions.
The first 20–25 years of the 17th century were host to the peak of accusations in France's witchcraft hunt. During this time-frame, the number of cases involving demonic possession, priests and nuns outnumber that of any other period.
Madeleine de Demandolx
Signs of a demon invasion were believed to appear at Aix-en-Provence during the year 1609 through the victim Madeleine de Demandolx de la Palud. Madeleine, a 17-year-old Ursuline nun with a history of emotional instability, was returned often to the care of her parents to recover from attacks of depression. Father Louis Gaufridi was a friend of Madeleine's family and it is believed that he and Madeleine became lovers.
This rumor reached the ears of Sister Catherine de Gaumer, head of the Ursuline convent at Marseilles. She passed the rumor on to Madeleine's mother, and words were conveyed to Father Gaufridi that his attentions should cease immediately.
It was then that Madeleine was admitted to the Ursuline convent at Marseilles, under the direct supervision of Mother de Gaumer. To de Gaumer, Madeleine revealed the full story of her relations with Father Gaufridi. In order to prevent further damage and to halt any association with Father Gaufridi, Madeleine was transferred to the distant convent at Aix. Two years later, at the age of 19, Madeleine fell victim to what those around her considered to be unmistakable demonic possession; her body was contorted, and in a fit of rage she destroyed a crucifix.
Common convent practice at the time prescribed an exorcism to banish Madeleine's demons. Not only were the first attempts futile, but further attempts brought damning accusations that Father Gaufridi was a devil worshipper that had copulated with her since she was 17. Three more nuns were soon found to be possessed by demons, and by the end of the year that number had risen to eight. Sister Louise Capeau was considered to be the most extremely afflicted; her ravings and bodily contortions were more hideous than Madeleine's.
Inquisition at Aix-en-Provence
With the situation at the Ursuline convent getting out of control, Father Romillon enlisted the aid of the Grand Inquisitor Sebastien Michaelis. A Flemish exorcist, Father Domptius, was called upon to continue attempts at removing the demons from the possessed nuns.
After Vérin, the demon in possession of Madeleine, accused Father Gaufridi of causing her possession, reporting to the amazed exorcist Father Domptius that 666 demons were in possession of her body, Gaufridi was summoned from his parish to exorcise Sister Louise Capeau. For his efforts, the priest was rewarded with denouncement as a sorcerer and cannibal. To the dangerous accusation, Gaufridi replied, "If I were a witch, I would certainly give my soul to a thousand devils." Taken by the inquisitors as a confession of guilt, Gaufridi was immediately imprisoned.
During this time, the possessed Sister Louise Capeau insisted loudly that Gaufridi had committed every imaginable form of sexual perversion, alarming authorities into searching the priest's rooms for magical books or objects. They found nothing incriminating, and were told by his parish that he was a well regarded man.
After being released to his parish, Father Gaufridi demanded his name be cleared and that his accusers be punished. The Grand Inquisitor remained determined that he would bring Gaufridi to trial. In 1611 Gaufridi was brought before a court in Aix.
Trial at Aix-en-Provence
Court proceedings saw both Sisters Madeline and Louise behave in, according to 17th century standards, a fashion typical of an advanced state of possession. Madeleine in particular was seen to maniacally swing from violently denouncing Gaufridi as a devil worshipper and sorcerer to retracting the accusations. She would return to charges of cannibalism, and then turn to begging him for a single word of kindness. Twice, Madeleine attempted suicide after the courts found the Devil's Mark on her body.
Father Gaufridi entered the courtroom after a series of physical and mental torture inflicted during his time in prison. His body had been shaved in a search for the Devil's Mark, three of which were found and used as evidence against him. A pact with the Devil was produced in court, allegedly signed by Gaufridi's own blood. A confession was also produced, which Gaufridi had signed in prison, extracted under torture. Included in the confession was an admission of celebrating a Black Mass in order to gain power over women:
"More than a thousand persons have been poisoned by the irresistible attraction of my breath which filled them with passion. The Lady of la Palud, the mother of Madeleine, was fascinated like so many others. But Madeleine was taken with an unreasoned love and abandoned herself to me both in the Sabbath and outside the Sabbath...I was marked at the Sabbath of my contentment and I had Madeleine marked on her head, on her belly, on her legs, on her thighs, on her feet..."
In court, Father Gaufridi strongly recanted the confession extracted from him by torture. In the eyes of the court and 17th century Christians, the protest was useless: the signed confession and alleged pact were evidence weighty enough to sentence the priest to death by fire. Even after the sentence was given, inquisitors continued to demand the names of Gaufridi's accomplices.
The sentence of Aix-en-Provence
April 30, 1611, was the day of Father Gaufridi's execution. With head and feet bare, a rope around his neck, Gaufridi officially asked pardon of God and was handed over to torturers. Still living after the torture of strappado and squassation, Gaufridi was escorted by archers while dragged through the streets of Aix for five hours before arriving at the place of execution. The priest was granted the mercy of strangulation before his body was burned to ashes.
Sister Madeleine Demandolx de la Palud renounced God and the saints before the church, going so far as to renounce all prayers ever said on her behalf and immediately following Gaufridi's execution was suddenly free of all possession. Her fellow demoniac, Sister Louise Capeau, was possessed until she died. Both of the sisters were banished from the convent, but Madeleine remained under the watch of the Inquisition. She was charged with witchcraft in 1642 and again in 1652. During her second trial, Madeleine was again found to have the Devil's mark and was sentenced to imprisonment. At an advanced age, she was released to the custody of a relative and died in 1670 at the age of 77.
Aix-en-Provence sets precedent
The Aix case was the first in which the testimony of an allegedly possessed person was taken into account. Prior to the 17th century, a demonically possessed (demoniac) person was considered unreliable when they laid accusations because most clerics believed that any words spoken by the demoniac were from the mouth of "the father of lies" (John 8:44). By its very nature, the utterances of a demoniac was not considered able to stand up as evidence.
The hysteria begun at Aix did not end with Gaufridi's sentence and the banishment of the nuns. In 1613, two years later, the possession hysteria spread to Lille where three nuns reported that Sister Marie de Sains had bewitched them. Sister Marie's testimony was a near copy of Sister Madeleine's renouncement two years earlier.
More than 20 years later, in 1634, the Aix-en-Provence possessions set precedent for the conviction and execution of Urbain Grandier.
The possessions at Louviers (Normandy, France), similar to those in Aix-en-Provence, occurred at the Louviers Convent in 1647. As with both the Aix case and its later counterpart in Loudun, the conviction of the priests involved hinged on the confessions of possessed demoniacs.
Sister Madeleine Bavent was 18 years old in 1625; the initial possession victim, she claimed to have been bewitched by Mathurin Picard, the nunnery's director, and Father Thomas Boulle, the vicar of Louviers. Her confession to authorities claimed that the two men had abducted her and taken her to a witches' sabbat. There, she was married to the Devil, whom she called "Dagon", and committed sexual acts with him on the altar. Two men were allegedly crucified and disemboweled as these acts took place.
Madeleine's confession prompted the investigation, which found that other nuns were also victims of Picard and Boulle; they also reported having been brought to secret sabbats where sexual intercourse with demons, particularly Dagon, took place. These confessions were accompanied by what investigators believed were classic signs of demonic possession: contortions, unnatural body movements, speaking in tongues (glossolalia), obscene insults, blasphemies, and the appearance of unexplainable wounds that vanished without aid.
Beyond mere symptoms of possession, the body of Sister Barbara of St. Michael was said to be possessed by a specific demon named Ancitif.
As in the Loudun possessions a decade prior, the exorcisms at Louviers were a public spectacle. Nearly every person present at the exorcisms was questioned by the inquisitors, and the entire town of Louviers began exhibiting symptoms of hysteria as the cries of the nuns undergoing exorcism rose with the screams of Father Boulle, who was tortured at the same time; Mathurin Picard had died previous to the public display.
Father Bosroger recorded the proceedings, which he would publish in 1652. In his account, nuns were said to confess further evidence against Picard and Boulle. In addition to tempting them into sexual acts, Satan (supposedly in the form of Picard and Boulle) had also tried leading the nuns down the road of heresy. Appearing to the nuns as a beautiful angel, the Devil engaged them in theological conversations so clever that they began to doubt their own teachings. When told that this was not the same information they had been taught, Satan replied that he was a messenger of heaven who was sent to reveal fatal errors in what was otherwise accepted dogma.
Signs of possession continued throughout the exorcisms. One witness wrote that a nun "ran with movements so abrupt that it was difficult to stop her. One of the clerics present, having caught her by the arm, was surprised to find that it did not prevent the rest of her body from turning over and over as if the arm were fixed to the shoulder merely by a spring."
As hysteria rose, it seemed inevitable that a trial would occur and Father Boulle's fate would be sealed. During the exorcisms, though, parliament at Rouen passed sentence: Sister Madeleine Bavent would be imprisoned for life in the church dungeon, Father Thomas Boulle would be burnt alive, and the corpse of Mathurin Picard would be exhumed and burned.
After the nuns at Louviers were afflicted, authorities undertook the task of cataloguing the symptoms of demonic possession. The treatise they developed included fifteen indications of true possession:
To think oneself possessed.
To lead a wicked life.
To live outside the rules of society.
To be persistently ill, falling into heavy sleep and vomiting unusual objects (either such natural objects as toads, serpents, maggots, iron, stones, and so forth; or such artificial objects as nails, pins, etc.).
To utter obscenities and blasphemies.
To be troubled with spirits ("an absolute and inner possession and residence in the body of the person").
To show a frightening and horrible countenance.
To be tired of living.
To be uncontrollable and violent.
To make sounds and movements like an animal.
To deny knowledge of fits after the paroxysm has ended.
To show fear of sacred relics and sacraments.
To curse violently at any prayer.
To exhibit acts of lewd exposure or abnormal strength.
It is widely believed today that the Louviers Possessions, similar in many ways to those at Aix-en-Provence (1611), Lille (1613), and Loudun (1634) were part of a political and religious "show" in France.
They also differ from later cases of possession and witch-hunt hysteria like that in England and Colonial America in that they involve lurid sex themes. During the exorcisms at Louviers, nuns were seen to raise their habits and beg for sexual attention, use vulgar language, and make lascivious movements. In the earlier case at Loudun, a local doctor named Claude Quillet wrote, "These poor little devils of nuns, seeing themselves shut up within four walls, become madly in love, fall into a melancholic delirium, worked upon by the desires of the flesh, and in truth, what they need to be perfectly cured is a remedy of the flesh.”
Most demonic possessions in France of this period (from the early to late 17th century) were of young women and appeared most often in the convents. Physicians and psychologists today attribute much of the activities to sexual hysteria, alluded to so long ago by Quillet.
Extreme seizures explained in the 17th century are today believed to point to epilepsy and similar diseases. In the time-frame of the cases in France, demonic possession served as a catchall explanation for any personality anomaly.