Grandier, Urbain (d. 1634)
Urbain Grandier, a canon of the French church and a popular
preacher of the town of Loudun in the district of Poitiers,
was brought to trial in the year 1634, accused of practicing
magic and causing demonic possession of the Ursuline nuns of
Loudun. The prime cause of the accusations, however, seems
to have been the envy of his rival preachers, whose fame was
eclipsed by Grandier’s superior talents. The second cause was
a libel upon Cardinal Richelieu falsely attributed to Grandier.
In addition to his eloquence, Grandier was distinguished for
his courage and resolution, for his physical appearance, and for
the extraordinary attention he paid to his dress, which gave
him the reputation of being a ladies’ man.
In 1633 certain nuns of the convent of Ursulines at Loudun
were attacked with a disease that manifested extraordinary
symptoms, suggesting to many that they were possessed by devils.
A rumor was spread that Grandier, prompted by some offense
he had conceived against the nuns, had caused the possessions
through his skill in sorcery.
Unfortunately the same Capuchin friar who assured Richelieu
that Grandier was the author of the libel against him also
told the cardinal the story of the possessed nuns. The cardinal
seized this opportunity for private vengeance and wrote to the
counselor of state at Loudun, asking him to begin a strict investigation
of the charges, plainly implying that what he sought
was the destruction of Grandier.
According to an authorized transcript of the trial, Grandier
was convicted on the evidence of Astaroth, a devil of the order
of seraphims and chief of the possessing devils, and sentenced
to be burned alive. In fact, he was convicted upon the evidence
of 12 nuns who, being asked who they were, gave 12 demonic
names and professed to be possessing devils compelled by the
order of the court to testify. Sentence was passed on August 18,
1634, and Grandier was condemned to torture so severe that
his legs were smashed, followed by burning at the stake.
Grandier met his fate with constancy. At his death an enormous
drone fly was said to be seen buzzing about his head and
a monk who was present at the execution attested that the fly
was Beelzebub (in Hebrew the god of flies), come to carry away
to hell the soul of the victim. Such stories may have been circulated
to justify a cruel and unjust persecution. The nuns involved
in the accusations continued to exhibit the signs of demonic
possession after Grandier’s execution.
Carmona, Nichel. Les diables de Loudun sorcellerie et politique
sous Richelieu. Paris Fayard, 1988.
Huxley, Aldous. The Devils of Loudun. London Chatto &
Windus, 1952.