Loudun, Nuns of
The second of three cases of demonic possession reported
in seventeenth-century France. The first involved Father Louis
Gaufridi and Sister Madeleine de la Palud de Demandolx at
Aix-en-Provence in 1611. The third was the case of the Nuns
of the Franciscan Tertiaries at Louviers concerned with Sister
Madeleine Bavent and Father Thomas Boullé.
In 1633 the convent of Ursulines in Loudun, France, became
the scene of an outbreak of what was described as diabolical
possession. The numerous nuns who inhabited the convent
showed all of the signs of possession, including speaking in
tongues and acting in a most extraordinary and hysterical
manner. The affair grew in volume until practically all the nuns
belonging to the institution were in the same condition.
The Mother Superior of the convent, Jeanne des Anges (Madame
de Béclier), appears to have been of an unstable temperament,
and she was not long in infecting the other sisters. She,
a sister named Claire, and five other nuns were the first to be
obsessed by the so-called evil spirits. The outbreak spread to
the neighboring town and caused such scandal that Cardinal
Richelieu appointed a commission to examine the affair. The
‘‘devils’’ resisted the process of exorcism, but seemed to succumb
to a more imposing ceremony, then returned with greater
violence than ever. Suspicion then fell upon Fr. Urbain
Grandier, the confessor of the convent, as the instigator. He
was arrested and accused of giving the nuns over into the possession
of the devil by means of the practice of sorcery.
However, it came to light that the neighboring clergy were
jealous of Grandier because he had obtained two benefices in
their diocese, of which he was not a native, and they made up
their minds to destroy him at the first possible moment. Despite
his protests of innocence, the priest was hauled before a
council of judges of the neighboring presidencies. They found
on his body various marks said to be the undoubted signs of a
sorcerer, and the inquest also brought out weaknesses in Grandier’s
reputation.
However, religious prejudice undoubtedly tainted this case.
Papers seized from him were said to contain much material
subversive to Roman Catholic religious practice. The prosecution
produced a pact with Satan, promising Grandier the love
of women, wealth, and worldly honor, endorsed with diabolical
signatures. Some doubt as to the authenticity of this document
is inevitable in view of the prosecution’s claim that it was stolen
by the demon Asmodeus from Lucifer’s private files. This document,
and a further claimed pact with the devil, apparently
signed by Grandier in his own blood, survives in The Bibliothèque
Nationale in Paris. Versions of it were published by credulous
persons and sold as broadsheets.
Grandier was condemned to be burnt at the stake. The sentence
was carried out in 1634, though only after he had been
so severely tortured that the marrow of his bones oozed
through his broken limbs. Through it all he persistently maintained
his innocence.
However, his death did not end the symptoms among the
sisters. In fact, the demons became more obstreperous than
ever and flippantly answered to their names of such leading demons
as Asmodeus, Leviathan, and Behemoth. A very holy
brother called Surin was delegated to put an end to the affair.
Frail and unhealthy, he possessed, however, an indomitable
spirit, and after much wrestling in prayer succeeded in finally
exorcising the demons.
A somewhat sensational movie based loosely on this incident
was produced in 1971 under the title The Devils.
Sources
Berger, Arthur S., and Joyce Berger. The Encyclopedia of
Parapsychology and Psychical Research. New York Paragon
House, 1991.
Carmona, Michel. Les Diables de Loudun Sorcellerie et politique
sous Richelieu. Paris Fayard, 1988.
Historie des diables de Loudun. N.p., 1839.
Huxley, Aldous. The Devils of Loudun. London Chatto &
Windus, 1952.

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