Louviers, Nuns of
The third case of demonic possession reported in seventeenth-century
France. The first involved Father Louis Gaufridi
and Sister Madeleine de la Palud de Demandolx at Aixen-Provence
in 1611; the second was the great scandal of Father
Urbain Grandier and the nuns of Loudun in 1633.
The case of the Nuns of the Franciscan Tertiaries at Louviers
concerned Sister Madeleine Bavent and Father Thomas
Boullé and was documented by Madeleine Bavent’s own written
confession, which included her earlier life story. Born in Rouen
in 1607, she was apprenticed to a dressmaker. At the age of 18
she was seduced by a Franciscan priest who had also been intimate
with other girls.
Madeleine then decided to enter the convent at Louviers.
Here she found that the first chaplain, Father Pierre David,
had strange, heretical ideas, believing that an illuminated individual
(such as he himself) could not sin and that he should
worship God naked like Adam. During three years as a novice
under Father David, Madeleine was obliged to be received by
him naked, although he did not have intercourse with her.
Father David was succeeded as chaplain by Father Mathurin
Picard in 1628 and his assistant Father Thomas Boullé. According
to Madeleine, she became pregnant by Father Picard, who
also made revolting love charms from altar wafers to secure favors
from other nuns. Both priests were said to have conducted
a black mass at midnight sabbats with Madeleine and other
nuns, involving disgusting practices, and as a result, Madeleine
was visited by the devil in the shape of a huge black cat. Between
1628 and 1642, such orgies involved other nuns, who exhibited
frenzied symptoms of hysterical possession by specific
devils. When the scandal became public, the nuns confessed but
blamed Madeleine Bavent.
Attempts at exorcism were made, and the Bishop of Evreux
investigated the convent for witchcraft. Madeleine was charged
with sorcery, witchcraft, and making a pact with the devil. She
confessed and was expelled from the order, being punished
with perpetual imprisonment in an underground dungeon
with only bread and water three days of the week.
She died soon afterward in 1647. Father Picard had died in
1642, but his corpse was exhumed and excommunicated. Father
Thomas Boullé was imprisoned for three years, tortured,
then burned alive in 1647. The remaining nuns of Louviers
were sent away to other convents.