The Devils of Loudun, by Edmund Goldsmid, , at sacred-texts.com
ON Friday the 23rd of June, 1634, about three o'clock in the afternoon, the Bishop of Poitiers and M. de Laubardemont being present, Grandier was brought from his prison to the Church of Ste. Croix in his parish, to be present at the exorcisms. All the possessed were there likewise. And as the accused and his partisans declared that the possessions were mere impostures, he was ordered to be himself the exorcist, and the stole was presented to him. He could not refuse, and therefore, taking the stole and the ritual, he received the pastoral benediction, and after the Veni Creator had been sung, commenced the exorcism in the usual form. But where he should haughtily have given commands to the demon, instead of saying Impero, I
command, he said, Cogor vos, that is, I am constrained by you. The Bishop sharply reprimanded him, and as he had said that some of the possessed understood Latin, he was allowed to interrogate in Greek. At the same time, the demon cried out by the mouth of Sister Clara: "Eh! speak Greek, or any language you like; I will answer." At these words, he became confused, and could not say anything more.
To behave thus, or to acknowledge the truth of the accusation, is one and the same thing, but other circumstances strengthened this certainty.
Any man whose own writing testifies against him is lost. Now this is what Grandier experienced. The devils, in several instances, confessed four pacts he had entered into.
This word, Pact, is somewhat equivocal. It may mean either the document by which a man gives himself to the devil, or the physical symbols, whose application will produce some particular effects in consequence of the pact. Here is an example of each case. Grandier's pact, or magical characters, whereby he gave himself to Beelzebub, was as follows:—"My Lord and Master, Lucifer, I recognise you as my God, and promise to serve you all my life. I renounce every other God, Jesus Christ, and all other Saints; the Catholic, Apostolic and Roman Church, its Sacraments, with all prayers that may be said for me; and I
promise to do all the evil I can. I renounce the holy oil and the water of baptism, together with all the merits of Jesus Christ and his Saints; and should I fail to serve and adore you, and do homage to you thrice daily, I abandon to you my life as your due."
These characters were recognised as being in Grandier's own hand.
Now here is a specimen of the other kind of pact or magical charm. It was composed of the flesh of a child's heart, extracted in an assembly of magicians held at Orleans in 1631, of the ashes of a holy wafer that had been burnt, and of something else which the least straight-laced decency forbids me to name.
A most convincing proof of Grandier's guilt is that one of the devils declared he had marked him in two parts of his body. His eyes were bandaged and he was examined by eight doctors, who reported they had found two marks in each place; that they had inserted a needle to the depth of an inch without the criminal having felt it, and that no blood had been drawn. Now this is a roost decisive test. For however deeply a needle be buried in such marks no pain is caused, and no blood can be extracted when they are magical signs.
But if the devils, overcome by the exorcisms, at times gave evidence against the criminal, at
others they seemed to conspire to blacken him still more under the semblance of an apparent justification. Thus several of the possessed spoke in his favour: and some even went so far as to confess that they had calumniated him. Indeed, the Mother Superior herself, one day when M. de Laubardemont was in the convent, stripped herself to her shift, and, with a rope round her neck and a candle in her hand, stood for two hours in the middle of the yard, although it was raining heavily; and when the door of the room in which M. de Laubardemont was seated, was opened, she threw herself on her knees before him, declaring she repented of the crime she had committed in accusing Grandier, who was innocent. She then withdrew and fastened the rope to a tree in the garden, attempting to hang herself, but was prevented by the other nuns.
When the devil played these kind of tricks they forced him to retract, by calling on him to take Jesus Christ present in the Eucharist as witness of the truth of his statement, which he never dared to do.
What criminals could ever be condemned if such proofs were not deemed sufficient? The certainty of the possessions; the depositions of two priests who accused him of sacrilege; those of the nuns, declaring that they saw him day and night for four months, though the gates of the
convent were kept locked; the two women who bore witness that he offered to make one of them Princess of the Magicians; the evidence of sixty other witnesses; his own embarrassment and confusion on so many occasions; the disappearance of his three brothers, who had fled and were never seen again; his pact and the magic characters that were afterwards burnt with him: all these placed his guilt beyond doubt.
The trial being completed, and the magician duly convicted, there only remained to sentence the evil doer. The Commissioners assembled at the Carmelite Convent, and it was noticed that there was not the slightest difference of opinion among all the fourteen judges, though they had never seen or known one another. They were all agreed as to the penalty to be inflicted, and having pronounced their sentence, they were filled with joy and their conscience was perfectly at rest. It was as if God, whose honour was so interested in this affair, had intended to give them this consolation.
No one among the Catholics, or, indeed, among all honest men, failed to applaud the sentence on Grandier. It was as follows:—
"We have declared, and declare the said Urbain Grandier attainted and convicted of the crimes of magic, maleficence
and possession occurring through his act, in the persons of certain Ursuline Nuns of this town of Loudun, and other women; together with other crimes resulting therefrom. For reparation whereof we have condemned, and do condemn, the said Grandier to make 'amende honorable' bareheaded, a rope round his neck, holding in his hand a burning torch of the weight of two pounds, before the principal gate of Saint Pierre du Marché, and before that of Saint Ursula of the said town; and there, on his knees, to ask pardon of God, the King, and Justice, and that done, to be led to the public square of Sainte Croix, to be there tied to a stake, which for that purpose shall be erected in the said square, and his body to be there burnt with the pacts and magical inscriptions now in custody of the Court, together with the manuscript book written by him against the celibacy of priests, and his ashes to be scattered to the wind. We have declared all his
property forfeited and confiscated to the Crown, less a sum of 150 livres, which shall be expended in the purchase of a copper plate, on which shall be engraved the present sentence, and the same shall be placed in a prominent position in the said Church of St. Ursula, there to be preserved for ever. And before this present sentence shall be carried out, we order that the said Grandier shall be put to the question ordinary and extraordinary, to discover his accomplices.—Pronounced at Loudun on the said Grandier, and executed the 18th of August, 1634."
In execution of this sentence, he was taken to the Court of Justice of Loudun. His sentence having been read to him, he earnestly begged M. de Laubardemont and the other Commissioners to mitigate the rigour of their sentence. M. de Laubardemont replied that the only means of inducing the judges to moderate the penalties was to declare at once his accomplices, and by some act of repentance for his past crimes to implore Divine mercy. The only answer he gave was,
that he had no accomplices, which was false; for there is no magician but must be accompanied by others.
For the last forty days the Commissioner had placed at his side two monks to convert him. But all was in vain. Nothing could touch this hardened sinner. It is true, however, that the conversion of a magician is so rare an occurrence that it must be placed in the rank of miracles. "I am not astonished," says one who was present, "at his impenitence, nor at his refusing to acknowledge himself guilty of magic, both under torture and at his execution, for it is known that magicians promise the devil never to confess this crime, and he in return hardens their heart, so that they go to their death stupid and altogether insensible to their misfortunes." Before being put to the torture, the prisoner was addressed by Father Lactance, a man of great faith, chosen by the Bishop of Poitiers to exorcise the instruments of torture, as is always done in the case of magicians, in order to induce him to repent. Every one shed tears except the prisoner. M. de Laubardemont also spoke to him, together with the Lieutenant Criminel of Orleans, but, notwithstanding their efforts, they made no impression. This determined M. de Laubardemont to try the effects of torture. The boots * were applied, and the judge
repeated his questions as to his accomplices. He always replied that he was no magician; though he had committed greater crimes than that. Questioned as to what crimes, he replied, crimes of human frailty, and added, that were he guilty of magic, he would be less ashamed of that than of his other crimes. This speech was ridiculous, especially in the mouth of a priest, who must know better than a layman that of all crimes the greatest is that of sorcery.
Torture drew from him nothing but cries, or rather sighs from the depth of his bosom, unaccompanied by tears, though the exorcist had abjured him, according to the ritual, to weep if he were innocent, but if guilty to remain tearless. Though he was very thirsty, he several times refused to drink holy water when presented to him. At length, pressed to drink, he took a. few drops, with glaring eyes and a horrible look on his face. Never in the greatest agony of torture did he mention the name of Jesus Christ or of the Holy Virgin, save when repeating words he was ordered to speak, and then only in so cold a manner, and with such constraint, that he horrified the assistants. He never cast his eyes on the image of Christ, nor on that of the Virgin, which were opposite to him, and they were offered to ban in vain: whereupon the judges remonstrated with him. They were still more scandalised when they tried to make him say the prayer which every good Christian addresses to his guardian angel, especially in great extremities, and he said he did not know it. Such was his conduct under torture: in such a crisis every feeling of religion would be awakened in an ordinary man.
His legs were then washed and placed near the fire to restore circulation; he then began to talk to the guards, joking and laughing, and would
have gone on had they allowed him. He spoke neither of receiving the sacrament of penitence nor of imploring God's pardon. They had given him for a confessor Father Archangel, who asked him if he did not wish to confess. He replied that he had done so the previous Tuesday, after which he sat down and dined with the same appetite as usual, drank three or four glasses of wine, and spoke of all kinds of things except of God. Instead of listening to what was said to him for the good of his soul, he made speeches he had prepared beforehand as if he were preaching. They consisted in complaints as to the pain in his legs, and of a feeling of chilliness about his head, in asking for something to drink or to eat, and in begging that he might not be burnt alive.
When he was carried to the Court-house, where the Holy Fathers began to prepare him for death, he pushed back with his hand a crucifix which was presented to him, and muttered between his teeth some words which were not heard. His guards, witnessing this action, were scandalised, and told the monk not to offer him the crucifix again since he rejected it. He recommended himself to no one's prayers, neither before nor during the execution of the sentence–only, as he passed through the streets, turning his head on one side and the other to see the people, it was noticed that he said twice, with an appearance of
vanity, "Pray God for me," and that those to whom he spoke were Huguenots, among whom was an Apostate. The monk who was with him exhorted him to say, "Cor mundum crea in me, Deus." Grandier turned his back on him and said with contempt, "Cor mundum crea in me, Deus."
Having reached the place of execution, the fathers redoubled their charitable solicitude, and pressed him most earnestly to be converted to God at that moment, offered him the crucifix, and placed it over his mouth and on his chest, he never deigned to look at it, and once or twice even turned away; he shook his head when holy water was offered him. He seemed eager to end his days, and in haste to have the fire lighted, either because he expected not to feel it, or because he feared he might be weak enough to name his accomplices; or perhaps, as is believed, in fear lest pain should extract from him a renunciation of his master Lucifer. For the devil, to whom magicians give themselves body and soul, so thoroughly masters their mind that they fear him only, and expect and hope for nothing save from him. Therefore did Grandier protest, placing his hand on his heart that he would say no more than he had already said. At last, seeing them set fire to the faggots, he feared they did not intend to keep their promise to him, but wished
to burn him alive, and uttered loud complaints-The executioner then advanced, as is always done, to strangle him; but the flames suddenly sprang up with such violence that the rope caught fire, and he fell alive among the burning faggots. Just before this a strange event happened. In the midst of this mass of people, notwithstanding the noise of so many voices and the efforts of the archers who shook their halberts in the air to frighten them, a flight of pigeons flew round and round the stake. Grandier's partisans, impudent to the end, said that these innocent birds came, in default of men, as witnesses of his innocence; others thought very differently, and said that it was a troop of demons who came, as sometimes happens on the death of great magicians, to assist at that of Grandier, whose scandalous impenitence certainly deserved to be honoured in this manner. His friends, however, called this hardness of heart constancy, and had his ashes collected as if they were relics, they who did not believe in such things, for the Huguenots looked upon him as one of themselves, especially when they noticed that he never called on the Virgin nor looked on the crucifix.
Thus did he close his criminal career by a death which horrified not only Catholics, but even the more honourable of the Calvinist party.
But the end of the magician was not the end of
the effects of his sorcery; and the possessions, far from ceasing, as had been hoped, continued for a time. God permitted that a great number of those who had been connected with the affair should be more or less vexed by demons. The Civil Lieutenant, Louis Chauvet, was seized with such fear-that his mind gave way, and he never recovered. The Sieur Mannouri, the Surgeon who had sounded the marks * which the devil had
impressed on the magician priest, suffering from extraordinary troubles, was of course said by the p. 20 friends of Grandier to be the victim of remorse. Here are the particulars of the death of this Surgeon—
One night as he was returning about ten o'clock from visiting a sick man, walking with a friend, and accompanied by a man carrying a lantern, he cried all of a sudden, like a man awaking from a dream, "Ah! there is Grandier! what do you want?" At the same time he was seized with trembling. The two men took him back to his home, while he continued to talk to Grandier whom he thought he had before his eyes. He was put to bed filled with the same illusion, and shaking in every limb. He only lived a few days, during which his state never changed. He died believing the magician was still before him, and making efforts to keep him at arm's length.
Father Lactance, the worthy monk who had assisted the possessed in their sufferings, was himself attacked some time after the death of the priest. Feeling the first symptoms, he determined to go to Notre Dame des Ardilliers, whose chapel served by the priests of the oratory is held in great veneration in Saumur and its neighbourhood. M. de Canaye, who was going into the country, gave him a seat in his carriage. He had heard speak of his state, and knew that he was tormented by the devil, but he nevertheless joked about the matter, when, all of a sudden, whilst
rolling along a perfectly level road, the carriage turned over with the wheels in the air without any one being in any way hurt. The next day they continued their voyage to Saumur when the carriage again turned over in the same way in the middle of the Rue du Faubourg de Fenet, which is perfectly smooth, and leads to the chapel of Ardillier. This holy monk afterwards experienced the greatest vexations from the demons, who at times deprived him of sight, and at times of memory; they produced in him violent fits of nausea, dulled his intelligence, and worried him in numerous ways. At length, after being tried by so many evils, God called him to Him.
Five years later, died of the same disease Father Tranquille. He was a holy monk, a celebrated preacher, gifted with a judicious mind, great piety, and a profound humility. A laborious exorcist, much feared by the devils, he had preferred that painful duty, generally little sought for, to the fame of preaching, and had devoted himself to the service of the possessed of Loudun. The demons, irritated at his constancy, determined to possess his body. But God never allowed him to be entirely possessed. Nevertheless, his cruel enemies succeeded in attacking his senses to a certain extent. They cast him to the ground, they cursed and swore out of his mouth, they caused him to put out his tongue and hiss
like a serpent, they filled his mind with darkness, seemed to crush out his heart, and overwhelmed him with a thousand other torments.
On the day of Pentecoast they attacked bins more violently than ever, Ile was to have preached, but was too ill to attempt it. But his confessor ordered the devil to leave him at liberty, and commanded the father to ascend the pulpit. He did so, and preached more eloquently than if he had prepared his sermon for weeks. This was his last sermon.
He performed mass for two or three days more, and then took to his bed to rise no more. The demons caused him pains, the violence of which none knew but he; they shrieked and howled out of his mouth, but he remained clear headed. The following morning the monks saw that God had given rein to the powers of hell, and had determined to abandon to them the life of the monk; and he himself begged that Extreme Unction should be administered to him when they should see that he was passing away. About twelve o'clock a demon who was being exorcised declared that Father Tranquille was at his last gasp. They hastened to see if it were true; be was dying, so the sacrament was administered to him. He died, and received the crown he had gained by combats with hell so courageously sustained.
The opinion of his holiness attracted an enormous crowd to his funeral. A Jesuit pronounced his funeral elogy, and a worthy epitaph was engraved on his tomb.
Another matter that should be mentioned is that when, Extreme Unction was administered to him, the devils, driven away by the sacrament, were forced to leave him. But they did not go far; for they entered the body of another excellent monk who was present, and whom they possessed henceforward. They vexed him at first by violent contortions and horrible howlings, and at the moment of Tranquille's death they cried horribly, "He is dead;" as if they would say, "It is all over, no more hope of this soul!" At the same time, casting themselves on the other monk, they worked him so horribly that, in spite of the many that held him, he kept kicking in the most violent manner towards the deceased. He had to be carried away.
Father Surin, a Jesuit, had succeeded Father Lactance; he too had his trials.
The demons used to threaten him out of the mouth of the Mother Superior, who was under his care. Once, in the presence of the Bishop of Nimes, the demon took up his position on the face of the nun; suddenly he disappeared and attacked the father, made him grow pale, sat on
his chest, and stopped his voice; but soon, obeying the order of another exorcist, he returned to the nun, spoke through her mouth, and showed himself extremely hideous and horrible on her face; and the father, returning to the fight, continued his duties as if he had never been attacked. In one afternoon he was thus attacked and released seven or eight times; but these assaults were followed by others still more violent, so that in his exorcisms he seemed to be struck with violent interior blows, borne to earth, and violently shaken by his adversary; he remained in this state sometimes half an hour, sometimes an hour. The other exorcists applied the Holy Sacrament to the places where he felt the demons, sometimes to his chest, sometimes to his head. When the devil left him he reappeared on the face of the mother, where the monk, with holy vengeance, pursued him, and constrained him to adore the Holy Sacrament. Once the devil threw him out of a window on to the rock where stands the convent of the Jesuits, and broke one of his thighs. After having sustained during many years with perfect patience and resignation these terrible trials, he was freed from them, and at length died in the odour of sanctity.
As to the Mother Superior, towards the end of the year 1635, something happened to her of a
most extraordinary nature. Lord Montague came to Loudun, accompanied by two other English noblemen. He brought the exorcists a letter from the Archbishop of Tours, ordering them to edify his Lordship as much as possible. The Superior, in the `midst of a convulsion, stretched out her left arm, and the name of Joseph appeared on it written in capital letters. The report of this event was signed by the English noblemen. Lord Montague hastened to Rome, abjured his heresy, embraced the ecclesiastical career, and, under another name, settled in France, where he lived many years. He is mentioned in the memoirs of Madame de Motteville.
At the beginning of 1636, on Twelfth Night, Father Surin resolved to compel the last demon that remained in the Mother Superior to adore Jesus Christ. He had the lady tied to a bench. The exorcisms drove the demon into a fury; and instead of obeying, he vomited a multitude of maledictions and blasphemies against the three persons of the Holy Trinity, against Jesus Christ, and against his Holy Mother, so execrable that one would he horrified to read them. The father knew that he was about to come out, and had the lady unbound. After tremblings, contortions, and horrible howlings, Father Surin pressed him more and more with the Holy Sacrament in his hand,
and ordered him in Latin to write the name of Mary on the lady's hand. Raising her left arm into the air, the fiend redoubled his cries and howls, and in a last convulsion issued from the lady, leaving on her hand the holy name Maria, in letters so perfectly formed that no human hand could imitate them. The lady felt herself free and full of joy; and a Te Deum was sung in honour of the event.
Such is the true story of the possession of the nuns of Loudun and of the condemnation of Urbain Grandier, so different from the false accounts hitherto published. Even those who do not blush to deny the truth of infernal possessions need only notice that the human race has always believed, and still believes, that there are intelligent creatures in existence other than man, and almost similar to those whom the Pagans have always represented as Gods of Evil, or subterranean genii, like the demons believed in by Christians; and the belief in infernal possession, having in it no longer anything repugnant, will seem at once to them not only possible but probable. To believe that Urbain Grandier was unjustly condemned and executed, we must blindly believe hundreds of things which revolt common sense. One of the Protestant writers, for example, after having said in a thousand different ways
that the possession of the nuns of Loudun was a mere imposture and horrible farce, confesses that it is impossible to conceive human beings, and especially women, driving a priest to a horrible death by such a series of feigned possessions.
v3_12:* Boot or Bootikin, an instrument of judicial torture p. 13 formerly used as a means of extorting confessions or evidence. It was originally brought from Russia, and consisted of a narrow wooden box made by nailing four planks together, and the leg of the prisoner being placed in it, wedges were inserted between the calf of the leg and the sides of the box, and struck home with a mallet. Sometimes a case of iron was used in a similar way, and occasionally the wedges were placed against the shin bone. The torture, which was of the most horrible character, was sometimes administered until the limbs were wholly crushed and rendered for ever useless. In the judicial records of Scotland there are many instances given of the application of the boot, and some of the details are of the most revolting character. It was last used in 1690, when an English gentleman named Neville Payne was, by the express command of William III., submitted to the torture of the thumbscrew and boot, and which in his case were applied with fearful severity. It is believed that all judicial torture had been given up in England about fifty years previous to this, and it was finally abolished by 7 Anne, c. 20.
v3_18:* "There have been many found in whom such characters have concurred, as by the observation of all ages and nations, are symptoms of a witch; particularly the witch's marks, mala fame, inability to shed tears, etc., all of them providential discoveries of so dark a crime, and which, like avenues, lead us to the secret of it. ’Tis true, one man, through the concurrence of corrosive humours, may have an insensible mark, another may be enviously defamed, and a third, through sudden grief or melancholy, not be able to weep. One or other of these may concurr in the innocent, but none do attest that all of them have concurred in any one person but a witch; and 'tis reasonable to think that these indicia taking place in witches through all places in the world, do proceed from a common cause, rather than a peculiar humour. ’Tis but rational to think that the devil, aping God, should imprint a sacrament of his covenant; and it is thought by many, of greatest repute in the learned world, that whatsoever way, whether by accident or otherwise, such insensible marks be in the body, yet no such mark as theirs, every circumstance considered, is to be found with any other but themselves. I need not insist much in describing this mark, which is p. 19 sometimes like a little teate, sometimes but a blewish spot; and I myself have seen it in the body of a confessing witch, like a little powder-mark, of a blea colour, somewhat hard, and withall insensible, so as it did not bleed when I pricked it."—A Discourse of Witchcraft, by Mr. John Bell, Minister of the Gospel at Gladsmuir, 1705, MS. [Quoted by T. D. Morison in his Edition of Sharpe's Witchcraft.]
In another printed Tract, by the sage author, entitled, "The Trial of Witchcraft; or Witchcraft Arraigned and Condemned, in some answers to a few Questions anent Witches and Witchcraft, wherein is shewed how to know if one be a Witch, as also when one is bewitched: With some Observations upon the Witch's Mark, their compact with the Devil, the White Witches, &c."—he says, "The witch mark is sometimes like a blew spot, or a little teate, or reid spots, like flea biting; sometimes also the flesh is sunk in, and hollow, and this is put in secret places, as among the hair of the head, or eye-brows, within the lips, under the arm-pits, and even in the most secret parts of the body." Mr. Robert Kirk, minister at Aberfoill, in his Secret Commonwealth, describes the witch's mark—"A spot that I have seen, as a small mole, horny, and brown-coloured; throw which mark, when a large brass pin was thrust, (both in buttock, nose, and rooff of the mouth,) till it bowed and became crooked, the witches, both men and women, nather felt a pain nor did bleed, nor knew the precise time when this was doing to them, (their eyes only being covered.")