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The Devils of Loudun

Edmund Goldsmid

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The Devils of Loudun is an account of the possession of the nuns of Loudun. In 1634 the Ursuline nuns of Loudon were allegedly possessed by demons. This is one of the largest cases of mass possession in history. Father Urbain Grandier, a local priest, was interrogated under torture, convicted of being responsible for the possessions (as well as sorcery), and subsequently burned at the stake. This is a 19th century translation of the primary account of the episode, originally written in French by Des Niau in 1634.

This book has 56 pages in the PDF version, and was originally published in 1887.

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Excerpt from 'The Devils of Loudun'

AT the beginning of the 17th century, the curate of Loudun was Urbain Grandier. To those talents which lead to success in this world, this man united a corruption of morals which dishonoured his character. His conduct had made him many enemies. These were not merely rivals, but husbands and fathers, some of high position, who were outraged at the dishonour he brought on their family. He was, nevertheless, a wonderfully proud man, and the bitterness of his tongue and the harshness with which he pursued his advantages only excited them the more. And these advantages were numerous, for he had a marvelous faculty for pettifogging. His iniquities had rendered him the scourge of the town, whose principal curate and greatest scandal he was at one and the same moment. This is proved by the dispensations obtained by many fathers of families to assist at the divine service in some other parish, and by the permissions granted them to receive the sacrament from some other hand.

But what was still more serious is, that while setting so many people against him, he had been able to form as formidable a party of his own. These were almost all Huguenots, of which Loudun was then full. He had gained their good graces so much that they upheld him to the utmost of their power. This gave rise to the suspicion that he was merely a disguised Calvinist; a by no means unusual occurrence. Thus Grandier, believing himself safe, put no bounds to his audacity. He treated those from whom he differed with contempt, and in his preachings even dared to question the privileges of the Carmelites. He publicly ridiculed their sermons. He even encroached on episcopal jurisdiction, by granting dispensations from the publication of marriage banns. This last act caused a sensation, and was reported to Louis de la Rocheposay, Bishop of Poitiers, to whom, at the same time, were addressed numerous complaints of the irregular conduct of the curate and of the scandal he caused. The prelate had him arrested, and imprisoned till his trial, which took place on the 2nd June 1630, when he was condemned to fast on bread and water every Friday for three months, forbidden to officiate in the diocese for five years, and interdicted for all time from performing divine service in the town of Loudun. Grandier appealed against this sentence to the Metropolitan, M. d’Escoubleau  de Sourdis, Archbishop of Bordeaux, and since then created Cardinal; and the prosecution appealed to the parliament of Paris against this attempt to evade the jurisdiction of the Bishop. But as many witnesses had to be heard, most of whom lived in the diocese, the parliament remitted the case to the Courts of Poitiers. Grandier was thus enabled to face his adversaries, thanks to the friends he had in the district. The following fact proves this.

Amongst other witnesses, two priests, Gervais Méchin, and Louis Boulieau deposed that they had found Grandier lying with women and girls flat on the ground in his Church, the gates leading to the street being shut; that several times, at extraordinary hours, both during the day and during the night they had seen women and girls come to his room; that some remained there from one o'clock its the afternoon, till past midnight, and had their suppers brought there by their maidservants; who used to withdraw at once; that they had also seen him in his Church, with the doors wide open, and, that some women having entered, they were at once closed.

Such evidence was absolute ruin to Grandier consequently his friends moved heaven and earth. They used bribery and threats against these priests, and obtained from them a retractation of their evidence. René Grandier, brother of the accused, wrote it with his own hand, as was afterwards proved, and the two priests signed it. This evidence destroyed, the cabal had little trouble in turning the legal proceedings to the advantage of Grandier. The Court of Poitiers pronounced his acquittal of the charges brought against him. He was so triumphant, that he insulted his enemies and treated them with public contempt, as if he were entirely 'out of the wood,' He had yet to appear before the tribunal of the Archbishop of Bordeaux, to whom he had appealed. But here again his friends stood by him, and he obtained a second acquittal and an order reinstating him in all his functions (22nd Nov. 1631). The verdict contained a warning to him "to behave well and decently, according to the Holy Decretals and Canonical Constitutions."

At the same time, the Archbishop, in slew of the animosity of his adversaries, thought it would be better and safer for him to exchange livings; and he advised him to leave a town where he was looked upon with such disfavour.

Grandier did not think proper to follow the advice or obey the order: far from showing the modesty which was enjoined him, he looked upon his acquittal as a triumph, and returned to Loudun with a laurel branch in his hand, for the mere purpose of insulting his opponents.

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