Mother, I’m afraid.
-Anneliese Michel (1952-1976)
Anneliese Michel grew up in rural Bavaria, Germany. Her parents were extremely devout Catholics. Her mother became pregnant before she married, and wore a black veil at her wedding. Much later, the child conceived out of wedlock, Martha, died. Anneliese and her sisters were encouraged to atone for the sins of illegitimacy. The teenaged Anneliese sometimes slept on stone floors to suffer for the sins of others, and she would later express the belief that her pain and eventual death might help save priests and youth who had strayed from the Catholic faith.
In 1968, demons began to bedevil Anneliese. Over the next two years, she saw satanic faces on people she passed. Mysterious voices told her she was damned. She experienced seizures and convulsions. Doctors diagnosed her with epilepsy and believed she may have had other disorders as well. They treated her with a variety of drugs. These did not improve her condition measurably.
Anneliese believed herself to be possessed by the forces of Hell. Her behavior worsened. She spoke at times in demonic voices and destroyed religious icons. She ate insects and spiders and licked her own urine from the floor. She attacked others and injured herself.
Over the next few years, she and her family sought an exorcism from the Catholic Church. Initially, the Church denied these requests; they found the evidence of supernatural activity wanting. Finally, in 1975, Father Ernst Alt, a local priest, received permission from his bishop to proceed. The rites were performed several times by a Father Arnold Renz, assisted by Alt. Despite her belief that medicine would not help her, Annaliese continued to take some of her prescribed drugs. Formal medical treatment and the intervention of doctors stopped, however, after the exorcisms began.
She claimed to be possessed by an assortment of demons, including Lucifer himself and the spirits of Cain, Judas, Nero, and Adolf Hitler. She refused to eat. Although Anneliese was clearly wasting away, no doctor was called.
She died on July 1, 1976 of dehydration and starvation.
Both priests and Anneliese’s parents were charged with negligent homicide. Their novel defense—- that the young woman really had been demonically possessed—- attracted significant attention. Essentially, they claimed that the rituals had been a necessary religious exercise and constitutionally protected. Evidence included eerie recordings of Anneliese’s demonic utterings—- reminiscent of those used in the 1973 horror movie The Exorcist, though there is no evidence that Miss Michel saw that notorious film. Medical and psychiatric witnesses noted that her symptoms, while extreme, were not unprecedented, and expressed the belief that the religious ritual may have shaped her delusions. All four defendants were convicted, though they received light sentences: six months—suspended—and three years’ probation.
No hard evidence supports the claim of unexplainable forces at work in Anneliese Michel’s life, and it seems likely she suffered from severe mental disorders. However, many have become fascinated with the story, and some believe the woman really battled the devil on behalf of sinners. In 1978, the Michels requested that their daughter's body be moved. Ostensibly they wanted a better coffin, but they had been contacted by a nun, who claimed she'd had a vision. The exhumation, she said, would reveal proof of supernatural forces at work; Anneliese's body would show no signs of decay.1 Those who moved the body say they found nothing unusual. Photographs taken at the time have never been released.
The story dies hard, however. It has inspired two films, The Exorcism of Emily Rose (2005) and Requiem (2006), a pro-exorcism book (Felicitas Goodman’s The Exorcism of Anneliese Michel) and occasional sightings of Anneliese, as ghost or saint, in Germany. To this day, people make pilgrimages to her grave, taking strange inspiration from her tragic tale.
1.liveforever reminds me that the supposed lack of bodily decay after death-- an "incorruptible body"-- is a miracle the Catholic Church associates with many saints.
"Anneliese Michel." Wikipedia. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Anneliese_Michel July, 2007.
Elizabeth Day. "God told us to exorcise my daughter's demons. I don’t regret her death." The Daily Telegraph November 26, 2005. http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/main.jhtml?xml=/news/2005/11/27/wexor27.xml
Eric T. Hansen. What in God’s Name? The Washington Post September 4, 2005. http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2005/09/02/AR2005090200559.html
Anneliese Michel, recording. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qz_xYLPvUM0
Reel Faces: The Exorcism of Emily Rose. http://www.chasingthefrog.com/reelfaces/emilyrose.php
Stephen Wagner. "The Exorcism of Anneliese Michel." About.com. http://paranormal.about.com/od/demonsandexorcism/a/aa090505.htm