Examples of Real Possessions caused by the Devil
By Augustine Calmet
There was in Lorraine, about the year 1620, a woman, possessed (by the devil), who made a great noise in the country, but whose case is much less known among foreigners. I mean Mademoiselle Elizabeth de Ranfaing, the story of whose possession was written and printed at Nancy, in 1622, by M. Pichard, a doctor of medicine, and physician in ordinary to their highnesses of Lorraine. Mademoiselle de Ranfaing was a very virtuous person, through whose agency God established a kind of order of nuns of the Refuge, the principal object of which is to withdraw from profligacy the girls or women who have fallen into libertinism. M. Pichard’s work was approved by doctors of theology, and authorized by M. de Porcelets, Bishop of Toul, and in an assembly of learned men whom he sent for to examine the case, and the reality of the possession. It was ardently attacked and loudly denied by a monk of the Minimite order, named Claude Pithoy, who had the temerity to say that he would pray to God to send the devil into himself, in case the woman whom they were exorcising at Nancy was possessed; and again, that God was not God if he did not command the devil to seize his body, if the woman they exorcised at Nancy was really possessed.
M. Pichard refutes him fully; but he remarks that persons who are weak minded, or of a dull and melancholy character, heavy, taciturn, stupid, and who are naturally disposed to frighten and disturb themselves, are apt to fancy that they see the devil, that they speak to him, and even that they are possessed by him; above all, if they are in places where others are possessed, whom they see, and with whom they converse. He adds that, thirteen or fourteen years ago, he remarked at Nancy a great number of this kind, and with the help of God he cured them. He says the same thing of atrabilarians, and women who suffer from furor uterine, who sometimes do such things and utter such cries, that any one would believe they were possessed.
Mademoiselle Ranfaing having become a widow in 1617, was sought in marriage by a physician named Poviot. As she would not listen to his addresses, he first of all gave her philters to make her love him, which occasioned strange derangements in her health. At last he gave her some magical medicaments (for he was afterwards known to be a magician, and burnt as such by a judicial sentence). The physicians could not relieve her, and were quite at fault with her extraordinary maladies. After having tried all sorts of remedies, they were obliged to have recourse to exorcisms.
Now these are the principal symptoms which made it believed that Mademoiselle Ranfaing was really possessed. They began to exorcise her the 2d September, 1619, in the town of Remirémont, whence she was transferred to Nancy; there she was visited and interrogated by several clever physicians, who, after having minutely examined the symptoms of what happened to her, declared that the casualties they had remarked in her had no relation at all with the ordinary course of known maladies, and could only be the result of diabolical possession.
After which, by order of M. de Porcelets, Bishop of Toul, they nominated for the exorcists M. Viardin, a doctor of divinity, counselor of state of the Duke of Lorraine, a Jesuit and Capuchin. Almost all the monks in Nancy, the said lord bishop, the Bishop of Tripoli, suffragan of Strasburg, M. de Sancy, formerly ambassador from the most Christian king at Constantinople, and then priest of the Oratoire, Charles de Lorraine, Bishop of Verdun; two doctors of the Sorbonne sent on purpose to be present at the exorcisms, often exorcised her in Hebrew, Greek, and Latin, and she always replied pertinently to them, she who could hardly read Latin.
They report the certificate given by M. Nicolas de Harley, very well skilled in the Hebrew tongue, who avowed that Mademoiselle Ranfaing was really possessed, and had answered him from the movement of his lips alone, without his having pronounced any words, and had given several proofs of her possession. The Sieur Garnier, a doctor of the Sorbonne, having also given her several commands in Hebrew, she replied pertinently, but in French, saying that the compact was made that he should speak only in the usual tongue. The demon added, “Is it not enough that I show thee that I understand what thou sayest?” The same M. Garnier, speaking to him in Greek, inadvertently put one case for another; the possessed, or rather the devil, said to him, “Thou hast committed an error.” The doctor said to him in Greek, “Point out my fault;” the devil replied, “Let it suffice thee that I point out an error; I shall tell thee no more concerning it.” The doctor telling him in Greek to hold his tongue, he answered, “Thou commandest me to hold my tongue, and I will not do so.”
M. Midot Ecolâtre de Toul said to him in the same language, “Sit down;” he replied, “I will not sit down.” M. Midot said to him moreover in Greek, “Sit down on the ground and obey;” but as the demon was going to throw the possessed by force on the ground, he said to him in the same tongue, “Do it gently;” he did so. He said in Greek, “Put out the right foot;” he extended it; he said also in the same language, “Cause her knees to be cold,” the woman replied that she felt them very cold.
The Sieur Mince, a doctor of the Sorbonne, holding a cross in his hand, the devil whispered to him in Greek, “Give me the cross,” which was heard by some persons who were near him. M. Mince desired to make the devil repeat the same sentence; he answered, “I will not repeat it all in Greek;” but he simply said in French, “Give me,” and in Greek, “the cross.”
The Reverend Father Albert, Capuchin, having ordered him in Greek to make the sign of the cross seven times with his tongue, in honor of the seven joys of the Virgin, he made the sign of the cross three times with his tongue, and then twice with his nose; but the holy man told him anew to make the sign of the cross seven times with his tongue; he did so; and having been commanded in the same language to kiss the feet of the Lord Bishop of Toul, he prostrated himself and kissed his feet.
The same father having observed that the demon wished to overturn the Bénitier, or basin of holy water which was there, he ordered him to take the holy water and not spill it, and he obeyed. The Father commanded him to give marks of the possession; he answered, “The possession is sufficiently known;” he added in Greek, “I command thee to carry some holy water to the governor of the town.” The demon replied, “It is not customary to exorcise in that tongue.” The father answered in Latin, “It is not for thee to impose laws on us; but the church has power to command thee in whatever language she may think proper.”
Then the demon took the basin of holy water and carried it to the keeper of the Capuchins, to the Duke Eric of Lorraine, to the Counts of Brionne, Remonville, la Vaux, and other lords.
The physician, M. Pichard, having told him in a sentence, partly Hebrew, and partly Greek, to cure the head and eyes of the possessed woman; hardly had he finished speaking the last words, when the demon replied: “Faith, we are not the cause of it; her brain is naturally moist: that proceeds from her natural constitution;” then M. Pichard said to the assembly, “Take notice, gentlemen, that he replies to Greek and Hebrew at the same time.” “Yes,” replied the demon, “you discover the pot of roses, and the secret; I will answer you no more.” There were several questions and replies in foreign languages, which showed that he understood them very well.
M. Viardin having asked him in Latin, “Ubi censebaris quandò mane oriebaris?” He replied, “Between the seraphim.” They said to him, “Pro signo exhibe nobis patibulum fratris Cephæ;” the devil extended his arms in the form of a St. Andrew’s cross. They said to him, “Applica carpum carpo;” he did so, placing the wrist of one hand over the other; then, “Admove tarsum tarso et metatarsum metatarso;” he crossed his feet and raised them one upon the other. Then afterwards he said, “Excita in calcaneo qualitatem congregantem heterogenea;” the possessed said she felt her heel cold; after which, “Repræsenta nobis labarum Venetorum;” he made the figure of the cross. Afterwards they said, “Exhibe nobis videntum Deum benè precantem nepotibus ex salvatore Egypti;” he crossed his arms as did Jacob on giving his blessing to the sons of Joseph; and then, “Exhibe crucem conterebrantem stipiti,” he represented the cross of St. Peter. The exorcist having by mistake said, “Per eum qui adversus te præliavit,” the demon did not give him time to correct himself; he said to him, “O the ass! instead of præliatus est.” He was spoken to in Italian and German, and he always answered accordingly.
They said to him one day, “Sume encolpium ejus qui hodiè functus est officio illius de quo cecinit Psaltes: pro patribus tuis nati sunt tibi filii;” he went directly and took the cross hanging round the neck and resting on the breast of the Prince Eric de Lorraine, who that same day had filled the office of bishop in giving orders, because the Bishop of Toul was indisposed. He discovered secret thoughts, and heard words that were said in the ear of some persons which he was not possibly near enough to overhear, and declared that he had known the mental prayer that a good priest had made before the holy sacrament.
Here is a trait still more extraordinary. They said to the demon, speaking Latin and Italian in the same sentence: “Adi scholastrum seniorem et osculare ejus pedes, la cui scarpa ha più di sugaro;” that very moment he went and kissed the foot of the Sieur Juillet, ecolâtre of St. George, the Elder of M. Viardin, ecolâtre of the Primitiale. M. Juillet’s right foot was shorter than the left, which obliged him to wear a shoe with a cork heel (or raised by a piece of cork, called in Italian sugaro).
They proposed to him very difficult questions concerning the Trinity, the Incarnation, the holy sacrament of the altar, the grace of God, free will, the manner in which angels and demons know the thoughts of men, &c., and he replied with much clearness and precision. She discovered things unknown to everybody, and revealed to certain persons, but secretly and in private, some sins of which they had been guilty.
The demon did not obey the voice only of the exorcists; he obeyed even when they simply moved their lips, or held their hand, or a handkerchief, or a book upon the mouth. A Calvinist having one day mingled secretly in the crowd, the exorcist, who was warned of it, commanded the demon to go and kiss his feet; he went immediately, rushing through the crowd.
An Englishman having come from curiosity to the exorcist, the devil told him several particulars relating to his country and religion. He was a Puritan; and the Englishman owned that everything he had said was true. The same Englishman said to him in his language, “As a proof of thy possession, tell me the name of my master who formerly taught me embroidery;” he replied, “William.” They commanded him to recite the Ave Maria; he said to a Huguenot gentleman who was present, “Do you say it, if you know it; for they don’t say it amongst your people.” M. Pichard relates several unknown and hidden things which the demon revealed, and that he performed several feats which it is not possible for any person, however agile and supple he may be, to achieve by natural strength or power; such as crawling on the ground without making use of hands or feet, appearing to have the hair standing erect like serpents.
After all the details concerning the exorcisms, marks of possession, questions and answers of the possessed, M. Pichard reports the authentic testimony of the theologians, physicians, of the bishops Eric of Lorraine, and Charles of Lorraine, Bishop of Verdun, of several monks of every order, who attest the said possession to be real and veritable; and lastly, a letter from the Rev. Father Cotton, a Jesuit, who certifies the same thing. The said letter bears date the 5th of June, 1621, and is in reply to the one which the Prince Eric of Lorraine had written to him.
I have omitted a great many particulars related in the recital of the exorcisms, and the proofs of the possession of Mademoiselle de Ranfaing. I think I have said enough to convince any persons who are sincere and unprejudiced that her possession is as certain as these things can be. The affair occurred at Nancy, the capital of Lorraine, in the presence of a great number of enlightened persons, two of whom were of the house of Lorraine, both bishops, and well informed; in presence and by the orders of my Lord de Porcelets, Bishop of Toul, a most enlightened man, and of distinguished merit; of two doctors of the Sorbonne, called thither expressly to judge of the reality of the possession; in presence of people of the so-called Reformed religion, and much on their guard against things of this kind. It has been seen how far Father Pithoy carried his temerity against the possession in question; he has been reprimanded by his diocesan and his superiors, who have imposed silence on him.
Mademoiselle de Ranfaing is known to be personally a woman of extraordinary virtue, prudence, and merit. No reason can be imagined for her feigning a possession which has pained her in a thousand ways. The consequence of this terrible trial has been the establishment of a kind of religious order, from which the church has received much edification, and from which God has providentially derived glory.
M. Nicolas de Harlay Sancy and M. Viardin are persons highly to be respected both for their personal merit, their talent, and the high offices they have filled; the first having been French ambassador at Constantinople, and the other resident of the good Duke Henry at the Court of Rome; so that I do not think I could have given an instance more fit to convince you of there being real and veritable possessions than this of Mademoiselle de Ranfaing.
I do not relate that of the nuns of Loudun, on which such various opinions have been given, the reality of which was doubted at the very time, and is very problematical to this day. Those who are curious to know the history of that affair will find it very well detailed in a book I have already cited, entitled, “Examen et Discussion Critique de l’Histoire des Diables de Loudun, etc., par M. de la Ménardaye,” à Paris, chez de Bure Ainé, 1749.
This is taken from Phantom World, originally published in 1850.