In 1634, a respected priest, Father Urbain Grandier was suddenly accused of the crime of sorcery, evil spells, and the possession visited upon some Ursuline nuns of the town of Loudun in France.
Father Grandier was a tall, handsome and seductive man and many nuns were secretly enamored with him. Accusations against Father Grandier began with Mother Superior Jeanne des Anges who reported having illicit and demonic dreams featuring Grandier. The other nuns followed suit, succumbing to the hysteria of of the Mother Superior’s dreams and delivering their own version.
Grandier’s principal accusers were the Ursuline nuns who suddenly began to bark, scream, blaspheme, and contort their bodies. These were respectable women, members of well known families. Their erotic behaviour gave rise to a host of difficult questions. Most people at the time believed the nuns were possessed, not by one, but by an army of devils.
At this point, it is reported that Father Mignon, an enemy of Grandier, and his assistant took the alleged possessions as an opportunity to turn against Grandier. They began exorcising the nuns. Two of the demons namely responsible for these possessions were Asmodeus and Zabulon although there were others.
Grandier ordered the nuns isolated and wrote to the Archbishop of Bordeaux, who in turn, immediately sent a doctor to examine the nuns. The doctor found the women physically sound and free from possession. Regardless, Grandier let stay his order that the nuns be confined to their cells. This quieted the hysteria for a few months, but then it started again.
This time, Grandier’s enemies were working to have him arrested and convicted of witchcraft. Former lovers of Grandier came forth with stories of sacrilege, adultry, and incest. Meanwhile, Jeanne continued feeding the hysteria, adding names to the roster of demons possessing the nuns. She even went as far as to go through a psychosomatic pregnancy. The demons on the Loudun possession roster were:
Asmodeus, Zabulon, Isacaaron, Astaroth, Gresil, Amand, Leviatom, Behemot, Beherie, Easas, Celsus, Acaos, Cedon, Alex, Naphthalim, Cham, Ureil, and Achas.
Finally, Grandier was charged, tortured, convicted, and sentenced to be burned alive. During his trial seventy two witnesses swore evidence against him. The possessions at the Loudun convent continued even after Grandier’s death, the nuns were supposedly exorcised by Father Surin, a famous exorcist who later became insane. One by one, Surin managed to expell the demons and obtained a written denial of the pact from them. Not fewer than 8 demons signed the registry, among them Leviathan, Balam, Isacaron and Behemoth.
The story became to degenerate into a circus with public exhibitions of exorcism attended by many people, fraud was evoqued.
The possessions finally stopped in 1638 when Jeanne des Anges had a vision that she would be freed from the Devil if she made a pilgrimage to the tomb of St François of Assise. She went to Annecy, then visited Richelieu and Louis XIII. The demons were gone.
As Charcot analysed in 1866, the nuns were victims of hystero-demonopathy. Sexually frustrated, they turned their erotic desires into dreams of possession by Grandier, a man whose only fault was seduction.
Grandier was an opponent to Cardinal Richelieu and refused at the time to let him destroy the castel of Loudun which used to be an orthodox place. He was also suspected to have written a pamphlet against the Cardinal. Richelieu seized the opportunity, manipulated Jeanne and had quickly Grandier condemned for witchcraft.
The purpose of the fraud was a mix of political ambitions, need for recognition and disposal of opponents. The execution of Urban Grandier is very similar to that of Gilles de Rais (burned in 1440) whose enemy was another member of the Clerge, Jean de Malestroit, eveque from Nantes.