By Matthew Wendler
The woman screamed in agony as the searing liquid scorched her flesh. Her body convulsed in pain and she began shaking violently. Two priests watched as she struggled against the three men that held her down, one of whom was her father. This was not a normal reaction to holy water, or water blessed by a priest and used for spiritual cleansing. She flailed from side to side, snapping her teeth at the men restraining her and hurling obscenities at the two priests in the guttural growl of an animal. This was just the first day in the exorcisms conducted on Anneliese Michel.
Michel was raised by devout Roman Catholic parents in the town of Klingenberg am Main, located in Bavaria, Germany. She and her sisters were taught strictly under traditional religious methods and would attend mass twice a week. Her parents opposed the modern practices of the church brought about by the Second Vatican Council.
In September of 1968 at the age of 16, Michel lost consciousness at her school for unknown reasons. Later that night, she suffered a seizure while lying in bed. Michel claimed to have felt paralyized to the mattress at the time. It was as though a heavy force was pushing down on her.
A year later in August of 1969, Michel blacked out again and had another seizure. She was taken to a neurologist and became diagnosed with temporal lobe epilepsy, which are recurring seizures originating from the brain’s temporal lobes. No medication was prescribed to her due the infrequency of the seizures.
Over the following year, Michel’s health began to deteriorate. She contracted a number of different illnesses including tuberculosis, pneumonia, pleurisy. Her tonsils had to be removed after she developed tonsillitis. She also started having heart and circulatory issues. Michel was soon admitted to a medical facility called the Mittenberg Clinic for recovery.
Another seizure occurred during Michel’s stay at the facility on Jun. 3, 1970. She was prescribed a new series of medications as her physical and mental health continued to decline. One day while praying, Michel claimed to have seen a dark, grimacing face appear before her. The face stared at her with malefic eyes before suddenly vanishing. She stopped praying out of fear and began questioning whether there was a demon inside of her.
Michel, now age 17, returned home Aug. 29, 1970, but her condition had not gotten better. Over the next few years, Michel became increasingly depressed and faced more of what people believed were hallucinations. She claimed to have heard knocking sounds in her room, as well as voices stating she was damned to rot in hell. Her mother also claimed to have one day found her staring blankly at a statue of the Virgin Mary with black eyes.
In 1973, Michel was taken by her father to a saint shrine at the San Damiano church in Assisi, Italy.
She was unable to enter the building, however, and claimed that the ground burned like fire. Michel said a piercing white light blinded her every time she glanced at a painting of a biblical figure. At one point, she tore off her rosary beads and started speaking in a deep, demonic voice.
The family attempted to seek help from the Roman Catholic church and Michel began consulting with many priests.
They were eventually referred to Father Ernst Alt, who began visiting with Michel regularly. Fr. Alt believed she was being possessed by a demonic entity.
He pleaded to Bishop Josef Stangl for the approval of an exorcism, but was denied under the belief that she just needed more medical treatment.
Michel’s behavior got increasingly strange over the coming weeks. She began destroying religious objects around the house, including crucifixes and more rosary beads. At one point she crawled under a table and remained there for two days, barking like a dog. Her family also said that she began eating spiders and coal from the fireplace. She lashed out more frequently towards her family and parts of her body began to swell at random.
Fr. Alt pleaded once again to the Bishop and finally was given approval, but only under the condition that the exorcisms were done in secret. Bishop Stangl appointed a young priest named Father Arnold Renz to assist him in the rite and they began Sept. 24, 1974.
Over the next 10 months, Fr. Alt and Fr. Renz conducted a total of 67 exorcisms on Michel. The sessions occurred once or twice a week and usually lasted over an hour. Michel claimed to have heard and seen everything during the exorcisms, but had no control over her actions. Her parents had full faith the exorcisms would help cure their daughter and took Michel off psychiatric treatment.
Throughout the weeks, the priests learned Michel was possessed by a total of six demons. One of them was named as Judas Iscariot, who was the disciple that betrayed Jesus Christ in the Bible. Cain, the son of Adam and Eve who murdered his own brother, was also named. Other names given included Nero, who was the fifth Roman emperor, and Adolf Hitler. A disgraced German priest from the 1500s named Valentin Fleischmann was also listed. The final entity was Lucifer, the Devil himself. These six demons allegedly fought for control over Michel and could often be heard arguing through her voice. Some speculate the names of the demons were lies and only chosen by the demonic entities within her to insinuate fear.
The priests made audio and video recordings of the session to show to the church for analysis. A total of 42 audio recordings were collected. All of them feature Michel shouting and groaning in a disturbing distorted voice.
Michel could not be left alone often during this time because it was feared she would harm herself if given the chance. She had also stopped eating and claimed the demons would not permit her. Throughout her days, Michel would stand and drop down on her knees repeatedly to pray. This resulted in her breaking the tendons in her knees, as well as the bone. Her body was covered in bruises, she had broken teeth, and she constantly bled from her nose.
Michel believed that she was suffering for the sins of the generation’s youth and the modern priests of the church. She claimed to have had a vision of the Virgin Mary telling her this directly.
It wasn’t until Oct. 31, 1975 that the demons were believed to have finally been expelled from Michel’s body. They left one by one, causing Michel to increasingly vomit. The joy of the priest’s success was short-lived as the entities returned 15 minutes later.
Over the next few months, she screamed in agony and lied rigidly in bed for long periods of time. She still refused to eat and would throw herself against the walls. Michel soon made the claim that her suffering would end in July.
The final exorcism was conducted June 30, 1976. Michel was extremely frail and weighed under 100 pounds. She had a high fever and felt very exhausted. The only words she uttered during this session were, “please, absolution.”
Her mother found her dead in bed the next morning July 1, 1976 at the age of 23. An autopsy ruled her cause of death as dehydration and malnutrition. She weighed only 68 pounds when she died. Interestingly, the autopsy found she had a healthy brain with no damage that could cause epileptic seizures. Michel’s pupils were also found to be unusually dilated.
The two priests, as well as Michel’s parents, were brought to trial for her death March 30, 1978. The court believed Michel was just mentally ill and that exorcisms had only worsened her condition. It was thought that she would have survived if she was given proper medical treatment. The audio tapes taken of the exorcism were played in their defense, but the court still ruled against them. Michel’s parents were charged with negligent homicide, but weren’t given a jail sentence as it was believed they suffered enough with the loss of her daughter. Fr. Alt and Fr. Renz were charged with negligent manslaughter and were sentenced to six months behind bars, but their sentences were dropped early.
It is long debated whether the case of Annelise Michel was an episode of demonic possession or poor mental health. The modern age has lost touch with a majority of spiritual practices and beliefs. For the everyday person, Michel’s declining mentality would be the most logical answer. A common fear of man, however, is the fear of the unknown. Perhaps that’s just an excuse to not dwell into what science can’t explain. The case has many strange factors, such as the voice captured on the audio recordings, the claims of Michel’s family, and the fact that she knew the month she’d die. While she may have had a rough mental state, there’s a strong possibility she really was possessed.
It was reported that a mysterious fire had broken out in the house where Michel died June 6, 2013. Police have reported the incident as a case of arson, but many people believe the fire has a connection to Michel’s possession. It’s rather ominous that it occurred on the sixth day of the sixth month, a date that’s often attributed with the Devil and the coming of the Antichrist.