Louviers possessions (1647) were mass Demonic Possessions at a convent chapel of the Hospitaller sisters of St. Louis and St. Elizabeth in Louviers, France. The Louviers Possessions have similarities to the Aix-en-Provence Possessions and the Loudun Possessions. Conviction of the priests involved hinged mainly on the evidence of the possessed Demoniacs.
On the promptings of Sister Madeleine Bavent, 18 nuns were possessed, allegedly as a result of bewitchment by Mathurin Picard, the nunnery’s deceased director, and Father Thomas Boulle, vicar at Louviers. According to Bavent, Picard was bewitching the nuns from his grave and causing them to become possessed. This, in turn, was due to certain questionable spiritual practices previously associated with the convent. The bishop of Evreaux ordered Picard’s body to be exhumed.
Bavent confessed to authorities that the two clergymen had taken her to a witches’ Sabbat, where she married the Demon Dagon and committed horrible and obscene acts with him on the altar. (See Black Mass.) During the orgy, she told, babies were strangled and eaten, and two men who had attended out of curiosity were crucified and then disemboweled. Dagon disturbed the peace of some of the other nuns as well, and all showed the classic signs of possession: contortions, unnatural body movements, glossolalia (talking in unknown languages), insults, blasphemies, and the appearance of strange wounds, which just as quickly vanished.
One writer who observed the exorcisms tells that one young nun “ran with movements so abrupt that it was difficult to stop her. One of the clerics present, having caught her by the arm, was surprised to find that it did not prevent the rest of her body from turning over and over as if the arm were fixed to the shoulder merely by a spring.” Besides seducing the nuns to unspeakable sexual acts, Satan tried to lead the nuns of Louviers down heretical roads as well. According to the account of the proceedings at Louviers published in 1652 by Father Bosroger, the Devil, appearing as a beautiful Angel, engaged the nuns in theological conversations, cleverly spoken and so charming that the nuns began to doubt what they were taught, meekly protesting that what the Devil told them had not been revealed by their teachers. Satan replied that he was a messenger of heaven, sent to speak the divine truth and reveal the errors in established dogma. Pacts with the Devil were made.
As in Loudun, the exorcisms were public and became more of a circus than a holy ritual. Nearly everyone was questioned and harassed by the inquisitors, and the whole town of Louviers exhibited hysteria as the cries of the nuns rose with the tortured screams of Father Boulle. In the end, the parliament at Rouen passed sentence: Sister Madeleine was imprisoned in the church dungeon, and Father Boulle was burned alive. The dead Picard was convicted and his decomposing corpse was burned. Boulle became the model for a character in La-bas, J. K. Huysmans’ 1891 novel about satanic decadence in Paris.
- Certeau, Michel de. The Possession at Loudun. Translated by Michael B. Smith. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2000.
- Ferber, Sarah. Demonic Possession and Exorcism in Early Modern France. London: Routledge, 2004.
The Encyclopedia of Demons and Demonology – Written by Rosemary Ellen Guiley – Copyright © 2009 by Visionary Living, Inc.