Soissons Possessions (1582)
The Possession of four persons in Soissons, France, used by the Catholic Church in their campaign against the Protestant Huguenots. The Soissons Possessions resembled in many respects the Miracle of Laon case and demonstrated the Real Presence. The overall mediocrity of the Demoniacs and their Exorcism, however, diminished the propaganda value. Nonetheless, audiences of thousands turned out to witness the exorcisms, and in one case a huge stage was built for the purpose.
One of the Demoniacs was a 13-year-old boy, Laurent Boissonet, possessed by a Demon named Bonnoir. The Demon praised the Huguenots, damned the priests and friars, and said the Huguenots would go to a fine paradise where good beds awaited them. Relics of blessed virgins placed on the boy’s stomach caused it to swell and the boy to convulse.
Boissonet was handed over to two Franciscans, one of whom had been present at the exorcisms of Nicole Obry in the Miracle of Laon case. The Franciscans tested the boy for fraud by sprinkling him during fits alternately with ordinary water and then holy water. The ordinary water produced no reaction, but the holy water increased his convulsions.
Bonnoir was finally expelled after he challenged the priests to administer a holy wafer to the boy, saying it would leave if Boissonet took it. The boy went into such convulsions that the the exorcist, Jean Canart, could not insert it into his mouth. Finally, he put the two sacred fingers—the index and middle—into Boissonet’s mouth, causing it to open. He inserted a wafer and then clamped the jaws together and put his fingers over the boy’s nostrils. There followed an internal struggle in the boy between Jesus and Bonnoir, with sounds like a shrieking pig being stifled or “a little dog being flayed.”
Three times, Canart called out to the Demon to give glory to God, honor Jesus and his body, and finally yield to God, Christ, and “His Catholic and Roman Church.” The Demon replied in anger, “You’re stifling me—how on Earth do you think I can get out?” Canart released his hold on the boy’s nostrils, and immediately a puff of wind and smoke emerged. Boissonet fell to his knees, crying, “Praise be to God; now I am healed.”
Boissonet was possessed a second time by another Demon named Bolo, who said he was on good terms with the saints and took his direction from St. James. Alternately, he said his superior was Ergon but explained that Ergon and St. James were one and the same. Bolo said he was not really a Demon: “You can expel devils all right, but not us.” This assertion concerned the exorcists, but they succeeded in making Bolo admit that he was evil and depart the boy.
Another of the Demoniacs was Marguerite Obry (no mention is made in accounts whether or not she was related to Nicole Obry, associated with the Miracle of Laon). As Nicole, Marguerite was possessed by Beelzebub. The Franciscans tested her for fraud as well, giving her ordinary wafers and holy wafers. They secretly put holy water into her wine, and she refused to drink it. The other notable Demoniac in the case was a 50-yearold married man, Nicolas Facquier, an artisan. Facquier was possessed twice, first, by a Demon named Cramoisy and, second, by an unnamed Demon. Cramoisy claimed to be the same kind of spirit as Bolo: an order that lived in the limbo of unbaptized infants. He said he visited paradise three times a year.
Cramoisy announced that he was possessing Facquier in order to persuade three of his Huguenot cousins to return to Catholicism. Two of the cousins quickly converted. The third did so only after a long session with the Demon, a bishop, and Charles Blendec, a monk who performed some of the exorcisms. After the third converted, Cramoisy departed Facquier.
All of the Demoniacs were successfully exorcised, but they had no real impact on other cases or on public opinion. A year later, in 1583, the church’s national synod at Reims warned against performing exorcisms before making certain the victims were not in need of a medical doctor instead of an exorcist.
- Walker, D. P. Unclean Spirits: Possession and Exorcism in France and England in the Late Sixteenth and Early Seventeenth Centuries. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1981.