Grandier, Urbain (d. 1634)
Grandier, Urbain (d. 1634)
Urbain Grandier, a canon of the French church and a popular preacher of the town of Loudun in the district of Poitiers, was brought to trial in the year 1634, accused of practicing magic and causing demonic possession of the Ursuline nuns of Loudun. The prime cause of the accusations, however, seems to have been the envy of his rival preachers, whose fame was eclipsed by Grandier's superior talents. The second cause was a libel upon Cardinal Richelieu falsely attributed to Grandier.
In addition to his eloquence, Grandier was distinguished for his courage and resolution, for his physical appearance, and for the extraordinary attention he paid to his dress, which gave him the reputation of being a ladies' man.
In 1633 certain nuns of the convent of Ursulines at Loudun were attacked with a disease that manifested extraordinary symptoms, suggesting to many that they were possessed by devils. A rumor was spread that Grandier, prompted by some offense he had conceived against the nuns, had caused the possessions through his skill in sorcery.
Unfortunately the same Capuchin friar who assured Riche-lieu that Grandier was the author of the libel against him also told the cardinal the story of the possessed nuns. The cardinal seized this opportunity for private vengeance and wrote to the counselor of state at Loudun, asking him to begin a strict investigation of the charges, plainly implying that what he sought was the destruction of Grandier.
According to an authorized transcript of the trial, Grandier was convicted on the evidence of Astaroth, a devil of the order of seraphims and chief of the possessing devils, and sentenced to be burned alive. In fact, he was convicted upon the evidence of 12 nuns who, being asked who they were, gave 12 demonic names and professed to be possessing devils compelled by the order of the court to testify. Sentence was passed on August 18, 1634, and Grandier was condemned to torture so severe that his legs were smashed, followed by burning at the stake.
Grandier met his fate with constancy. At his death an enormous drone fly was said to be seen buzzing about his head and a monk who was present at the execution attested that the fly was Beelzebub (in Hebrew the god of flies), come to carry away to hell the soul of the victim. Such stories may have been circulated to justify a cruel and unjust persecution. The nuns involved in the accusations continued to exhibit the signs of demonic possession after Grandier's execution.
Carmona, Nichel. Les diables de Loudun: sorcellerie et politique sous Richelieu. Paris: Fayard, 1988.
Huxley, Aldous. The Devils of Loudun. London: Chatto & Windus, 1952.