Louviers, Nuns of

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Louviers, Nuns of

The third case of demonic possession reported in seventeenth-century France. The first involved Father Louis Gaufridi and Sister Madeleine de la Palud de Demandolx at Aixen-Provence in 1611; the second was the great scandal of Father Urbain Grandier and the nuns of Loudun in 1633.

The case of the Nuns of the Franciscan Tertiaries at Louviers concerned Sister Madeleine Bavent and Father Thomas Boullé and was documented by Madeleine Bavent's own written confession, which included her earlier life story. Born in Rouen in 1607, she was apprenticed to a dressmaker. At the age of 18 she was seduced by a Franciscan priest who had also been intimate with other girls.

Madeleine then decided to enter the convent at Louviers. Here she found that the first chaplain, Father Pierre David, had strange, heretical ideas, believing that an illuminated individual (such as he himself) could not sin and that he should worship God naked like Adam. During three years as a novice under Father David, Madeleine was obliged to be received by him naked, although he did not have intercourse with her.

Father David was succeeded as chaplain by Father Mathurin Picard in 1628 and his assistant Father Thomas Boullé. According to Madeleine, she became pregnant by Father Picard, who also made revolting love charms from altar wafers to secure favors from other nuns. Both priests were said to have conducted a black mass at midnight sabbats with Madeleine and other nuns, involving disgusting practices, and as a result, Madeleine was visited by the devil in the shape of a huge black cat. Between 1628 and 1642, such orgies involved other nuns, who exhibited frenzied symptoms of hysterical possession by specific devils. When the scandal became public, the nuns confessed but blamed Madeleine Bavent.

Attempts at exorcism were made, and the Bishop of Evreux investigated the convent for witchcraft. Madeleine was charged with sorcery, witchcraft, and making a pact with the devil. She confessed and was expelled from the order, being punished with perpetual imprisonment in an underground dungeon with only bread and water three days of the week.

She died soon afterward in 1647. Father Picard had died in 1642, but his corpse was exhumed and excommunicated. Father Thomas Boullé was imprisoned for three years, tortured, then burned alive in 1647. The remaining nuns of Louviers were sent away to other convents.