Urbain Grandier

Urbain Grandier (1590 in Bouère, Mayenne - 18 August 1634 in Loudun) was a French Catholic priest who was burned at the stake after being convicted of witchcraft, specifically the events of the Loudun Possessions.

Grandier served as priest in the church of Sainte Croix in Loudun, in the Roman Catholic Diocese of Poitiers. Ignoring his vow of priestly celibacy, he is known to have had sexual relationships with a number of women and to have acquired a reputation as a philanderer. In 1632, a group of nuns from the local Ursuline convent accused him of having bewitched them, sending the demon Asmodai, among others, to commit evil and impudent acts with them. Modern commentators on the case have argued that the accusations began after Grandier refused to become the spiritual director of the convent, unaware that the Mother Superior, Sister Jeanne of the Angels, had become obsessed with him, having seen him from afar and heard of his sexual exploits. It is claimed that Jeanne, enraged by his rejection, instead invited Canon Mignon, an enemy of Grandier, to become the director. Jeanne then accused Grandier of using black magic to seduce her. The other nuns gradually began to make similar accusations. Many modern scholars claim that this was a case of collective hysteria. Grandier was arrested, interrogated and tried by an ecclesiastical tribunal, which acquitted him.

Grandier, however, gained the enmity of the powerful Cardinal Richelieu after a public verbal attack against him. Grandier had also written and published scathing criticisms of Richelieu. Richelieu ordered a new trial, conducted by his special envoy Jean de Laubardemont, a relative of the Mother Superior of the convent of Loudun. Grandier was rearrested at Angers and the possibility of appealing to the Parlement of Paris was denied to him. Interrogated for a second time, the nuns (including the Mother Superior) did not renew their accusations, but this did not affect the predetermined outcome of the trial.

The judges (the clerics Laubardemont, Lactance, Surin and Tranquille), after torturing the priest, introduced documents purportedly signed by Grandier and several demons as evidence that he had made a diabolical pact. One of the pacts was written in Latin and appeared to be signed by Grandier; another looks almost illegible (but was in fact written in Latin abbreviations, and backwards, nonetheless - and has been published and translated in a number of books about witchcraft) and had many strange symbols, and was "signed" by several demons with their seals, as well as by Satan himself (a signature clearly reads "Satanas"). It is unknown if Grandier wrote or signed the acts under duress, or if they were entirely forged.

Grandier was found guilty and sentenced to death. The judges who condemned Grandier ordered that he be put to the "extraordinary question", a form of torture which was usually, but not immediately, fatal, and was therefore only administered to victims who were to be executed immediately afterwards. Despite torture, Grandier never confessed to witchcraft. He was burned alive at the stake.

Many theories exist as to the cause of the Loudon "possessions". One of the most likely explanations is that the whole affair was a hoax orchestrated by Richelieu.

Text of one of the pacts (written in backwards Latin abbreviations)

Transcription of text (in real form):

mlE ntvL bbzlB ntS entvuj rfcL snetpp soN
tcap tpecca smebah eidh qsila toratsA qta
mecillop ciuh te .e sibon iuq rdnarG brU siredeof
. po te pulov noh nom suced munigriv merolf lum meroma
lemes terffo sboN .re arac illi teirbe oudirt bacinrof
te ealccE as baclucoc sdep bus gis gas ona ni
xilef giv na teviv tcap q ;ture suispi tagor sbon
.D delam son tni aetsop nev te moh art ni
mead ssoc tni fni ni tcaF
sanataS bubezleB rfcL
imilE nahtaiveL htoratsA
mod pcnirp mead te baid gam sop giS
tprcs htrblB

Same text, written forwards, still with the abbreviations:

Nos pptens Lcfr juvnte Stn Blzbb Lvtn Elm
atq Astarot alisq hdie habems accept pact
foederis Urb Grandr qui nobis e. et huic pollicem
amorem mul florem virginum decus mon hon volup et op.
fornicab triduo ebriet illi cara er. Nobs offret semel
in ano sag sig sub peds coculcab sa Ecclae et
nobs rogat ipsius erut; q pact vivet an vig felix
in tra hom et ven postea int nos maled D.
Fact in inf int coss daem
Lcfr Belzebub Satanas
Astaroth Leviathan Elimi
Sig pos mag diab et daem princp dom
Blbrth scrpt

Same text, in full Latin:

Nos praepotens Lucifer, juvante Satan, Belzebub, Leviathan, Elimi,
atque Astaroth, allisque, hodie habemus acceptum pactum
foederis Urbani Grandieri qui nobis est. Et huic pollicemur
amorem mulierum, florem virginum, decus monacharum, honores, voluptates et opes.
Fornicabitur triduo; ebrietas illi cara erit. Nobis offerit semel
in anno sanguinis sigillum, sub pedibus conculcabit sacra ecclesiae et
nobis rogationes ipsius erunt; quo pacto vivet annos viginti felix
in terra hominum, et veniet postea inter nos maleficere Deo.
Factum in infernis, inter consilia daemonum.
Lucifer Belzebub Satanas
Astaroth Leviathan Elimi
Sigilla posuere magister diabolus et daemones principes domini.
Baalberith, scriptor.

Translation into English:

We, the influential Lucifer, the young Satan, Beelzebub, Leviathan, Elimi,
and Astaroth, together with others, have today accepted the covenant pact
of Urbain Grandier, who is ours. And him do we promise
the love of women, the flower of virgins, the respect of monarchs, honors, lusts and powers.
He will go whoring three days long; the carousal will be dear to him. He offers us once
in the year a seal of blood, under the feet he will trample the holy things of the church and
he will ask us many questions; with this pact he will live twenty years happy
on the earth of men, and will later join us to sin against God.
Bound in hell, in the council of demons.
Lucifer Beelzebub Satan
Astaroth Leviathan Elimi
The seals placed the Devil, the master, and the demons, princes of the lord.
Baalberith, writer.

Artistic depictions

Grandier's trials were the subject of two treatments by Alexandre Dumas the elder: an entry in volume four of his "Crimes Célèbres" (1840) and a play, "Urbain Grandier" (1850). The French historian Jules Michelet discussed Grandier in a chapter of "La Sorcière" (1862). The same subject was revisited about a century later in the book-length essay, "The Devils of Loudun", by Aldous Huxley, published in 1952. Huxley's book was adapted for the stage in 1961 by John Whiting (commissioned by the Royal Shakespeare Company). The play was adapted for the movie screen by Ken Russell in 1971 (as "The Devils"). The novel was also adapted for the opera stage in 1969 by Krzysztof Penderecki (as "Die Teufel von Loudun").

Grandier's trial also influenced René Descartes, the influential French philosopher, mathematician, scientist and writer. The trial itself was very much spoken of around France and had definitely reached Descartes, because he used it in his most known work "Meditations". At the end of the first meditation, he writes, there may be a "powerful deceiving demon" that tries to deceive him in believing that senses and the world around him are the only truth. The mentioning of this "deceiver" is only mentioned in this work, which was published seven years after Grandier's death and in none of his other work, not before, not after. Descartes himself was being suspected to be some sort of an atheist by the Church and so the "Meditations" are addressed to the theologians of the University of Sorbonne - that acquitted Grandier in his first trial - to regain their trust.

References

*1911
*Robbins, Rossell Hope (1959). "The Encyclopedia of Witchcraft and Demonology." New York: Crown Publishers, Inc. (see article on Urbain Grandier)


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