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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, following the events of the so-called "Loudun Possessions". The circumstances of Father Grandier's trial and execution have attracted the attention of writers Alexandre Dumas, père, Aldous Huxley and the playwright John Whiting, composers like Krzysztov Penderecki and Peter Maxwell Davies, as well as historian Jules Michelet and various scholars of European witchcraft. Most modern commentators have concluded that Grandier was the victim of a politically motivated persecution led by the powerful Cardinal Richelieu.
Grandier served as priest in the church of Sainte Croix in Loudun, in the Diocese of Poitiers. Ignoring his vow of celibacy, he is known to have had sexual relationships with a number of women and to have acquired a reputation as a philanderer. He also wrote a book attacking the doctrine of clerical celibacy. 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, such as the author Aldous Huxley, 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. According to Huxley, Sister 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. Grandier was arrested, interrogated and tried by an ecclesiastical tribunal, which acquitted him.
However, Grandier had gained the enmity of the powerful Cardinal Richelieu, the chief minister of France, 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. After torturing Father Grandier, the judges (clerics Lactance, Laubardemont, Surin and Tranquille) introduced documents purportedly signed by Grandier and several demons as evidence that he had made a diabolical pact. It is unknown whether Grandier wrote or signed the pacts under duress, or whether 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 administered to only those 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 Loudun "possessions". One of the most likely explanations is that the whole affair was a hoax orchestrated by Richelieu. Huxley in his book The Devils of Loudun (1952) and in the Ken Russell film version of the Huxley book (1971) alleged that the initial accusations against Grandier by the nuns of the convent of Loudun were part of a case of collective hysteria.
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One of the documents introduced as evidence during Grandier's second trial is a diabolical pact written in Latin and apparently signed by Grandier. Another, which looks illegible, is written backwards, in Latin with scribal abbreviation, and has since been published and translated in a number of books on witchcraft. This document also carries many strange symbols, and was "signed" by several demons with their seals, as well as by Satan himself. Deciphered and translated to English, it reads:
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.
Grandier's trials were the subject of two treatments by Alexandre Dumas, père: 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). It was also an inspiration for Matka Joanna od Aniołów (Mother Joan of the Angels) – a film by Jerzy Kawalerowicz.
- This article incorporates text from a publication now in the public domain: Chisholm, Hugh, ed. (1911). Encyclopædia Britannica (11th ed.). Cambridge University Press
- Robbins, Rossell Hope (1959). The Encyclopedia of Witchcraft and Demonology. New York: Crown Publishers, Inc. (see article on Urbain Grandier)
- Arrest de condemnation de mort contre maistre Urbain Grandier... Paris, Etienne Hebert, 1634