Anneliese Michel

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Anneliese Michel
Anna Elisabeth Michel

(1952-09-21)21 September 1952
Died1 July 1976(1976-07-01) (aged 23)
Cause of deathMalnutrition and dehydration
Manner of deathHomicide
Resting placeKlingenberg am Main, Bavaria
Known forDeath as a result of attempted exorcism

Anna Elisabeth "Anneliese" Michel (21 September 1952 – 1 July 1976) was a German woman who underwent 67 Catholic exorcism rites during the year before her death. She died of malnutrition, for which her parents and priest were convicted of negligent homicide. She was diagnosed with epileptic psychosis (temporal lobe epilepsy) and had a history of psychiatric treatment that proved ineffective.[1]

When Michel was 16, she experienced a seizure and was diagnosed with psychosis caused by temporal lobe epilepsy. Shortly thereafter, she was diagnosed with depression and was treated by a psychiatric hospital. By the time that she was 20, she had become intolerant of various religious objects and began to hear voices. Her condition worsened despite medication, and she became suicidal, also displaying other symptoms, for which she took medication as well. After taking psychiatric medications for five years failed to improve her symptoms, Michel and her family became convinced she was possessed by a demon.[2][3] As a result, her family appealed to the Catholic Church for an exorcism. While rejected at first, two priests got permission from the local bishop in 1975.[3] The priests began conducting exorcism sessions and the parents stopped consulting doctors. Anneliese Michel stopped eating food and died of malnourishment and dehydration after 67 exorcism sessions.[4] Michel's parents and the two Roman Catholic priests were found guilty of negligent homicide and were sentenced to six months in jail (reduced to three years of probation), as well as a fine. In a conference several years later, German bishops retracted the claim that she was possessed.[5]

Several films are based on her story, including the 2005 film The Exorcism of Emily Rose, the award-winning 2006 film Requiem and the 2011 film Anneliese: The Exorcist Tapes.

Early life[edit]

Born as Anna Elisabeth Michel[6][7] on 21 September 1952 in Leiblfing, Bavaria, West Germany to a Roman Catholic family, Michel was raised along with three sisters by her parents, Joseph and Anna. She was religious and attended Mass twice a week. When she was 16, she experienced a severe convulsion and was diagnosed with temporal lobe epilepsy. In 1973, Michel attended the University of Würzburg. Her classmates later described her as "withdrawn and very religious".[8][9][10]

Psychiatric treatment[edit]

In June 1970, Michel had a third seizure at the psychiatric hospital where she had been staying. She was prescribed anti-convulsion drugs for the first time, including Dilantin, which did not alleviate the problem. She described seeing "devil faces" at various times of the day.[8] That same month, she was prescribed Aolept, which is similar to chlorpromazine and is used in the treatment of various psychoses including schizophrenia, disturbed behavior, and delusions.[9] By 1973, she began experiencing depression, hallucinated while praying and complained about hearing voices telling her that she was "damned" and would "rot in hell."[11] Michel's treatment in a psychiatric hospital did not improve her health and her depression worsened. Long-term treatment also did not help, and she grew increasingly frustrated with her medical care after having taken pharmacological drugs for five years.[3] Michel became intolerant of Christian sacred places and objects, such as the crucifix.[8]

Michel visited San Damiano with a family friend who regularly organized Christian pilgrimages.[12][13] Her escort concluded that she was suffering from demonic possession because she was unable to walk past a crucifix and refused to drink the water of a Christian holy spring.[14]

Anneliese told me—and Frau Hein confirmed this—that she was unable to enter the shrine. She approached it with the greatest hesitation, then said that the soil burned like fire and she simply could not stand it. She then walked around the shrine in a wide arc and tried to approach it from the back. She looked at the people who were kneeling in the area surrounding the little garden, and it seemed to her that while praying they were gnashing their teeth. She got as far as the edge of the little garden, then she had to turn back. Coming from the front again, she had to avert her glance from the picture of Christ [in the chapel of the house]. She made it several times to the garden, but could not get past it. She also noted that she could no longer look at medals or pictures of saints; they sparkled so immensely that she could not stand it.[14]

— Father Ernst Alt

Anneliese’s mother said that she saw stigmata on her daughter.[15][16] Anneliese believed she could communicate with Mary, mother of Jesus.[17]

Michel's family and community became convinced that she was possessed and consulted several priests to request an exorcism.[12][11] The priests declined, recommended the continuation of medical treatment and informed the family that exorcisms required the bishop's permission. In the Catholic Church, official approval for an exorcism is granted when the subject strictly meets the set criteria and is considered to be suffering from possession (infestatio) and under demonic control. Intense dislike for religious objects and supernatural powers are some of the first indications.[10]

Michel worsened physically and displayed aggression, injured herself, drank her own urine and ate insects. In November 1973, Michel began treatment with Tegretol, an anti-seizure drug and mood stabilizer.[9] She was prescribed antipsychotic drugs during the course of the religious rites and consumed them frequently until some time before her death.[18] Despite taking these neuroleptic medications, Michel's symptoms worsened and she began "growling, seeing demons, throwing things."[1]


Bishop Josef Stangl, who approved the exorcism, in a May 1959 photo

The priest Father Ernst Alt declared that Michel "didn't look like an epileptic" and that he did not observe her experiencing seizures.[13] Alt believed that she was suffering from demonic possession and urged the local bishop to allow an exorcism. In a letter to Alt in 1975, Michel wrote, "I am nothing; everything about me is vanity. What should I do? I have to improve. You pray for me" and also once told him, "I want to suffer for other people ... but this is so cruel."[10] In September 1975, Bishop Josef Stangl granted Father Arnold Renz permission to perform an exorcism according to the Rituale Romanum, but ordered total secrecy.[19][note 1]

Renz performed the first session on 24 September. Michel began increasingly speaking about "dying to atone for the wayward youth of the day and the apostate priests of the modern church."[11] Her parents stopped consulting doctors at her request and relied solely on the exorcism rites.[11] A total of 67 exorcism sessions, one or two each week lasting up to four hours each, were performed over approximately ten months in 1975 and 1976.[10] Toward the end of her life, Michel began to refuse food.[11]


Killing of Anneliese Michel
LocationKlingenberg am Main, Bavaria, West Germany
Date1 July 1976; 47 years ago (1976-07-01)
Attack type
Homicide by malnutrition and dehydration
VictimAnna Elisabeth "Anneliese" Michel, aged 23
  • Joseph Michel
  • Anna Michel
  • Ernst Alt
  • Arnold Renz
MotiveAttempted exorcism
ConvictionsNegligent homicide
SentenceThree year suspended sentence

On 1 July 1976, Michel died in her home. The autopsy report stated the cause of death as malnutrition and dehydration resulting from almost a year in a state of near starvation while the rites of exorcism were performed.[21] She weighed 30 kilograms (66 lb), suffered broken knees from continuous genuflections, was unable to move without assistance and was reported to have contracted pneumonia.[18]


After an investigation, the state prosecutor maintained that Michel's death could have been prevented as late as one week before she died.[22]

In 1976, the state charged Michel's parents and priests Ernst Alt and Arnold Renz with negligent homicide.[23] The parents were defended by famed Nuremberg trials defense attorney Erich Schmidt-Leichner and the priests' defense counsel were paid by the church.[23] The state recommended that none of the involved parties be jailed; instead, the recommended sentence for the priests was a fine, while the prosecution concluded that the parents should be exempt from punishment as they had "suffered enough,"[23][22] a mitigating legal factor in German penal law (cf. § 60 StGB).

On July 14, 1977, a New York Times article reported the Aschaffenburg prosecutor had announced that two Roman Catholic priests had been charged with negligent homicide in the death of Anneliese Michel, who had undergone exorcism a year previously.[24]


The trial began on 30 March 1978 in the district court and drew intense interest. Doctors testified that Michel was not possessed, stating that the manifestations of demonic possession were a psychological effect of her strict religious upbringing as well as her epilepsy. Dr. Richard Roth, whom Alt had consulted for medical help, allegedly told Michel during the exorcism that "there is no injection against the devil, Anneliese."[11][citation needed] Schmidt-Leichner argued that the exorcism was legal and that the German constitution protected citizens in the unrestricted exercise of their religious beliefs. The defense played tapes recorded at the exorcism sessions, sometimes featuring what was claimed to be "demons arguing" to assert their claim that Michel was possessed. Both priests claimed that the demons identified themselves as Lucifer, Cain, Judas Iscariot, Adolf Hitler and Nero, among others. They also stated that Michel was finally freed of demonic possession resulting from the exorcism just before her death.[11][22]

Bishop Stangl said that he was not aware of Michel's alarming health condition when he approved of the exorcism and did not testify in court. In April 1978, the Michels and the two priests were convicted of negligent homicide but were given suspended prison sentences, and were ordered to share the costs of the legal proceedings.[22] The sentences have been described as stiffer[22] than those requested by the prosecutor, who had asked that the priests only be fined and that the parents be found guilty but not punished.[22][23] By approving the ancient exorcism rite, the church drew public and media attention. According to author John M. Duffey, the case was a misidentification of mental illness.[25] In a conference several years later, German bishops retracted the claim that she had been possessed.[5]

Exhumation and aftermath[edit]

Michel's gravesite, which became a place of pilgrimage.

After the trial, the Michels asked the authorities for permission to exhume the remains of their daughter because she had been buried in undue hurry in a cheap coffin. Almost two years after the burial, on 25 February 1978, her remains were replaced in a new oak coffin lined with tin. The official reports state that the body bore signs consistent with deterioration of a corpse of that age. The family and the priests were discouraged from viewing Michel's remains. Father Renz later stated that he had been prevented from entering the mortuary.[18] Michel's gravesite remains a pilgrimage site as she is "revered by small groups of Catholics who believe she atoned for wayward priests and sinful youth."[26][11]

The number of officially sanctioned exorcisms decreased in Germany following the ordeal despite Pope Benedict XVI's support for wider use of the practice as compared to that of his predecessor Pope John Paul II, who in 1999 tightened the rules to permit only rare cases for exorcisms.[5][27]

Anneliese's father, Joseph Michel, died in 1999. In a 2006 interview, Anna Michel stated that she does not regret her actions, saying "I know we did the right thing because I saw the sign of Christ in her hands".[16] On 6 June 2013, a fire engulfed the house where Michel had lived. Although the local police determined that it was a case of arson, some locals attributed the fire to the exorcism case.[18][28][29]

In popular culture[edit]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "In Nov '73, exorcism expert Jesuit priest Adolf Rodewyk examined Michel and recommended exorcism, which Stangl authorized in Sept '75."[20]


  1. ^ a b "People". Time. Vol. 64. 2005. p. 14. Anneliese Michel (left) was a college student who was diagnosed with epilepsy after having seizures. Despite medication, her symptoms worsened— growling, seeing demons, throwing things.
  2. ^ Goodman, Felicitas D. (22 May 1988). How about Demons?: Possession and Exorcism in the Modern World. Indiana University Press. p. 15. ISBN 9780253014627. When treatment by the family physician and various psychiatrists brought her no relief, the bishop of her diocese gave permission to two priests to carry out the ritual of exorcism.
  3. ^ a b c Ebert, Roger (5 February 2013). Roger Ebert's Movie Yearbook 2007. Andrews McMeel Publishing. p. 907. ISBN 9780740792199. It involved a German girl named Anneliese Michel, who was treated for seizures and given drugs over a period of five years before the Church finally authorized an exorcism; its investigation indicated she was possessed by, among others, Lucifer, Judas, Nero, Cain, and Hitler.
  4. ^ Forcen, Fernando Espi (14 October 2016). Monsters, Demons and Psychopaths: Psychiatry and Horror Film. Taylor & Francis. p. 132. ISBN 9781315353920. After a few months, she stopped eating and died from malnourishment and dehydration.
  5. ^ a b c "Planned Polish Exorcism Center Sparks Interest in Germany". DW. Retrieved 31 July 2013.
  6. ^ Wolff, Uwe (2006). Der Teufel ist in mir [The Devil Is in Me] (in German). Munich: Heyne. p. 56. ISBN 3-453-60038-X.
  7. ^ Ney-Hellmuth, Petra (2014). Der Fall Anneliese Michel [The Case of Anneliese Michel] (in German). Würzburg: Königshausen & Neumann. p. 20. ISBN 978-3-8260-5230-9.
  8. ^ a b c d "Il Meglio Del Web. L'esorcismo di Anneliese Michel. Una storia terribile. Video" (in Italian). Sicilia Informazioni. 16 January 2012. Archived from the original on 10 January 2014. Retrieved 26 June 2013.
  9. ^ a b c Society for Neuroscience (2011). SfN 2010 - Nano, Theme H, Featured Lectures, Special Lectures, Symposia/Minisymposia, Workshops, Satellites, and Socials. Coe-Truman Technologies. p. 6. ISBN 978-1-61330-001-5.
  10. ^ a b c d Paris, André (31 May 2003). "Unreiner Geist, weiche!" (in German). Retrieved 15 May 2011.
  11. ^ a b c d e f g h Hansen, Eric T. (4 September 2005). "What in God's Name?!". The Washington Post. Retrieved 5 December 2016.
  12. ^ a b Dégh, Linda (2001). Legend and Belief: Dialectics of a Folklore Genre. Indiana University Press. p. 20. ISBN 9780253339294. Michel's deeply devout, conservative Catholic community was convinced that she was possessed by the devil after they had seen her hostile reaction to holy communion during pilgrimage to patron saint San Damiano in Italy.
  13. ^ a b Interviews in "Satan lebt – Die Rückkehr des Exorzismus", 2006, wdr, Documentary by Helge Cramer.
  14. ^ a b Goodman, Felicitas D. (1 November 2005). The Exorcism of Anneliese Michel. Wipf and Stock Publishers. p. 34. ISBN 9781597524322.
  15. ^ "'God told us to exorcise her demons.' The real story behind Netflix's The Exorcism of Emily Rose". 22 March 2020. Retrieved 4 October 2023.
  16. ^ a b "'God told us to exorcise my daughter's demons. I don't regret her death'". 27 November 2005. Retrieved 4 October 2023.
  17. ^ "Seized By the Spirit: Temporal Lobe Epilepsy and the Exorcism of Anneliese Michel". 30 July 2021. Retrieved 4 October 2023.
  18. ^ a b c d Eric Borsje (17 June 2013). "Duitslands beroemdste horrorhuis afgebrand" [Germany's most famous horror house burnt down] (in Dutch). HLN.BE. Retrieved 25 June 2013.[dead link]
  19. ^ "Priests convinced woman was possessed". The Windsor Star. 4 April 1978. Retrieved 14 May 2011.
  20. ^ Annelise Michel was supposedly possessed by Satan. Craig R. Whitney (8 August 1976, Aschaffenburg (W Ger)). The New York Times, Page 10, Column 3 (103 words). Retrieved 11 May 2015.
  21. ^ "Religion: A Phenomenon of Fear". Time. 6 September 1976. Archived from the original on 17 May 2007. Retrieved 25 April 2010.
  22. ^ a b c d e f "Bizarre exorcism draws suspended prison terms". The Press-Courier. 22 April 1978. Retrieved 26 June 2013. received suspended prison sentences Friday. They were convicted of negligent homicide. ... were convicted and ordered to share the costs of the proceedings. The sentences were stiffer than those sought by Chief Prosecutor Karl Stenger, who recommended fines for the priests, but asked that the parents be spared punishment after suffering the ordeal of losing their daughter.
  23. ^ a b c d Michael Getler (21 April 1978). "Cries of a Woman Possessed; German Court Hears Tapes in Exorcism Death Trial". The Washington Post. Retrieved 24 December 2016. Nobody is expected to go to jail. The prosecutor yesterday asked that the priests be fined and that the parents be found guilty but not punished because they have already suffered enough.
  24. ^ "2 Priests Charged In Exorcism Death Of German Woman". The New York Times. 14 July 1977. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved 26 September 2023.
  25. ^ Duffey, John M. (13 July 2011). Lessons Learned: The Anneliese Michel Exorcism: The Implementation of a Safe and Thorough Examination, Determination, and Exorcism of Demonic Possession. Wipf and Stock Publishers. ISBN 9781621890218. This is also mental misidentification of internal information as external information.
  26. ^ Schwarz, Heike (March 2014). Beware of the Other Side(s): Multiple Personality Disorder and Dissociative Identity Disorder in American Fiction. transcript Verlag. p. 269. ISBN 9783839424889.
  27. ^ "German Catholics bring back exorcism". The Local. 21 May 2008. Retrieved 31 July 2013.
  28. ^ SAT.1 Television (12 June 2013). "(Video & Text) Klingenberg-Exorzismus: Haben Satanisten dieses Haus angezündet?" (in German). SAT.1. Archived from the original on 15 June 2013. Retrieved 12 June 2013.{{cite web}}: CS1 maint: numeric names: authors list (link)
  29. ^ Helmut Reister (16 June 2013). "Abgebrannt - Das Exorzisten-Haus" (in German). Abendzeitung. Retrieved 16 June 2013.
  30. ^ Chris Brazier: "The Danceable Solution" (Melody Maker, 28 October 1978)
  31. ^ "Case 11: Anneliese Michel - Casefile: True Crime Podcast". Casefile: True Crime Podcast. 19 March 2016. Retrieved 21 January 2018.

Further reading[edit]

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