You might not know the name Anneliese Michel but you’ll know her story.
Prior to her untimely death at the age of 23 in 1976, she’d undergone a whopping 67 exorcisms, later providing inspiration for 2005’s The Exorcism of Emily Rose.
She’d started to exhibit signs of unusual behaviour at the age of 16, falling into trances and wetting the bed. However, doctors couldn’t find anything medically wrong with her.
Things started to escalate when she was hospitalised with tuberculosis. It was at this point she began hearing things nobody else could, voices which told her she would ‘stew in hell’.
She also started suffering from epileptic seizures, which could not be controlled through regular medication.
Much like Emily Rose, Anneliese did well at school and went on to attend teacher training college. However, in 1973 things took a turn for the worse as her vivid hallucinations began, which left her seeing ‘devil faces’.
Catholic raised Anneliese became convinced the devil had taken possession over her body, and had the strong feeling of being ‘damned’.
Her strange behaviour became notably more extreme. Witnesses reported how she would lick urine from the floor like a dog, devour spiders, and strip off all her clothes.
Troubled Anneliese had been raised within an intensely Catholic family, and had always been pressured to live a deeply religious life. However, her fears over having the devil in her led to Anneliese avoiding objects related to religion, such as crucifixes.
Her parents believed there was something sinister and otherworldly about their daughter’s behaviour, and enlisted the help of priests who believed Anneliese was under the control of six demonic entities.
Speaking with The Telegraph back in 2005, Anneliese’s mother, Anna, talked about how there was ‘no other way’ to help her daughter:
Anneliese was a kind, loving, sweet and obedient girl. But when she was possessed, it was something unnatural, something that you can’t explain.
Over a ten month period, the clergymen performed a jarring 67 exorcisms on the young woman. It’s thought she was chained up throughout these ordeals, and an autopsy report showed she’d endured broken teeth and knees, as well as bruising and black eyes.
Throughout this traumatic time, she starved herself and her weight dropped to just 68lb, (just under five stone).
She believed depriving herself of food would help weaken Satan’s influence over her. She eventually died of malnutrition, emaciation and starvation.
In 1978, her parents, as well as the priests involved, were all charged with negligent homicide, with the prosecutor claiming death could have been prevented if proper intervention had taken place even just a week before she died.
Today, Anneliese’s sad tale is usually attributed to mental illness which went improperly treated. However, her grave in Klingenberg am Main, Bavaria, Germany, has become a place of pilgrimage for those who believe she died to atone for the sins of others.
The exact truth remains a mystery. Many psychiatrists are split on the topic of demons and/or someone being ‘demonic’. In retrospect, a lot of the symptoms she was showing may have been hard to understand 40 years ago.
Today, it’s been argued she may have been experiencing moments of acute schizophrenia.
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