Anneliese Michel was born 21 September 1952 in the community of Leiblfing in West Germany. She lived with her three sisters and her parents Josef and Anna. The family were devout Roman Catholics who attended Mass twice a week. Her father Josef had considered training as a priest and three of her aunts were nuns. As a child her mother Anna, encouraged Anneliese and her sisters to atone for the sins of others. Anna, as she was known, led a normal life until the age of 16 when she suffered a severe epileptic fit.
(Anneliese – pictured left)
She was sent to the Psychiatric Clinic Wurzburg where she was diagnosed with Grand Mal epilepsy. Soon after, Anneliese started experiencing hallucinations while praying. She also began to hear voices, which told her that she was damned.
Over the months that followed her mental state and unstable behavior deteriorated. She began to eat flies, spiders and coal; she even bit off the head of a dead bird. In one instance, she crawled under a table and barked like a dog for two days. She could often be heard screaming through the walls for hours. Tearing off her clothes and urinating on the floor became a regular occurrence.
In 1975, convinced that she was possessed, her parents gave up on the doctors from the psychiatric clinic. They chose to rely solely on the church for healing. An exorcist from a nearby town examined Anneliese and concluded that she was indeed demonically possessed. After two failed requests, the rite of exorcism was finally granted.
Father Arnold Renz and Pastor Ernst Alt were assigned to carry out “The Great Exorcism” on Anneliese Michel. The foundation for this ritual was the “Rituale Romanum”, which at the time, was still a valid 17th century Cannon Law. Together, the men carried out 67 rites of exorcism over a 10 month period, with one or two exorcism sessions held each week. Some sessions lasted up to four hours.
Over time, the ligaments in her knees ruptured due to the 600 genuflections (the act of reverence consisting of falling onto one or both knees) that she performed obsessively during each exorcism session. On June 30, 1976, during what would be her last rite of exorcism before her death, too weak and emaciated to perform the genuflections on her own, Anneliese’s parents stood and helped carry her through the motions.
She along with Father Arnold Renz and Pastor Ernst Alt were convinced that she had been possessed by several demons, including Lucifer, Judas Iscariot, Nero, Cain, Hitler, and Fleischmann, a disgraced Frankish Priest from the 16th century. These demons frequently spoke through her, conversing regularly with the priests.
Upon the release of the film The Exorcism of Emily Rose, a German web site posted audio in which we hear the real Anneliese Michel’s voice during one of the exorcisms.
Around Easter, Anneliese’s convulsions returned with a greater ferocity, but still no doctor or medical professional was called. She began to refuse food and drink, forcing herself to fast believing that it would rid her of Satan’s influence.
On July 1, 1976 Anneliese died of dehydration and malnourishment. She weighed only 68 lbs.
She was buried at the outer edges of a cemetery near to her home. Her resting place is normally an area reserved for illegitimate children and suicides.
After an official investigation into her death, Father Arnold Renz and Pastor Ernst Alt alongside Anneliese’s parents, Josef and Anna, were charged with her murder. The court case which took place two years after her death in 1978 become a world-wide sensation.
All four defendants were found guilty of negligent homicide and sentenced to six months in prison, suspended with three years’ probation.
(At the trial: priests Ernst Alt, Arnold Renz and parents)
Over 30 years later Anneliese is revered by small groups of Catholics who honour her as an unofficial saint. Religious tourists from around the world regularly visit her grave, leaving handwritten notes of thanks and gratitude as they sing and pray for the young woman they believe sacrificed her own life to atone for the sins of others.