The Devil in the Convent

in Believe Not Every Spirit

Published by University of Chicago Press

Published in print May 2007 | ISBN: 9780226762821
Published online March 2013 | e-ISBN: 9780226762951 | DOI:
The Devil in the Convent

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The mass demonic possession of the Ursuline nuns of Loudun in 1633–1640 is among the most famous (or infamous) episodes in the history of diabolic possession and witchcraft accusations in early modern Europe. Using the Loudun case and similar cases of demonic possessions of nuns, this chapter argues that conventual possessions, even more than cases of possessions among the laity, demonstrated the difficulties of discerning between divine and diabolic spirits, between truth and fraud, and between licit and illicit spiritual practices. It was in convents that women pursued the new spiritual exercises and techniques that characterized interiorized contemplation in all its different configurations: passive, Jesuit, Teresian, Salesian, Theatine, and so on. It was therefore in convents that the growing anxiety concerning unauthorized practices, with its accompanying fears of diabolic illusions and temptations, came to the fore. They also became sites of ecclesiastical (male) interventions, when male clerics, be they exorcists or Inquisitors, pondered the nature and reliability of possessions. The male clerics cast out demons, reprimanded simulating nuns, and, importantly, left written records of the unfolding of such events.

Keywords: nuns; Loudun; women; demonic possessions; witchcraft; Europe; spirits; contemplation; male clerics; convents

Chapter.  14197 words. 

Subjects: Early Modern History (1500 to 1700)

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