Inside the haunting story of the 1976 exorcisms that left the supposedly possessed Anneliese Michel dead at only 23-years-old.
In 2005, The Exorcism of Emily Rose terrified movie audiences around the world as it depicted the aftermath of a fatal exorcism and posed lingering questions about whether or not the character of 19-year-old Emily Rose had truly been possessed by the devil.
But as unbelievably chilling as the movie’s plot was, it had not actually been invented by some Hollywood screenwriter. In fact, it was based on the horrifying true story of a real exorcism that took place in Germany in the 1970s.
Then, a young woman named Anneliese Michel sought help from the Catholic Church because she and her deeply religious community had come to believe that she was possessed by demons. Though Michel had been diagnosed with epilepsy, she grew convinced that something much darker was at work within her body — indeed, within her very soul.
Whenever she prayed, she heard taunting voices. Meanwhile, she was overcome with strange and sudden compulsions to do things like tear off her clothes, bark like a dog, and eat spiders.
Michel claimed that she saw demons wherever she went. When she tried to pray, she said that she heard whispers from demons, who taunted her and said she was “damned” and would “rot in hell.”
Before long, her religious parents agreed that Michel needed help. In the modern world of televisions and airplanes, the Michel family reached back to a cure from the Middle Ages: an exorcism.
At first, the Michel family couldn’t find anyone in the Catholic Church who wanted to perform an exorcism. They all told her to seek medical help, instead. However, the Michels eventually found two priests who agreed to try.
For almost a year, the priests attempted to wrest the so-called demons from Anneliese Michel’s body. At each exorcism, they waved a crucifix and uttered a few prayers, including “Vade retro satana“, or “Go back Satan.”
They subjected her to 67 exorcisms in all, some of which lasted as long as four hours. In tapes of these sessions, Michel can be heard screaming — guttural, unearthly screams — as the priests chant and try to use holy water to “cure” her.
By June 1976, Michel weighed just 68 pounds. She had fractured teeth, bruised limbs, and black eyes. In her last session on June 30, 1976, she uttered some of her final words when she asked the priests for absolution. Then she turned to her mom and said, “Mother, I’m scared.”
Anneliese Michel died at the age of 23. But although doctors argued at her trial that medical help could have saved her, a small but certain contingent remains convinced that Anneliese Michel had truly been possessed by the devil.
Take a deeper look into the terrifying story of Anneliese Michel.