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Urban Legends :Emily Rose

Anneliese Michel (September 21, 1952 – July 1, 1976) was a German Catholic woman who was said to be possessed by six or more demons and subsequently underwent an exorcism. Two motion pictures, The Exorcism of Emily Rose and Requiem are loosely based on Anneliese's story.

Anneliese experienced what is recognized by medical professionals as severe psychiatric disturbances from the age of 16 to her death, at age 23, as a direct or indirect result of an exorcism ritual. Both priests who performed the exorcism and Anneliese's parents were convicted of negligent homicide. The Catholic Church, which had authorized the exorcism, reversed its position and declared Anneliese Michel a case of mental illness. Many people believe she was genuinely possessed by demons, and her grave-site is a destination for pilgrims to this day.

Anneliese Michel was born in 1952 at Leiblfing, a small village in Bavaria. She was raised in the small Bavarian town of Klingenberg am Main, where her father operated a sawmill. Her parents were devout Catholics and she grew into a deeply religious person. In 1968, Anneliese began suffering from seizures and was diagnosed as epileptic at the Psychiatric Clinic in Würzburg.


A stay at an unnamed psychiatric hospital did not improve Anneliese’s health. Moreover, she began to suffer from depression. Having centered her life around devout Catholic faith, Anneliese began to attribute her condition to demonic possession. She grew increasingly frustrated with medical intervention as it did not improve her condition. Long-term medical treatment proved unsuccessful; her condition, including her depression, worsened with time. Anneliese became intolerant of sacred places and objects, such as the crucifix, which she attributed to her own demonic possession. Throughout the course of the religious rites Anneliese underwent, she took powerful psychotropic drugs prescribed to her by her doctors. Below is the timetable of her medical treatment based on information from F. Goodman’s research.

June 1970 Anneliese suffered a third seizure at the psychiatric hospital she had been staying in and was prescribed her first anticonvulsant. The name of this drug is not known and it did not bring about any immediate alleviation of Anneliese's symptoms; she also continued to talk of what she called "devil faces" seen by her on varying times of the day. Anneliese became convinced that conventional medicine was of no help as it did not make her feel better in the least. Growing increasingly adamant that her illness was of a spiritual kind, she appealed to the Church to perform an exorcism on her. Although she was fervent about the potential help that an exorcism could offer her, Anneliese was denied by the Church. The same month she was prescribed another drug, Aolept (pericyazine), which is a phenothiazine with general properties similar to those of chlorpromazine: pericyazine is used in the treatment of various psychoses including schizophrenia and disturbed behaviour.

In November 1973 Anneliese started her treatment with Tegretol (carbamazepine), which is an antiepileptic drug. Anneliese took this medicine frequently, until shortly before her death, when she was unable to swallow anything.

During the treatment, Anneliese's parents turned to the local church for a cure, inquiring of different priests if they would perform an exorcism on their daughter. They all refused because the Roman Ritual, which governs exorcisms, is very specific regarding the proof that is required to establish a possession. The idea that she was possessed was first recognised by a local parish priest, Father Ernst Alt, known as a specialist in exorcism, ultimately making the way for the exorcism request for Anneliese being eventually approved by the bishop of Würzburg, Josef Stangl, in September 1975. Bishop Stangl appointed Pastor Arnold Renz to carry out the traditional rites of exorcism with the help of Father Ernst Alt. Eleven months before she died, the medical treatment of Anneliese stopped and the rites of exorcism began, which were carried out secretly in the bedroom of her parent's home during one-hour sessions. Anneliese Michel's voice during exorcism rites allegedly claimed to be that of demons who possessed Judas Iscariot, Nero, Cain, and Adolf Hitler as well as Valentin Fleischmann, a disgraced Frankish Priest from the 16th century, and Lucifer itself. She also mentioned other damned souls who had manifested themselves through her.

On July 1, 1976 Anneliese Michel died in her sleep -- she had predicted that she would be liberated from the demons on this day. According to Physicians' Desk Reference, taking carbamazepine may cause epileptic obnubilation (a lowered level of consciousness with loss of ability to respond properly to external stimuli), along with fever and hypoxemia (lack of oxygen in blood). Anneliese had all these symptoms, which gave rise to the theory that the cause of death was suffocation. However, the autopsy report stated that her death was caused by the malnutrition and dehydration that resulted from almost a year of semi-starvation during the rites of exorcism.

Trial and courtroom charges

After an investigation the state prosecutor maintained Anneliese’s death could have been prevented even one week before she died. He charged all four defendants — Pastor Ernst Alt and Father Arnold Renz as well as the parents — with negligent homicide for failing to call a medical doctor.

The trial started on March 30, 1978 in the district court and drew intense interest. Before the court, the doctors claimed the woman was not possessed, although Dr. Richard Roth, who was asked for medical help by Father Alt, allegedly said after the exorcism he witnessed on May 30, 1976 that "there is no injection against the devil,Anneliese."

The priests were defended by church-paid lawyers, whereas the parents were defended by one of Germany's most well-known lawyers, Erich Schmidt-Leichner, a lawyer who had defended numerous persons in Nazi war crimes trials. Schmidt-Leichner claimed 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", as proof that Anneliese was indeed possessed. Both priests presented their deeply held conviction that she was possessed, and that she was finally freed by exorcism just before she died.

Ultimately, the accused were found guilty of manslaughter resulting from negligence and were sentenced to a six months suspended sentence and three years probation. It was a far lighter sentence than anticipated by most people. Yet, it was more than demanded by the prosecution, which had asked that the priests only be fined and that the parents be found guilty but not punished.

During the trial, the major lingering issues were related to the church itself. A not-guilty verdict could be seen as opening the gate to more exorcism attempts - and possibly unfortunate outcomes. But for the most part, experienced observers believed the effect would be the opposite - that merely bringing charges of negligent homicide against priests and parents would provoke changes and more caution.


Before the trial the parents asked authorities for permission to exhume the remains of their daughter. They did so as a result of a message received from a Carmelite nun from the district of Allgäu in southern Bavaria. The nun had told the parents that a vision had revealed to her that their daughter's body was still intact, and that this authenticated the supernatural character of her case. The official reason presented by the parents to authorities was that Anneliese had been buried in undue hurry in a cheap coffin. Almost two years after the burial, on February 25, 1978, her remains were replaced in a new oak-coffin lined with tin.

The official reports (to date undisputed by any authority) state that the body bore the signs of consistent deterioration. The accused exorcists — Anneliese’s parents and the two priests — were discouraged from seeing the remnants of Anneliese. Father Arnold Renz later claimed that he had been prevented from entering the mortuary.

Bishop Josef Stangl, who approved the exorcism and corresponded by letter on the case with the two priests a dozen times, also was investigated by state authorities. It was decided not to indict him or summon him to appear at the trial due to his age and poor health. The bishop stated that his actions were all within the bounds of canon law.

The courtroom case, called the Klingenberg Case, became the basis of Scott Derrickson's 2005 movie The Exorcism of Emily Rose. The film significantly deviates from the real-world events (for example, the film is set in the United States, Anneliese was renamed Emily Rose, and the court case was shown with a substantially different outcome). The German-language film Requiem (2006) by Hans-Christian Schmid holds a much truer account of the real-life events.

Today, Anneliese's grave in Klingenberg am Main remains a place of pilgrimage for many Catholics who consider Anneliese Michel a devout believer who experienced extreme sufferings to assist departed souls in Purgatory.

Some doctors have suggested that many of Michel's 'symptoms' are consistent with, and suggestive of, mental disorders in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-IV-TR) section on Dissociative Disorders, and/or with behaviors observed in patients with these disorders. For example, the temporary adoption of bizarre, rigid body postures (dystonia); the use of the first-person plural pronoun 'we' to describe one's self; the markedly dilated pupils not explained by any external stimuli; full or partial amnesia; the emergence of distinct 'personalities' among the 'demons'; the pervasive psychoemotional 'numbness' Michel describes in The Exorcism of Anneliese Michel; Michel's feeling as though her body was acting outside her volition (depersonalization); fear or rejection of sexuality; the persistence of these symptoms despite medical treatment, and in absence of any known medical cause; and many others.

The Public Image Limited song Annalisa was inspired by Anneliese's exorcism and death.

The Klingenberg Case is a courtroom case involving the trial of two priests and the parents of Anneliese Michel. They were charged with negligent homicide for failing to call a medical doctor when they believed their daughter was possessed by demons.

The trial started on March 30, 1978. They were ultimately found guilty of the charge and were sentenced to six months of probation.

The case has been adopted into two films. The first was the 2005 movie The Exorcism of Emily Rose, by Scott Derrickson, was based. A German-language film called Requiem, by Hans-Christian Schmid, was released in 2006 and stays truer to the real-life events.

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