The Story of ‘Emily Rose’

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The story of The Exorcism of Emily Rose is by no means a children’s nighttime story, and with publicity for the film on its way, and the recent release of the first trailer, it is time you knew more about a girl named Anneliese Michel.

It all began about 1968, when Anneliese (a very religious nurtured girl, who was born on the 21st of September 1952) had an incident. Paralyzed and shaking she can’t call her three sisters, or her parents (Josef and Anna) for help. A Neurologist at the Psychiatric Clinic Würzburg diagnosed Emily with Epilepsy Type “Grand Mal.” Depressions, often occurring after those Epilepsy Attacks, had not been recognized.

After a long stay at the Hospital, she begins to see devilish grimaces during her daily praying. In the fall of 1970 Anneliese returned to school, and while other girls live the freedom of the 70s, she starts believing she is possessed. She can’t find another reason for the grimaces, nothing makes sense. Now, voices are following her, saying that Anneliese will “stew in hell” and her depression gets stronger and stronger. Anneliese doesn’t see any reason for the meetings at the Doctors, they don’t bring any relief. Just once does she tell a doctor about the “demons,” which are now giving her orders. But the gap between known medicine and Catholic Ideology is too big, for her problems to be considered.

In the summer of 1973 her parents ask different Pastors for an Exorcism. The Catholic Chaplains reject the request and recommend Anneliese, now 20 years-old, continue the medication she has been on for all these years. The proof of a possession (infestatio) is strictly structured, and until all criterions are fulfilled the Bishop can’t approve an Exorcism. Aversions against religious objects, speaking in languages the person never learned and supernatural powers, are among some of the criteria to warrant a Catholic Exorcism.

Pastor Ernst Alt, supervising Anneliese at that time, asked the Bishop of Würzburg for the Permit to perform an Exorcism on Anneliese Michel in 1974. His request was also rejected, so he recommends Anneliese begin an even more religious lifestyle, but the attacks don’t disappear. At her parents’ house in Klingenberg, she insults, beats, bites the family members. She doesn’t eat, because the demons don’t allow her to. Anneliese sleeps on the stone floor, eats spiders, flies and coal, and even drinks her own urine. For hours, she yells thru the house, breaks crucifixes, destroys paintings of Jesus and demolishes rosaries. Running thru the house, tearing the clothes from her body and urinating on the floor is nothing unusual anymore as she even commits self-mutilation.

In September 1975, after an exact verification, the Bishop of Würzburg, Josef Stangl, assigns Father Arnold Renz and Pastor Ernst Alt with the order, to perform “The Great Exorcism” on Anneliese Michel. The basis for this ritual is the “Rituale Romanum,” a still valid canon law from the 17th century, as Pastor Alt and Father Renz try to save Anneliese from over six individuals (Lucifer, Judas Iscariot, Nero, Cain, Hitler and Fleischmann, a disgraced Frankish Priest from the 16th century, and some other “Damned”), which are believed to manifest thru her. From September ’75 till July ’76, one to two sessions a week were held. Sometimes her attacks were so strong, that she had to be held down by three men, or they had to chain her up. Between those sessions in her parent’s house, Anneliese has some time without any attacks, in which she goes to school, makes her final examinations at the Pedagogic Academy in Würzburg and goes to church, living the life she did before.

But the attacks didn’t stop, bouts of unconsciousness and paralysis begin to happen more often. The exorcism continues over weeks and months; always praying the same specified prayers and incantations, over and over again. Sometimes the parents are present, or her sisters, even a married couple claiming to having “discovered” Anneliese. Over several weeks, she denies every food, her knees are bruised, because of the 600 Genuflections she does during the Exorcisms. Where the story gets creepy is in the over 40 audio tapes recorded during the several hours of the exorcism, to log the possession.

The last day of the Exorcism Rite is the 30th of June 1976. Anneliese is now also suffering from pneumonia, totally emaciated and having high temperature, but she can’t waive due to her endless genuflections; her parents have even taken to helping her doing them. “Beg for Absolution,” is the last sentence Anneliese says to the exorcists. To her mother she says: “Mother, I’m afraid.” Anna Michel recorded the death of her daughter on the next day, the 1st of July 1976 and at noon, Pastor Ernst Alt informs the prosecuting authorities in Aschaffenburg, which was when the senior prosecutor began investigating.

Short time before these events, William Friedkin’s The Exorcist came to the cinemas in Germany (1974), and started a paranormal hysteria all over the land. Psychiatrists all over Europe, reported an increase of obsessive ideas in their patients. For the prosecutors, the factual situation is more than bizarre, and it took almost two years, until the “Klingenberg Case” was brought to court. Anneliese’s parents and the two exorcists were accused of negligent homicide. There were only two questions to answer. What caused the death of Anneliese Michel, and who was responsible?

The cause of death, as diagnosed by the Forensics: “Anneliese starved to death” If the accused would have begun with forced feeding one week before her death Anneliese’s life could have been saved. Her sister told the court Anneliese didn’t want to go to a Mental House, sedated and forced to eat. The exorcists tried to prove the presence of the demons by playing the tapes they recorded. There was such strange dialogue on those tapes, such as two of the demons arguing which of them had to leave Anneliese’s body first. The demon, that called himself Hitler, talked with a Frankish accent (Hitler was born Austrian). None of those present during the exorcisms, ever had a doubt, that these weren’t demons. The psychiatrists, who had been ordered by the court, talked about “Doctrinaire Induction.” Saying the Priests offered Anneliese the contents of her psychotic behavior, consequentially she later assumed the behavior of a demonically possessed person. Also an unsettled sexual development, along with the diagnosed Temporal Lobe Epilepsy influenced Anneliese’s psychosis.

The judgment was, although the parents and the chaplains were judged guilty, not as hard as expected. All of the accused were sentenced to six months of jail time on probation, because of manslaughter resulting from negligence and omitted first aid. The accused should have helped by taking care of the medical treatment the girl needed, but instead of doing so they aggravated the bad constitution, by using naïve practices.

A commission of the German Bishop-Conference later declared, that Anneliese Michel was not possessed. It is believed that Anneliese’s body didn’t find peace after her death, it was said her body doesn’t decay, which was said after her corpse was exhumed one-and-a-half years after her burial. Even now her grave is a place of pilgrimage for Rosary-praying pilgrims who still think Anneliese Michel defeated the Devil.

In 1999 Cardinal Medina Estévez presented journalists in Vatican City the new version of the “Rituale Romanum,” which was used by the Catholic Church since 1614. He presented them “De exorcismis et supplicationibus quibusdam” better know as “The Exorcism for the upcoming Millennium.” After more than 10 years of editing, the Pope approbated the new Exorcism Rite, which is now allowed for worldwide usage. The change was initiated by the death of Anneliese Michel. The German Bishop-Conference demanded to ultimately abolish the “Rituale Romanum” and the Vatican answered in its own way with a new form of exorcism. More than twenty years after Anneliese Michel died.

The Exorcism of Emily Rose opens in theaters everywhere September 9th, click here for more.