From The Art and Popular Culture Encyclopedia
Grandier served as priest in the church of Sainte Croix in Loudun, in the Roman Catholic Diocese of Poitiers. Ignoring his vow of priestly celibacy, he is known to have had sexual relationships with a number of women and to have acquired a reputation as a philanderer. In 1632, a group of nuns from the local Ursuline convent accused him of having bewitched them, sending the demon Asmodai, among others, to commit evil and impudent acts with them. Modern commentators on the case have argued that the accusations began after Grandier refused to become the spiritual director of the convent, unaware that the Mother Superior, Sister Jeanne of the Angels, had become obsessed with him, having seen him from afar and heard of his sexual exploits. It is claimed that Jeanne, enraged by his rejection, instead invited Canon Mignon, an enemy of Grandier, to become the director. Jeanne then accused Grandier of using black magic to seduce her. The other nuns gradually began to make similar accusations. Many modern scholars claim that this was a case of collective hysteria. Grandier was arrested, interrogated and tried by an ecclesiastical tribunal, which acquitted him.
Grandier, however, gained the enmity of the powerful Cardinal Richelieu after a public verbal attack against him. Grandier had also written and published scathing criticisms of Richelieu. Richelieu ordered a new trial, conducted by his special envoy Jean de Laubardemont, a relative of the Mother Superior of the convent of Loudun. Grandier was rearrested at Angers and the possibility of appealing to the Parlement of Paris was denied to him. Interrogated for a second time, the nuns (including the Mother Superior) did not renew their accusations, but this did not affect the predetermined outcome of the trial.
The judges (the clerics Laubardemont, Lactance, Surin and Tranquille), after torturing the priest, introduced documents purportedly signed by Grandier and several demons as evidence that he had made a diabolical pact. One of the pacts was written in Latin and appeared to be signed by Grandier; another looks almost illegible (but was in fact written in Latin abbreviations, and backwards, nonetheless – and has been published and translated in a number of books about witchcraft) and had many strange symbols, and was "signed" by several demons with their seals, as well as by Satan himself (a signature clearly reads Satanas). It is unknown if Grandier wrote or signed the acts under duress, or if they were entirely forged.
Grandier was found guilty and sentenced to death. The judges who condemned Grandier ordered that he be put to the "extraordinary question", a form of torture which was usually, but not immediately, fatal, and was therefore only administered to victims who were to be executed immediately afterwards. Despite torture, Grandier never confessed to witchcraft. He was burned alive at the stake.
Many theories exist as to the cause of the Loudon "possessions". One of the most likely explanations is that the whole affair was a hoax orchestrated by Richelieu.
Grandier's trials were the subject of two treatments by Alexandre Dumas the elder: an entry in volume four of his Crimes Célèbres (1840) and a play, Urbain Grandier (1850). The French historian Jules Michelet discussed Grandier in a chapter of La Sorcière (1862). The same subject was revisited about a century later in the book-length essay, The Devils of Loudun, by Aldous Huxley, published in 1952. Huxley's book was adapted for the stage in 1961 by John Whiting (commissioned by the Royal Shakespeare Company). The play was adapted for the movie screen by Ken Russell in 1971 (as The Devils). The novel was also adapted for the opera stage in 1969 by Krzysztof Penderecki (as Die Teufel von Loudun). It was also an inspiration of Matka Joanna od Aniołów – a film by Jerzy Kawalerowicz.
Grandier's trial also influenced René Descartes, the influential French philosopher, mathematician, scientist and writer. The trial itself was very much spoken of around France and had definitely reached Descartes, because he used it in his most known work Meditations. At the end of the first meditation, he writes, there may be a "powerful deceiving demon" that tries to deceive him in believing that senses and the world around him are the only truth. The mentioning of this "deceiver" is only mentioned in this work, which was published seven years after Grandier's death and in none of his other work, not before, not after. Descartes himself was being suspected to be some sort of an atheist by the Church and so the Meditations are addressed to the theologians of the University of Sorbonne – that acquitted Grandier in his first trial – to regain their trust.