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Author Topic: The Possessed Children of Illfurt (Alsace)  (Read 519 times)

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Offline SeanJohnson

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The Possessed Children of Illfurt (Alsace)
« on: September 26, 2021, 11:37:52 AM »
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  • While rereading Fr. Fahey's The Kingship of Christ and the Conversion of the Jєωιѕн Nation this morning, I was reminded of a reference to "the possessed children of Illfurt, Alsace.

    Inspired to look it up, I came across this amazing account: 

    Exorcism of Thiébaut and Joseph

    At Illfurt, five miles south of Mulhausenin Alsace, is a monument consisting of a stone column thirty feet high surmounted with a statue of the Immaculate Conception, and upon the plinth of the pillar may be read the following remarkable inscription: In memoriam perpetuam liberationis duorum possessorum Theobaldi et Josephi Burner, obtentae per intercessionem Beatae Mariae Uirginis Immaculate, Anno Domini 1869. Joseph Burner and Anna Maria,his wife,were poor but intelligent persons,who were not merely respected but even looked up to for their probity and industry by their fellows villagers of Illfurt. The family consisted of five children,the eldest son, Thiébaut, being born on 21 August,1855, and the second, Joseph, on 29 April, 1857. They were quiet lads of average ability, who, when eight years old, were sent in the usual course to the local elementary school. In the autumn of 1864 both were seized with a mysterious illness which would not yield to the ordinary remedies. Dr Levy, of Altkirch, who was called into examine the case acknowledged himself completely baffled, and a number of other doctors who were afterwards consulted declared themselves unable to diagnose such extraordinary symptoms. From 25 September, 1865, the two boys displayed most abnormal phenomena. Whilst lying on their backs they spun suddenly round like whirling tops with the utmost rapidity. Convulsions seized them, twisting and distorting every limb with unparalleled mobility, or again their bodies would  for hours together become absolutely rigid and motionless so that no joint could be bent, whilst they lay motionless as stocks or stones. Fearful fits of vomiting often concluded these
    attacks. Sometimes they were dumb for days and could only gibber and mow with blazing eyes and slabbering lips, sometimes they were deaf so that even a pistol fired close to their ears had not the slightest effect. Often they became fantastically excited, gesticulating wildly and shouting incessantly. Their voices were, however, not their normal tones nor even those of children at all, but the strong, harsh, hoarse articulation of rough and savage men. For hours together they would blaspheme in the foulest terms, cursing and swearing, and bawling out such hideous obscenities that the neighbours took to flight in sheer terror at the horrible scenes, whilst the distracted parents knew not whence to turn for help or comfort. Not only did the sufferers use the filthy vocabulary of the lowest slums, but they likewise spoke with perfect correctness and answered fluently in different languages, in French, Latin, English,and even in most varied dialects of Spanish and Italian, which could by no possible means have been known to them in their normal state. Nor could they at anytime have heard conversation in these  languages and subconsciously assimilated it. A famous case is on record where a servant girl of mean education fell ill and during a delirium began to mutter and babble in a language which was recognized as Syriac. This was considered to be accounted for when it was discovered that formerly she had been in service in a house where there was lodging a theological student, who upon the eve of his examinations used to walk up and downstairs and pace his room saying aloud to himself Syriac roots and vocables, which she thus often over heard and which in this way registered themselves in her brain. But there could not be any such explanation in the case of this Thiébaut and Joseph Burner, since they did not merely reel out disconnected words and phrases in anyone or two tongues, but conversed easily and sensibly in a large variety of languages and even in dialects. This has always been considered one of the genuine signs of diabolic possession, as is stated in the third article of De Exorcizandis Obsessis a Daemonio:  *3 In primis, ne facile credat, aliquem a daemonio obsessum esse, sed nota habeat ea signa, quibus obsessus  dignoscitur ab iis, qui uel atra bile, uel morbo aliquo laborant. Signa autem obsidentis daemonic sunt; ignota lingua loqui pluribus verbis uel loquentem inteliigere; distantia et occulta patefacere;  Uires super aetatis seu conditionis naturam ostendere; et id genus alia, quae cuм plurima concurrunt, maiora sunt indicia.”
    Moreover, both Thiebaut and Joseph Burner repeatedly and in exactest detail described events which were happening at a distance, and upon investigation their accounts were afterwards found to be precisely true in every particular. Their strength was also abnormal, and often in their paroxysms and convulsions it needed the utmost exertions of three powerful men severally to hold these lads who were but nine and seven years old. It was noticed at the very beginning of these maladies that the patient were thrown into the most violent fits and every symptom of disease and disorder exacerbated by the presence of any sacramental such as holy water, or medals, rosaries, and other objects which had been blessed according to the ritual. They seemed particularly enraged by the blessed Medal of S.Benedict and pictures of OurLady of Perpetual Succour. On one occasion Monsieur Ignace Spies the Maire of Selestat,  a man of exceptional devotion and piety, held before their eyes a relic of S.Gerard Majella, the Redemptorist thaumaturge, when their shrieks and yells were truly terrific, finally dying away in inhuman whines and grew despair. It so happened that a Corpus Christi procession passed the house, opposite which an  Altar of Repose had been erected. The children, who were in bed, knew nothing of this and seemed to lie in a deep stupor. However,as the Blessed Sacrament approached their behaviour is said to have been indescribable. They poured forth torrents of filth and profanity, distorting their limbs into a thousand unnatural postures,their eyes almost starting from their heads, a crisis which was succeeded by a sudden horrible composure, whilst they crept away into the furthest corners of the room moaning, panting,and retching as if in mortal agony. Above all, pictures and medals of Our Lady and the invocation of Her Most Holy Name filled the possessed with terror and rage. At any mention of “the Great Lady”, as they termed Her, they would curse and howl in so monstrous a way that all who had heard them shook and sweated with fear. The abbé Charles Brey, parishpriestof Illfurt, quickly made up his mind as to the diabolic nature of the phenomena .It was an undoubted case of possession, since in no other way could what was taking be explained. Accordingly he sent to his diocesan, Monsignor Andreas Rass (1842-87) a full account of such extraordinary and fearful events.
    The Bishop, however, was far from satisfied that these things could not be accounted for naturally. In fact it was only after three or four years’ delay that at the instance of the Dean of Altkirch he decided to order a special ecclesiastical investigation. He finally appointed for this task three acute theologians, Monsignor Stumpf, Superior of his grand seminary at Strasburg; Monsignor Freyburger, Vicar-General of the diocese; and Monsieur Sester, rector of Mulhausen. These priests, then, presented themselves unexpectedly at the Burner’s house on Tuesday morning,13 April,1369, at10 o’clock. It was found that Joseph Burner had already concealed himself, and it was only after a prolonged search he could with difficulty be dragged from under his bed where he had taken refuge, Thiebaut feigned to be unconscious in the presence of strangers. The inquiry lasted for more than two hours, and it was not until past noon that the investigators left the house. Meanwhile they had witnessed the most hideous scenes,and their minds were quite made up as to the reality of the possession. They shortly presented their report to the Bishop,who then, and not until then, allowed himself to be convinced of the facts. Even so, the prudent prelate ordered fresh precautions to be taken at the beginning of September,1869 Thiebaut was conveyed in the company of his unhappy mother, to the orphanage of S.Charles at Schiltigheim,where he was to be lodged whilst the case was investigated by Monsignor Rapp, Monsignor Stumpf, and Father Eiehor, S.J. Superior of the Jesuit house at Strasbourg. At the same time Father Hauser, the chaplain of S.Charles, and Father Schrantzcr, a well-known scholar and psychologist, were to keep the boy systematically but secretly under the closest observation. It was decided to proceed to exorcism, and a priest of great reverence and experience, Father Souquat, was commissioned by the Bishop to perform the solemn rite. At two o’clock on Sunday, 3 October, Thiebaut was forcibly brought into the chapel of S.Charles, which hitherto he had always sedulously avoided,and when compelled to enter he uttered without intermission such hoarse yells that it was necessary to remove him for fear of scandal and alarming the other inmates. The lad, however, was now held fast by the abbes Schrantzer and Hausser, assisted by Charles Andre, the gardener of the establishment, a stalwart and muscular Hercules. The sufferer stood upon a carpet spread just before the communion rails and his face turned towards the tabernacle. He struggled and writhed in the grasp of those who were restraining him; his face was scarlet; his eyes closed; whilst from his swollen and champing lips there flowed down a stream of thick yellowish froth which fell in great viscous gouts to the floor. The litanies began, and at the words “Santa Maria, ora pro nobis” a hideous yell burst from his throat. The exorcizer unmoved continued the prayers and gospels of the Ritual. Meanwhile the possessed blasphemed and defied their utmost efforts. It was resolved to recommence upon the following day. Thiebaut, accordingly, was confined in a straitjacket and strapped downinaredarm-chair, around which stood the three guards as before. The evil spirit roared and howled in a deep bass voice raising a terrific din; the boy’s limbs strained and contorted but the bonds held tight; his face was livid; his mouth flecked with the foam of slobbering saliva. In a firm voice the priest adjusted the demon; he held the crucifix before his eyes, and finally a statue of Our Lady with the words:Unclean spirit, disappear before the face of the Immaculate Conception! She commands! Thou must obey!Thou must depart!”
    The assistants upon their knees fervently recited the Memorare, when the air was rent by a hideous agony, the boy’s limbs were convulsed in one sharp convulsion,and suddenly he lay still wrapped in a deep slumber. At the end of about an hour he awoke gently and gazed about him with wondering eyes. “where am I?” he asked. “Do you not know me ?” questioned the abbe Schrantzer. “No,father,I do not,”was the reply. In a few days Thiebaut was able to return home, worn and weak but bright and happy. Of all that happened during those fateful years he had not the smallest recollection. He returned to school,and was in every respect a normal healthy boy.
    Joseph,who had grown steadily worse,was meantime secluded from his brother,pending the preparations for his exorcism. On 27th October he was taken very early in the morning to the cemetery chapel near Illfurt. Only the parents, Mons. Ignace Spies, Professor Lachemann, and some half a dozen more witnesses were present,as the affair was conducted in the utmost privacy. At six O’clock the abbé Charles Brey said Mass,after which he exorcised the unhappy victim. During three successive hours they renewed prayers and adjurations, until at last some present began to feel discouraged. But the glowing faith of the priest sustained them,and at length with aloud groan that sounded like a deep roar the boy, who had been struggling and screeching in paroxysms of frantic fury all the while, fell back into a deep swoon and lay motion law. After no long pause he sat up, opened his eyes as awaking from sleep, and was overcome with amazement to find himself in a church with strange people around him. Neither Thiebaut nor Joseph ever experienced any recurrence of this strange malady.
    (Montague Summers, History of Witchcraft)

    Romans 5:20 "But where sin increased, grace abounded all the more."

    -I retract any and all statements I have made that are incongruent with the True Faith, and apologize for ever having made them-