A 16th-century woman possessed by the devil went on to organize shows

Martha Brossier was seized by the demon. At least, she succeeded in convincing most people of that in the early 1600s. Until Beelzebub specialists learned about her.

When “The Exorcist” entered cinemas in 1973, the thriller spawned a true exorcism craze. The movie did more than only awaken would-be exorcists; it also jolted the Catholic Church out of its long sleep. The exorcism’s heyday was centuries in the past. Just like in the instance of Martha Brossier. The political powers of France took notice of the young lady when she hitchhiked throughout the nation in the late 16th century. For the simple reason that she was under the influence of Satan, at least that was what she claimed.

Martha Brossier’s experience started in a little town named Romorantin, in what is now the Centre-Val de Loire. Martha, being 26 years old, exhibited symptoms of demon possession around the year 1598. The situation prompted her father, a failed textile entrepreneur, to seek advice from the village priest. The diviner quickly verified the possession.

Although it may go against the grain of contemporary thought, Martha and her family were not interested in keeping their situation a secret. They intended, instead, to publicly expel the devil or demon that they believed possessed Martha.

She became an oracle

The fairgrounds quickly turned the public exorcisms into a main draw. The physical manifestations of the possession on Martha throughout those weeks are unknown. However, she allegedly developed telepathic powers because of her association with demons. As a result, the young lady doubled as an oracle throughout the shows.

So she told the interrogators whether or not their loved ones’ spirits had already arrived in heaven or were still stuck in purgatory. However, she would not hesitate to label skeptics Huguenots names and even accuse them of witchcraft. The fact that so much information about Martha Brossier has come to light due to a false charge of witchcraft is, in a way, a happy accident for us.

Martha Brossier said that her neighbor Anne Chevriou had used witchcraft to put her under possession. Therefore, Chevriou was imprisoned for a while. She became furious and sent a letter to Henri de Gondi (1572–1622), the Bishop of Paris, warning him about Martha and accusing her of fraud.

The devil’s army

devil exorcism witch
An anonymous artist painted this panel around 1512 for use on an altar in Austria, Austria. (Credit: Not Even Past)

Meanwhile, Martha Brossier and her would-be exploiters found the village of Romorantin to be an unsuitably tiny setting. So she started doing performances in nearby towns with the help of her father, her sister Silvine, and a local Catholic church dignitary. The group’s journey started 60 kilometers north of Romorantin, in the hamlet of Cléry. Then it proceeded to Orleans.

Many of the demons alleged to have possessed Martha were named in public ceremonies. Beelzebub, known as “the Lord of the Flies,” was one of these figures, and he is frequently equated with Satan in modern usage. Additionally, Martha’s possession was validated by a number of clergymen. They did this by exposing the young lady to biblical readings, sanctifying her with water, and then observing her responses. In order to persuade the dignitaries, she bent over backward, made animal sounds, rolled her eyes crazily, and even stuck her tongue out.

As a result, Martha and her father, who were at this point being escorted on their trip by various exorcists, amassed a total of 25 such certificates.

Obviously, not everyone fell for it

There were skeptics, of course. Students at the University of Orleans (founded in 1306), for instance, looked into her. They read her irrelevant Latin writings that was not Bible at all. After Martha exhibited the typical symptoms, the academics concluded that she must have been deceived, and the certificate that had been awarded to her in Orleans was revoked, making it illegal for her to perform exorcisms in front of the public.

But it did not deter her, and she continued playing. During the Easter of 1599, the group arrived in Paris. In all likelihood, the Capuchin Order’s (the order that gave the name to “cappuccino”) invitation played a role as well. Since the political situation in France at the time made someone like Martha very useful to the Capuchins, she played a significant role in their success.

The Edict of Nantes had just taken effect when Martha Brossier arrived in Paris. With his signature, King Henry IV (1553–1610) put a stop to the Huguenot hostilities. Huguenots were given extensive liberties as Catholicism became the official religion. However, for many religious zealots, such as the Capuchins, these accommodations went too far.

The religious fundamentalists were not going to miss the chance to publicly exorcise a possessed woman who was terrorizing the Huguenots and causing widespread panic in the countryside.

Martha Brossier’s powers were put to the test

Although the shows were well received by the public, they also caught the notice of the church, namely the bishop to whom Martha’s next-door neighbor Anne Chevriou had written. The bishop shared the king’s reluctance to do anything that might threaten the fragile peace. Therefore, he attempted to rein in the plotting of the people around Martha Brossier.

For further testing of Martha, Bishop Henri de Gondi assembled a panel of specialists on March 30, 1599. Since the academics in Orleans had already canceled one of her credentials, he did not put much stock in the rest. Michel Marescot (1539–1605), physician to King Louis XI, was one of the professionals who documented the new examination in great detail.

Once again, Martha was subjected to hearing holy texts read aloud, kissing relics, and even taking the needle test. As part of this test, a needle was inserted into her thumb and index finger. People accused of witchcraft were often subjected to this examination. and which the humanist Marescot attacked in his writings.

The Brossier family was jailed

What the experts decided was undeniable. “Nihil a daemone. Multa ficta. A morbo pauca.” which means  In a quite loose interpretation, “Lack of devil. Great deal of deceit. Touch of illness.” On April 5, 1599, a court order was issued to keep Martha and her family in the Châtelet, a prison on the Seine. Around 1.5 months later, Martha was officially kicked out of town. Even though Catholic priests opposed this punishment in front of huge audiences, Martha and her group were forced to go back to Romorantin.

The prior of St. Martin-de-Randan did, in fact, attempt to use Martha for his own ends subsequently. He planned to exorcise the girl in front of the pope in Rome, but the French king thwarted his plans. After spending all their money, Martha and her family were forced to leave Rome once again.

She resurfaced in Milan in 1600, and then everyone lost track of her. A possessed woman whose impressive acting career was cut short because her father and clergy used her as a political pawn for more fame.

By Hrothsige Frithowulf

Hrothsige works at Malevus as a history writer. His areas of historical interest include the ancient world and early Europe, as well as the history of modern culture.