SATAN AS THE PROOF OF SANCTITY
In medieval times the relations
between the saints and demons
were often depicted as very personal:
each saint had his own demon
with whom he constantly contended.
A very well known topos in
hagiographic literature is demon’s
unwillingness to leave the body
of the possessed before a certain
saint is summoned.
Hagiographers attached great importance
this is a supernatural evidence
of a certain saint’s authority
over the forcesof evil.
This approach was definitely derived
from the New Testament,
where the demons were often considered
the first who acknowledged
Christ as the Son of God (Mark
3:11, Luke 4:41).
Demon’s personal preferences among
the exorcists were known already
in the Early Middle Ages;
in the High Middle Ages it became
even more widespread.
An illustrative example is accounted
12th century Vita Erminoldi abbatis
After the priest’s vain attempts
to adjure demon, the latter stated through
the victim: “I
am not moved by your words or your chatter; I will
save my exit for Erminold, for
he has the powers to expel me.”
People are very surprised at this
statement and ask demon:
“Who is this Erminold? We don’t
But there is also someone at the
church who thinks
he knows who demon is talking about
tells the others about the miraculous
powers of St. Erminold. In
response, demon confirms: “He
is the one I was talking about.”
The motif appears most frequently
in the wondrous post-mortem
deeds of saints.
A demon’s recognition played an
important role inburial place.
Vita S. Anastasii (ca 1100–1120),
for example, relates
about a virgin maiden possessed
by several demons, who “was taken
to the graves of many saints, so
that she could regain her health.
But one of the demons then said
that they will not leave the maiden’s
body until it is taken on the grave
of St. Anastasius the Confessor.”
When the possessed was then taken
to the Anastasius’ grave,
the demons began ailing, thus demonstrating
proof about the mightiness
of the saint:
Why do you burn us, Anastasius?
Stop torturing us and we will
leave; stop flogging us and we
will let the possessed body be. We
have been taken to the remains
of many saints, but nowhere have
we been flogged like that; only
you burn us, only you torture us,
only you hurt us.
Michael Goodich has demonstrated
on the example of St. Joachim
Piccolimini the significant role
of demon’s recognition in the posthumous
career of a saint. St. Joachim’s
tomb had fallen into the
oblivion, because no miracles took
On Pentecost in 1310
a woman possessed by demon entered
the cloister, where Joachim’s
grave was situated, and through
her mouth demon shouted: “The
time has now come for me to exit,
and for Christianella’s liberation.”
When the priest asked demon why
other saints had not expelled
him, the demoniac approached Joachim’s
tomb, saying: “Because
God has reserved this miracle for
this saint.” Largely owing
to the described event, St. Joachim’s
tomb became a popular destination
for pilgrimages (Goodich 1995:
Unlike liturgical exorcism that
was already regulated in the 7th–
(Franz 1909: 532; Kelly 1977: 115), charismatic
was largely based on improvisation
all through the Middle
Medieval saints, however, were
not expected to invent new
methods for exorcism; it sufficed
to imitate the gestures of Christ.
All incidents of exorcism in medieval
hagiography are clearly reducible
to Christ: the saints adjured demons
by His name and following
In their fight against demons the
saints mainly used three most
common means of miraculous healing:
the cross, the prayer and,
less commonly, laying of hands
on the victim.
In addition, they used holy water,
wine or bread
(Sigal 1985: 23–29).
On single occasions
some more drastic means were used,
such as beating the demoniac,
whereas the blows were of course
addressed to the demon.
We should also mention that the
adjuring formula played an important
role in exorcism as a form of verbal
The cross sign was one of the most
common and convenient means
of expelling the demon. In
addition to written reports it is mentioned
in several iconographic sources.
The illustrated vitae of saints
from the 11th–13th century
often depict a saint freeing possessed
soul from the demon with a cross
The illustrated manuscript
of Vita S. Radegondis by Fortunatus
describes four incidents
of exorcism, where St.
Radegund used a cross sign against
demon on all four occasions.
An excellent example
demonstrating the power of the
cross sign can be found in an illustrated
passional (ca 1200)
from Weissenau, depicting the freeing
of an old possessed man by St. Leo IX.
Beside other things this illustration
is noteworthy because of the saint’s
dignified and static posture opposing
to the imbalance and
dynamics of the possessed.
This behavioural dichotomy is clearly
intended for emphasising
the saint’s superiority over his
was another common means in fighting against demons.
Every saint used it to the best
of his abilities. The most common
method was to sprinkle the water
on the possessed;
St. Bernard of Clairvaux
for example, used to drip the holy
water on the
Sometimes, however, the possessed
was immersed in
holy water. The acts of canonisation
of St. Ivo reveal that
a demon had left the possessed
after the latter had spent the night
in the saint’s bed that had been
previously sprinkled with holy water.
Vita S. Cuthberti written by the
mediates a story about a boy who
was possessed by a devil and was
cured by the dirt taken from the
place where the water in which St.
Cuthbert’s corpse had been washed
had been thrown.
In the early 12th century illustrated
manuscript of Vita S. Cuthberti15
this episode is depicted in an
Here we should note the original
iconography of demon:
in this illustration the humansized
demon is not depicted as a traditional
little demon exiting
through the mouth of the possessed
but has left its victim as if
carried away by an invisible force.
While salt was one of the important
components of liturgical exorcism
(Dölger 1909: 92–100; Böcher
1970: 235–238; Schneider 1987:
348–353), the saints hardly ever
used it. An interesting example of
salt usage can be found in the
vita of Pope Leo IX (ca 1050–1060).
Once, when Leo was praying, a local
peasant, whose daughter had
been taken over by demon, came
to him and addressed him.
On the peasant’s intense request
the Pope agreed to heal the girl.
He found a grain of salt nearby,
blessed it and put it in the girl’s mouth:
at this very moment the girl’s
mouth started to bleed and she was
freed of demon.
As mentioned above, exorcism is
first and foremost a form of verbal
Ever since the New Testament texts
the exorcistic ritual
centres on the dialogue with demon,
who speaks through the possessed.
Demon’s words are dialogical words.
The main purpose of exorcism, especially
in the Early Middle Ages,
was to question the demon about
who it was,
where it came from, why it had
entered the human, etc.
(Brown 1981: 109; Grässlin
1991: 9–10; Boulhol
During the ritual “the language
is both the weapon
and the battlefield,” writes Michel
de Certeau (Certeau 1970: 64).
The most important verbal means
of exorcism was the word of a
a magic formula, which forced the
demon out of the possessed body.
As we have learned, the first formulae
of liturgical exorcism
were known in the 7th–8th century.
These were somewhat lengthy addressings
during which the demon
was recited most of the life and
activities of Christ
(Franz 1909: 559–574; Dölger
Kelly 1977: 115–116).
In charismatic exorcism the formulae
usually consisting of one sentence.
The saints, as a rule, ordered
the demons in the name of Christ,
not in the name of themselves.
Of course, there are exceptions:
of Bingen, for
instance, ordered the demons to
leave in the following words:
“Leave, Satan, the body of this
make room for the Holy Spirit!”
Traditionally, the exorcistic formula
consisted of four components:
the declaration, the address, the
invocation and the instruction.
On some occasions the last component
may have been omitted.
Kieckhefer (1997, cf. 1990: 166–167)
has pointed out, the addressing
formula of an exorcist is largely
similar to that of a necromancer,
the only difference being that
while the exorcist intends to
expel the demon, the necromancer
wishes to summon one.
Another important means in the verbal
plane was the recital of the
Gospels over the possessed body.
Saints often used this means of
liturgical exorcism: the name and
example of Christ was complemented
by His word.
PROBLEMS RELATED TO THE RITUAL
Among the healing practices of
the saints, exorcism, no doubt, was
the most strenuous and time-consuming.
Although hagiographers hardly ever
mention any failed incidents of exorcism,
for obvious reasons, they
frequently describe the vigorous
resistance of thedemon
(Goddu 1980; Sigal 1985: 73–78).
Demon rarely left the possessed
body on the saint’s first order.
When it happened, however, the
saint himself might have taken it as a surprise.
Thomas of Celano describes analogous
incident about St. Francis
in his Vita prima (ca 1228–1229).
In the small town of San Geminiano
St. Francis was asked to free a
possessed woman from demon.
St. Francis prayed and ordered
demon to leave the woman.
Thomas writes, “He had not finished
his prayer when the
ranting and raving demon left the
demoniac in such hurry that
St. Francis felt he had been deceived;
he hurriedly left the town in shame.”
Demon’s counteraction manifested
in various ways.
He could, for example, ridicule
the saint’s exorcistic methods.
The anonymous Vita S. Norberti
describes how demon expressed his
arrogance towards the practices
of St. Norbert:
When Norbert had placed some blessed
salt on the possessed man’s
mouth, it spat in his face, saying.
have suggested that I be
placed in water and beaten with
harsh whips. Your efforts are in
vain. Your whips do not harm me,
your threats do not frighten
me, death does not torture me.”
Sometimes the victims were possessed
by more than just one demon.
In this case the ritual might have
become very complicated
and long: when one demon had been
expelled and another one was
being exorcised, then the first
sometimes returned and the ritual
had to be started all over again.
In the medieval times the presence
of the demon in the body was depicted
often very figuratively:
the demon was almost tangible foreign
matter. During many
exorcistic rituals the demon was
hunted around in the possessed
body until it exited through the
victim’s mouth or rectum (cf. Caciola
2000: 283; 2003: 47, 237–238).
Gerald of Wales tells a story
of a possessed woman, in the body
of whom a demon was hunted
down with the gospel and relics
of the saints.23 Thomas of Cantimpré
relates an interesting incident
about a twelve-year-old
boy, who hunted the demon around
with the cross-sign.
The hunting might have taken other
forms. St. Bernard of Clairvaux
tells the following story in his
work Vita S. Malachiae episcopi:
In the town of Coleraine there
was a possessed woman. St.
Malachy was summoned and he prayed
for the woman and threatened
it who had taken over her body.
that the demon left her
body, but his evil was not done:
he possessed a woman standing
Malachy then told: “I did not repel you so
you could settle
in another body. Leave her body
too.” The demon followed his
order, but possessed the first
woman. And so it pestered them for
a long time: left one to settle
in another. Then the angry saint
summoned all his powers and, trembling
inside, attacked the
enemy with all his might and expelled
the demon from both
women, whom it had treated this
One of the major problems the saints
had to encounter during exorcism
to prevent the expelled demon from re-entering the
This was specially emphasised in
the exorcising formula
by giving instructions (about fasting
and behaviour) to the
Hagiographers, however, have mediated
where the demon had returned to
its victim soon after the saint
had departed. St. Bernard of Clairvaux
was one of the saints who
had to experience it. His hagiographer
Arnaud of Bonneval describes
how St. Bernard had managed to
free a woman from possession,
but as soon as she had reached
home the demon had possessed her
again. Her husband had to take
her back to St. Bernard.
The saint performed another successful
séance, but to prevent the demon
from returning he
attached a small piece of leather to the woman’s
collar with the following words
written on it: “In the name of Our
Lord Jesus Christ I shall order
you, Satan, not to touch this woman
in any way.”
According to the logic of hagiographic
stories, the counteraction of
the demon served the interests
of the saint:
the harder the fight, the better
The arrogant and superior behaviour
demon was opposed to the humbleness
and modesty of the saint;
the former got strength from itself,
the latter from his belief in
POST MORTEM EXORCISM
Most of the incidents of charismatic
exorcism accounted in
hagiographic texts took place after
the saint’s death.
The belief in the miraculous powers
originates in the Early Middle
and was dominant all through the
Middle Ages (Angenendt 1994).
From early on one of the most important
powers attributed to relics
was exorcism (Delehaye
Hagiographic texts quite clearly
outline the following scene of
a bound demoniac is taken by the
relatives to the saint’s tomb;
(s)he is then left there, sometimes for
days, until full recovery (Finucane
1977: 91–93). In some cases the
possessed was left to the mercy
of passing travellers, with a hope to
make life in the victim’s body
unbearable for the demon. Certainly,
the presence of the demoniac was
a nuisance to the church
the devilish screaming and vehement
with the sermon and hindered the
pilgrims. Miracula S. Frideswidae
(12th century) colourfully describes
the mess a possessed had caused
in the church.
In order to influence the saint’s
decision in favour of freeing the
possessed, his/her relatives brought
various gifts to the saint.
According to different sources,
one of the most surprising gifts was a
donkey promised to St. Fides by
a mother, who had lost all hope to
her daughter’s recovery. Liber
miraculorum sancte Fidis (11th cen-
tury) explains this offering as
follows: “A despicable animal was used
to drive away a creature thousand
times as despicable.”
Another intriguing category in the
posthumous charismatic exorcism
was the freeing of a demoniac in
apparition. Medieval hagiographers
describe several incidents of recovery:
demoniac is sleeping
at saint’s tomb and in his/her
sleep sees an apparition of the
saint, who expels the demon from
its victim’s body with a cross-sign
or an exorcistic formula. When
the demoniac wakes up, (s)he is
Considering the condition of the
demoniac, as it often excluded the
taking of the victim to the relics
of a saint, the evil spirits were
sometimes chased off with portable
relics. The idea was to direct
the demon out of the possessed
body, which, as mentioned above,
often turned into the scene of
hunting the demon within the body.
The most common practice was to
place the relics at the victim’s
head or mouth, sometimes also in
the mouth cavity (Sigal 1985:
44). Hagiographers mediate numerous
accounts where the demoniac
was exorcised with the hair or
the beard hair of the saint,31 the
saint’s stole,32 his tooth, etc.
In the Middle Ages exorcistic rituals
were an inseparable part of a
saint’s life. This Christian ritual
par excellence was propagated by
the first hagiographers (St. Athanasius,
Sulpitius Severus, St.
Gregory the Great, etc.); the 12th
century saw a rise in the numbers
and versatility of the accounts
about exorcistic rituals.
For a saint the healing of the demoniac
primarily meant a fight
with a demon. The victim was as
if a battlefield to the divine and
infernal forces. Exorcism, however,
served a much more practical
purpose for a saint: statements
uttered by the demon during exorcism
played an important role in his
All the exertion and trouble he
had to go through
during the ritual was well worth
successful performance helped to
increase his fame (Latin fama)