After refusing food and drink through a belief of atoning for the sins of youth Anneliese succumbed to malnutrition and dehydration.
Was it a true demonic possession or a medical disorder that afflicted her?
The Real 'Emily Rose'
Twenty-three year old Anneliese Michel died from malnutrition and starvation, in her family home. For nearly a year Anneliese had undergone more than sixty sessions of exorcism, in an attempt to rid her of the demon/demons, that had taken possession of her physical body.
Not everyone accepted the idea of demonic possession, least of all the legal system in Germany. After a investigation into Anneliese death, her parents and the two priests involved, were charged by the state for neglectful homicide.
The story and the court case gained much notoriety, as Demonic Possession was still a fearful topic - hot on the minds of the millions who had watched 'The Exorcist', which had been released only a few years beforehand (1974 in Germany).
Anneliese was described as being a kind, generous and devoutly religious girl. Early in her life, she became ill and was hospitalised in a sanatorium designed for tuberculosis patients. It was here that she experienced her first Grand Mal Seizure; a seizure that effects the entire brain and can cause hallucination, massive swings in emotion and feelings of foreboding before unconsciousness and muscular convulsions.
After treatments, Anneliese was able to return home, and her health seemed to stabilise for a while, before deeply emotional episodes began to come to the surface.
She began seeing visions of strange creatures, monsters and demons in the walls of her home.
At sixteen, she was finally diagnosed with epilepsy, this being the closest illness to take all of her symptoms into account. She was admitted to a psychiatric hospital, but the treatment did little to improve her condition. After being prescribed several anti-seizure drugs, and due to there being no short term alleviation of her symptoms, Anneliese once again sought comfort in her faith.
The Michel family requested an exorcism, but were informed that only the Bishop could grant permission for such a ritual to be performed.
Two priests were referred to the 'Michel case'. Many others had heard of the possible demonic possession, and all were reluctant to take part in an exorcism. Eventually word (and referral) reached Father Arnold Renz and Father Ernst Alt, and the Bishop finally granted permission for an exorcism to take place.
As a matter of form, a medical opinion must be sought by the church in order to rule out any other possible explanation for a persons behaviour, before setting them to the rigours of exorcism. To comply with the Church policy many medical opinions were sought, and although a diagnosis of epilepsy was always forwarded, no one could diagnose all of Anneliese's symptoms.
This 'communication' involves the use of prayer, religious artefacts and the invocation of the Saints, Jesus Christ or God.
The person playing host to the demon i.e. the possessed, is not to be brought to any harm during the proceedings, although restraints may be used for the safety of everyone involved.
Initially Anneliese did continue to take her medication, but towards the end of her life she disposed of the pharmaceuticals entirely, to fully focus on the religious rites.
During the exorcism sessions, Anneliese's body would be thrown around and contort in her attempts at prayer. Vile and 'inhuman' voices would pass from her lips, and the names of several demons were uttered.
Anneliese soon began to speak nonsensically, saying she was a martyr for the youth, and that her death would be an atonement for their sins. It was at this time she began to refuse food and drink and on the 1st July, 1976 she died of dehydration and malnutrition. Her body weighed a mere 30 kilograms.
Her last words to the priests were "Beg for Absolution" and to her mother Anna, she said, "Mother, I'm afraid." Both were said the day before she died.
The priests and Anneliese's family believe the demons were cast out before she passed.
Funeral and Trial
Soon after her death, an investigation was carried out. Anneliese's parents, together with the two priests who conducted the exorcism, were up on charges of neglectful homicide. It was said that even during the final week of the exorcism, her death may have been prevented through hospitalisation.
At the conclusion of the trial, all parties were found guilty of manslaughter although the prison sentences were suspended, and the priests were fined.
It should be noted that a verdict of 'not guilty' would have added to the support of the existence of demonic possession, which is something the justice system could not allow to happen.
It was during the trial that Annelises remains were exhumed, in an attempt to sway support for the rite of exorcism to have been the only course to have been taken, due to a possession of Anneliese body by a demon or demons. A nun had been granted a vision that Anneliese body had been deemed incorruptible and was preserved through spiritual intervention.
Her body was exhumed two years after being interred into the ground. Officials reported that the body showed signs of decomposition consistent with the duration of burial. However the priests and family were not given the right to view the remains, with Father Renz being refused entry to the mortuary.
The grave and final resting place of Anneliese is still visited by many people, as a site of pilgrimage.
Several movies have been made based on the events of Anneliese Michels life, exorcism and death including 'The Exorcism of Emily Rose' and the German film 'Requiem'.
So was Anneliese afflicted with epilepsy, with the Grand Mal Seizures the cause for her symptoms (impacted by other possible psychological conditions)?
Or was this a true case of demonic possession?
A recording of the Exorcism Audio can be listened too here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qr-IdHU3A5M