Today’s horror movies could make use of this story from the ninth century, of how an evil spirit terrorized a medieval village. It also reports on one of the earliest recorded attempts at an exorcism from the Middle Ages.
The Annals of Fulda is a history of events taking place in Carolingian Europe during the ninth century (the annals end in the year 901). While most of the Annals deal with internal conflict among the Carolingians as well as Viking raids across Western Europe, it also offers the story of a strange event that took place in the year 858.
The story apparently takes place in a town called Bingen, now known as Bingen am Rhein and located in western Germany. It tells of an “evil spirit” that was being a nuisance to its residents, first by throwing stones or banging a wall with a hammer, and then by speaking to the people and telling them the stuff he stole. It then got worse:
Finally he stirred up everyone’s hatred against one man, as if it were for his sins that everyone had to suffer such things; and so that he might be the more hated, the evil spirit caused every house which the man entered to catch fire. As a result the man was forced to live outside the villa in the fields with his wife and children, as all his kin feared to take him in. But he was not even allowed to remain there in safety, for when he had gathered in and stacked his crops, the evil spirit came unexpectedly and burnt them. To try to appease the feelings of the inhabitants, who wished to kill him, he took the ordeal of hot iron and proved himself innocent of the crimes which were alleged against him.
Religious officials were sent from the nearby town of Mainz to help expel the evil spirit. In what seems to be a type of exorcism, the priests and deacons used relics, crosses and holy water while saying a mass in order to drive the thing away. However, the evil spirit responded by throwing more stones at them. Their attempt seems to have failed, and the evil spirit next began telling some of the town’s secrets:
After the clerics who had been sent there had departed, the same devil made lamentable speeches in the hearing of many. He named a certain priest and said that he had stood underneath his cope at the time when the holy water was being spread around the building. Then, as men crossed themselves in fear, he said of the same priest, “He is my servant. For anyone who is conquered by someone is his servant; and lately at my persuasion he slept with the daughter of the bailiff of this villa.” This crime had not before been known to anyone except those who had committed it. It is clear that as the Word of Truth says, “nothing is hidden which will not be revealed” (Matthew 10:26).
The attacks continued on, and things did not go well for the village:
With these and similar deeds the apostate spirit was a burden to the above-mentioned place for the course of three whole years, and he did not desist until he had destroyed almost all the buildings with fire.
The Annals of Fulda were translated by Timothy Reuter and published by Manchester University Press in 1991.