Anneliese Michel: The true story behind “The Exorcism of Emily Rose”

Infamous for her tragic fight with demons and her chilling demise, the woman who served as the inspiration for the horror film garnered widespread notoriety.

Anna Elisabeth “Anneliese” Michel, or commonly known as Anneliese Michel was a German woman who underwent unethical Catholic exorcism rites during the year before her tragic death.

Anneliese Michel during college. © FB/AnnelieseMichel
Anneliese Michel during college. FB/AnnelieseMichel / Fair Use

The early life of Anneliese Michel

Anneliese Michel in her early life. © FB/AnnelieseMichel
Anneliese Michel in her early life. FB/AnnelieseMichel / Fair Use

Anneliese Michel was born on September 21, 1952, in Leiblfing, Bavaria, West Germany to a Roman Catholic family. She grew up with three sisters and their deeply devout parents.

Anneliese went to the church with her family at least twice a week. She was bound to the strict rules of this extremely religious family and her family was putting pressure on her more and more.

Psychological problems and treatments of Anneliese Michel

When Anneliese was sixteen, she was experiencing psychological problems just because of these pressures and was constantly saying that she could see the face of the demon at certain times of the day.

Anneliese Michel (left, in flowers printed short frock) with her family. Exorcism
Anneliese Michel (left, in flowers printed short frock) with her family. Alexandru Valentin Crăciun

Anneliese was diagnosed with psychosis caused by temporal lobe epilepsy and started taking medications. Then her situation started to get worse and when she prayed, she said she could hear voices like she was “damned” and she would “rot in hell.” She began hallucinating. As a result of her treatments, her condition worsened and she immersed in depression rather than getting better.

However, despite this situation, Anneliese managed to graduate from the University of Würzburg in 1973. Her friends asserted that she was too religious but it was her family’s pressures that caused her to adopt such personality, and that Anneliese soon became afraid of objects such as the cross.

Religion had now become her enemy. Her family, on the other hand, started treating her worse. As they continued to do so, Anneliese started living in an endless wrath towards her family.

While Anneliese was experiencing these traumas, a request came from her relatives to send her away in isolation. At the same time, not only her family, but the people around her and a few priests, who didn’t even know her much, persuaded Anneliese telling her that the devil was haunting and that they had to do a demon ritual.

In these days, Anneliese was attacking those around her, she was drinking her own urine, eating insects. Despite taking various antipsychotic medications, day by day, Anneliese’s symptoms worsened. She was saying that she could see demons by making some deep growls and throwing things.

The exorcism of Anneliese Michel

The priest Ernst Alt believed that “Anneliese didn’t look like an epileptic,” that “she was suffering from demonic possession.” Therefore, Alt urged the local bishop Josef Stangl to allow an exorcism. Josef granted the priest Arnold Renz permission to exorcise according to the Rituale Romanum of 1614 by calling the local psychopath in total secrecy.

In a letter to priest Ernst Alt in 1975, Anneliese Michel wrote:

 “I am nothing; everything about me is vanity. What should I do? I have to improve. You pray for me…I want to suffer for other people…but this is so cruel.”

The phrase “..but this is so cruel” was actually a summary of this story!

Indeed, the rites of exorcism began on September 24, 1975. A total of 67 exorcism sessions, one or two each week, lasting up to four hours, were performed for about 10 months between 1975 and 1976.

The tragic death of Anneliese Michel

After the exorcism rites, on July 1, 1976, Anneliese Michel died in her own home. She weighed 30 kilograms, suffering broken knees due to continuous genuflections. She was unable to move without assistance, and was reported to have contracted pneumonia.

Anneliese Michel: The true story behind "The Exorcism of Emily Rose" 1
Anneliese Michel being restrained by her mother during the exorcism. Anneliese Michel / Facebook / Fair Use

Although Anneliese’s autopsy report concluded her death in malnutrition and dehydration due to starvation, the main reason for this death was evident.

After an investigation, the state prosecutor maintained that Anneliese’s death could have been prevented even one week before she died. The case has been cited as an example of a misidentified mental illness, negligence, abuse and religious hysteria.

The Michel family and the priests were sued after Anneliese’s tragic death. As a result of the lawsuit, her family and two priests were arrested. While the priests were serving a prison sentence, the family was released for some reason as if they suffered enough.

Anneliese Michel: The true story behind "The Exorcism of Emily Rose" 2
At Michel trial. From left to right: Ernst Alt, Arnold Renz, Anneliese’s mother Anna, Anneliese’s father Josef. Keystone Archive / Fair Use

After this incident, the exorcism permits in Germany decreased and some strict rules were introduced to prevent such crimes. Anneliese Michel’s life was frightened by the demon! but here the real demon was her own parents.

The resting place of Anneliese Michel

The body of Anneliese Michel was buried in the Klingenberg Cemetery, Klingenberg am Main, Bavaria, Germany. Her grave became and remains a pilgrimage site.

Anneliese Michel: The true story behind "The Exorcism of Emily Rose" 3
Anneliese Michel’s grave became and remains a pilgrimage site. Wikimedia Commons

On June 6th of 2013, a fire broke out in the house where Anneliese Michel lived, and, although the local police said it was a case of arson, some locals attributed it to the exorcism case.

Film: The Exorcism of Emily Rose

Anneliese Michel: The true story behind "The Exorcism of Emily Rose" 4
A still from the popular 2005 film. Fair Use

The Exorcism of Emily Rose” is an American supernatural horror crime movie released in 2005. The movie was written by Scott Derrickson and Paul Harris Boardman and was directed by Scott Derrickson. In the movie, actress Jennifer Carpenter played the role of Anneliese Michel in the name of Emily Rose.

Apart from this, “Requiem” and “Anneliese: The Exorcist Tapes,” are also loosely based on Anneliese Michel’s story.

The audio recordings of the exorcism of Anneliese Michel

Father Renz and Father Alt allowed some of the exorcism sessions to be recorded. In total, they recorded 42 audio recordings. Here is a video of some of the audio recordings: