In 2005, the world was treated to the cinematic horrors of The Exorcism of Emily Rose, and while the film was loosely based on real events, few know the truth.
In reality, “Emily Rose” was named Anna Elisabeth “Anneliese” Michel, and was born in 1952 in Bavaria, Germany. Although her life was the inspiration for the horror film, her real story is full of a different sort of terror, which was only revealed to the world after her untimely death—and the resulting court case.
With the release of the 2005 film, The Exorcism of Emily Rose, there was a renewed interest in the actual events and people that inspired it. For that, people looked to the story of Anneliese Michel.
Born to devoutly Catholic, German parents, Josef and Anna, Anneliese was diagnosed with epilepsy at the age of 16.
Between her illnesses and her strict upbringing, Anneliese lost much of her social life and retreated further and further into a state of depression. Eventually, she began to hear voices.
Later, Anneliese developed a strange aversion to religious symbols of any kind. This was the impetus for her parent’s belief that their daughter was possessed, a belief that she, too, began to have.
Between 1975 and 1976, Father Ernst Alt and Arnold Renz performed 67 exorcisms on Anneliese, during which she would scream, thrash, and bark. Anneliese stopped eating, and would bang her head against the floor.
Finally, on July 1, 1976, Anneliese passed away. At the time of her death, she weighed just 68 pounds, and was suffering from severe pneumonia.
Following her death, Anneliese’s parents and the priests were charged with negligent homicide. They maintained their belief that Anneliese had been possessed, but the court did not agree. All four were sentenced to six months in prison (which was reduced to three years probation) and a fine.
Now, Anneliese’s tragic story is a commonly cited example of misidentified mental disorders and religious hysteria.
The Catholic Church’s official position on Anneliese was changed to state that she was not possessed, but rather, suffering from a mental disorder. When asked about the case upon the release of the 2005 film, her parents still believed she had been possessed.