Don Juan of Cordua establishes a faithful witness statement which causes consternation in town, and from there, throughout the whole of Spain. The following day, the Provincial, in person, goes to the dying nun’s bedside. He remains there for several hours and receives a complete confession, of which he says nothing.
But this man, young, reputed for his righteousness, his bounty and his cheerful character, does not leave the cell the way that he entered it. All those who meet him on this day, notice that he has aged, that his face has been permanently transformed, that his back is bent as if under the weight of a frightful secret, an hallucinating nightmare which has lasted a whole lifetime; the lifetime of the “saint”, Magdalena of the Cross, the diabolic Abbess of Cordua.
By order of Cardinal Tabera, an Inquisitor is next to present himself in the nun’s cell. He is young and inspires her with confidence. She reveals to him that the beautiful dark-haired young man who appeared to her at the age of five, was in fact the devil. He had promised her celebrity and the respect of everyone, if she would consent to obey him blindly.
It is also the devil who leaves his mark by touching her two fingers which stop growing. Who teaches her the subterfuge of the wafers, and the simulation of ecstasies. Her cries in the night are in no way inspired by the ecstatic love that she has for the Creator, but by the demon’s caresses.
Upon hearing such consternating admissions, the Inquisitor, horrified, signs himself. Immediately, the nun starts to insult the priest with words of superhuman triviality. She rolls around in her cell and bites anything she can, while striking poses of unnameable impudicity, miming the copulations that she has performed with Balban for nearly fifty years.
As a practised Inquisitor, the monk has asked the most pious and worldly-wise nuns to stay in the corridor to write down the fallen nun’s words, so as to be able to subsequently serve as witnesses. Magdalena of the Cross’ case is rapidly prepared.
In the course of the interrogations, during which Balban is dislodged by exorcisms, but almost immediately retakes possession of his prey, it is learnt with what hideous spells he has undermined Magdalena’s soul as a child.
When she becomes nubile, Balban ceases to appear to her as a beautiful young man, as he has been doing since she was five. One night, when the young girl is waiting for him as usual, he presents himself to her in the form of a scintillating mist which condenses and takes the form of a very tall man, hairy and radiating a reddish light. She cries out “Jesus”, but this, of course, greatly displeases Balban, who lifts her with his burning hand and drops her on the paving stones. She is then forced to contemplate the creature who rises before her, inflicting the spectacle of his lubricity on her.
The infernal creature is not very attractive, and the possessed girl remembers in horror his wide, flat nose, his twisted horns and his toothless mouth. He commands her to immediately become his wife, assures her that she will not lose her virginity, and that her apparent sainthood would only grow in measure with the unimaginable pleasures that she would enjoy with him.
Vanquished, Magdalena then gives in, and it is again the dark-haired, infinitely attractive young man that she receives in her.
She then admits that it is also the devil who comes to feed her in secret, and that she had really been pregnant by him. She had been warned by him that she risked nothing if she followed his instructions. It was to play a joke by troubling the minds of the nuns and the Corduan clergy, that he had made her pregnant with an… enormous caterpillar which escaped from her body with a loud wind… before changing into Balban and possessing her, that famous Christmas night, with unprecedented refinements.
So, the whole of Christendom discovers with horror that she, whom it thought was God’s most-beloved, was in fact the most-beloved creature of the devil.
She is judged on 3 May 1546. Until her arrest, and although she is sixty-one years old, she has remained uncommonly young. But, in the last days of the case’s preparation, Balban reveals that he is leaving forever the body and soul of the possessed woman.
She has suddenly aged a lot, and it is a poor broken, rheumaticky woman who implores the court to put a rapid end to her torments and deliver her to the purifying flames. The judges decide otherwise. Because of her great age, her spontaneous confession, and the quality of her repentance. A little, too, because they consider her to be a pitiful victim of the demon, and a lot, in memory of the days of her glory which they, themselves, had exalted.
The judges do decide, however, that she is to be led to the scaffold with a gag in her mouth, a Spartan cord around her neck, and a candle in her hand. That she remain exposed there for the time of a Grand Mass, and that she should then abjure her errors. For three months, she cannot wear the black veil, and must always walk last in all of the movements of convent life.
She abjures in tears, in front of the Cathedral that she had had raised thanks to her spells. Taken to a Clarissa convent in Burgos, she lives long years without ever falling again into the slightest error.
Magdalena’s great pride had given her everything. The exegetes of her time were later sure that her final humility would even have made her worthy of Paradise…
To be continued.