saint exorcised devil-possessed monk through diarrhea

outhouse in the sky

Do you know someone who seems to be possessed by the devil? Of course you do; those sort of people are everywhere today. You might suggest to one of your devil-possessed family members or friends that she pray for relief to Saint Æthelthryth, a sixth-century Anglo-Saxon saint. According to a chronicle written in England in the 1170s, a devil-possessed monk prayed to Saint Æthelthryth for relief. He subsequently had extreme, foul-smelling diarrhea that purged the devil from his body.

According to the chronicle, the monk had left early from his brother monks’ normal evening prayer service in their monastery. That left the monk vulnerable to the devil’s attack. Being attacked by the devil can also happen to persons who don’t participate in family holidays and family meals. The monk’s situation got very ugly:

when the service was over, the abbot and the community, as they went out to the first entrance to the cloister, saw the demoniac youth raving against everyone, making wild threats, flailing around with abuse, and trying to hurt some of the men who were constraining him within their arms, by kicking with his feet and biting with his teeth. [1]

The community brought the young monk to the tomb of Saint Æthelthryth. There throughout the night they prayed to her for help. By morning the young young monk had returned to his senses. However, “the internal looseness of his stomach was torturing him, and he was in need of evacuation in a privy”:

After being taken, therefore, to the necessary place, he experienced as great an efflux as if all his bowels were being poured out and, after the raving of his mind, such a stink of the stomach was ejected that the air throughout the nearest domestic buildings was scarcely bearable, as the polluted exhalation spread itself through every nook and cranny, and scarcely anyone escaped its vapour. And this uncleanliness was no less extreme than the former madness, but rather both attacks turned out equal, one to the other: one horrible because of his going out of his mind, the other astonishing, because of the effluvium of his stomach, as if the most evil spirit was either totally being changed into excrement or, on being ejected, was taking the latrines themselves with him.[2]

Evidently a person’s soul can be cleansed through prayer to a saint and extreme diarrhea.[3] If you’re having personal difficulties with a family member or friend, be intellectually courageous and suggest this historically attested cure. The foul smell will be only temporary. Peace and joy spending time together with beloved others is an eternal blessing.

crude wooden toilet

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[1] Liber Eliensis Bk. II, Ch. 129, from Latin trans. Fairweather (2005) p. 247. Subsequent quotes above are from id. pp. 247-8. The monk’s name was Edwin and the religious service he skipped out on was Compline.

Liber Eliensis was compiled at a monastery on the Isle of Ely (England) in the 1170s. A Latin text is available online in Stewart (1848) pp. 262-3.

Marie de France translated into Old French the story of Saint Æthelthryth exorcising the monk through diarrhea. Marie de France included it in her Life of Saint Audrey (Æthelthryth) ll. 2953-2994. For that text and a translation, McCash & Barban (2006) pp. 167-9.

[2] Marie de France’s account of this incident adds:

Since this occasion,
there has been no devil so bold
as to dare assail the wall
of the monastery {at Ely} or come in among the monks
lest he, too, be ejected
the same way his companion had been.

Life of Saint Audrey ll. 2989-2994, from Old French trans. McCash & Barban (2006) p. 169.

[3] Saint Æthelthryth is not the only saint reported to have exorcised a demon through prompting extreme diarrhea. Sulpicius Severus’s fifth-century Life of Saint Martin records:

when he {the demon} was compelled by punishments and tortures, to flee out of the possessed body, while he had no power of escaping by the mouth, he was cast out by means of a defluxion of the belly {fluxu ventris}, leaving disgusting traces behind him.

Ch. 17, from Latin trans. Roberts (1894). In the first half of the twelfth century, Peter the Venerable, Abbot of Cluny, reported a monk expelling a demon in the latrine. De Miraculis, Bk. 1, Ch. 13 (PL 189, col. 877), cited in Bayless (2012) pp. 2, 183.

Demons and devils were associated with latrines and bowel movements in a variety of ways. In the Life of Saint Gengulph, written in Latin about 900 GC, the clerk who cuckolded Gengulph suffered disembowlment while using the latrine. Other sinful men reportedly defecated out their souls, died in latrines, or lost control of their bowels and continually soiled themselves. Bayless (2012) pp. 130-5.

Bayless, the leading scholar of medieval excrement, makes a highly pungent claim about that subject:

excrement was not merely used as a figure of speech but was central to the popular medieval metaphysics. It was not a symbol of sin or a consequence of sin: it embodied sin {emphasis in original}. It was an alternate manifestation of sin, as ice is an alternate manifestation of water. Excrement was sin made material. In the modern period, filth and excrement are deplorable but otherwise meaningless material realities, most useful as metaphors. In the Middle Ages, filth and excrement were the foundation of the understanding of human history. They were as important as sin because they were sin {emphasis in the original}. This a radical and crucial difference from modern attitudes.

Id. p. xviii. That scholarly claim is less credible than less abstract Christian belief in transubstantiation. Medieval literature such as the Latin fabliau One-Ox (Ziolkowski (2007) Ch. 4 & App. 3), the French epic De Audigier (Brians (1973) pp. 57-69), and the Latin prose work Solomon and Marcolf used excrement in creative ways. Medieval mooning doesn’t bear a totalizing interpretation. The French fabliaux Bérengier au Lonc Cul and La gagure, ou L’esquier e la chaunbrere used ass-kissing to address fundamental political issues not directly related to excrement.

[images] (1) Outhouse for the fire lookout at Goat Peak, Washington State, USA, 28 Aug. 2010. Thanks to Curt Smith and Wikimedia Commons. (2) Outhouse (detail) from 1880 Town (South Dakota, USA), 26 Sept. 2000. Thanks to Patrick Bolduan and Wikimedia Commons.


Bayless, Martha. 2012. Sin and filth in medieval culture: the devil in the latrine. New York: Routledge.

Brians, Paul, trans. 1973. Bawdy tales from the courts of medieval France. New York: Harper & Row.

Fairweather, Janet, trans. 2005. Liber Eliensis: a history of the Isle of Ely from the seventh century to the twelfth. Woodbridge: Boydell.

McCash, June Hall and Judith Clark Barban, ed. and trans. 2006. The life of Saint Audrey: A Text by Marie de France. Jefferson, N.C.: McFarland.

Roberts, Alexander, trans. 1894. “Sulpitius Severus on the Life of St. Martin.” In A Select Library of Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers of the Christian Church, Second Series, Volume 11. New York.

Stewart, David James, ed. 1848. Thomas & Richard of Ely. Liber Eliensis, ad fidem codicum variorum. Londini: Impensis Societatis.

Ziolkowski, Jan M. 2007. Fairy tales from before fairy tales: the medieval Latin past of wonderful lies. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press.

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