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The Life Of Anne Catherine Emmerich

AT the beginning of the Church’s year of 1818–19, Anne Catharine received Divine warnings of heavy woes and expiatory sufferings in store, to be endured for the welfare of the Church and for the confounding of her enemies, and she was bidden to implore the Holy Ghost to come daily to her aid until the hour of her trial should arrive. Prophetical visions were then vouchsafed to her, by which she saw her future sufferings and the spiritual aid she should receive, until her strength and patience were raised to the point which God deemed sufficient, and the blow came.

On August 2nd a Commission of Inquiry arrived in Dulmen, with the provincial counsellor Bonninghausen at its head. The other members were Drs. Rave, Busch, Pastor Niesert, of Velen; Roseri, Vicar of Leyden; Professors Roling, Borges, and Zumbrinck; and Nagelschmidt, an apothecary. Bonninghausen, accompanied by Roseri, first made his way to Anne Catharine’s dwelling, in order to announce to her the commencement of a new inquiry. Anne Catharine declared herself ready to answer, as before, any questions that should be put to her. That, she was told, was not sufficient. She must instantly remove herself to the house of the court lawyer Mersmann.

To this she replied that although her convent was suppressed she was still a nun, and as such could not change her abode without permission of her superiors. Bonninghausen retorted that this was no ecclesiastical affair, but that as three priests were with him their authority might do. She denied this, and turning to Roseri asked him what he was doing there without leave from the Vicariate, if this was, as he confessed, no ecclesiastical affair; whereupon he murmured some excuse, and the two left the room to concert further measures, since the invalid refused to stir unless under obedience.

Finding no other means available for their designs, this wretched commission (whose numbers had been increased by a protestant doctor), succeeded in so skilfully pleading their cause before the Vicar-General, that he, after giving Roseri a stern reprimand for presuming to act without his permission, was induced to believe that the proposed official enquiry was prompted by the sole desire of establishing Anne Catharine’s truth and innocence beyond all possibility of suspicion, and that the only way in which this could be satisfactorily accomplished was by separating her for a time from all her present surroundings, even from her Confessor, and by confiding her during the inquiry to the care of disinterested strangers in a house of unimpeachable respectability where she would be treated with every consideration.

Under these impressions the Vicar-General gave Anne Catharine orders to submit, and thus unwittingly delivered her, bound hand and foot, into the power of her enemies.

She was, accordingly, removed to the house of Councillor Mersmann, and placed in a room on the second floor, which could be entered only by a door out of another small room. Her bed was placed in the centre of this room, and in such a position that it could be watched from the ante-room, where four commissioners received orders to station themselves alternately two by two, and never on any pretence whatever to lose sight of the sick woman, day or night. The furniture and linen of the chamber were minutely examined by the commissioners lest they should contain any instrument capable of inflicting a wound, or any chemical preparation, whilst the very finger-nails of the invalid were also examined lest they should be sufficiently long to tear the skin.

A woman of the name of Wiltner was appointed as Anne Catharine’s attendant by the commission. She had never seen the invalid, and had only heard her described as a cunning impostor, whose deceit she was to aid in laying bare to the light of day.

During the removal, Anne Catharine’s senses had mercifully been engrossed in visions, and it was towards the evening of the first day of her captivity that she awoke to the full consciousness of her new position and complete isolation. In order to be prepared against all emergencies she petitioned to be allowed to receive Holy Communion on the following morning, when she offered herself and all that lay before her anew to God and prayed for her tormentors, and after this, felt herself so invigorated and strengthened that she was able to look forward to her coming trial with complete peace of soul and entire resignation to God’s most Holy Will. This was on Sunday, the 8th August, which day passed over quietly, and she was treated with courtesy by those appointed to watch her.

On the Monday night she was much disturbed by her watchers thrusting a light into her face several times, waking her suddenly, and putting various questions to her; then, however, her good angel stood visibly by her and instructed her in the replies she should give.

On the Tuesday morning, the judicial examination was begun by Dr. Rave, whose unsparing, rough, inconsiderate questionings had already caused Anne Catharine so much pain. So now again she had to go through a merciless investigation of her wounds, whilst Borges and Bonninghausen seated themselves at the foot of the bed.

Her weakness was such that every word was a painful effort, but still she struggled on, answering every query with clearness and precision, hoping thus to prove her own truth and innocence, the whole day long, until as evening fairly closed in she sank fainting upon her pillows.

Rave and Bonninghausen had, throughout the day, striven to make her believe that their intentions were friendly in the extreme towards her, and each clothed his words with a fairish semblance of politeness. The sneering, cynical Borges, however, was from the first a fearful torment to her; she recognized him as the origin of the whole of this irregular proceeding, whilst he never lost an opportunity of wounding her feelings by the insulting impudence of his words and actions. On the evening of this day, she was informed that admittance would be denied to all her former friends, and that Rensing would bring her holy Communion once a-week. During the night she was disturbed in the same manner as on the preceding, with the addition that this time the wounds in her hands were perpetually felt and examined by her visitants.

On Thursday the 10th the examination began again early in the morning, and the same old ground was again gone over, this time before all the members of the commission, when the martyred body of the sufferer was treated as though it had been a block of wood, and, did the poor thing, with trembling hand endeavour to cover her breast, the cloth was brutally torn from her grasp, and her pitiful prayers to be spared such indignities greeted with sneers and cynical laughter. “This day,” she confessed later, “Was the bitterest in my life. I was quite crushed to the earth with shame and grief over what I had to endure, and the words I was forced to hear.”

On Wednesday 11th the commissioners changed their tactics; the actual existence of the wounds could no longer be denied, and they therefore determined to bring Anne Catharine, by artifice, to confess that they had been artistically produced by the emigrant French priest. It was Rave who undertook to force this avowal from the invalid, and the righteous indignation with which such a charge was repudiated by Anne Catharine may be imagined.

The following day she experienced new torments at the hands of Busch, a rough, unscrupulous medical student, whose insolent arrogance she sought at first to overawe by severe silent gravity; finding this of no avail, she addressed him in a few burning words of warning, bidding him not to attempt to meddle with things before which older men had confessed themselves powerless. He was touched for the moment, but the good impression soon passed away, and he became, if possible, rougher and more insolently unscrupulous than the older men.

On the first Friday of her imprisonment expectation was at its height, and as by mid-day a few signs of bleeding were to be seen in the wounds of the head, Busch began his experiments in presence of the whole commission. First of all he washed the forehead with warm, then with cold water, after this with vinegar, and finally rubbed it with vitriolated-naptha; this washing and rubbing lasted the whole afternoon, until Anne Catharine was senseless from the agony of the pain. The nurse was then called into council, upon whom the meek, angelic behaviour of the poor tortured nun had long since made so deep an impression, that she boldly told the assemblage that they were a parcel of traitors and calumniators, and that she bitterly rued the day when she had consented to be their accomplice.

Three more weary weeks passed which were but a repetition of the one we have described, save that fresh doctors were called in to join the commission, fresh rubbings and washings were daily inflicted upon the quivering body, fresh insults were daily offered to the patient sufferer, and questionings and cross-questionings were exhausted and re-exhausted, until finally the patience of the tormented baffled and conquered that of her tormentors.

Bonninghausen, the ostensible head of the commission, became daily more and more irate with the whole affair, and longed to see it ended, no matter with what result. Borges withdrew in disgust, because the sick woman could not be convicted of imposture; Rave beheld his own cunning shattered against Anne Catharine’s simplicity and uprightness; Nagelschmidt and Zumbrink declared themselves in favour of the patient’s innocence; the others were shaken in their minds, and nothing had been discovered which could justify or give the slightest grounds for the course of ill-usage and illegal persecution to which a defenceless Religious had been submitted.

The result of it all was that on Sunday Anne Catharine was conveyed back to her own dwelling, secretly as she had been taken thence, during the High Mass, whilst nearly all the population of Dulmen were in church praying heartily for her safe deliverance from captivity.

She had returned, but not to rest. Freed for the time being from her earthly persecutors, spiritual conflicts awaited her, which lasted until the end of the Church’s year. She said herself: “I can see no end to my sufferings; they grow and grow like a tree which spreads its branches over my whole life, and on which, wherever one bough is lopped off, new shoots burst forth.”

As Christmas drew near her physical sufferings increased, and the pains in her wounds redoubled in intensity—pains which she welcomed joyfully as “so many flowers wherewith to decorate the Crib at Bethlehem.” Whilst her limbs were contracted with anguish, her countenance beamed with joy as she related to the Pilgrim the beautiful and heavenly visions which were shown her of the Mother of God and her Divine Infant.

As Christmas passed away these peaceful, consoling pictures gave place to heartrending scenes of Our Lord’s Passion, which she followed in every detail, suffering as He suffered, her helpless body clothing itself, as it were, with the anguish her mental vision was beholding. The thorny crown pressed heavily into her head, her whole body appeared as though scourged and bruised, round her wrists, neck, and waist were heavy indentations as of tightly-bound cords, whilst from her frame exuded a cold, clammy perspiration. Suddenly one day she extended her arms in the form of a cross with such violence that it seemed as though they were being dislocated. As they again fell to her sides, the impossibility of laying down her thornpierced head continued, and it fell forwards upon her breast, whilst all her limbs assumed the rigidity and motionlessness of death.

When she had recovered herself she explained that she was suffering with her Divine Spouse, that she was scourged, crowned with thorns, bound and nailed to the cross with Him, whilst at the same time she was consoled by seeing several souls who had long fallen into complete oblivion delivered by her suffering and raised into heaven.

Vision now succeeded vision, as her angel conducted her in spirit to every part of the universe, wherever expiation on behalf of the Church, satisfaction for sin, or spiritual alms were required of her. During the whole of this time the sweet, childlike simplicity of her heroic and favoured soul was singularly manifested by the fact that, whilst undergoing extraordinary sufferings, and receiving inundations of Divine knowledge, her fingers never ceased from their wonted labour of love, namely, making clothing for sick people and children.

Day and night, when racked with pain, whether in an ecstatical state or not, her hands were ever busy, and in no circumstance did the complete unconsciousness of self and quiet gaiety of heart which distinguished her display themselves more winningly, than in the touching glee which shone in her face and voice when she beheld before her a goodly pile of little caps, socks, wrappers, and suchlike baby garments. Sometimes she would fall asleep with her bed covered with these things, and on awaking find that they had all been carefully arranged in her drawers, although no human being had entered her room. In this kind of work St. Lidwina was often her companion and assistant, whose life her own so closely resembled. Sometimes, too, Anne Catharine was rewarded by beholding in her visions the little ones whom her gifts had clothed and warmed, playing together with the Child Jesus in their midst, Who looked gratefully towards her, and thanked her in the children’s name.

There was now no part of the world whither her angel did not mystically lead Anne Catharine, in order to fulfil her mission of expiating God’s offended Majesty, and rescuing souls from the brink of hell. There was no corner of the earth, no member of the Church’s Body excluded from the blessing of her sufferings and works of love.

In Rome she was as much at home as in the Holy Land, and she knew the Vatican and the different churches and sanctuaries of the Eternal City as intimately as the Cenaculum, Temple, and other holy places in and about Jerusalem. On her journeys she was accompanied and aided by the souls of those saints and martyrs whose bodies rested at her feet, whilst from them she learnt the history of their past lives down to the minutest particulars. It would take volumes were we to describe the beautiful visions she had of all these holy ones, and the sweet intercourse she held with the saints in the heavenly Jerusalem, whither, after fearful mystical sufferings of atonement, she was rapt in spirit, there to gain new life and vigour in drinking at those divine fountains of light and love, where she learnt, as it seemed to her, from their own lips, the life on earth of each saint, the history of his or her trials, and received at their hands the heavenly weapons with which they had fought and conquered in the fight.

The true mission of her life, as has been frequently said, was to suffer for the Church and the signification of the agonizing pains she felt in her limbs was once explained to her by the following allegory. She beheld a gigantic body, which reached to the sky, in a terrible state of mutilation; the hands and feet were cut off, and the body itself covered with large wounds; some of these wounds were fresh and bleeding, others filled with proud ulcerated flesh, and surrounded by lumpy excrescences. One side of the body was quite black, and as it were eaten away. Her angel told her that this represented the Body of the Church, and of all men, and pointing to each wound he showed a different part of the world, and she beheld men and nations separated from the Church, and felt in her own frame the anguish which the forcible rending of member from limb occasions to the human body. Each wound had its separate meaning, which she was given to feel, and then bidden to set promptly about her mystical work of binding, cutting, healing, and cleansing, whilst saints and holy spirits directed her hands from above, and the twelve Apostles looked on in approval.

Often she grew faint and weary over her arduous work, and besought her guide to allow her to cease, but he only bade her be of greater courage, and grasp the cross more firmly, admitting her now and then to glimpses of the heavenly Jerusalem, wherewith to refresh her wearied, thirsting soul. This celestial city was sometimes shown to her as upon the summit of a mountain, the sides of which she was climbing, and often and often she would fancy she had reached it, when a new obstacle presented itself, an unseen gorge intervened, down which she had to descend on some errand of mercy in the plain below, again to rise by steep, narrow paths, dragging with her fresh weights, in the shape of paralytic, lame, or perhaps unwilling pilgrims, who were too weak to go alone.

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