The “Possession” of Antoine Gay

Although largely outshined by a variety of other so called “possessions”, the case of Antoine Gay is interesting enough to shine a light on. Was this man possessed? People seemed to think so.

Monsieur Gay

Monsieur Gay (cue juvenile snickering) was by all accounts, a rather ordinary man who was born in Lantenay, France in 1790. After some time in the military, he settled in Lyon where he was a carpenter by trade. 

By all accounts he was a perfectly ordinary man. Unremarkable, expect for the fact that he was extremely religious, even for the time.

Antoine Gay wanted to become a monk, and had wanted to since his youth. Quite why it took him 46 years to achieve this dream is beyond me, but even so, this was when he was finally accepted into the Abbey of La Trappe d’Aiguebelle as a lay brother.

For those, like myself, who are unfamiliar with this term, a lay brother or sister is a term used for people who lacked the formal education needed to become monks, nuns, friars and that sort of thing.

Despite his seeming piousness, Monsieur Gay’s life at the monastery did not last long, and a ‘nervous disorder’ caused him to leave the ranks and return to civilian lifestyle, however there were those who believed his ‘nervous disorder’ had nothing to do with a probable mental illness and everything to do to demonic possession. 

Demonic Proof?

Of course, we can’t call ‘demon’ without evidence, and according to Father Leon Cristiani, author of Evidence of Satan in The Modern World, that’s exactly what we have in the case of Antoine Gay.

Fr Cristiani’s book references a letter from Fr Burnoud, Superior of the Missionaries of La Salette, itself seemingly referenced from the 1952 works of J.H Gruninger, which quotes as follows:

We have examined Master Gay of Lyons three times, each session lasting from one to two hours. We consider it very probable that this man is possessed by a devil. Our opinion is based on the following grounds:

 (1) he has disclosed several secret things which he had no means of knowing;

 (2) there were visible signs of discontent when we pronounced various formulae and prayers of the ritual in Latin. As it is undeniable that Gay does not know Latin, we can only attribute these contortions which, in view of the circumstances, had something preternatural about them, to the presence of a higher intelligence; 

(3) we questioned him several times in Latin and since the replies were made in French through the mouth of Master Gay, this seems to indicate a knowledge of Latin on the part of that higher intelligence; 

(4) the good faith, virtue and sincerity of Master Gay are vouched for in numerous testimonials delivered to him by worthy and reliable persons. If these testimonies are true, Gay is not playing tricks: in that case, he must be possessed.

Fr Cristiani also quotes a “medical Certificate” signed by Dr. Pictet in November on 1843, which details his own examination of Gay – carried out every day for four months. It supports Fr Burnoud’s claims that Gay was subject to “hidden knowledge” including that of the doctor’s own life, asserts that Gay showed no signs of “moral or physical weakness” and concludes:

We certify further that having by prayer and by a total abnegation of ourselves, our science and our own reason made common cause with M. Gay to implore the assistance of the Holy Spirit, we remain convinced that his extraordinary state can only be attributed to possession. 

Despite the evidence presented to him by religious and medical community at the time, the Abbot of Abbey La Trappe refused any request to have him readmitted to the monastery, and refused to partake in an exorcism. This was allegedly due to the fact that Gay resided in a different diocese. Talk about shirking responsibility.

In fact, despite the unanimous belief that Gay was indeed “possessed”, he would never undergo an exorcism. 

Fr Cristiani suggests that it was God’s will that Gay was possessed, and God’s will that Gay remained possessed. To quote Cristiani himself:

The extraordinary thing about it was that the devil was there, so to speak, on duty. He was obeying God’s orders, and God did not allow him to be driven out, for that very reason.

The demon, who said its name was Iscarion, was seemingly forced to answer the “difficult questions” of the priests who examined Gay. I suppose a direct line communication to the devil was too good an opportunity to miss.

The Good and Evil Angels Struggling for Possession of a Child; The Higgins Art Gallery & Museum, Bedford

The Demon Speaks

Between 1844 and 1847, Antoine Gay and Iscarion lived in Lyon. Occasionally, Gay was found wandering town, talking wildly and gesticulating strangely. 

Instead of intervening to help the clearly suffering Gay, he was arrested as a “lunitic” and locked up in an asylum. After three months, he was released, thanks to the clergy, and eventually presented to Archbishop Mgr. de Bonald. who promised, to help him, but again, did nothing.

Being passed from pillar to post ended up helping Monsieur Gay, as he eventually landed with Fr Marie-Joseph Chiron, a friar who founded a community which took care of the “mentally disturbed”. Fr Chiron still believed Gay was possessed rather than sick, and sought permission to exorcise him, this was never given. Seemingly, this was God’s Will. 

For reasons unbeknownst to me, Chiron thought it would be a good idea for Gay to meet with another possessed person, a woman known as Chiquette. A sort of demon play-date, if you will.

Although Chiquette was reportedly nonverbal, her demon, named Madeste, was not. He and Iscarion talked up a storm, according to Chiron, and he is quoted as saying:

No sooner had he [Madeste] encountered the presence of Isacaron than a remarkably violent dialogue arose between the two fallen angels. The two devils sounded like mad dogs. They spoke a totally unknown language, very softly and we understood nothing. I was later informed by Isacaron, who translated the dispute for me, that it was on a question of precedence, as to which was the greater of the two. They insulted and poured scorn on each other. I was often obliged to stand between them to prevent their coming to blows.
The two possessed, it is needless to say, had never met each other, but the devils in possession knew each other well. Six times during the following days there occurred the same violent disputes, in the same unknown language, and in the presence of several witnesses.

Antoine Gay was forced to be Iscarion’s mouthpiece for the rest of his natural life. He died in Lyon in 1871, without receiving an exorcism, which even the demon had begged for.

Florence Baptisry mural, created c.1260, by Coppo di Marcovaldo


If these sources are correct, it’s pretty fair to say that both the religious and medical community believed Antoine Gay possessed. What we can’t underestimate, however, is the complete lack of psychiatric knowledge in the 1800s. If a modern day physician was presented with Gay, I’d doubt they’d call him possessed.

It must also be said that the most referenced account of his case, is Leon Cristiani’s Evidence of Satan in The Modern World, originally published in 1962 (or 1959, according to some sources). Cristiani was a catholic priest, and as such, his writings on matters of possession will undoubtedly reflect those beliefs. Although incredibly detailed, we can’t exactly call his work unbiased either. 

That being said, there are a few incidents that stick out as unexplainable, such as the reports of Gay’s ‘hidden knowledge’ and apparent understanding of Latin. The problem is, we have to take these reports with a pinch of salt, both because of their age and biased. I’m not saying those reports are untrue, I’m just weary of them.

Let’s mention briefly the case of Anneliese Michel, who passed away in 1976 after a series of exorcisms. Even though we’re likely looking at a case of misdiagnosed and untreated mental illness, there are still plenty of people who believe she was possessed. Here, we even have contemporary photos and audio recordings to mull over, and each camp will pick out fragments to back their own argument, but in the end, everyone overlooks the tragedy at the centre of the case – a young woman who was suffering.

Even though I’m skeptical of labelling any case as “demonic”, as I mentioned in Vol. 2 of my handy, dandy Ghost Guide, I do believe that there’s something to be said for working with a person’s spiritual beliefs alongside proper medical care. The mind is a really weird thing, after all. 

So, let’s remember poor Antoine Gay, who similarly to Anneliese, was devoutly religious, of good ‘moral standing’ and mentally ill. With less medical understanding and a predisposition to a belief in demons, it’s not surprising he -and others – though he was possessed. Even so, despite living to the ripe old age of 81, no one offered any practical help, even if that was in the form of an exorcism, and that’s the saddest part of the whole story.

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