Sister Magdalena of the Cross -The devil's saint for 40 years & her escape from an evil pact through extraordinary repentance
The November 24, 2011 prosecution of the false Italian mystic, Mother Ebe Giorgini, foundress of the religious movement "La Pia Unione di Gesù Misericordioso", once again brings to light the importance of careful discernment when it comes to mystics, visionaries and the like, and calls to mind the incredible life story of the false mystic, Sr. Magdalena of the Cross (1487-1560).
The renowned Franciscan nun who made a pact with Satan
Sister Magdalena of the Cross (Magdalena de la Cruz) was born in Córdoba (Cordova) in Andalusia, Spain in 1487. Named after the mystic St. Mary Magdalene, the one whom Church tradition remembers as the great "..sinner from whom Jesus had cast out seven demons.” (Mark 16:9), and who was also known for her extraordinary repentance. As for herself, Magdalena of the Cross too would one day become an extraordinary mystic, and later a repentant sinner, doing severe penances for her sins. Not even the great Saint Teresa of Avila would ever have as much prestige across Spain in her lifetime as Sr. Magdalena of the Cross! Her (apparent) outstanding piety and the miracles that she performed were known throughout Spain, and even much of Europe. So much so, that even the Emperor Charles V, the sovereign ruler of the Roman and Spanish Empire asked for a piece of the habit of Magdalena of the Cross to wrap around the future Prince Philip II at his birth, to give his royal son the "assistance of a living saint from birth, to envelop him in Divine grace." Incidentally, prince Phillip II later became the King of Spain in 1556.
Little Magdalena's first vision
But for now, little Magdalena is just 5 years old, and she is already known in town for her remarkable devotion, which is out of the ordinary for a girl of her age. Not long after her fifth birthday, she is praying in Church when she hears music of remarkable sweetness. Then a beautiful young man, with thick, black hair appears to her, wearing a mantle so brilliant that she has to close her eyes. Hearing the story, some believe it to be Jesus. News of this event spreads throughout Córdoba, and many want to see little Magdalena.
Sorting out the heavenly apparitions from the demonic ones
The difficulty that we will now have in sorting out Magdalena's early life story is that as with all the mystics and their mystical graces, there is often the influence and appearence of the demonic along with the heavenly apparitions. Like in the case of the Biblical Job, God allows the devil to tempt and even attack the mystics, to test their faith, love and devotion. This is the case with most every mystic. And with Magdalena, the task of discernement of her obvious mystical gifts and graces is even more difficult in her early years, because there definitely was a period where Magdalena demonstrated authentic piety and deep devotion, with the sincerity and simplicity of a child. But we know that she made a pact with the devil, so there must have been a point where the heavenly apparitions slowed or even ceased altogether, and the diabolic apparitions took over.
But for now, little Magdalena is living a simple life with her family who were poor artisans, and while Magdalena remains of exemplary modesty and conduct, the visions continue, one after another, and as time goes on this attracts the attention of many; so much so that one day she flees her home to take refuge in a nearby cave, where she once again falls into ecstasy. When she awakens, she discovers that she has been miraculously transported back to her bed by her guardian angel.
Soon, a person whom she believes to be Jesus appears to her and asks her to somewhat moderate her asceticism, so as not to compromise her fragile childhood health. He informs her that a great destiny awaits her, and that she will need her strength. She flies to the church to thank Jesus and on the way meets a man with a severe limp who asks her to lend him her hand to climb the Church steps. He has hardly climbed a few steps when he stands erect and with great surprise and excitement he dashes through the whole town crying out that he is healed!
Magdalena herself goes into Church then falls into a deep ecstasy. Soon, someone comes in looking for her and realises that she is seeing a vision. Looking closely at her eyes, she sees in the reflection in her eyes the heavens and what seems to be the Holy Trinity surrounded by the Communion of Saints. Soon afterwards, like Jesus after the cure of the blind man, Magdalena is subjected to all sorts of interrogations to discover any subterfuge, none of which can apparently be found. Not long afterwards, a mute person also allegedly receives his speech through her intercession.
Magdalena attempts to crucify herself
In 1497 at the age of ten, Magdalena is already quite beautiful, and in her purity she is very cautious to hide herself under long black dresses and skirts. Even so, she still finds herself too beautiful, and one day for penance she tries to crucify herself on the wall of her bedroom. She starts by nailing her two feet, then her left hand. Blood flows, and she faints from the atrocious pain. Her flesh tears and, falling heavily onto a chest, she breaks two ribs. Her parents call the doctor and he bandages all of her nail wounds, yet she is burning with desire to suffer terribly for the reparation of sins, and she repeatedly takes off the bandages, so as to suffer more. But this soon makes her very ill.
On Easter Saturday, 1497, Magdalena is bedridden and seems to be dying, probaly because of infection from the wounds of her failed crucifixion. At midnight, she lets out a great scream, sits up on her bed, once more rips off her dressings, saying that she is healed. She says that it is Jesus himself, who has just appeared to her and has cured her.
A prolonged fast and her first Holy Communion
Three months before her First Holy Communion, Magdalena seemingly stops eating. The pleadings of her poor parents make no difference; she fasts right up until the Sunday of her first Holy Communion, surprisingly without losing her healthy appearance. On the day of the ceremony, at the precise moment of consecration, she lets out another cry and prostrates herself for a long time. When she exits the church, she explains that the Lord Himself put the Eucharist in her mouth, without her needing to approach the priest.
Wounds seemingly heal overnight and the story of two stubby fingers
At sixteen, Magdalena contunes to astound many with her apparent extraordinary devotion and her remarkable desire to make reparation for sin. Many see her as a living saint- for who else but a saint could do such extraordinary penances? When she whips herself to bleeding point while doing penance, her wounds are miraculously healed the next day to everyones great surprise. She is healthy, and everything about her seems wholesome, except two fingers which have not grown like the others: at sixteen, they are no larger than the size of a child's pinky. Some say that these two fingers are those that Christ touched one night in her childhood, during an apparition.
Magdalena becomes a Franciscan nun
In 1504, at age 17, Magdalena at last obtains what seems to be the great desire of her life: to become a Franciscan nun- a spiritual daughter of St. Francis and St. Clare. Because of her reputation for holiness, she is joyfully admitted to the Franciscan convent of Saint Elizabeth of the Angels in Cordova (Convento de Santa Isabel de los Ángeles), and she soon edifies and inspires the admiration of many of the nuns.
There are however some "red flags" though. She is seemingly not too discrete about her spiritual life and merits; she inflicts severe mortifications upon herself, carries a heavy cross all around the convent, kisses her companions’ feet, and she seemingly stops eating completely, apparently living only on Holy Communion. All of these facts are cause for some concern, but she does seem very devout and is willing to do even the most menial and unwanted tasks, so her "extravagances" are for the most part downplayed, at least for now.
After a few years as a postulant, in 1509, at age 22, she already has a reputation for sainthood, and because of this it is thought prudent to let her take her vows alone. The event is greatly anticipated and well prepared. All of the nobles seek to obtain a good place in the church and to add even more glory to the great day, the Archbishop himself has his throne covered by a dais of richly embroidered velvet.
At last, the day of the ceremony arrives. Magdalena will now be known as Sister Magdalene of the Cross, in memory of the heroic crucifixion of her youth. The ceremony begins and she comes forward and kneels outside the sanctuary, and waits to hear the Cardinal’s speech. But rather than exhort the novice to the practice of christian virtue and piety, as is usual, he publicly asks her for her prayers and protection in support of himself and the diocese.
The miraculous dove
Afterwards at the Kyrie Eleison, something very remarkable happens: a dove, which seems to descend straight from the high catherdral ceiling, catches the eye of everyone. The dove lands on Magdalena's shoulder, and seems to speak into her ear. Afterwards it ascends up to a parapet, and remains there as if watching until the end of the ceremony. Afterwards it flies outside of the Church and those who run out to follow it see it rise almost striaght up, and for so long, that the sky finally seems to close over it. The news of these events spread like wildfire across the country and even spills outside its borders.
As the weeks and months progress after her solemn profession, Sr. Magdalene de la Cruz (as she is know known as) soon exhibits extraordinary faculties. Without ever going outside the walls, she seemingly knows many things that happens in Cordoba and elsewhere, particularly in the neighbouring Franciscan convent, and also in the aristocratic and noble homes in Cordoba. As in the past she continues to go into ecstasy often, and if she happens to be out of her cell while doing so, her companions carry her to her cell then withdraw discretely. Sometimes their curiosity gets the better of them and they listen not far away and often hear a gentle muttering of unknown words and also moans of suffering too.
Her fame continues to spreads across Spain and abroad
As can be expected, the gossip around all of these remarkable events swells and continues to spill outside of Spain. Correspondence floods the convent; people from all over petitioning Magdalena of the Cross for her prayers and spiritual help. Generous donations pour in also, and Magdalena’s convent is buzzing like a beehive with activity.
It is at this time that another prodigious mystical gift of Sr. Magdalena appears: she can seemingly predict the future. In 1515, she announces the death of King Ferdinand for the following year, which comes to pass as foretold, and also the regency of Cardinal Francisco Jiménez de Cisneros over the kingdom of Castile. In sign of gratitude, Cardinal Jiménez has a beautiful vermilion ostensory given to her, which increases the admiration and devotion of her fellow sisters and others even more.
A unexpected and remarkable pregnancy on the day of the Annunciation
On March 25, 1518, the day of the Feast of the Annunciation, Magdalena discreetly tells her Abbess some news which fills the pious woman with great confusion and perplexity--Magdalena states that on the preceding night, that is, the solemn Vigil of the Annunciation, she had conceived the child Jesus by the power of the Holy Spirit. Thus Magdalene of the Cross, the shining light of the convent of Saint Elizabeth of the Angels, is pregnant.
Forseeing the enormous scandal that such news would inevitably provoke, the Abbess orders Magdalena to keep absolutely quiet about it for now, while she prays for guidence as to how to proceed. As the days pass, the Abbess discretely watches Magdalena and, after a few weeks, she is obliged to bow to the obvious evidence, for Magdalena's abdomen is noticeably rounding out, and the moment is going to come when they will no longer be able to hide this "work" of the Holy Spirit....or of nature?
The nuns are divided concerning Magdalena's alleged miraculous pregnancy
The nuns are all informed of the situation, and soon the convent is divided into two camps. On the one side, there are those who doubt the miraculous conception, some perhaps because they feel a hidden envy for Magdalena. Others because it is such a extraordinary thing that has never happened outside of the Blessed Virgin Mary, and there is nothing in Sacred Scripture that would point to such a second birth of Jesus into this world.
At this point most do not yet actually doubt her sainthood, however all these extraordinary things are without a doubt cause for careful discernment. And then there is all the generous donations that have been flowing in in honor of the "living saint", and the countless individuals who request her intercession and prayers...all of this tends to relegate the other sisters to a lesser position in the convent, and causes them to feel somewhat inadequate in their spirituality and the practice of virtue. Certainly many of them accuse themselves of jealousy to their confessor, and must have harbored some envy towards her. And so to some, for various reasons this supernatural pregnancy appears inconceivable, most importantly because such a miracle is not announced in the Holy Scriptures.
On the other side, there are those, also numerous, who say that God works in mysterious ways, and that the Most High has been pouring all sorts of extraordinary graces on his humble servant for many years. Understandably they cannot fathom how she could have possibly stained her purity; she who is so seemingly devout and pious, and besides she never leaves the convent grounds. To that, the doubters reply that she receives her confessor alone, and also that the bars on the convent fence are so widely spaced as to allow the passage of a much more cumbersome being than the Holy Spirit.
However, a vow of silence is agreed upon by both camps, however some cannot help themselves and soon the extraordinary news is spreading through all of Cordova and abroad. But how does Magdalena respond? She treats all of the news and insinuations with absolute and complete indifference.
Seemingly even more devout in the practice of virtue, she redoubles the severity of her penances, walking barefoot on pieces of broken glass and lashing her back and shoulders with instruments of severe mortification, along with wearing a rough cilice discipline.
The Archbishop orders a medical examination of Sr. Magdalena
Hearing the news, the Archbishop of Seville sends three experienced matron "midwives" to examine Magdalena. Having very carefully examined her, they announce that while it is indeed true that the nun is pregnant, it is also very much a fact that her virginity is completely intact and unquestionable. Prayers of thanksgiving explode in all the churches and throughout the land, and inside the convent the doubters and gossipers are reduced to utter silence and penances for their apparent doubts .
On Christmas Eve, 1518, Magdalena confirms that she will very soon give birth. A little house at the end of the garden is prepared for her, for in a vision her guardian angel recommends that she give birth alone, so as to suffer more without any human assistance. Magdalena remains locked up in the little house for three days, during which time the whole community remains in prayer. The story that Magdalena tells when she comes out is absolutely prodigious.
She relates that during Christmas night, at midnight, she gives birth to a magnificent baby who radiates so much light that she can see as if it were high noon. The cold air of her chamber is suddenly miraculously heated and the divine child doesn’t suffer at all from the cold.
During this time, strangely Magdalena’s hair begins to grow very fast and, from crow black that it was, it changes to the brightest blond, with its long length allowing her to swaddle the infant child in it, and keep him warm in the softest of tunics.
As proof of the miracle, she cuts a few of her blond curls before her hair turns back to normal. The nuns then compete for a few of the miraculous hairs to keep as precious relics.
Continuing with the story of the remarkable birth, Sr. Magdalene de la Cruz states that on the morning after Christmas she found herself alone, the beautiful little child gone, but with her breast chapped from suckling him, along with all of the stigmata of recent delivery still on her body. Soon the matron midwives are sent again to check on the veracity of these facts and to verify that Magdalena’s virginity has not suffered from the event. A solemn 'Te Deum' is then sung in the cathedral and donations flow in like never before. But in truth this entire event was orchestrated and perpetrated by the devil, in particular by two demons named Balban and Patorrio, as we will soon discover......
A few people continue to gossip, however, so in an attempt to put a definitive end to the calumnies an exorcist monk arrives at the convent one morning, while the nun is in ecstasy. He approaches her and pushes two long needles in her body, one into her foot, and the other into her hand. The needles penetrate deeply, yet Magdalena remains perfectly insensitive to them, without any reaction whatsoever, which confirms in the minds of many that her ecstasies are authentic. When the needles are are withdrawn, a little stream of blood flows from the wounds.
Her fast from food is subjected to a stringent test
In spite of this proof, Sr. Magdalena is subjected to another test, this time concerning her abstinence from food; a fast which she allegedly has been carrying out for eleven years. For, it was being insinuated that certain novices were secretly bringing her food.
So the Abbess then requests that a vigilant guard of two monks from the nearby Franciscan monastery be positioned at the entrance to Magdalena's cell with a 24 hour watch; the two monks taking turns with others in a rotating schedule. Additionally, she even orders that the window shutters of the chamber be nailed shut. After a few days, it is discovered that Magdalena has suddenly disappeared. They look for her everywhere, and soon find her in the completely opposite part of the garden, asleep near a fountain. The monks assure the abbess that they have not relaxed their surveillance for an instant. For her part, Sr. Magdalena reveals that it is Saint Francis himself who transported her to this place. Of course nobody is able to give any explanation for this prodigy, and it is concluded that this is but another miracle in the extraordinary life of Sister Magdalena of the Cross.
A Cathederal is built in greater part through the donations given to Sister Magdalena
At this point, Sr. Magdalena now has a greater prestige than the Abbess herself. She is consulted for all the major decisions that need to be taken by the community. Her advice is even sought from outside, by great and small alke, and soon Magdalena and the other nuns who have befriended her are better informed of what is happening in the city than the Archbishop himself.
In 1523, the Archbishop is in need of a new Cathederal, and because of the abundant donations sent to Sr. Magdalena her convent of Saint Elizabeth of the Angels is the richest in Spain, and is able to furnish by far the greatest part of the money needed for its construction. Because of this, Sr. Magdalena is consulted on the new cathedral’s appearance.
Sr. Magdalena de la Cruz is elected Abbess
And so it is that for twenty-nine years Magdalena's notoriety has grown in proportion to her alleged virtues, and she has led an existence which, although full of sometimes astounding events, has contributed for the most part in a positive way to the convent’s enrichment through her practice of virtue and the apparent signs from heaven which inspire the faithful. Always seemingly pious and disposed to sacrifice, she inspires and fascinates the Spanish high clergy, and many feel that she should have a higher position in the convent more suited to her merits. It is suggested that she should become the Abbess, since as time passes the current Abbess is becoming infirm. In a show of alleged humility, Magdalena protests and she uses her poor administrative abilities as a reason, stating:
“Let them elect Sister Isabella of the Holy Trinity instead.”
However, many of her fellow nuns want her as abbess so much that, on February 17, 1533 Magdalena is elected Abbess, in presence of the Order’s Superior, by forty-four votes as opposed to the seven given to Isabella of the Holy Trinity.
The new abbess Magdalena encourages severe mortifications and penances
With Magdalena now in charge, in the beginning life in the convent hardly changes, except Mother Magdalena seems to have a strong penchant for the practice of severe penances, and she exhorts her religious sisters to do likewise. In doing so, the new Abbess sometimes provokes very difficult scenes.
And so it is that during Confession the sisters, by hypocrisy or fear of too difficult penances, now usually only accuse themselves of small faults. Hearing of this, Mother Magdalena enters into holy wrath which soon causes unspeakable fear into her sisters. She orders them to admit to more severe sins, and the poor nuns become frightened by the severity of the abbess. Some burst into tears, and there are a couple of others who astonishingly go into a sort of semi-possession, rolling on the floor and arching their bodies, before slowly returning back to normal.
To reprimand the more guilty ones for their alleged spiritual weaknesses, the Abbess orders some to crawl on their knees in the refectory and make the sign of the cross with their tongues on the shoes of all the assembled nuns.
Soon, the confessions of the nuns are more to Mother Magdalena's liking, supposedly revelaing the sisters true state of sin. Penances are now measured to the alleged gravity of the faults, for according to Abbess Magdalena, it is necessary to totally expiate sins, and to succeed in this endeavor the common cord whip disciplines are replaced with iron tipped ones.
As for the manner and the times in which the discipline (ie- scourge or lash/whip) should be applied, the Abbess modernises it. Before, when the occasion came for extreme penance and use of the discipline (ie -scourge or lash/whip), the candles were extinguished, so that no one else could see the nuns who chose to use this form of severe mortification. It was the nuns own choice to do so, and it was done in darkness so that no one might know who is choosing to discipline themselves. This is to preserve the nuns humility.
But from now on, Mother Magdalena orers that the candles are to remain lit, and the nuns are given all the necessary time to openly whip themselves in the performance of bodily mortification and penance, in the full light and prescence of the other nuns. According to her, the sight of the self inflicted penance should be an encouragement for all of them to likewise do the same, or be exposed to the indignation of others, along with provoking interior feelings of inadequacy and spiritual weakness and discouragement amongst many of the nuns. Knowing that Mother Magdalena was being guided by the devil at this time (which we shall soon see), it is assumed that these exraordinary penances were an attempt by the devil to instill spiritual pride in some of the nuns, and discouragement and despair in others
Gone now are the "little penances" consisting of begging food from each table; for according to Mother Magdalena a soul with pride can submit to that easily enough. For acording to her it is severe mortification which is the salt of true penitence. The nuns are now encouraged to remain on their knees on boards garnished with rounded iron nailheads; they are encouraged to wear cilices or belts with small iron spikes pointing inwards and are encouraged to stretched out in doorways so that the others nuns can walk upon them and some wear a crown made of thorns. Yet these extreme severities seemingly do not harm the outward devotion of most of the community to their new Abbess. She is twice re-elected with the majority of the votes. No one dares, it seems, to question her authority and power within the community.
Mother Magdalena relaxes other rules of the Order
Yet, surprsingly, the abbess Magdalena of the Cross relaxes some long-standing rules of the Order that have exsisted for centuries. This of course causes concern first and foremost amongst the other Franciscan communities in her order, and also with the Archbishop and the priests within the local Church itself. Yet, as in the past, her reputation for holiness goes before her, and she is allowed to relax many rules of the Order within her own convent.
St Francis allegedly appears to her, and dispenses her from Confession
Not only does Magdalena on the one hand encourage severe penances and mortifications, and on the other hand she relaxes some of the rules of the Order, but now apparently because of her "saintliness" Saint Francis, the founder of her Order allegedly appears to her one night and dispenses her from having to go to Confession in the future.
And for the confessions of her fellow nuns, she explains that it is an insult to them to be separated from their confessor by a grille. In her opinion, they are to sit face to face with the confessor. This causes quite a stir amongst not only the sisters, but also with the priests themselves, as such a practice is unheard of throughout Catholic Spain at that time.
Additionally, Mother Magdalena of the Cross authorises the sisters to no longer fast on Fridays "so as to be able to support even greater mortifications". It is the belief of many of her fellow sisters that this great reform of the Franciscan Order that she is undertaking will bring new prosperity to the convent, and to the Order itself. It is no wonder then that within a couple of decades the great Spanish reformer and mystic, the Carmelite St. Teresa of Avilia would face such heavy opposition to the reforms that she was endeavoring to instill within the Carmelite Order in Spain only a few short years later.
Soon afterwards, Mother Magdalena states that on the previous evening, a dead woman, (presumably a soul from purgatory?) had come to confess to her. She immediately wants the young nuns and novices to confess to her at night in her cell. This most recent innovation of course causes even more murmurs and doubts, particularly from Isabella of the Holy Trinity who still hasn’t forgotten being beaten by Magdalena in the 1533 elections, and on whom Magdalena (as Abbess) has inflicted the severest humiliations upon ever since.
Mother Magdalena receives the admiration of many top dignitaries
Yet, amidst these troubling new reforms and directives from Mother Magdalena, the admiration that she receives from the greats of her time seem to easily blunt any criticisms– for Queen Isabella of Spain herself sends Mother Magdalena her portrait and beseeches Magdalena for her prayers, and also the Archbishop of Seville often writes to her, and in his letters he calls her "the happiest creature in the world”, presumably because of all the alleged heavenly graces that she supposedly receives.
The noblest ladies, while pregnant and nearing their deliveries would send the layette to be blessed by her, as did the Empress Isabel before the birth of Philip II. When, in 1535, the Emperor Charles V was starting from Barcelona for the expedition to Tunis, he sent his banner to C6rdova that she might bestow on it her blessing. Cardinal Manrique, the inquisitor-general, and Giovanni di Reggio, the papal nuncio, made pilgrimages to visit her, and it is said that even the pope sent to ask her prayers for the Christian Republic, although it should be said that this was often a common practice of the time for prioresses such as Mother Magdalena who were considered devout, for since they were in charge of their respective convents, the pope and the high prelates would often request their prayers in union with the sisters in their convents, for the benefit of the Church or their local dioceses.
The doubts about Mother Magdalena begin to mount
And so it is that the revelations and prodigies that direct and guide Mother Magdalena seem to cause her to make decisions that are more and more contestable and disconcerting. And now once again she reveals more troubling revelations one morning:
“The Holy Virgin has appeared to me and led me about the corridors last night. She smiled at you, Sister" and then gazing at one of those who had been opposing her "but she only gave a long look of scorn to you.”
Understandably, these revelations strongly displease those who are the victims. Their protestations join those of the families who, outside, see their daughters refused entrance into the convent, because for example one of their ancestors were perhaps Jewish. Mother Magdalena of course receives her information from the Holy Virgin Herself, but in the families, indignation and anger provoke the growing attitude of doubt concerning the supposed heavenly guidance recieved by the abbess.
The 1542 elections bring a surprising result
During the next elections for abbess, Mother Magdalena receives only a handful of votes, and Isabella of the Holy Trinity is elected by a large margin. In reparation (and perhaps some retaliation for her own humiliations?) that same evening, she obliges Magdalena to make as many signs of the cross on the floor with her tongue as there are tiles in the refectory.
In the middle of this, Magdalena the former Abbess falls into ecstasy. Always when this would happen in the past, the sisters would carry her to her cell. Now, she is left where she is in the refectory for a good part of the night. After the "ecstasy" she finally returns to her cell on her own.
With doubts continuing to mount, Magdalena is again suspected of receiving food clandestinely, as she is still said to be fasting on a daily basis for over thirty years now.
Add to this, one day, a little iron box containing Communion wafers is brought to the Abbess. This box, found under Magdalena’s bed, seems to prove that the miracle of spontaneous Communion, repeated many times in the past, has been just a trick.
A demonic presence is detected
In 1543, she falls gravely ill. This seems a good occasion for the Abbess to oblige her to make a general confession of her entire life. But at the moment when the confessor puts his stole on in preparation for her confession, Magdalena immediately goes into convulsions. The priest suspects a demonic prescence, so he sends for a doctor whom he knows to be also well versed in the spiritual life. He examines Magdalena and notices that during one of her ecstasies, Magdalena’s eyes do not remained fixed, which is one of the distinctive marks of real ecstasies. However, he stabs her with a needle and obtains no reaction. But when he wisely dips the needle in holy water, Magdalena lets out a moan. This immediately draws suspicion and concern that Sr. Magdalena may be infested or even possessed by a demon.
As time progrsses, Magdalena's illness continues to get worse. Seemingly out of character, she is now worried, and often asks the doctor to keep her informed on the evolution of her illness. One December day, she hears:
“You are dying. You will not see another Christmas.”
Greatly anguished, Magdalena suddenly twists on her bed and then rises up and lets out mysterious words:
“1544!...The forty years as announced!; I am a cursed dog! Take me to Hell!”
Then she falls back into her bed and begins uttering revolting blasphemies before suddenly being taken from her bed by an inisible force and held in mid-air. She then falls heavily onto the bed several times, but apparently without hurting herself.
After some reflection, the Abbess decides to have a very old and experienced priest, Rev. Don Juan of Cordova called in, and she asks him to examine, and if need be exorcise Magdalena immediately. Not long after visiting Magdalena the old man looks at her and orders:
“I order you in the Name of Jesus to leave this poor woman and dare to say your name!”
The demon first lets out a terrible cry in which the name “Balban” is recognised. Later during exorcisms it was discovered that another demon named "Patorrio" was also influencing her. The demonic laughing intensifies and the words uttered are horrible. The demon glories in all the disorder that he has been able to cause over so many years in the convent, and swears that he will return...
Thus the Rev. Don Juan of Cordova is able to establish at least a solid case of demonic infestation, and perhaps even possession, and the news spreads first among the nuns, and soon afterwards amongst the clergy and townsppeople of Cordova, and later throughout the whole of Spain. The following day however, the Provincial of the Franciscans goes in person to the dying nun’s bedside. He remains there for several hours and receives a complete confession, of which he says nothing.
Yet all those who meet him afterwards notice that he is carrying a very heavy burden, a frightful secret; a nightmare which has been a whole lifetime; the lifetime of the “saint” Magdalena of the Cross, the diabolic Abbess of Cordova.
Sister Magdalena of the Cross admits to a 40 year pact with the devil
Next, an Inquisitor is sent to investigate the thorny matter by the express order of Cardinal Juan Pardo de Tavera, the Primate of Spain. He is much younger than the Rev. Don Juan of Cordova and he 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 fame and the respect of everyone, if she would consent to obey him always.
It is also satan who leaves his mark by touching her two fingers which from then forward stop growing. And it is also he who teaches her the subterfuge of the wafers, and he assists her with 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 evil caresses.
Upon hearing such disconcerting admissions, the Inquisitor is horrified and almost instictively he makes the sign of the Cross upon himself. Immediately, Sr. Magdalena starts to insult the priest with vile and abhorrent words. She then begins to roll around the floor in her cell, and bites anything she can, while striking indecent poses and mimicking the vile copulations that she has performed with Balban for nearly forty years.
Because he is an experienced Inquisitor, the good monk had asked the older, more experienced nuns to stay in the corridor to write down the fallen Magdalena's words, so as to be able to document and later serve as witnesses. From here, Sr. Magdalena de la Cruz' case is well documented and quickly prepared.
The Exorcisms of Sister Magdalena begin
During the extended course of interrogations that were part of the ongoing exorcism during which Balban is very reluctantly dislodged from Magdalena, it is discovered that the most wicked and hideous means were used to undermine Magdalena’s soul as a child. It was believed that he originally chose her because she was in fact very pious and devoted to God, and so in his terrible wickedness he earnestly sought to despoil God of one of His favorites. But, we shall soon see how God wins triumphantly in the end.
During the ongoing exorcisms it is learned that when Magdalena became a young adult, the demon Balban ceased to appear to her as a beautiful young man, as he had been doing since she was age five. One night, when the young girl was waiting for him as usual, he presented himself to her in the form of a schimmering mist which condenses and takes the form of a very tall man with long hair, who radiates 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 ground. She is then forced to contemplate this horrid creature who now rises before her in a horrible metamorphisis, from a man into a vile beast.
The infernal creature is repulsive and the possessed nun describes in horror his wide, flat nose, his twisted horns and his toothless mouth. He commanded her to immediately become his wife, and he assures her that she will not lose her virginity, and he promises that her apparent sainthood would only grow in measure with the supposed unimaginable pleasures that she would enjoy with him. Lacking in spiritual fortitude; vanquished, Magdalena then gives in, and it is again the dark-haired, and very attractive young man that she now receives in her.
Next she confesses that it was also the devil who came to feed her in secret, and that she had really been pregnant by him. She had been told 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 Spanish clergy and laity that he had made her pregnant with an montorous caterpillar, which escaped from her body with a loud wind that famous Christmas night, before changing into Balban, and re-possessing her with unprecedented vigor.
A few holy and well known individuals were not fooled
And so it is that the whole of Christendom discovers with horror that she of whom most everyone thought was God’s most-beloved, was in fact the most-beloved creature of the devil. Yet some of Sr. Magdalena's contemporaries were not so easily fooled by her false mysticism, like the great St Ignatius Loyola who was incredulous and in 1541, it is said that he severely reproved Martin de la Santa Cruz, who endeavored to win him over towards Sr. Magdalena, for accepting exterior signs without seeking for the true interior ones; and the great St John of Avila (who is soon to be declared a Doctor of the Church) was also very sceptical and, when he was in Cordova, he was discreetly denied access to her.
Sr. Magdalena of the Cross becomes like her namesake, St. Mary Magdalene and deeply repents of the demons that were possessing her
As the Scriptures relate, Jesus had cast out seven horrible demons that were possessing St. Mary Magdalene,(Mark 16:9) and she became known as the great, repentant sinner. Tradition tells us that she spent the rest of her life in a cave making penance and reparation for her manifold sins, and she became a most extraordinary Saint. In fact, Jesus chose St Mary Magdalene to be one of the first witnesses to His glorious Resurrection, as Holy Scripture tells us.
The judgement of the Religious Tribunal
As for the once renowned Sr. Magdelena de la Cruz, now fully exorcised and free of the demons Balban and Patorrio who are forced to reveal that they are leaving forever the body and soul of the possessed woman, she is then judged by the religious tribunal on May 3, 1546.
The Grand Inquisitor of the religious tribunal is Cardinal Jimenez, now the Primate of Spain, appointed by Isabella of Castile herself, and it is because of this that Magdalena is transferred to the Alcazar prisons to be further interrogated.
The demons Balban and Patorrio receive the majority of the blame
Sr. Magdalena is now sixty-one years old and she is extraordinarily repentant for all that she has done and she begs the court to put a rapid end to her torments and deliver her to the purifying flames. The judges however decide otherwise. Because of her great age, her sincere confessions and the quality of her repentance her deserved sentence is greatly mitigated. And rightfully so, they consider her to be a pitiful victim of the demon and perhaps they remember well the days of her glory when they too had exalted in having what was belived to be such an extraordinary saint in their midst. And so the inquisitors place a large portion of the blame on the demons Balban and Patorrio, most especially Balban, and not so much on Magdalena herself, since she was just an inexperienced youth when the demon(s) began influencing her. In short, they feel that as a youth Magdalena was heavily intimidated by the demon, so they conclude that her culpability is greatly lessened because of her age at the time.
The Catholic church relies on the principle that divine works are eternal and infinite. Those of the demon, on the other hand, are always limited in time and space. If Magdalena confesses, it is because, in 1544, her pact with the devil has arrived at its end. It is fear of Hell, as she says herself, which precipitates her revelations. And it is also God who in His infinite love and mercy inspires all of her admissions, and inspires and guides her deep repentance. And it is God who assures her that she will live if she confesses. She would become even more a heroine in repentance than she was in false virtue and fame.
So the judges decide that Sr. Magdalena 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. She is to remain exposed there for all to see for the time period of a High Mass, and that she should then abjure her manifold errors. For three months, she must keep her face exposed and cannot wear the black veil, and she must always walk last in all of the movements of convent life.
She abjures and repents in tears, in front of the Cathedral that she had had raised thanks to her deceptions in union with the demons Balban and Patorrio. She is also ordered to go to a different Franciscan convent in Burgos, where she lives long years or repentance and expiation without ever falling again into the slightest error.
At a young age, Magdalena succumed to a great pride and a false demonic promise that offered her prestige and power. But the great and small of her time were all later sure that her final deep humility and repentance had made her quite worthy of Paradise. Sister Magdalena de la Cruz died in 1560 at the age of 74.
Today, the name of this Sister Magdalena of the Cross is all but forgotten and her remarkable story is practically unknown. However, the great lawyer and writer, Maurice Garcon, for whom Magdalena is an important historical figure, documents how she was in fact very well-known throughout Christendom in the 16th and 17th centuries, and how many of the theological and demonological treatises make precise and detailed references to her case. In fact during this time period the many facts presented in theological books concerning demonic influences are illustrated by the statements and documents drawn from her trial.
And it is from the transcript of her trial that Maitre Maurice Garcon drew up his remarkable book on her life, using the transcript from her trial. Louis Pauwels used Maitre Garcon's book (among other references) for his resume of Sr Magdalena's life.
According to him there are only two copies of this very precious manuscript in the world, one in London and the other in Paris.
The important lessons learned through the extraordinary case of Magdalena of the Cross
Magdalena had arrived so high in her reputation for sainthood that she had been the counseller of kings, emperors, and above all, of the great Church dignitaries. Yet the trial’s conclusions about this are very interesting. The outcome of the long and detailed trial by the judges concludes that in the end the only real dupe in this affair is the devil, himself. His subterfuges have turned against him: by intimidating and perverting Magdalena, he has in the end only reinforced the faith of the people, and she who had been submissive to him for so long, gloriously escapes from his wicked rule in the end, through the power and mercy of God. And Truth overcomes the devils lies and the deceptions that he inspires through his demons.
For those who study the lives of visionaries and the mystics of the Church, Magdalena's extraordinary yet fraudulent mystical life replete with numerous alleged supernatural and mystical gifts that almost perfectly mimic the ones given to authentic mystics should serve as a very grave warning of how the devil can ape and mimic God's works, and can be exceedingly convincing while doing so. For as we see in the case of Sr. Magdalena, he was able to decieve even Cardinals, priests, theologians and others who were very experienced in the mystical life and spiritual matters.
The root cause of the ongoing deception: The necessity of spiritual direction and obedience
The important missing element which allowed for the ongoing demonic deceptions in the life of Sr. Magdalena was the absence of a priest spiritual director to guide and discern her alleged mystical gifts and supernatural graces. Obedience is the "litmus test" of the Church, and it seems that Sr. Magdalena was never subjected to obedience to a spiritual director. Had she been, the demonic deceptions would certainly have been detected much sooner. Mystics and visionaries should always be guided by a priest spiritual director, and it should always be the priest who directs the mystic, and NOT the mystic who directs the priest. A priest spiritual director represents Christ and His authority within the Church, and therefore mystical and supernatural graces should be subjected to this authority to help discern their authenticity.
For sure another one of the spiritual lessons is that all that glitters is not necessarily gold, and the devil does not counterfeit tin or copper, or even silver---he seeks to counterfeit gold. So we need to be very careful, with the help of God, not to be misled by his phony deceptions.
-May Jesus inspire, guide and protect us, and may the Blessed Virgin Mary cover us under Her mantle. St Michael the archangel, defend us in battle!
For those interested, I have written an article on judging visionaries and private revelations here.
Some references on the life of Sister Magdalena de la Cruz
"A History of the Inquisition of Spain" by Henry Charles Lea -Free online reading here.
"Magdeleine de la Croix-Abbesse Diabolique" by Maurice Garcon.
"Witches, devils, and doctors in the Renaissance" by Johann Weyer
"Histoire critique de l’Inquisition d’Espagne" by Juan Antonio Llorente
"The Diabolic Saint -Magdalena of the Cross" Lady Marilyn Kay Dennis, Parts 1-6