Matka Joanna od aniolów (Mother Joan of the Angels) (1961)




Director:  Jerzy Kawalerowicz.

Starring:  Lucyna Winnicka (Mother Joan of the Angels), Mieczyslaw Voit (Father Jozef Suryn/Rabbi), Anna Ciepielewska (Sister Malgorzata), Maria Chwalibóg (Antosia), Kazimierz Fabisiak (Father Brym), Stanislaw Jasiukiewicz (Chrzaszczewski), Zygmunt Zintel (Wincenty Wolodkowicz), Jerzy Kaczmarek (Kaziuk), Franciszek Pieczka (Odryn), Jaroslaw Kuszewski (Juraj), Lech Wojciechowski (Piatkowski), Marian Nosek (Dominican Priest), Jerzy Walden (Dominican Priest), Marian Nowak, Zygmunt Malawski (Exorcist).

1630s; womanizing priest Grandier executed for sorcery & the next priest tries to heal the nuns


Spoiler Warning:  below is a summary of the entire movie. 

The new priest Father Jozef Suryn arises at the local tavern in town.   Wincenty Wolodkowicz, a local busybody, is amused by the priest in the dainty way he eats his bread at the table.  The waitress/entertainer Antosia brings the priest some soup.  Wincenty gets her to tell the priest something about his future.  She tells him:  "You will be loved by a humpback."

Wincenty tells the priest that there are a lot of queer things happening at the convent.  A man named Kaziuk agrees.  There is a lot of spying and reporting of things said to the priests at the convent.  At the convent there are currently four priests to do the exorcisms of the nuns.  There were twelve of them when Father Garniec was sentenced to be burned at the stake.  Father Garniec was accused of being a sorcerer by the nuns.  Now the nuns play some wild pranks in the convent. 

Walking to the convent, Father Suryn is greeted by Father Brym who now takes care of Father Garniec's two children.  Father Brym refers to the nuns as the hags who ruined Father Garniec.  Sister Margaret opens the door for Father Suryn.  She tells the new priest that the Reverend Mother has been waiting for him to save the nuns.  Father Suryn speaks with Mother Joan of the Angels.  She tells him that there are eight demons harming the nuns.  She adds that Father Garniec was burned at the stake because of her.  The mother superior kisses Father Suryn's hand intensely and for a long time.  But then, all of a sudden, she acts as if possessed by the devil.  Father Suryn is very upset by this demonic display.  The nuns dance around in the convent.  Sister Margaret comes for a visit to the bar.  She says that the new priest is just too weak to be of much help to the nuns.  A wealthy nobleman named Chrzaszczewski takes an interest in the pretty Sister Margaret. 

Father Suryn and Mother Joan both flagellate themselves with leather whips.  A little later Mother Joan kisses Father Suryn's hand so fervently that he barks at her:  "Leave me alone."  Father Suryn pays a visit to the Rabbi of the town.  The rabbi feels as though the priest came to him for some help with his demon problems.  He suggests to the priest that perhaps Satan created the world.  The men cannot see eye to eye and they soon part company with neither party happy. 

Mother Joan tells Father Suryn that she likes being possessed and that she willingly let the devil in to her body and mind.  The priest kisses the nun's hands affectionately.  She tells him:  "Make a saint of me."   The nun then grabs the father's head between her two hands.  Supposedly the devil transfers out of the nun's body to the priest's body and he shrieks very loudly and falls backwards. 

Father Brym is concerned about the new priest and suggests that he go on a long journey to relax and get himself together.  But Father Suryn is not interested saying about the devil:  "Let him stay in me." 

At the local bar Chrzaszczewski dances with Margaret, now dressed in a pretty, off-the-shoulders dress.  Father Suryn enters the tavern and the dancing stops immediately.  Everyone looks guilty of doing something bad.  Father Suryn tells them to continue dancing for God will forgive them.  Father Suryn gives the impression of being possessed himself.  He believes that he has taken Mother Joan's devil into himself. 

And now Father Suryn decides to obey the voice of the demon.  He will commit some dastardly deed to make sure that the devil never leaves his body to return to Mother Joan.  The devil tells the priest to take up the axe. 

Chrzaszczewski wakes up next morning and looks at Margaret in bed.  Quickly he decides to leave and he and his aide ride off on horseback.  Margaret wakes up to see the two men riding away and concludes that the nobleman has abandoned her. 

Wincenty comes into the tavern with the news that Kaziuk and another man have been killed with an axe.  Margaret checks some of the rooms in the tavern and finds Father Suryn still clutching the bloody axe.  He tells Margaret to go back to the convent and tell Mother Joan that she ran away for her sake to make sure the devil stayed in Father Suryn.  Margaret returns and Mother Joan cries with Margaret over her tale. 

Not quite a good movie.  I must admit a bias.  I just can't relate to this talk of devils and demons and sorcery.  I did not like listening to the debates within the movie because the whole lingo is foreign to me.  And I just don't approve of it.  It now seems all so completely un-scientific and stupid.  It's like debating how many angels can sit on the head of a pin.  Maybe because I was "prejudiced" I had to have some help.  I read some of the reviews and the history of the time.  This tale about something that happened in 17th century France is of course now set in Poland.  And, according to the words of the director of the film, it is more about what a conservative would call anti-Catholicism and what a liberal would call enlightenment.  The director scolds the church for being so non-progressive on the issue of relations between the sexes.  A priest and a nun fall in love but this love has to be repressed because of church dictates.   The repression takes the form of feeling as though they are beset by the devil, thus the irrational behavior of those who are repressed emotionally.   It just seems to me that it is natural for liberals to fight the more conservative beliefs associated with traditional religion. 

Patrick Louis Cooney, Ph. D.


Historical Background:


The writer Alduous Huxley wrote a book entitled "The Devils of Loudon" based on events that took place in early 17th century France.

In the early 1600s--  the nuns in the little town of Loudon, France accused handsome monk Father Grenadier of bringing devils into the convent.  The devils were supposedly having sex with the nuns.

Cardinal Richelieu hated dissent within the French Catholic church.  He wanted to squash it.  And in the Loudon case, he saw an opportunity to snuff out a liberal churchman's dissent.  So the powerful clergyman had the case brought to Paris for prosecution.

The nuns were testified on the witness stand.  (An interesting debating point occurred to some.  How could the nuns tell the truth if they are possessed and controlled by the devil.)

In 1635, the trial of the devils of Loudon was being conducted.

Grenadier was burned at the stake. 


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