Exorcism in the Island of Cefalonia: The end of an era


1 Aghia Sophia  Children's Hospital, Thivon & Levathias Str., 11527 Athens, Greece
Tel. 301-7798748, Fax. 301-7757496
2University of Calgary, Alberta Children's Hospital, 1820 Richmond Rd S.W., Calgary AB, T2T5C7, Canada
Tel. 403-5412956, Fax. 403-2297245


In 1958 Peter Hartocollis published his observations on the exorcism activities taking place at the monastery of Saint Gerassimos in Cefalonia. The remains of the Saint were known to expel evil spirits from mentally ill patients who were brought close to him on the occasion of his name day (August 16). Patients would become agitated and verbally insult the Saint, yelling that "he was burning them". Some among them would get into seizure-like activity and fall to the ground unconscious. The process of exorcism taking place at the proximity of Saint Gerassimos was identical to that reported in the lives and acts of saints in the early centuries of Christianity.

In the summer of 1996 the authors visited Cefalonia in order to observe the activities of pilgrimage and any practice of exorcism on August 16. Objective of the investigation was to find out whether the centuries' old tradition of exorcism was still active. The authors spent three days at the monastery, the surrounding area and in two nearby villages observing activities and interviewing people familiar with the cult of the Saint. The exorcism activities have altogether seized to exist. The priest officiating the services was able to remember only a single patient who displayed behaviours suggestive of possession about two years earlier. At the premises of the monastery and the surrounding area there were no psychotic patients that could be identified. The local doctor and the ambulance crew present reported that no one among the pilgrims had "fainted". Instead, the nunnery (there were no monks anymore) was taking care of two women (invested nuns) with schizophrenia who were treated by a psychiatrist in the capital of the island, Argostoli, with anti-psychotic drugs. It was apparent that beliefs in possession and exorcism have vanished. However, thousands of pilgrims continue to gather to celebrate the Saint's name day.


Panel 8B   (Shock)
Friday, 17 September 1999

The Neurosciences and Psychiatry: Crossing the Boundaries

Joint Congress of the European Association for the History of Psychiatry (EAHP), the European Club for the History of Neurology (ECHN), and the International Society for the History of the Neurosciences (ISHN)

Zurich and Lausanne, Switzerland, 13-18 September 1999