Anne Catherine Emmerich

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Beata Anne Catherine Emmerich
Anna Katharina Emmerick Saint Visionary.jpg
Handicapped, Virgin, Penitent, Marian Visionary and Stigmatist
Born 8 September 1774
Coesfeld, Westphalia, Holy Roman Empire
Died 9 February 1824(1824-02-09) (aged 49)
Dülmen, Westphalia, German Confederation
Venerated in Roman Catholic Church
Beatified 3 October 2004, St. Peter's Basilica, Vatican City by Pope John Paul II
Feast 9 February
Attributes Bedridden with bandaged head and holding a crucifix

Blessed Anne Catherine Emmerich (German: Anna Katharina Emmerick; 8 September 1774 – 9 February 1824) was a Roman Catholic Augustinian Canoness Regular of Windesheim, mystic, Marian visionary, ecstatic and stigmatist.[1]

She was born in Flamschen, a farming community at Coesfeld, in the Diocese of Münster, Westphalia, Germany, and died at age 49 in Dülmen, where she had been a nun, and later became bedridden. Emmerich is notable for her visions on the life and passion of Jesus Christ, reputed to be revealed to her by the Blessed Virgin Mary under religious ecstasy.[2]

During her bedridden years, a number of well-known figures were inspired to visit her.[1] The poet Clemens Brentano interviewed her at length and wrote two books based on his notes of her visions.[3] The authenticity of Brentano's writings has been questioned and critics have characterized the books as "conscious elaborations by a poet" and a "well-intentioned fraud" by Brentano.[4][5]

Emmerich was beatified on 3 October 2004, by Pope John Paul II.[1] However, the Vatican focused on her own personal piety rather than the religious writings associated to her by Clemens Brentano.[citation needed] Emmerich has a widespread devotion among Traditionalist Catholics[citation needed]. Her documents of postulation towards canonization is handled by the Priestly Fraternity of St. Peter.

Early life

She was born as Anna Katharina into a family of poor farmers and had nine brothers and sisters. From an early age, she had to help with the house and farm work. Her schooling was rather brief, but all those who knew her noticed that she felt drawn to prayer from an early age.[1] At twelve, she started to work at a large farm in the vicinity for three years and later learned to be a seamstress and worked as such for several years.[6]

She applied for admission to various convents, but she was rejected because she could not afford a dowry. Eventually, the Poor Clares in Münster agreed to accept her, provided she would learn to play the organ. She went to the organist Söntgen in Coesfeld to study music and learn to play the organ, but she never got around to it because the poverty of the Söntgen family prompted her to work there to help them, and she sacrificed her small savings for that.[6] Later, one of the Söntgen daughters entered the convent with her.[1]

Religious life

In 1802, at the age of 28, Anne Catherine and her friend Klara Söntgen finally managed to join the Augustinian nuns at the convent of Agnetenberg in Dülmen. The following year, Anne Catherine took her religious vows.[1] In the convent, she became known for her strict observance of the order's rule; but, from the beginning to 1811, she was often quite ill and had to endure great pain. At times, her zeal and strict adherence to rules disturbed some of the more tepid sisters, who were puzzled by her weak health and religious ecstasies.[6]

When Jérôme Bonaparte, King of Westphalia, suppressed the convent in 1812, she found refuge in a widow's house.


Birthplace of Anne Catherine Emmerich in Coesfeld-Flamschen

In early 1813 marks of the stigmata were reported on her body. The parish priest called in two doctors to examine her. When after three months, word of the phenomenon "leaked out", he notified the Vicar-General. As the news excited considerable talk in the town, and the ecclesiastical authorities conducted a lengthy investigation. Many doctors wished to examine the case, and although efforts were made to discourage the curious, there were, nonetheless, many visitors whose rank or status gained them entry.[7] During this time, the poet and romanticist, Clement Bretano, first visited.

At the end of 1818 the periodic bleeding of her hands and feet had stopped and the wounds had closed. While many in the community viewed the stigmata as real, others considered Emmerich an impostor, and her confessor and those associated with her as conspiring to perpetrate a fraud. In August 1819 the civil authorities intervened and moved Emmerich to a different house, where she was kept under observation for three weeks. The members of the commission could find no evidence of fraud and were divided in their opinions.[7]

As the cross on her breast-bone had the unusual shape of a "Y", similar to a cross in the local church of Coesfeld, Thurston surmised that "the subjective impressions of the stigmatic exercise a preponderating influence upon the manifestations which appear exteriorly."[7]

Visions and inspirations

Anne Catherine Emmerich said that as a child she had visions, in which she talked with Jesus, had seen the souls in Purgatory, for whom she prayed, and also the core of Holy Trinity in the form of three concentric interpenetrating full spheres - the biggest but less lit sphere represented the Father core, the medium sphere the Son core, and the smallest and most lit sphere the Holy Spirit core. Each sphere of omnipresent God is extended toward infinity beyond God's core placed in Heaven.

Based on Anne Catherine's growing reputation, during her life a number of figures who were influential in the renewal movement of the Church early in the 19th century came to visit her, among them Clemens von Vischering, the Archbishop of Cologne; Johann Michael Sailer, the Bishop of Ratisbon, Bernhard Overberg and authors Luise Hensel and Friedrich Stolberg.[1] Clemens von Vischering, who was the vicar‑general at that time, called Emmerich "a special friend of God" in a letter he wrote to Stolberg.[1]

Clemens Brentano's visits

The reconstruction of Emmerich's room with the original furniture, at the Holy Cross church in Dülmen, Germany

At the time of her second examination in 1819, the famous poet Clemens Brentano was induced to visit her. According to Brentano, she immediately recognized him, and he claimed she told him he had been pointed out to her as the man who was to enable her to fulfill God's command, namely, to write down for the good of innumerable souls the revelations made to her. Brentano became one of Emmerich's many supporters at the time, believing her to be a "chosen Bride of Christ". Suzanne Stahl claims that Brentano's own personal complexes were a factor in substituting Emmerich as a maternal figure in his own life.[3]

From 1819 until her death in 1824 Brentano took notes of the conversations he had about her visions, filling many notebooks with notes about scenes from the New Testament and the life of the Virgin Mary. Given that Emmerich only spoke the Westphalian dialect, Brentano could not transcribe her words directly, and often could not even take notes in her presence.[8] Brentano would quickly write a set of notes based on what he remembered of the conversations he had with Emmerich in standard German when he returned to his own apartment.[8] Brentano edited the notes later, years after the death of Emmerich.[8]

About ten years after Emmerich's recounting of her visions, Brentano completed editing his records for publication.[8] In 1833 he published his first volume, The Dolorous Passion of Our Lord Jesus Christ according to the Meditations of Anne Catherine Emmerich. Brentano then prepared The Life of the Blessed Virgin Mary From the Visions of Anna Catherine Emmerich for publication, but he died in 1842. The book was published posthumously in 1852 in Munich.

Catholic priest Father Karl Schmoger edited Brentano's manuscripts and from 1858 to 1880 published the three volumes of The Life of Our Lord. In 1881 a large illustrated edition followed, Schmoger also penned a biography of Anne Catherine Emmerich in two volumes, which has been republished in English language editions.

The Vatican does not endorse the authenticity of the books written by Brentano.[9][10] However, it views their general message as "an outstanding proclamation of the gospel in service to salvation".[11] Other critics have been less sympathetic and have characterized the books Brentano produced from his notes as "conscious elaborations of an overwrought romantic poet".[3]

Brentano's writings on Emmerich says she believed that Noah's son Ham was the progenitor of "the black, idolatrous, stupid nations" of the world. The "Dolorous Passion" also reveals a "clear anti-semitic strain throughout",[12] with Brentano writing that Emmerich believed that, "Jews ... strangled Christian children and used their blood for all sorts of suspicious and diabolical practices"[13]

Allegations of partial fabrication by Brentano

The tomb of Anne Catherine at the Holy Cross church in Dülmen, Germany

In 1892 when the case for Anne Catherine's beatification was submitted to the Vatican, a number of experts in Germany began to compare and analyze Brentano's original notes from his personal library with the books he had written.[4] The analysis of Brentano's personal library, after his death by experts in Germany revealed various apocryphal biblical sources, maps and travel guides among his papers which could have been used to enhance the narrations by Emmerich.[4]

In 1923, in his theological thesis, German priest Winfried Hümpfner, who had compared Brentano's original notes to the published books, wrote that Clemens Brentano had fabricated much of the material he had attributed to Emmerich.[5][14]

By 1928 the experts had come to the conclusion that only a small portion of Brentano's books could be safely attributed to Emmerich.[4][5]

At the time of the beatification of Catherine Anne in 2004, the Vatican position on the authenticity of the books produced by Brentano was stated by Father Peter Gumpel, who was involved in the study of the issues for the Congregation for the Causes of the Saints: "It is absolutely not certain that she ever wrote this. There is a serious problem of authenticity".[5][9][10] According to Gumpel, the writings attributed to Emmerich were "absolutely discarded" by the Vatican as part of her beatification process.[4]

Death and burial

Anne Catherine began to grow ever weaker during the summer of 1823. She died on 9 February 1824 in Dülmen and was buried in the graveyard outside the town, with a large number of people attending her funeral.[1] Her grave was reopened twice in the weeks following the funeral, due to a rumor that her body had been stolen, but the coffin and the body were found to be intact.[1][6] In February 1975, Emmerich's remains were moved to the Holy Cross Church in Dülmen, where they rest today.

House of the Virgin Mary

House of the Virgin Mary now a chapel in Ephesus, Turkey

Neither Brentano nor Emmerich had ever been to Ephesus, and indeed the city had not yet been excavated; but visions contained in The Life of The Blessed Virgin Mary were used during the discovery of the House of the Virgin Mary, the Blessed Virgin's supposed home before her Assumption, located on a hill near Ephesus, as described in the book Mary's House.[15]

In 1881, a French priest, the Abbé Julien Gouyet used Emmerich's book to search for the house in Ephesus and found it based on the descriptions. He was not taken seriously at first, but sister Marie de Mandat-Grancey persisted until two other priests followed the same path and confirmed the finding.[16][17]

The Holy See has taken no official position on the authenticity of the location yet, but in 1896 Pope Leo XIII visited it and in 1951 Pope Pius XII initially declared the house a Holy Place. Pope John XXIII later made the declaration permanent. Pope Paul VI in 1967, Pope John Paul II in 1979 and Pope Benedict XVI in 2006 visited the house and treated it as a shrine.[18]


An 18th century drawing of Anne Catherine

The process of Anne Catherine's beatification was started in 1892 by the Bishop of Münster. However, in 1928 the Vatican suspended the process when it was suspected that Clemens Brentano had fabricated some of the material that appeared in the books he wrote, and had attributed to Ann Catherine.[19]

In 1973 the Congregation for the Causes of the Saints allowed the case for her beatification to be re-opened, provided it only focused on the issue of her life, without any reference to the possibly doctored material produced by Clemens Brentano.[19]

In July 2003 the Congregation for the Causes of the Saints promulgated a decree of a miracle attributed to her, and that paved the way for her beatification.[19][20]

On 3 October 2004 Anne Catherine Emmerich was beatified by Pope John Paul II.[21] However, the books produced by Brentano were set aside, and her cause adjudicated solely on the basis of her own personal sanctity and virtue.[5] Father Peter Gumpel who was involved in the analysis of the matter at the Vatican told Catholic News Service: "Since it was impossible to distinguish what derives from Sister Emmerich and what is embroidery or additions, we could not take these writings as a criteria. Therefore, they were simply discarded completely from all the work for the cause".[9][10]

Cinematic portrayals

In 2003 actor Mel Gibson brought Anne Catherine Emmerich's vision to prominence as he used her book The Dolorous Passion as a key source for his movie The Passion of the Christ.[8][22][23] Gibson stated that Scripture and "accepted visions" were the only sources he drew on, and a careful reading of Emmerich's book shows the film's high level of dependence on it.[8][22] In his review of the movie in the Catholic publication America, Jesuit priest John O' Malley used the terms "devout fiction" and "well-intentioned fraud" to refer to the writings of Clemens Brentano.[4][5]

In 2007 German director Dominik Graf made the movie The Pledge as a dramatization of the encounters between Anne Catherine (portrayed by actress Tanja Schleiff) and Clemens Brentano, based on a novel by Kai Meyer.[24][25]

See also


  1. 1.0 1.1 1.2 1.3 1.4 1.5 1.6 1.7 1.8 1.9 Vatican Biography
  2. Emmerich, Anna Catherine: The Dolorous Passion of Our Lord Jesus Christ ISBN 978-0-89555-210-5 page viii
  3. 3.0 3.1 3.2 Suzanne Stahl, "Between God and Gibson: German Mystical and Romantic Sources of The Passion of the Christ", The German Quarterly Vol. 78, No. 4, Fall, 2005 Link to JSTOR
  4. 4.0 4.1 4.2 4.3 4.4 4.5 Father John O' Malley A Movie, a Mystic, a Spiritual Tradition America, 15 March 2004 [1]
  5. 5.0 5.1 5.2 5.3 5.4 5.5 Emmerich, Anne Catherine, and Clemens Brentano. The Dolorous Passion of Our Lord Jesus Christ. Anvil Publishers, Georgia, 2005 pages 49-56 (Note: the hard copy of this book has a wrong ISBN printed within its frontmatter, but the text (and the wrong ISBN) show up on Google books as published by Anvil Press)
  6. 6.0 6.1 6.2 6.3 Graham, Edward. "Ven. Anne Catherine Emmerich." The Catholic Encyclopedia. Vol. 5. New York: Robert Appleton Company, 1909. 24 Feb. 2014
  7. 7.0 7.1 7.2 Thurston, Herbert. "The Problem of Anne Catherine Emmerich", The Month, Vol. 138, p. 238, Simpkin, Marshall, and Company, 1921
  8. 8.0 8.1 8.2 8.3 8.4 8.5 Jesus and Mel Gibson's The Passion of the Christ by Kathleen E. Corley, Robert Leslie Webb 2004 ISBN 0-8264-7781-X pages 160-161
  9. 9.0 9.1 9.2 John Thavis, Catholic News Service 4 February 2004: "Vatican confirms papal plans to beatify nun who inspired Gibson film" [2]
  10. 10.0 10.1 10.2 John Thavis, Catholic News Service 4 October 2004: "Pope beatifies five, including German nun who inspired Gibson film" [3].
  11. "Her words, which have reached innumerable people in many languages from her modest room in Dülmen through the writings of Clemens Brentano, are an outstanding proclamation of the gospel in service to salvation right up to the present day". Quote from 18th paragraph of Vatican online biography Anna Katharina Emmerick (1774-1824)
  12. Melissa Croteau, Apocalyptic Shakespeare: Essays of Vision and Chaos in Recent Film Adaptations, McFarland, 2009
  13. Paula Frederiksen, On the Passion of the Christ, California, 2006, p. 203
  14. Winfried Hümpfner, Clemens Brentanos Glaubwürdigkeit in seinen Emmerick-Aufzeichnungen; Untersuchung über die Brentano-Emmerick-frage unter erstmaliger Benutzung der tagebücher Brentanos Würzburg, St. Rita-verlag und -druckerei, 1923 (in German)
  15. Mary's House by Donald Carroll (20 April 2000) Veritas, ISBN 0-9538188-0-2
  16. The Ancient Traditions of the Virgin Mary's Dormition and Assumption by Stephen J. Shoemaker 2006 ISBN 0-19-921074-8 page 76
  17. Chronicle of the living Christ: the life and ministry of Jesus Christ by Robert A. Powell 1996 ISBN 0-88010-407-4 page 12
  18. Zenit News
  19. 19.0 19.1 19.2 EWTN on Emmerich
  20. L'Osservatore Romano N. 29, 16 July 2003, 2.
  21. [4] Zenit News Agency article of 3 October 2004.
  22. 22.0 22.1 Mel Gibson's Passion and philosophy by Jorge J. E. Gracia 2004 ISBN 0-8126-9571-2 page 145
  23. Movies in American History: An Encyclopedia edited by Philip C. DiMare 2011 ISBN 1-59884-296-X page 909
  24. Variety Feb 27. 2008
  25. IMDB entry


English editions of Emmerich's visions


  • Corcoran, Rev. Mgr. "Anne Katherina Emmerich," The American Catholic Quarterly Review, Vol. X, 1885.
  • Frederickson, Paula. ed. On the Passion of the Christ. Los Angeles: University of California Press, 2006.
  • Kathleen Corley and Robert Webb. ed. Jesus and Mel Gibson's Passion of the Christ. The Film, the Gospel and the Claims of History. London: Continuum, 2004. ISBN 0-8264-7781-X
  • Ram, Helen. The Life of Anne Catharine Emmerich, Burns and Oates, 1874.
  • Schmoger, Karl. Life of Anna Katherina Emmerich. Rockford, Illinois: Tan Books and Publications, 1974. ISBN 0-89555-061-X (set); ISBN 0-89555-059-8 (volume 1); ISBN 0-89555-060-1 (volume 2)
  • Wegener, Thomas. Life of Sister Anna Katherina Emmerich: New York: Benziger Brothers: 1898.

External links