Warning! This Ain’t Your Gramma’s Nun.

Terrifying Real-Life Encounter Inspires New Horror Film “The Nun”…

“I feel the presence of a nun in this church…”

—Lorraine Warren, psychic investigator/demonologist, speaking to a group of psychic researchers and photographers (including husband Ed Warren) at Borley Rectory in England, during a trip there in the 1970s; it is noted that Lorraine uttered the remark immediately upon entering the building at 12:00 A.M.


The Nun, played by the amazing Bonnie Aarons, first appeared in the 2016 James Wan film The Conjuring 2: The Enfield Poltergeist, a sequel of sorts (but then again not really) to Wan’s 2013 film The Conjuring (sequels, perhaps, in that both films are based on true stories straight out of the case files of Catholic demonologists and founders of the New England Society for Psychical Research, Ed and Lorraine Warren—played in both films by Patrick Wilson and Vera Farmiga, respectively). In The Conjuring 2, Aaron’s character, called “Valek” in the annals of Hell, is a demon that’s attached itself psychically to Farmiga’s character—medium and demonologist Lorraine Warren—and has manifested itself to her since she was a child in the form of a Catholic Nun…as an insult to and a perversion of  Warren’s Christian faith.


In the 1970s, demonologists Ed and Lorraine Warren saw a spectral nun in a British abbey. Real-life psychic investigators for the Catholic Church, the Warrens investigated many of the workd’s most visible—and horrifying—spirit and demonic encounters including The Amityville Horror, The Conjuring incident, the Perronne family hauntings, and the Enfield poltergeist infestation in England.

In The Nun, the latest movie in the ever-expanding Conjuring universe, a cowl-clad demon with piercing yellow eyes and dagger-like teeth haunts the cloisters of a Romanian abbey and terrorizes local clergy. The film is a prequel to The Conjuring, which detailed the real case files of noted demonologists Ed and Lorraine Warren. Those case files have also inspired film classics such as The Conjuring 2, Anabelle, Annabelle: Creation, and the 1979 horror classic The Amityville Horror.

So how much of the story about The Nun is based on actual events?

The Warren’s son-in-law, Tony Spera, said that The Nun’s ecclesiastical phantom bears resemblance to a “real” spectral nun the Warrens encountered during a 1970s trip to the much-haunted Borley Rectory in southern England.

Below: Rare color photographs of Borley Rectory taken in 1929 (left) and 1943 after the fire (right) by England’s own famous (and infamous) ghost hunter Harry Price (Source: www.harrypricewebsite.co.uk/Borley)

After learning about a string of eerie events at the church—including bells ringing without warning, rumors of a headless monk thought to have left cryptic messages on walls, and a ghostly nun spotted walking around at night—the Warrens recruited several photographers to accompany them in a quest to capture evidence of the spirit.

They ended up coming face-to-face with the churchyard’s ghost who was, according to lore, a nun buried alive in the brick walls of the convent centuries ago after having an affair with a monk.

“I feel the presence of a nun in this church,” Lorraine apparently told the group, as they entered the building around midnight.


Image of the Borley Rectory nun caught on camera. Photo by Tony Spera.

It was pitch black, and there were no lit candles or lights. Their photographers snapped photos on a 35mm camera with infrared film. When they developed the images, what appeared to be a spectral nun was seen walking down the aisle, praying.


Photo taken of psychic investigator and demonologist Lorraine Warren (far right) inside the church at Borley Rectory. Photo by Tony Spera.

“Was it the Borley nun? Definitely could have been,” says Spera, who has run the Warren’s New England Society for Psychic Research—where the possessed Raggedy Ann doll named Annabelle, which appeared in The Conjuringand subsequent spinoffs Anabelle and Annabelle: Creation, is on display—since Ed passed away in 2006.

“Is The Nun based on that experience?” Spera asks. “I think Hollywood takes bits and pieces of different stories and puts them together… They couldn’t just come up with [The Nun] out of the blue.”

A rep for Warner Bros. said filmmakers were unavailable to comment.

Fans of The Conjuring universe will have certainly recognized the Nun as the same specter that terrorized Ed and Lorraine in The Conjuring 2. In both films, the dark, towering figure dressed in religious habit is named Valak and its existence is rooted in established mythology.

According to The Lesser Key of Solomon, a book on demonology from the 17th century, Valak (also spelled Valac, Volac, Valax, etc.) is the Grand President of Hell. In the text, Valak appears not as a nun, but as a child with angel wings and delivers “true answers of hidden treasures” while commanding a legion of demons.


The Nun is played by the talented and lovely Bonnie Aarons.

Spera says that Valak’s look in both films was inspired by a conversation between The Conjuring 2‘s director James Wan and Lorraine about an experience she had shortly after investigating the Amityville horror house in 1976.

“Lorraine was at home in her bed, reading, when she started to feel a presence” Spera says. “Something wrong, and she saw a black whirlwind of black mass enter the room, it was like a vortex blacker than the night.”


The infamous Borley Rectory in 1944–after the fire. Photo by David E. Scherman.

Lorraine prayed to be released “from the forces of evil,” he adds. “She told it, ‘Leave and go back where you came from!’ It vanished as she kept repeating those words.”


A group of young men digging In the ruins of Borley Rectory in 1955, hunting for the skeleton of a ‘Phantom Nun’. Photo by Thurston Hopkins.

Filmmaker James Wan told Gizmodo two years ago that his first thought after hearing about Lorraine’s encounter with the pitch black “swirling tornado vortex,” was: “Oh, crap, that’s going to be a CGI character.”

“I didn’t want to do that, ” said Wan. “And so, it kind of took me awhile to cement in my head what this vision was. And it came across eventually in a very organic way. Because it is a demonic vision that haunts her, that only attacks her–I wanted something that would attack her faith. Something that would threaten the safety of her husband. And so that was eventually how the idea of this very iconographic image of a holy icon cemented in my head.”

Today, Lorraine Warren is 91 years old and, due to health issues, has been unable to see The Nun.

“But I think she would enjoy it,” Spera says. “She and Ed used to say that any movie that portrays evil as real and the devil as real is good, because it warns people that the devil exists and to not dabble in occult practices.”

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–Image sources, unless otherwise noted: Pinterest, Wikipedia, & IMDb.


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