The exorcism had been planned for 3pm on September 11, 2001. We were not to know at the time of scheduling that at that precise moment 3,600 miles away hundreds of men and women were tumbling, cascading, dying and being turned into dust as the South Tower of the World Trade Centre disintegrated on the Manhattan shore of the Hudson River in New York.
At the very moment when Fr Michael Seed was to begin the ancient rite of banishing the devil in a Soho basement, more than 100 poor souls had already jumped to their deaths from the highest floors of the burning North Tower of the World Trade Centre.
And when he was to deliver the exhortation, "From all evil, deliver us, O Lord, From the snares of the devil," dozens of stricken and trapped victims were still making mobile telephone calls to loved ones who could do absolutely nothing to save them.
Today, on the 10th anniversary of the haunting deaths of 2,753 people in the Twin Towers atrocity, I remember precisely where I was as Satan was unleashed in Manhattan. The awesome evil of 9/11 exactly coincided with a genuine, well-meaning and quaint attempt to banish evil from a supposedly possessed pub called The French House in Dean Street in Soho.
The landlady, Lesley, a devout believer in the power of God, had asked Franciscan friar (and celebrity converter) Fr Michael to bring his holy water and exorcism ritual to the French House for 3pm on September 11. She was convinced that evil spirits had somehow been released during the repair of a Thames Water leak in the medieval subterranean chamber where she kept her wine, spirits and beer.
She had become alarmed when framed photographs of well-known customers had begun falling off the walls of the famous bar, a Second World War location for the French resistance. The customers subsequently died. She believed evil spirits released from the ancient walls of the cellar were responsible. She wanted them banished.
As a friend I had been invited to bear witness to the ancient ritual. The appointed hour was 3pm London time. In New York it was 9am. Fourteen minutes earlier, American Airlines Flight 11 had plunged into the 94th floor of the North Tower of the World Trade Centre. It fatally severed the building with a fireball that killed hundreds and trapped still more on the 14 floors above. A total of 1,355 people at or above the point of impact were trapped and died of smoke inhalation, fell or jumped from the tower to escape the smoke and flames, or were killed in the building's eventual collapse.
A further 107 people below the point of impact did not survive. We did not know then that hijackers had directed a third plane into the Pentagon and a fourth had crashed in Pennsylvania. In all, almost 3,000 souls had perished that bright September morning of 9/11.
Four minutes after we should have started praying, United Airlines Flight 175 hurtled explosively into the neighbouring South Tower. One stairwell remained intact, allowing 18 people to escape from above the point of impact. In all, 630 people died in the South Tower. Casualties were significantly reduced by the decision of some occupants to start evacuating when the North Tower was struck.
We were not to know all of this appalling carnage and destruction as we enjoyed a pre-ritual glass of wine in the crowded ground floor bar of the French. But Sky News had just switched to live pictures of the burning North Tower, suggesting that a commercial jetliner had accidentally crashed into the iconic trade centre.
We watched mesmerised as a technicolour fireball suddenly splattered the clear blue sky. The South Tower had been struck at 2.04pm London time, dispelling all lingering doubts about accidents.
It was a full two hours later --when both towers had crumbled to dust -- that we finally tore our eyes away from the awful images coming live from New York. Perhaps for the first time in this rather louche watering hole, a minute's silence was observed for the victims.
It was Fr Michael's decision to go ahead with the exorcism. Struck dumb from what we had just seen, we silently trudged down the narrow stairs. All our minds were
filled with images we had yet to fully comprehend.
"From anger, hatred, and all ill will," intoned the tonsured cleric, sprinkling holy water in the dank corners of the musty and twilit cellar. "From all lewdness, From lightning and tempest, From the scourge of earthquakes, From plague, famine, and war, From everlasting death, By the mystery of your holy incarnation, By your coming, By your birth, By your baptism and holy fasting, By your cross and passion, By your death and burial, By your holy resurrection, By your wondrous ascension, By the coming of the Holy Spirit, the Advocate, On the day of judgment, From all evil, deliver us, O Lord."
There were only four of us: landlady Lesley and her husband Noel, Fr Michael and myself. There was something extraordinarily chilling in the age-old words he incanted. We shivered, not so much from the presence of evil in this subterranean space below teeming London but at the monstrous malice we had just witnessed more than 3,000 miles away.
Men and women starting their day's work on a gloriously sun-lit autumnal morning, equipped with all the sophisticated machinery of our world, computers and mobile telephones, had been annihilated in front of our eyes. A total of 104 had either jumped to escape the inferno or fallen to their deaths after crawling out of broken windows in a futile bid to reach safety below.
"From all sin, From your wrath, From sudden and unprovided death, From the snares of the devil, From anger, hatred, and all ill will, From all lewdness, From lightning and tempest, From the scourge of earthquakes. Deliver us,"declared Fr Michael
We were unaware that at precisely 9.30am New York time Irish-American Danny Suhr had become the first of 343 NYPD firemen to perish in the atrocity when the body of a woman who had jumped from the North Tower landed on him in the plaza below.
"From plague, famine, and war, From everlasting death, By the mystery of your holy incarnation, By your coming, By your birth, By your baptism and holy fasting..." continued the cleric.
"We sinners, command you, unclean spirit, whoever you are, along with all your minions now attacking this servant of God, Begone and stay far from this creature of God. For it is He who commands you, He who flung you headlong from the heights of heaven into the depths of hell. It is He who commands you."
How could the holy men who had devised this formula for confronting the devil have ever imagined the sheer scale of the malignancy unleashed by his modern cohorts at the start of the 21st century?
"He who once stilled the sea and the wind and the storm. Hearken, therefore, and tremble in fear, Satan, you enemy of the faith, you foe of the human race, you begetter of death, you robber of life, you corrupter of justice, you root of all evil and vice; seducer of men, betrayer of the nations, instigator of envy, font of avarice, fomenter of discord, author of pain and sorrow."
Holy water sprinkled the floor and walls. The priest walked through the connecting chambers clutching his prayer book and intoning the litany.
"I adjure you, ancient serpent, by the judge of the living and the dead, by your Creator, by the Creator of the whole universe, by Him who has the power to consign you to hell, to depart forthwith in fear, along with your savage minions."
And who can doubt that 10 years ago on this day these savage minions of the devil were about their master's business in Manhattan?
Raising his voice, Fr Michael, nearing the end of his exorcism, declared: "By your cross and passion, By your death and burial, By your holy resurrection, By your wondrous ascension, By the coming of the Holy Spirit, the Advocate, On the day of judgement, by the mysteries of the incarnation, passion, resurrection, and ascension of our Lord Jesus Christ, by the descent of the Holy Spirit, by the coming of our Lord for judgement, I command you, moreover, to obey me to the letter."
And slowly making the sign of the cross he concluded: "Begone, then, in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit."
But where was God on 9/11?