This page in brief
Apparent divine healings are a challenge to our natural way of thinking. Are the stories true? Is the evidence reliable? Are the explanations we are given true? Do they prove God exists and heals, or is that only for the gullible?
This is a brief summary of the apparent miracles at Lourdes, how they have been investigated and the conclusions of a medical commission, which found many apparent miracles had insufficient evidence to justify acceptance, but a small number seem to have no other explanation.
A world-famous place of healing
Lourdes is a village in southern France, close to the Pyrenees mountains and the Spanish border. Many healing miracles are reputed to have occurred there since 1858, when a 14 year old girl claimed to have ‘seen’ a beautiful lady that Roman Catholics believe was the mother of Jesus. Of the estimated 200 million people who have sought a cure there, millions claim to have been healed.
Where possible, people claiming healing are examined on the spot by a medical bureau, and the information is reviewed by an international commission of medical specialists, independent of the Catholic Church and including sceptics. To be regarded as authentic, claims have to satisfy four requirements:
- the illness and cure was well documented,
- the illness was serious and was unable to be effectively treated,
- the symptoms disappeared within hours, and
- the healing lasted for sufficient time to ensure the ‘cure’ was not just a temporary remission (e.g. in the case of leukemia, 10 years is required).
Most claims lack sufficient evidence to be verified, but 68 miracles have passed this stringent checking and have been proclaimed as authentic, while several thousand other remarkable cures have been documented. Some examples of claimed healings include:
- Margerie Paulette, 22 years old, cured of tubercular meningitis in 1929.
- Mademoiselle Dulot, cured of stomach and liver cancer in 1925.
- Louise Jamain, cured in 1937 of tubercular peritonitis.
- Jeanne Fretel, cured in 1949 of tubercular peritonitis.
- Rose Martin, cured of cancer of the uterus in 1947.
- Vittorio Micheli, cured of a malignant tumour of the hip in 1963.
- Serge Francois, cured of a herniated disc in 2002.
The stories of a few other ‘approved miracles’ are outlined below at Some stories.
Doubts and questions
These miracles which have passed the medical commission’s strict criteria are apparently sufficiently well documented to meet any reasonable requirement for evidence. If we are willing to be convinced by evidence, then the evidence is there that in each of these cases, something very unusual happened.
Many atheists and rationalists are quite sure that miracles cannot occur, and thus may not be willing or able to be convinced by any evidence. Therefore they probably will not be convinced here, and will look for natural explanations or, despite the evidence, question the truth of the stories.
Protestant christians may also be sceptical that God would heal via the Virgin Mary, and in a place where they may believe superstition is prevalent. But again, how can they explain the evidence?
Jean-Pierre Bely was paralysed with multiple sclerosis, and was classified by the French health system as a total invalid when he went to Lourdes in 1987. He received ‘the anointing of the sick’, and when he returned home he was able to walk. Subsequently, virtually all traces of the illness disappeared. Patrick Fontanaud, an agnostic physician who looked after Bely, said there is no scientific explanation for what occurred.
Gabriel Gargam was severely injured in a railway accident in 1900, in which he was almost crushed to death and was paralysed from the waist down by a crushed spine. A court ordered the railway to pay him compensation because he was
a human wreck who would henceforth need at least two persons to care for him. His condition continued to deteriorate. He was not a religious person, but his mother persuaded him to go on pilgrimage to Lourdes, very weak, fed via a tube and lapsing into unconsciousness. But at Lourdes his paralysis disappeared and he was able to walk, although still very thin and weak. Within a short time, he was eating normally, able to resume work and he lived to 83.
Serge Perrin began to suffer neurological problems in 1964 at age 35, and was subsequently diagnosed with thrombosis in the left carotid artery, for which surgery was nor recommended. He visited Lourdes in 1969 as his condition worsened, but there was no improvement. His deterioration continued until 1970, when he was almost blind and unable to care for himself alone. At his wife’s insistence, he visited Lourdes as second time and received the anointing of the sick. By that afternoon, he could walk without the aid of a walking stick and could see without using spectacles. He returned home, fully cured, as was confirmed by a serious of medical tests.