Lourdes: Yesterday, To-day and To-morrow

The Miracles.

"HE," said M. Pasteur, in his reception speech at the French Academy, "who acknowledges the existence of the infinite -- and no man is able to escape that acknowledgment -- gathers into his affirmation more of the supernatural than is to be found in all the miracles of all the religions. The idea of the infinite has the double character that it is not to be conceived and not to be evaded. Of the idea of the infinite I see everywhere in the world an inevitable expression. Owing to that idea the supernatural lies deep within the recesses of every human heart." Among the miracles of the religions which the great physician holds as but secondary wonders of the world, the cures of Lourdes have now to be recorded. The very word "miracle" has raised storms that are no less violent now than they were on the first rumour of the first prodigies, five-and-thirty years ago. Nevertheless, the miracles of Lourdes have been countersigned by men whose honour is not a matter of question, by physicians widely known; many thousands of pilgrims have sung Te Deum, and Magnificat by those waters, over a brother or sister healed. Persons whose judgment is worth considering have gone to Lourdes, have mingled with the pilgrims, have watched by the fountain and before the Grotto, if haply they might see the man sick of the palsy walking. Physicians have allowed their blind patients to seek there for their lost sight, and have seen no miracle and no healing. And some have cried out upon the illusion and the fantastic credulity that could record and believe the working of cures that existed mainly in the excited fancy of patients and their friends. None the less did several hundred physicians countersign the accomplishment of inexplicable cures. The Medical History of Lourdes, by Dr. Boissarie, has them registered. It is from this work, purely technical as it is, that we borrow the history of a case which follows, giving first a sketch of the medical procedure.

The medical office is presided over by Dr. de Saint-Maclou, is attended by some twenty physicians from every part of France, and is open to any doctor or medical student, French or foreign. As a rule the cure of purely nervous maladies, however grave, are not registered. As neither will nor suggestion is able to replace a lung destroyed, to restore a paralysed body, or to give sight again which organic disease has taken away, cases of consumption, of paralysis, and of blindness are recorded with minute care. They are to be counted by thousands.

Pierre Delannoy was cured during the national pilgrimage of 1889. Dr. Boissarie writes:

Is the man we saw at Lourdes on the twentieth and twenty-second of August, 1889, verily the man who, from 1883 to 1889, was sixteen times a patient in the several hospitals of Paris? A telegram from the Charité Hospital at Paris affirms that he is indeed the same: "We have seen Delannoy four times this week. The physicians are staggered. He walks like a country postman." The separate opinions of twelve hospital doctors, who have had Pierre Delannoy for six years under their care, were recorded at the time, and copied into the certificate of discharge which every patient receives on leaving a hospital. These several certificates, in complete order, and bearing their dates and the seal of the administration, have been laid before us, and have enabled us to draw up the pathological history of Delannoy so as to fix, in unquestionable order and sequence, the various periods of the case.

Years. Physicians in charge of the case. Hospitals. Disease.
1883 Professor Charcot Salpêtière Locomotor Ataxy
1884 Dr. Gallard Hôtel Dieu Locomotor Ataxy
1885 Dr. Rigal Necker Locomotor Ataxy
1886 Professor Ball Laënnec Locomotor Ataxy
1887 Dr. Rigal Necker Locomotor Ataxy
1887 Dr. Empis Hôtel Dieu Ataxy
1887 Professor Laboulbène Charité Locomotor Ataxy
1888 Dr. Rigal Necker Locomotor Ataxy
1888 Professor Ball Laënnec Ataxic Tabes
1888 -------------- Beaujon Dorsal Tabes
1888 Dr. Ferréol Charité Ataxy
1886 Dr. Gérin Roze Lariboisière Locomotor Ataxy
1888 Dr. Bucquoy Hôtel Dieu Ataxy
1889 Drs. Sée and Dorand-Fardel Hôtel Dieu Locomotor Ataxy
1889 Dr. Dujardin-Beaumetz Cochin Locomotor Ataxy
1889 Dr. Mesnet Cochin Sclerosis of the posterior cords of the marrow

If doubt were possible in sight of unanimity so complete, the treatment to which Delannoy was subjected should give us certainty. Considerably more than a hundred operations, all of the same nature, some simply repetitions, were performed upon the patient during the six years. The diagnosis of his disease is written upon his back in characters unanimous and indelible! And this sufferer had, moreover, passed through the first and second periods of ataxy. He had entered upon the third, Dr. Charcot's "paralytic period." At this stage the lesions of the marrow are irreparable; the nervous elements have diminished almost to disappearance; cure is all but impossible. In any case it could not be complete; partial restoration would be a matter of months and even of years. Yet Delannoy was healed, completely, on the twentieth of August, 1889. He was healed, not in the bath, but kneeling upon the flagstones in front of the Grotto, while the Blessed Sacrament passed before him.

There he was, with his forehead pressed upon the stone which he most humbly kissed. And while the crowd prayed with one voice, "O Lord, heal us!" this sick working-man also said aloud, "Heal me if it is needful for me." Upon the instant he was conscious of a force constraining him to rise and walk. He rose alone, he walked without assistance, without trouble, without pain, with a complete and easy co-ordination of all the movements of his body.

Where is the man of sincere good faith, the man of equal knowledge and integrity, who can refuse to bow before a fact so manifestly marvellous?

The case may be read in full detail in the Annals. There is none that has been more fully studied and more minutely recorded. In the national pilgrimage of 1892 Pierre Delannoy took his turn among the bearers of the sick from the hospital to the waters at Lourdes, and no one did the work with a stronger arm or more agile movement than his.

The cure of M. Henri Lasserre, the well-known historian of Lourdes, was one of the most widely discussed.

Henri Lasserre had hyperaemia, a congestion of the pupil. The two most distinguished oculists of the time -- Dr. Demarres and Giraud-Teulon -- having diagnosed the lesion of the retina, took all possible means to arrest its development. Absolute rest for the eyes, a change to the country, hydropathy, tonics -- all were prescribed and all were taken without success. By degrees the sight grew weak, and at last failed altogether. Several months passed. M. Lasserre felt that he was growing blind. Trusting in the power of God, he asked for some water of Lourdes, bathed his eyes in it and was cured. His history of Lourdes was a hymn of thanksgiving.

One more case shall be cited. It is the report of Dr. Bernet, of the Faculty of Paris:

François Macary, aged sixty years, a carpenter at Lavaur, member of the Society of St. Louis, consulted us, some twenty years ago, for varicose veins in the hollow and internal part of the left knee and leg. There was a varicose ulcer with callous edges, with considerable and painful congestion of the tissues. There were also, on both sides of the upper part of the calf, two large cicatrices of ancient date, which had nothing in common with the complaint we are now describing, being the result of a burn inflicted twenty years previously. The dilated veins were so numerous and so highly diseased as to convince us that the usual treatment of the malady was contra-indicated. Macary seemed to be doomed to perpetual invalidism. We prescribed mere palliatives, which, besides, had already been advised by our colleagues. Eighteen years later Macary consulted us once more. The diseased state of his leg was much aggravated. We confirmed our previous opinion, and strongly advised him to submit himself, as the only possible means of bringing the ulcer to a state of cicatrisation, to complete and prolonged rest in bed and to methodical treatment by dressings. On the fifteenth of August, 1871, Macary presented himself with the wound in a complete state of cicatrisation. No kind of support was on the leg. Of the congestion there was no trace left. The varicose knots had entirely disappeared -- and this was the most astonishing circumstance -- and in their place examination by the finger discovered small hard cords, empty of blood and moving under the touch. The internal saphena vein has normal direction and normal size. The most minute examination fails to show a sign of any surgical operation. We conclude that science is powerless to explain these facts. All authorities are agreed that varicose veins left to themselves are incurable; that they are not to be healed by mere palliative means -- still less that they can heal spontaneously; that they incessantly increase; and that a radical cure can be accomplished only by the application of surgical measures whereby the patient incurs grave danger. Thus Macary's case, even had it not been proved by authentic record not his own, would be none the less a most extraordinary fact, a fact -- to use the right word -- of supernatural character.

Dr. Bernet signs the report. This radical cure took place in a single night after the use of bandages soaked with the water of Lourdes.

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