What is the Lourdes Shrine?
Lourdes is a village in southern France, close to the Pyrenees mountains and the Spanish border, with a famous shrine that sick pilgrims visit in hope for healing. It is a place where many healing miracles are said to have occurred since 1858. In 1858 a 14 year old girl claimed to have seen a beautiful lady that Roman Catholics believe was the mother of Jesus. However, today Lourdes is recognized as the Church’s center for investigating miracle healings. Likewise medical professionals from around the world are invited to investigate the evidence for the reported healings.
The Lourdes Medical Bureau
In order to make sure the claims of miracle cures are examined properly and to protect the town from fraudulent claims of miracles, the Lourdes Medical Bureau was established at the urging of Pope Saint Pius X. The Bureau is completely under medical supervision, and any doctors practicing in or visiting Lourdes may apply to become members. Irish doctor Michael Moran, a member of the Bureau panel, explains that they are “very much a scientific committee so we are not the people who can say the word miracle – that’s something for the church to comment on” (4). Moran continues, “The committee is really convened as a group of professional people who sit with the best medical evidence and can even request more medical evidence to substantiate what has been claimed by the person.” Doctors of any religious affiliation or none are also welcome to become members.
69 Miracles Confirmed.
Some 7000 people have submitted their case to have it confirmed as a miracle, of which 69 have been declared a scientifically inexplicable miracle by both the Bureau and the Catholic Church. The Church has vigorously investigated and validated 69 of them (1) (2). At first glance this may seem like a few and that it is hardly worth writing home about. However, this is not the case for several reasons. Firstly, the Church itself ought to be commended in its refusal to use miracles as propaganda or the basis for false claims (like many faith healers, for example). Instead, they have medically and scientifically examined the cases and disqualified many of them that don’t pass the vetting process. However, some clearly do. The requirements are so strict that only a few are accepted, and this is also not to say that those that didn’t meet the requirements weren’t themselves a miracle (maybe, for example, Sam witnessed life returning to his paralysed legs but is unable to supply medical documentation to the Bureau as proof, and so on). In fact, 2500 of the 7000 cases are considered truly remarkable but they lacked some requirement needed to allow them to advance to the next stage of the confirmation process (3).
Criteria for Confirming Miracles.
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 skeptics. 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 of the claims are unable to meet all these requirements although 69 of them have. Of these 69 the illnesses healed include tubercular meningitis, stomach and liver cancer, tubercular peritonitis, cancer of the uterus, a malignant tumour of the hip, a herniated disc, multiple tuberculous lesions, and others. Dr. Moran explains that these 69 are ”the ones that we have absolutely certain medical evidence and we can stand over.”
The 69 miracles which have passed the medical commission’s strict criteria are sufficiently well documented to meet any reasonable requirement for evidence. If we are willing to be convinced by evidence, then the evidence says that a miracle occurred.
Now this has obvious theological and atheological implications. Firstly, it undermines a naturalistic framework and conception of reality. In fact, the evidence seems disastrous for the naturalist since if only a single miracle has ever occurred then naturalism must be false. But we have evidence for 69 of them from Lourdes alone. However, it will still prove to be the case that atheists will not be willing or able to be convinced by this, nor any other, 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.
Alternatively, believers in God will be happy to present this as evidence that God intervenes in his creation to heal those of whom he chooses. Many may also be dismayed that God has chosen to heal only some as opposed to others who are just as desperate and in need. Protestant christians may also be skeptical that God would heal in a place where they believe superstition is prevalent. Either way the evidence speaks for itself.
1. CNA. Lourdes shrine officially records 69th miracle. Available.
2. The 69th Miracle of Lourdes. Available.
3. Marian Library Newsletter. Available.
4. Ferguson, S. 2014. Dr Michael Moran evaluates Lourdes miracles reports. Available.