The Blessed Virgin in the nineteenth century. Lourdes part 6.


THE gaining at Lourdes of speech and hearing by persons born deaf and dumb has not been exemplified by such exceptional cases but that a fair list of such might be made out.

One is that of Mdlle. Aurelia Bruneau, who, according to the testimony of Dr. de la Mardelle, a medical man who had known her from infancy, had been deaf and dumb from her birth. Born in 1853 at Chabris, in the department of the Indre, she had been educated at an institution for the deaf and dumb at Deols, near Chatouroux. At the age of 20, never having spoken or heard, her case was looked upon as hopeless. Such was her condition when, at Lourdes, October 11th, 1872, she suddenly acquired the power of hearing, having undergone as sole treatment the dropping of a little of the water of the Grotto into her ears on each of the previous days. Being able to hear, she began at once to speak. Dr. de la Mardelle, in testifying to her cure, said : " We are obliged to conclude that this cure bears the character of a supernatural one."

The Belgian Pilgrimage to Lourdes of 1888 included among its members three persons, Desire and Clementine Melain (brother and sister) and Josephine Denol, who, according to the medical certificates of Doctors Trusset and Vanpee, were deaf and dumb, and had been so from their birth. At Lourdes, each acquired the power of hearing and of speech.

In his Histoirc Medicate de Lonrdcs, Dr. Boissarie describes this case, or rather these three cases combined, as scientifically inexplicable.

Less important, perhaps, in the interests of science, but not less interesting in itself, is the case of Mademoiselle Pourchet, who, struck dumb at the age of seven, remained so for forty-five years, and then suddenly recovered her power of speech while praying at the Lourdes Grotto. This was on September 30th, 1883. During the previous forty-five years she had not been able to utter a syllable. On the first sound that escaped her lips, her emotion was so poignant that lookers-on supposed her to be ill. "No, no," she replied, when questioned. These were her first articulate words. Almost immediately afterwards she was heard saying the " Hail Mary" aloud.

To meet the growing exigencies of the sick at Lourdes, the Hospital of Notre-Dame des Sept Douleurs was begun there in 1879. About the same time the piscinae were increased, and shortly afterwards the two associations of brancardiers came into existence; that of Notre-Dame de Salut having to do especially with the National Pilgrimage, and that of Notre-Dame de Lourdes having its ramifications throughout the different dioceses of France.

Who more chivalrous than these modern knights-hospitalers, bringing to their task a refinement of charity with which probably the chivalry of the Middle Ages was unacquainted? They are recruited from all ranks, but principally from the upper and middle classes. With the breielles of the brancardier over their shoulders, they are at once the servants of the poorest, bearing from place to place patients on their pallets, and displaying a wealth of tender ness and pity, generally considered the exclusive apanage of women.

Men, however, are far from deserving all the praise in this splendid expression of Catholic chanty at Lourdes. Besides its brancardiers, Lourdes has its two associations of dames hospitalicres —that of Notre-Dame de Saint and that of Notre-Dame de Lourdes.

The ladies composing these two bodies constitute nothing less than a phalanx of Sisters of Charity in lay garb. Many of them are brilliant women of the world ; numbers are nobly born ; some are quite young girls.

When their self-imposed duties call them to Lourdes, they are there not only to perform their natural task of assuaging suffering, but to do downright hard work as well. They act as infirmteres and nurses. It is they who lower on sheets the female patients into the piscinas ; it is they who, with delicate hands and often with the skill of hospital surgeons, bind up foetid wounds and dress cancerous sores. In short, at Lourdes they vie with the Little Sisters of the Assumption in acting as ministering angels of mercy.

We come to the time when the medical aspect of the Lourdes cures begins to assert itself in a more marked manner before the world. There is now a Bureau de Constellations and a first-rate medical staff, and, in short, a clinique of the first order at Lourdes. There, the case of every cure, or reputed cure, is controlled and subjected to the closest investigation. The director of this medical school is Dr. de Saint-Macloud, an eminent man and a staunch Catholic.

Dr. de Saint-Macloud was known to be a rigid advocate in the cause of science, even, as it sometimes seemed, at the expense of the super natural. Every cure that could not stand by itself in the domain of the supernatural was ruthlessly eliminated by him from among those claiming to be above the cognizance of natural laws. It is easy to see that such a man was a host in himself at the head of the Lourdes clinique.

This does not mean that, up to that time, the medical side of the phenomenal cures in connection with Lourdes had been neglected. On the contrary, medical action in the matter had been strong from the beginning. We have seen Dr. Uozous, himself a freethinker, stepping out of the ranks of his fellow-doctors, and as a man of science, studying Bernadette during more than one of the Apparitions. We have seen him in presence of the first cures regarded as miraculous. And almost, if not quite at once, we have seen him setting incredulity on one side, and bowing down in the simplicity of faith before what he believed to be the visible intervention of Divine agency. Dr. Vergez, coming on the scene immediately after wards as chief medical authority at the Ecclesiastical Commission appointed by the Bishop of Tarbes, we see him, too, at first staggered, then convinced, and then proclaiming aloud the great healing agency at Lourdes to be an essentially Divine one. Some years later on, and after spending the intervening time in studying and proclaiming the supernatural agency at work at Lourdes, this same Dr. Vergez wrote : " If I am asked to proclaim what I have seen at Lourdes, I will say : “By the study of the most authentic cures beyond the power of science or of nature to effect, I have been brought face to face with the supernatural." His actual words are : " I have touched the miraculous."

Thus was the way paved for the important position which the Lourdes clinique was about to assume in the eyes of the medical world. When we see it with its Bureau des Constellations, recently established under the presidency of Dr. de Saint-Macloud, we are in the middle of the decade between 1880 and 1890.

Dr. Boissarie, afterwards to become eminent in connection with the great Lourdes question, had not as yet taken up his position as a staunch defender of the supernatural. Though far from being an unbeliever in this same supernatural, he was waiting and watching. He wanted, as he said, to see with his own eyes a miracle, and considered that up to that time he had not been able to do so.

Circumstances were about to favour him in this respect. In 1886 a case came before his notice which was to influence him strongly.

It was that of one Celestine Dubois, a domestic servant of Troyes. Concerning it, Dr. Boissarie says : "I saw for the first time a cure which was absolutely inexplicable from a scientific point of view." The facts of the case are as follows : Celestine Dubois had run a needle into her hand, and in her attempt to draw it out had broken it in the flesh. The needle had entered near the base of the thumb. A state of continual suffering ensued ; the woman's fingers became contracted. Doctor after doctor of Troyes tried to extract the bit of steel, but in vain. At length, a medical man of the town, Dr. Hervey, made an incision in the hand, and this he kept open for five or six weeks. By this means he was enabled to touch the bit of needle with an instrument, and even with his finger, but without being able to remove it. He was of opinion that to extract it by an ordinary surgical operation would be attended with danger. Her state continuing the same, Celestine Dubois, in 1886, joined the National Pilgrimage to Lourdes. At about a quarter past four in the afternoon, on the day of her arrival at Lourdes, that is, August 2oth, she was in what is known as the Piscine des pctits bains. This is a small, well-lighted room containing a large tub of cold water. Mademoiselle Recoing, of Troyes, was with her. This lady held Celestine's hand in the water for about four minutes, withdrawing it more than once during that time with the object of examining it. There was a third person present — a lady who had accidentally dropped in, who remained, and who was witness of what took place. This was Mademoiselle Antoinette Cornet, directress of the Piscine des petits bains and member of the Committee of Notre-Dame de Salut. What did take place during those four minutes Doctor Boissarie tells us in his Hisloire Medicate de Lourdes. He says that during the few minutes that the hand was held in the water, the bit of broken needle traversed with arrow-like speed the distance of eight centimetres, and that then it came out at the top of the thumb. The same authority goes on to say that the thus rapid passage of the needle though the flesh was marked by a red line, beginning deep down at the point of departure, and appearing just beneath the surface of the flesh as the point of exit was neared. This passage, he says, carefully examined with a microscope, showed an orifice at the extremity of the thumb, but none anywhere else. How, he asks, could the needle, deeply embedded in the fibrous tissues of the hand for seven years, travel with such speed a distance of eight centimetres through the flesh without en countering obstacles of any kind? It was Mademoiselle Recoing, of Troyes, who, after holding Celestine's hand in the water for four minutes, drew forth the needle when she saw it protruding from the extremity of the thumb.

Six medical men of Lourdes, as well as two of Troyes, Doctors Viardin and Forest, carefully examined Celestine Dubois' case. Moreover, an Ecclesiastical Commission was appointed by the Bishop of Troyes to consider it. The result of these different investigations was to conclude that the manner in which the needle had made its way out of the hand in which it had been imprisoned for seven years was contrary to nature's laws. Dr. de Saint-Macloud, in reference to this case, said :

"We are in presence of an effect, the cause of which does not belong to human physiology ; consequently, the phenomenon we are considering is distinctly supernatural."

This hand of Celestine Dubois led Dr. Boissarie to the recognition of the supernatural at Lourdes.


From - The Blessed Virgin in the nineteenth century (1904) by Bernard St John