The Blessed Virgin in the nineteenth century. Lourdes part 7.


BY this time the sick element of the National Pilgrimage had grown almost to its present pro portions, that is, to nearly a thousand members. It was a great moving hospital that the National Pilgrims took with them each year to Lourdes.

The ten years between 1880 and 1890, which saw so much material progress at Lourdes and such expansion on the part of the Lourdes devotion, saw also the gradual rising of the Church of the Rosary, which was solemnly opened to public worship in 1889. The following year, Rome conceded the proper Mass and Office, commemorative of the Apparition.

Cures of pulmonary consumption have stood out in prominence at Lourdes from the beginning. One of these cases is that of an interesting young nun of the Ursuline community of Brive, known as Sister Julienne.

We are in August, 1889. Sister Julienne was slowly dying, her malady being in its last stage.

She had been ill for three years, and in bed for more than six months. Six doctors had pronounced her case to be hopeless. Someone having recently spoken in her presence of a cure effected at Lourdes, she had been heard to say that if she were to go to Lourdes, she knew she should recover. But the poor dying nun was far from wishing to go there.

Here we will reveal a secret that only came to light later on. While still in perfect health, Sister Julienne had offered her life to God as an expiatory sacrifice for sinners. Almost immediately after wards, the first signs of her mortal disease had begun to shew themselves. Hence her disinclination to go to Lourdes with the object of regaining her health. Submitting, however, to the wishes of her superiors in the matter, she at length consented to go.

The project was at first disapproved of by Dr. Pomarel, the medical man in attendance, on the ground that the patient might die on the road. His consent, however, having been obtained, Sister Julienne set out on her journey September 1st, accompanied by a fellow nun and a lady of Brive.

Arriving late in the day at Lourdes, the little party alighted at the Carmelite convent there. Sister Julienne was considered by all who saw her to be in a dying state. The following morning she was carried out to the vehicle that was to take her to the piscina, the person who carried her intimating to those around that she would not come back alive. On reaching- the piscina she was in an almost unconscious state, and bathed in what seemed to be a death sweat. Those in attendance refused to lower her into the water, on the ground that it was contrary to rule to bathe patients in the last stage of consumption. The case was urged, especially by the companion nun, a sweet-faced little religious, whom the present writer has since known at Brive as Sister Claire. Entreaty prevailing, Sister Julienne was at length let down into the piscina on a sheet. She was let down gently. Her right side only had as yet come in contact with the water when her mouth opened and her face assumed a corpse-like look.

She was at once drawn up and watched with painful anxiety. It was believed that she was about to breathe her last. After a few moments a slight colour came into her cheeks, her eyes opened, and she was seen to draw in breath. She partially rose and then sat upright.

" You are better? " she was asked.

" Yes," she replied, " I am better."

Light and expression were coming into her face each moment, and fresh life seemed to be animating her whole being. Refusing to sit down, she dressed herself without help and then walked unaided to the Grotto. There she remained on her knees half-an-hour. On going thence she was acclaimed by the crowd with the strains of the Magnificat. Afterwards, at the Carmelite convent, she was able to eat solid food for the first time since the previous January.

She walked again to the Grotto in the afternoon.

The following- day,at the Bureaudes Constatations, she, who had been the object of this marvellous transformation, underwent a careful examination at the hands of Dr. de Saint-Macloud. The head of the Lourdes clinique could detect in her no trace of her former disease. Six other doctors examined her, and to the like effect.

This cure is dwelt upon at length by Dr. Boissarie in his Historic Medicate de Lourdes. The author, who had known Sister Julienne from her childhood, says in reference to her case: U A cure such as hers, effacing at once every sign of disease, is absolutely impossible according to natural laws."

We will dwell upon three remarkable cures belonging to this period, for the reason that, travestied and distorted, the objects of these cures figure in M. Zola's novel Lourdes. Clementine Trouve, cured of caries of the foot, is the novelist's " Sophie Couteau " ; Marie Lemarchand, cured of lupus, is his " Elise Rouquet" ; and Marie Lebranchu, cured of tuberculosis, is his "Grivotte."

Marie Lemarchand receives bad treatment in the novel. Her face misshapen and swollen, owing to the terrible lupus that has attacked her right cheek and lips, is likened to a dog's head with nose eaten away (ttte de chien au museau ronge). More than this, M. Zola tries to naturalize her super natural cure by extending it over several days, and attributing- it to successive applications of Lourdes water, applied in the form of lotions, whereas it was effected instantaneously by a single immersion in the piscina, August 2ist, 1892.

Dr. Hombre, witness of the marvel, in a written deposition, states as follows : "In place of the hideous wound, a surface was immediately seen, red, it is true, but dry and covered by a new skin." Dr. La Neele, of Caen, who had previously attended the patient, writes: "I am still under the strong impression made upon me by having been brought face to face with this absolutely supernatural cure. Apart from her lupus, Marie Lemarchand was suffering at the time from tuberculosis in an advanced stage. I could not detect even a trace of the disease after the disappearance of the lupus "

Marie Lebranchu, as "Grivotte," is killed out right in the novel. In reality, she is not only alive, but in good health and at Lourdes in the service of Mademoiselle Node, of the Chalet Saint-Bernard. M. Zola, confronted with her at Lourdes at t\\e Bureau des Constellations, admits in his book the reality of her cure, but attributes it to a momentary commotion. According to the testimony of the medical man who had attended her, that is, Dr. Marquez, of the Paris hospital of Laboisiere, Marie Lebranchu was suffering from pulmonary tuberculosis of the third decree. She kept her bed, threw up blood, and was a living skeleton. She was cured by a single immersion in the piscina, on August 22nd, 1892.

Confronted at Lourdes, in 1892, with the fact of Clementine Trouve's cure and with Clementine herself, M. Zola got out of the difficulty before him by saying that he believed nothing but what he saw. Now, as the young girl's cure had taken place the year before, the novelist could say with truth that he had not seen it.

The details of this remarkable case are as follows :—When Clementine Trouve went to Lourdes in 1891, at the age of fourteen, she had been for three years suffering from caries of the bones of one of her feet. The foot was swollen and de formed, and fistulas had formed, through which the doctor in attendance could pass his stylet and touch the decaying bones. The wound, moreover, was in a constant state of suppuration. The cure took place at the first immersion in the piscina, and it was both instantaneous and complete. Clementine went to the Bureau des Constatations with the bandage in her hand, showing upon it signs of recent suppuration, and which had just come off her foot in the water. When the doctors looked at her foot, the only sign they could see of the wound that had been was a slight depression of the part, accompanied by a slightly pink surface.

The wound was healed, the foot had resumed its shape, and Clementine Trouve could walk like other people.

The girl lived at Rouille, a locality in the department of the Vienne, where the population is composed of more Protestants than Catholics. There her cure became as notorious as her previous state of suffering had been. One of the most inveterate freethinkers of the place, who was nominally a Protestant, when questioned with regard to this case, said: "Sir, I believe in neither God nor devil; but since Clementine Trouve's cure, I believe in Notre-Dame de Lourdes." The doctor who had been in the habit of attending the girl at Rouille, and who was far from being a believer in the supernatural, expressed himself thus : " Whether it be God or the devil that has cured this child, I know not; but what I do know is that she is cured."

The celebration, in 1897, of the twenty-fifth National Pilgrimage, called the Jubilee Pilgrimage, may be regarded as a fact of historic importance in the Lourdes annals. The directors of the pilgrim age had appealed to all the miraculously-cured of the previous twenty-five years to join the National Pilgrims of this twenty-fifth anniversary. Though some of the favoured ones were dead and others had been lost sight of, yet a good number of those called upon responded. In all, three hundred and fifty cases of signal cures were forthcoming—cures that proclaimed in the face of the medical and scientific world that the manner in which they had been accomplished was inexplicable according to known laws.

In certain respects this Jubilee pilgrimage has no parallel. Monday, August 23rd, was its great day, and the most striking feature of that day was the afternoon procession.

Lourdes was full as only on most stirring occasions, and although it was between four and five in the afternoon, the most brilliant sunshine possible flooded the scene. The procession — possessing, in the persons of its more than three hundred miracules, elements of interest which no other had ever possessed — was, as seen from a distance, a living, moving, sinuous line that seemed interminable. The miraculously-cured, walking together, each carrying a white and blue banner, and some even dressed in white and blue, were a spot in the pageant to which all eyes turned. Religious corporations and associations and orders were represented in the long line which had, at its head, General de Charette's banner of the Sacred Heart stained by some of the best blood of France.

Into the line fell more than a thousand surpliced priests, while the rear was brought up by a group of prelates accompanying Mgr. Bouvier, Bishop of Tarenbaise, carrying the Sacred Host.

The procession, having accomplished its pre scribed orbit, was returning, and the singing of the multitude composing it fell like distant music on the ears of the sick throng, drawn up in waiting array in front of the Church of the Rosary. Some reclining, some lying on pallets and stretchers, these sick waited : they knew that the cortege had to pass in front of them and between their ranks. The eyes of each were eager to catch a sight of the band of miraculously-cured, with their blue and

white banners. These miracules passed, and the long file of priests and religious with lighted tapers, and, in short, the main body of the procession. But the vital moment had yet to come. This was when the Blessed Sacrament was to pass and pause for a moment over each of the maimed and the halt composing the suffering throng. It came, that solemn and most poignant moment. Poignant too, the voice of the multitude, and especially of the sick multitude, uttering the Gospel cries for the occasion. There was a world of supplication and of religious passion in that single cry, "Jesus, son of David, have mercy on us ! "

Yet, contrary to expectation, and in spite of the exceptional fervour of this exceptional day, when the Benediction of the Blessed Sacrament was given from the portal of the Church of the Rosary, which church seemed to be emerging from a sea of human beings, not a single cure had been effected.

Immediately afterwards a religious of commanding stature, and with a long white beard, made his appearance and addressed the throng from the church portal. This was the Rev. Father Picard, Superior-General of the Augustinians of the As sumption, who came forward to give the Papal blessing. As a preliminary to so doing, the Confiteor was entoned by upwards of a thousand priests and religious. The Superior-General then slowly sang the liturgical words, with his hand raised, and making the sign of the cross on the multitude.

Having spoken and acted in the name of Peter's successor, Father Picard said a few words on his own account. He incited the sick below to faith and hope and confidence. He told them that the more than three hundred miraculously-cured, there that day, were their models.

Then was seen one of the most impressive sights given to mortal eyes to witness. One of the prone ones rose, and then another, and then another. In the space of two hours forty-one had risen, leaving pallets and stretchers behind them.

The Marquis de Laurens, at the head of his brancardiers, was there, busy making way for the resuscitated as they passed first into the Church of the Rosary and thence to the Bureau des Constatations. Crutches in numbers were seen lying about and stretchers were being borne away as useless. The scene of religious emotion and enthusiasm was as indescribable as, to other than a Catholic mind, it would have been inexplicable. The Magnificat^ the hymn of hymns for the occasion, rent the air.

It is not our task here to examine these cures from the point of view of medical censorship, but simply to relate a page of history in connection with Lourdes. How explain the sudden rising, walking, and apparent restoration to health of these forty-one persons, more than one of whom had been considered in extremis on starting, and all of whom were, according- to medical certificates, seriously ill ? “ By suggestion " will be the readiest answer. If so, it was suggestion of the kind practised by Peter when, at the Beautiful Gate of the temple, he said to the man lame from his mother's womb :— " Silver and gold I have none, but what I have I give thee. In the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, rise up and walk."

It is certain that out of these forty-one cases there were some well-authenticated cures. A writer in the Correspondant, commenting at the time on this memorable scene, said as follows : " That day thousands of men were able to touch, so to speak, the supernatural. They were witnesses of forty-one inexplicable cures. The wilfully blind will still deny: Oculos habent! But all who had the privilege of being present at this startling manifestation of Divine power, and of the Blessed Virgin's inter cession, will say in the fullness of their sincerity and of their intelligence a word which resumes in itself what is grandest and most beautiful under heaven : this word is Credo ! "