Saturday, 9 May 2015

Faking It At Lourdes

Bernadette Soubirous
Source: Wikipedia
Continuing my series on the fake miracles used by the Catholic Church to keep the faithful faithful and keep the money flowing in, this one deals with the carefully concocted fraud at Lourdes, France.

This fake is, like the Fatima fake, based on the fantasies of an illiterate peasant girl, Bernadette Soubirous, from a remote village who, as with Lúcia Santos at Fatima, seems to have been trying to impress a couple of friends and who found herself locked into her own childish fantasies by a Church keen to exploit her.

There are three elements to the Lourdes 'miracle':

None of these stand up to close scrutiny.

The Visions

As with the Fatima supposed Marian manifestation, no-one else actually saw or heard anything, even the other children who were there at the time, so ultimately we have only the word of a young girl to go on, hence the background and character of the primary witness has to be taken into account.

Bernadette Sobirós (in Occitan) was born in 1844 in the then remote, Gascon Occitan dialect-speaking village of Lourdes in the foothills of the Pyrenees. Her family had seen better times but were living in severely reduced circumstances in the cellar of what had been the local gaol. Bernadette was the eldest of nine children, only four of whom lived beyond childhood. Bernadette herself was fortunate to survive cholera as a young child but was severely asthmatic and died aged 35.

As the oldest child, Bernadette would have witness the death of her sibling, Jean-Marie, in 1851 when Bernadette was seven. A subsequent sibling born the year of Jean-Marie's death was also named Jean-Marie - a common practice in Europe at he time. Since cholera was endemic due to poor sanitation, the death of childhood friends and relatives would have been a common event and shows us that the village water supply was contaminated. Several more of her siblings were to die in infancy and her mother died in 1866 after the alleged 'visions'. The curative powers of the magic water of Lourdes apparently failing to cure Bernadette, her siblings or her mother.

As an aside, the incidence of contaminated drinking water and the supposed curative powers of 'holy' spring water is interesting. One theory to explain the common occurrence of 'holy' wells throughout Europe and their supposed curative powers is that this effect is not so much due to what the 'holy' water contains but what it doesn't. They are almost invariably found away from the main settlements in hills or woods far away from the risk of fecal contamination in times when good sewerage was unknown and lavatories were almost invariably earth 'closets'.

People knew nothing of germ theory so contamination of communal drinking water supplies would have been common and illness was associated in the minds of the people with 'sin' rather than poor hygiene. Those who drank from 'holy' wells, even for a few days, might well have had 'miracle' cures from diarrhoea amongst other things and of course, prayer would have been essential to gain forgiveness for the 'sin' that was causing the sickness. So holy water and prayer cures sickness - as does drinking clean water or boiling it first.

This might or might not be relevant to the Lourdes myth but there would certainly have been residual beliefs in 'holy' wells and magical water sources in the population and so a predisposition to associate 'holy' water from the grotto with miracle cures.

By the time of the events at the grotto, her family's financial and social status had declined to the point where they lived in a one-room basement, formerly used as a jail, called le cachot, "the dungeon," where they were housed for free by her mother's cousin, Andre Sajoux.

On 11 February 1858, Bernadette, then aged 14, was out gathering firewood with her sister Marie and a friend near the grotto of Massabielle (Tuta de Massavielha) when she experienced her first vision. As she recounted later, while the other girls crossed the little stream in front of the grotto and walked on, Bernadette stayed behind, looking for a place to cross where she wouldn't get her stockings wet. She finally sat down to take her shoes off in order to cross the water and was lowering her stocking when she heard the sound of rushing wind, but nothing moved. A wild rose in a natural niche in the grotto, however, did move. From the niche, or rather the dark alcove behind it, "came a dazzling light, and a white figure." This was the first of 18 visions of what she referred to as aquero (pronounced [aˈk(e)ɾɔ]), Gascon Occitan for "that". In later testimony, she called it "a small young lady" (uo petito damizelo). Her sister and her friend stated that they had seen nothing.

On 14 February, after Sunday Mass, Bernadette, with her sister Marie and some other girls, returned to the grotto. Bernadette knelt down immediately, saying she saw aquero again and falling into a trance. When one of the girls threw holy water at the niche and another threw a rock from above that shattered on the ground, the apparition disappeared. On her next visit, 18 February, she said that "the vision" asked her to return to the grotto every day for a fortnight.

This period of almost daily visions came to be known as la Quinzaine sacrée, "holy fortnight." Initially, her parents, especially her mother, were embarrassed and tried to forbid her to go. The supposed apparition did not identify herself until the seventeenth vision. Although the townspeople who believed she was telling the truth assumed she saw the Virgin Mary, Bernadette never claimed it to be Mary, consistently using the word aquero. She described the lady as wearing a white veil, a blue girdle and with a yellow rose on each foot — compatible with "a description of any statue of the Virgin in a village church".

Bernadette's story caused a sensation with the townspeople, who were divided in their opinions on whether or not Bernadette was telling the truth. Some believed her to have a mental illness and demanded she be put in an asylum.

The other contents of Bernadette's reported visions were simple and focused on the need for prayer and penance. On 25 February she explained that the vision had told her "to drink of the water of the spring, to wash in it and to eat the herb that grew there," as an act of penance. To everyone's surprise, the next day the grotto was no longer muddy but clear water flowed. On 2 March, at the thirteenth of the alleged apparitions, Bernadette told her family that the lady said that "a chapel should be built and a procession formed".

Her 16th claimed vision, which she stated went on for over an hour, was on 25 March. According to Bernadette's account, during that visitation, she again asked the woman for her name but the lady just smiled back. She repeated the question three more times and finally heard the lady say, in Gascon Occitan, "I am the Immaculate Conception" (Qué soï era immaculado councepcioũ, a phonetic transcription of Que soi era immaculada concepcion).

Some of the people who interviewed her after her revelation of the visions thought her simple-minded. However, despite being rigorously interviewed by officials of both the Catholic Church and the French government, she stuck consistently to her story.


And that appears to have been that. Despite the scepticism of local people and even Bernadette's family, and despite no-one else having seen anything, a canonical investigation declared her story 'authentic'. Since there was nothing to see and no witnesses other than Bernadette to examine, save her sister and friend who saw nothing of the 'vision' only Bernadette apparently seeing it, the 'thorough investigation' appears to have consisted of interviewing Bernadette to see if she stuck to her story.

So we have a miracle declared authentic by fiat, based only on the word of a 14 year-old girl whom many of her acquaintances thought to be mentally ill and who wasn't believed by her own family.

The Miracle Cures

'Miracle cures' are commonplace.

Most of them are nothing of the sort of course. Very many are frauds; very many are 'cures' for non-existent medical conditions or conditions that would have disappeared in due course anyway; some are conditions for which the patient was receiving medical treatment anyway; some are merely temporary remissions and not permanent cures; some are 'cures' for misdiagnosed conditions, and a small few are spontaneous remissions such as occasionally occur for even the most life-threatening conditions.

'Faith healing' is a multi-million dollar industry is some countries and, like all 'alternate' medical treatments, is a fertile ground for frauds, charlatans, quacks and con artists selling false hope and depending at most on placebo effects.

Lourdes is no exception and attracts some five million visitors a years to feed the hotel, souvenir and gift shop industries and of course to stuff money into Catholic Church coffers. The remote, dirt-poor village of Lourdes of 1866 is now a thriving town of 17,000 people all dependant on the shrine and the tourists who flock to it. Lourdes is second only to Paris for the number of hotels in a French town.

As of 2006 only 67 cures have been 'authenticated' out of some 250 million people seeking them. This represents a success rate of less than .00003% or 1 per 3.7 million people.

People come from all over the world, using their life savings or with money donated by friends or raised by charities, desperate to find a miracle cure for themselves or their sick children. My own partner's mother, a devout Catholic, went to Lourdes, paid for by her brothers and sisters, to find a cure for the cancer that killed her a few months later. It probably made everyone feel that they were doing something to help but in reality the long journey by coach there and back probably hastened her death and served only to enrich the local tourist industry and Catholic Church with their hard-earned money in return for false hope.

Again as of 2006, there had only been 4 'miracle cures' since 1978 - an impressive 1 every 7 years! This coincides with better diagnostic technology and so more accurate assessments of the seriousness of medical conditions and the likelihood of spontaneous remission. Like other miracles, the supply of miracle cures at Lourdes appears to be drying up as science advances.

This declining success rate, low though it was, so worried the Church that in 2006, Monsignor Jacques Perrier, Bishop of Tarbes and Lourdes and the most senior cleric at the Catholic shrine, faced with competition from fundamentalist Christian Churches also offering 'miracle cures' in the form of faith-healing sessions, far more cheaply and accessible than his at Lourdes, decided to redefine a 'miracle cure'. It now includes practically any sign of improvement defined with such wooly terms as 'unexpected healings', 'confirmed healings' and 'exceptional healings'. Note, there is no reference to permanence or even duration of this 'healing' and it takes no account of other treatment the patient might be having. The goal-posts have been widened so far they seem to be almost outside the corner flags.

And of course, not a single instance of these 67 'miracle cures' has ever included such things as spontaneous regeneration of a limb or an organ, rejoining of a transected spinal cord, regeneration of destroyed brain tissues, repair of gross disfigurement or scarring, or indeed anything at all that could truly be regarded as without scientific explanation, although such cures should be well within the capability of a creator deity able to raise the dead.

The last claimed authenticated cure was that of self-diagnosed 'arthritis'.

Curiously, when of all the people you would have expected to benefit from the curative powers of the Blessed Virgin and her holy water, would be Bernadette Soubirous herself, or maybe members of her immediate family, it doesn't seem to have worked for any of them. Bernadette suffered from chronic asthma all he life and died of tuberculosis in a convent in Nevers, France, in 1879, aged just 35. Her mother died in 1866 aged 41 following the birth (and death) of her ninth child and two others of Bernadette's siblings died in 1864 and 1865 aged 10 and newborn respectively. Of all her eight siblings, only one lived beyond the age of 60 and her father died aged 64 in 1871.

By the way, if you want to get a cure but are too ill or can't afford to go all the way to Lourdes, fear not; a Lourdes cure can come to you in the form of a 1 litre bottle of water for a trifling €100. Other miracle cures are available. Terms and conditions apply.

Bernadette Soubirous' Incorruptible Body

Bernadette's body has been declared 'incorrupt' by the Catholic Church and that 'fact' has been added to the list of reasons for canonisation. This is based on testimonies following three exhumations in 1909, 1919 and 1925 (presumably just to check!). Her body is now displayed in a sealed, air-conditioned crystal casket for the public to see in the Chapel of Saint Gidard at the Sisters of Charity in Nevers. The wondering public can gaze on a flawless face and perfectly formed hands - the only actual flesh visible on a body otherwise clothed in a nun's habit.

However, the Church seems to be using an unusual definition of 'incorruptible'. The doctor who examined the body in 1919 wrote, "The body is practically mummified, covered with patches of mildew and quite a notable layer of salts, which appear to be calcium salts... The skin has disappeared in some places, but it is still present on most parts of the body." Nevertheless, visitors can still gaze wonderingly on that perfect face and hands and see for themselves just how well God looks after the bodies of his chosen saints.

There is just one slight problem though. That isn't Bernadette's face and hands.

They are wax effigies made by a Parisian fashion mannequin designer named Pierre Imans. Bernadette's blackened, mummified, mildewed face with it's sunken eye sockets and protruding bones, and skeletal hands were considered too unpleasant for people to see. After all, who wants to look at a rotting corpse?

This the Church deems to be 'incorrupt' and incontestable evidence of Bernadette Soubirous' divinity.

If it wasn't hiding under the guise of religion, this systematic fraud perpetrated on very sick and vulnerable people would probably be illegal in any civilised country. Not surprisingly, in Christianity's Ten Commandments, along with there being nothing about rape, child abuse, denial of human rights, gender equality or slavery, also notable by it's absence is, "Thou shalt not profit from another person's misfortune". This piece of basic humanitarianism seems to be an alien concept to a Church where human happiness and good fellowship are way down the scale of priorities that has 'make money' at the top of it.

The entire Lourdes industry is an elaborate hoax; a money-making scam intentionally designed to take money off incurably sick people by selling them false hope, phony cures, and faked miracles. It represents a depth of moral depravity rarely equalled in the history of a depraved and corrupt Church.


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2 comments :

  1. Emile Zola's novel, Lourdes, is a good portrayal of the squalor of commercialised faith which is rampant in Lourdes. Compelling or revolting - or both.

    ReplyDelete
  2. Bernadette Soubirous is mentioned and her dead body can be seen also in this article: http://www.emlii.com/840424dc/18-Unbelievably-Alive-Dead-People-Who-Will-Scare-You-Silly .

    Among the 18 presented cases we can see how Mother Nature sometimes is able to preserve a body even better than embalming does.

    And why not have a look at this page too: http://www.smithsonianmag.com/science-nature/dinosaur-shocker-115306469/?all ? It's about unusually well preserved dinosaurs found in China.

    Maybe God loved dinosaurs, since some of them can be found today with "incorruptible" bodies? But then you'd of course ask yourself: Why then did God, if He really loved dinosaurs, allow them to become extinct? I'm sure creationists know the answers to those two tricky questions. They always have answers, like: "You must not take the factual information out of it's context."

    ReplyDelete

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