Lourdes Medical Bureau
The Lourdes Medical Bureau (International Medical Association of Lourdes; "Association Médicale Internationale de Lourdes") is a medical organization based in
Lourdes, France. It is an official organization within the Sanctuary of Our Lady of Lourdes, but is administrated and run only by doctors. Its most celebrated function is the medical investigation of apparent cures associated with the shrine of Lourdes.
The term Medical Bureau is also given to a special meeting of doctors, which may be called to investigate such claims of inexplicable healing.
The apparitions at Lourdes took place between 11 February and 16 July 1858. After this time, reports of apparently miraculous cures began to accumulate, prompting calls for the
Roman Catholic Churchto recognise these events as miracles. The earliest investigations of these cases were carried out by an Episcopal Commission of Inquiry led by Canon Germain Baradère and reporting directly to Mgr Laurence, bishop of Tarbes. The commission's earliest work was conducted without medical consultation, with only clerical opinion being sought as to the nature of the cures. [Ruth Harris, "Lourdes: Body and Spirit in the Secular Age", Penguin Books, 1999, pp. 18, 323.]
In 1859, Professor Henri Vergez from the Faculty of Medicine at
Montpellierwas appointed medical consultant to the Episcopal Commission of Inquiry. Vergez's views were often at odds with those of his clerical colleagues. Vergez decided that only eight of the early cases were genuinely inexplicable. [Ruth Harris, "Lourdes: Body and Spirit in the Secular Age", Penguin Books, 1999, pp. 18, 323.]
In 1883 a body called the "Bureau des Constatations Médicales" was established by doctors affiliated to the sanctuary. This was the forerunner of the current Medical Bureau. Its first titular head was the nobleman Baron Dunot de Saint-Maclou, and the Bureau was housed at the residence of the Garaison Fathers in Lourdes. Following the establishment of the Bureau des Constatations Médicales, the number of recognised cures dropped dramatically, from 143 in 1883 to only 83 in 1884. [Ruth Harris, "Lourdes: Body and Spirit in the Secular Age", Penguin Books, 1999, pp. 18, 325-6.]
Dunot de Saint-Maclou died in 1891 and was succeeded by Dr. Gustave Boissarie who headed the Medical Bureau until 1914, and met with the French author
Emile Zolawhen he visited Lourdes in August 1892. Dr. Bonamy, a character in Zola's 1894 novel "Lourdes", is unflatteringly based on Boissarie. Boissarie wrote a celebrated book, "L'Histoire Médicale de Lourdes" in 1891, which was praised by Pope Leo XIII. Boissarie moved the offices of the Bureau to accommodation beneath the right ramp of the Upper Basilica, where he met with people who claimed to have been cured. [Ruth Harris, "Lourdes: Body and Spirit in the Secular Age", Penguin Books, 1999, pp. 18, 329-33.]
In 1905, Pope
Pius Xdecreed that claims of miraculous cures at Lourdes should "submit to a proper process", in other words, to be rigorously investigated. At his instigation, the current Lourdes Medical Bureau was formed.
The bureau is led by a single doctor. The current head is Dr. Patrick Theillier. The bureau has a modest office within the Domain (the large area of consecrated ground surrounding the shrine and owned by the Church), on the second floor of the building known as the Accueil Jean Paul II.
Any doctors practising in or visiting Lourdes may apply to become members of the Lourdes Medical Bureau. Additionally, nurses, physiotherapists, pharmacists and members of other
allied health professionsmay apply to become members. Members are given (and invited to wear) a small but distinctive badge displaying a red cross on a white background surmounted by the word "Credo" ("I believe"). However, members of any religious affiliation or none are welcomed.
Members are requested to notify the bureau of any visits which they make to Lourdes.
The Lourdes Medical Bureau publishes its own quarterly journal, "Fons Vitae" ("Fountain of Life") which is circulated to members. Additionally, case-reports of interest are circulated to members for perusal.
Investigation of apparent cures
Approximately 35 claims per year are brought to the attention of the Lourdes Medical Bureau. Most of these are dismissed quickly. Three to five each year are investigated more thoroughly, by drawing up a Medical Bureau, comprising any doctors who were present in Lourdes at the time the apparent cure took place (this is the rationale for all members to notify the bureau of their visits to Lourdes).
The Medical Bureau investigates the claim, by examining the patient, the casenotes, and any test results (which can include biopsies,
X-rays, CT scans, blood test results, and so on).
If this conference decides that further investigation is warranted, the case is referred to the International Lourdes Medical Committee (abbreviated in French to CMIL), which is an international panel of about twenty experts in various medical disciplines from around the world (and of different religious beliefs). CMIL meets annually. A full investigation requires that one of its members investigates every detail of the case in question, and immerses him/herself in the literature around that condition to ensure that up-to-date academic knowledge is applied to the decision. This investigator may also consult with other colleagues about the case.
This information is presented at a CMIL meeting. Also present at the meeting are the head of the Lourdes Medical Bureau and the
Bishop of Tarbes and Lourdes(currently this is Jacques Perrier). The cured subject is not normally present.
For a cure to be recognised as medically inexplicable, certain facts require to be established:
* The original diagnosis must be verified and confirmed beyond doubt
* The diagnosis must be regarded as "incurable" with current means (although ongoing treatments do not disqualify the cure)
* The cure must happen in association with a visit to Lourdes, typically while in Lourdes or in the vicinity of the shrine itself (although drinking or bathing in the water are not required)
* The cure must be immediate (rapid resolution of symptoms and signs of the illness)
* The cure must be complete (with no residual impairment or deficit)
* The cure must be permanent (with no recurrence)
CMIL is not entitled to pronounce a cure "miraculous"; this must be done by the Church. The bureau may only pronounce that a cure is "medically inexplicable". A full investigation takes a minimum of five years (in order to ensure that the cure is permanent), and may take as long as ten or twelve years. It is recognised that, in rare cases, even advanced malignant disease or severe infection may spontaneously resolve.
The CMIL board votes on each case presented. A two-thirds majority is required for CMIL to pronounce a cure "inexplicable".
If CMIL decides a cure is medically inexplicable, the case is referred to the Bishop of the diocese where the cured subject lives. It is he who, in consultation with his own experts and with the Vatican, makes the decision about whether a cure is "miraculous". He may, for whatever reason, refute the claim.
Jacques Perrier, the Bishop of Tarbes and Lourdes, made a statement concerning the question of miracles in Lourdes. The bishop wishes to have a new approach to cures in Lourdes, especially concerning the different stages of recognising them. In his words: "“For the Church, as well as for the believer, a pilgrimage to Mary is more than a journey to a miracle. It is a journey of love, of prayer and of the suffering community.”" [http://www.lourdes2008.com Lourdes 2008] ]
Occasionally cases are dismissed by the Medical Bureau but still attain a level of fame and notoriety. One example is that of
Visited Lourdes: 10 May 1948.
Age 31, a student nurse from
Rennes, France. Tubercular peritonitiswith complications for seven years, extreme emaciation and oscillating fever. Comatose when brought to Lourdes, was given a tiny fragment of the Eucharistand awoke. Reported being "instantly and permanently cured" later that night while lying in her wheelchair beside the spring. She had not yet bathed in or drunk the water. Her cure was recognised officially on 11 November 1950.
Brother Léo Schwager
Visited Lourdes: 30 April 1952.
Age 28, from Fribourg, Switzerland.
Multiple sclerosisfor five years. His cure was recognised on 18 December 1960.
Alice Couteault, born Alice Gourdon
Visited Lourdes: 15 May 1952.
Age 34, from Bouille-Loretz, France.
Multiple sclerosisfor three years. Her cure was recognised on 16 July 1956.
Visited Lourdes: 8 October 1953 and 10 October 1954.
Age 32, from La Richardais, France.
Arachnoiditisof posterior fossa ( blindness, deafness, hemiplegia). Her cure was recognised on 15 August 1956.
Ginette Nouvel, born Ginette Fabre
Visited Lourdes: 21 September 1954.
Age 26, from Carmaux, France.
Budd-Chiari syndrome(supra-hepatic venous thrombosis). Her cure was recognised on 31 May 1963.
Elisa Aloi, later Elisa Varcalli
Visited Lourdes: 5 June 1958.
Age 27, from Patti, Italy. Tuberculous
osteoarthritiswith fistulae at multiple sites in the right leg. Her cure was recognised on 26 May 1965.
Visited Lourdes: 17 July 1959.
Age 22, from
Marseilles, France. Femoral osteoperiostitis with fistulae, epistaxis, for ten years. Her cure was recognised on 11 May 1965.
Visited Lourdes: 1 June 1963.
Age 23, from Scurelle, Italy.
Sarcoma(cancer) of pelvis; tumour so large that his left thigh became loose from the socket, leaving his left leg limp and paralysed. After taking the waters, he was free of pain and could walk. By February 1964 the tumour was gone, the hip joint had recalcified, and he returned to a normal life. His cure was recognized on 26 May 1976.
Visited Lourdes: 1 May 1970.
Age 41, from Lion D'Angers, France. Recurrent right hemiplegia, with ocular lesions, due to bilateral
carotid arterydisorders. Symptoms, which included headache, impaired speech and vision, and partial right-side paralysis began without warning in February 1964. During the next six years he became wheelchair-confined, and nearly blind. While on pilgrimage to Lourdes in April 1970, he felt a sudden warmth from head to toe, his vision returned, and he was able to walk unaided. His cure was recognised on 17 June 1978.
Delizia Cirolli, later Delizia Costa
Visited Lourdes: 24 December 1976.
Age 12, from Paterno, Italy.
Ewing's sarcomaof right knee. Offered amputation by her doctors, her mother refused and took her to Lourdes instead. On returning to Italy, her tumour rapidly regressed until no remaining evidence existed, although it left her tibiaangulated, which required an operation ( osteotomy) to correct. Her cure was recognised on 28 June 1989. She went on to become a nurse.
Visited Lourdes: 9 October 1987.
Age 51, French.
Multiple sclerosis. His cure was recognised on 9 February 1999.
Dr. Patrick Theillier is the twelfth doctor to head the Lourdes Medical Bureau. He received his medical degree from
Medical Care of Visitors
Somewhat surprisingly, the medical bureau is not responsible for the direct medical care of pilgrims and visitors to Lourdes. Legally, the position is that the
general practitionersand hospital in Lourdes are responsible for the medical care of anyone visiting Lourdes.
Despite this position, many pilgrim groups (especially those with large numbers of sick pilgrims) include their own doctor(s) and/or nurse(s), who take on the day-to-day medical care of their own group. Most are volunteers who give their time and services for free.
The Domain includes a treatment area called the Dispensary, also in the Accueil Jean Paul II, which contains several bays for the treatment of acute problems. Although most such problems are minor (such as cuts and grazes), the Dispensary is equipped with full resuscitation facilities, airway equipment and a
defibrillator. It also has a small electric ambulance.
The Dispensary is open during daylight hours and is staffed by nurses.
* Official Lourdes Medical Bureau website: http://www.lourdes-france.org/index.php?goto_centre=ru&contexte=en&id=491&id_rubrique=488
* Interview with Dr. Theillier: http://www.tfp.org/magazine/mag73/lourdes_medical.htm
* Article from student BMJ: http://www.studentbmj.com/issues/02/02/life/33.php
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