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New light on a 'miracle'

In 1875 a Flemish labourer called Pierre de Rudder visited a local replica of the Lourdes Grotto, and apparently experienced the instantaneous healing of an ununited and infected fracture of the tibia and fibula. A section of bone was entirely missing, yet a photograph shows the leg not only whole but equal in length to the opposite leg. The healing was certified by physicians and, when Rudder died, post-mortem examination showed the bones were united and of normal length.

In her book on Lourdes, Lourdes: Body and Spirit in the Secular Age, Ruth Harris, who is not a Catholic, says that the case "dismays and perplexes".

I agree it does, but it happened a long time ago and it is always difficult to know what to say about one-off cases. Fortunately, new light is shed by an article by Joe Nickell in the current issue of Skeptical Inquirer (Vol. 34, No. 1). Nickell twice visited Belgium to investigate alleged miracles. One of these was the de Rudder case.

In outline, he has found documentary evidence which, together with the bones themselves (which show impaired alignment at the fracture site), suggest that the healing was not in fact instantaneous and might have occurred naturally before de Rudder visited the shrine. Prior to the visit he used to perform a stunt in which he demonstrated almost 180 degree rotation of the leg at the fracture site, but this was always with the limb clothed and Nickell thinks that he may have simply had unusually lax ligaments and that there may have been an element of malingering . De Rudder was in receipt of a pension from the viscount who employed him but this ceased when the viscount died; a 'miraculous' recovery would allow him to return to work without admitting he had been a fraud.

I'm glad to have this information, because I have elsewhere published my view that apparently miraculous healings are usually of disorders (including cancer) that may on occasion recover naturally. The de Rudder case might have posed a challenge to this view, but Nicholl's research offers the possibility of a plausible natural explanation.


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Joseph Perez on :

Dont know have you asked Nickells if a two inch thick separated bone can heal by itself? Specially if it the subject is 49 years old? I doubt it coz I asked many doctors about it and is in the negative. This question has been asked also before. Nothing is new

Anthony Campbell on :

I am a doctor. I don't think that delayed union would heal after many years. But this isn't what Nickells is saying. His idea is that the fracture was in fact already healed before de Rudder visited the shrine and that his subsequent party trick was due to legerdemain (or legerdejambe).

Joseph Perez on :

Thank you for saying that it is already healed. But the attestation of Dr Van Hoestenberghe who was a former atheist himself, a convert after this miracle, you wont think that he will be a party to this scam and change his religion if this is a fraud dont you? Notwithstanding the ethical standards of all doctors holds.

Now is that already healed then a neigbor did attest that before the journey he dressed that leg and still saw the wound at its usual state. He also attest that this leg can be twisted as seen before.

Doctor I dont know if you see the displayed bone in the Lourdes Bureau but as seen there there is a white bone the already connects the two bones by a space of around two inches. We all know that at 45 the bones cannot re-generate itself.

The last examination that were done by Dr Van Hoestenberghe is about 4 months before the pilgrimage and it is unlikely that in that space in time one can heal that fast. I saw once a severed foot connected but the healing of such is about a year at least but also as a son of a PT who frequents hospitals when I was a kid two bones will not reconnect itself by the space of 2 inches coz as human physiology shows we stop growing around the age of 20 and we have defined bone structure at the age of 30. For de Rudder who suffered in this state for 8 years

The fracture that you said is not a simple one but has a space on it of about 2 inches. As can be seen on the medical bureau of Lourdes

I will let this old article speaks for itself

Anthony Campbell on :

Thanks for the link. It's very difficult to know what to make of a case like this which is 150 years old.

But two things occur to me. One is that this case, involving at least a partial regeneration of a limb, is unique as far as I know in apparently well-attested records of alleged miracles.

The other is that I agree with David Hume: it's easier to believe in the fallibility of human testimony than in the occurrence of events that are wholly outside our experience of how the world works.

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