Home > Articles > Alex Carrel's - Journey to Lourdes
Alex Carrel (1873-1944) is possibly the only Nobel-Prize winner (medicine, 1912) who witnessed a miraculous cure.
Professor Alex Carrel of the Lyons Medical University, went to the shrine of Our Lady of Lourdes as an unbeliever and ex-Catholic, to study "psychological improvements in health that are easily explained by the mass hysteria accompanying emotional demonstrations of faith." That's what he said when he met at Lourdes a fellow student from their medical university days. He added: "If a truly organic cure took place, that would be different. If Marie Ferrand was cured I would believe. But she will not be!" The woman had been in the same compartment of the Lourdes pilgrims' train that Carrel had traveled in from Paris. She was in the last stages of tubercular peritonitis, the hard mass of fluid in her stomach bulging ominously. Several times on the train journey she passed out and Carrel had given her morphine injections. He angrily jotted in his notebook that religion became fanaticism when it dragged dying patients like Ferrand halfway across France in the heat of midsummer - only for them to die in greater misery! At Lourdes he tried unsuccessfully to prevent the unconscious woman being taken to the outdoor blessing of the sick. By now half-dead, she was carried to the procession, the bishop blessed her with the Eucharist, and Carrel thought the hot sun was playing tricks with his eyesight! The death pallor had left her face! When the swollen stomach flattened out, he later wrote, he thought he was going mad. He accompanied Ferrand back to the hospital, where several other doctors examined her carefully and declared that the pathetic patient of several hours before was now cured.
Carrel had witnessed a physical miracle, the very one he said could not happed, but he "still could not believe." He walked alone for hours, struggling with his dilemma. He argued with himself that maybe there was something in the air at Lourdes that could be responsible for the cure, as yet unknown to science. No, he realized, that's rubbish! No hitherto unknown substance could selectively cure just one of the crowd, turning scientific laws of medicine topsy-turvy in the process. Was some other explanation possible then? His mind and emotions thrashed about without rest.
Now it was late at night, and Carrel was as confused as when he first saw the woman physically transformed. A group of Basque pilgrims passed him singing to the Virgin and entered the Rosary Basilica. He too entered the church and sat on a chair at the back. For the first time since school days, he prayed. "Gentle Virgin…take unto Thyself this uneasy sinner with the troubled heart…and intellectual pride…who has a dream of believing in Thee and of loving Thee with the shining spirit of the men of God." He walked out into the night, "absorbed in prayer." Eventually returning to his hotel room, Carrel took out his notebook and concluded his observations. "All preoccupations with hypotheses, theories, and intellectual doubts have vanished…Beneath the Holy Virgin's hand…certitude." It was now 3 a.m., he writes, and, enfolded in a peace that banished doubt, he slept like a child.
Carrel wrote that in 1903. In 1912, he was awarded the Nobel Prize for discovering new ways of suturing blood vessels and transplanting organs. His experience at Lourdes is told in his slim volume, Journey to Lourdes, a book that soon went into many languages.
Dr Carrel made no progress in the ancient human dilemma - Is the supernatural real? - until he prayed with a real desire to know, and with humility. God, through Mary, solved his dilemma.
Excerpt from 'Psalms: Songs for the way Home' by Fr. Paul Glynn
Vittorio Micheli's Cancer Cured
One of the most spectacular and best documented miracles at Lourdes was that of a young Italian soldier with a cancer which had destroyed his hip and pelvic bone.
In 1962 a man named Vittorio Michelli was admitted to the Military Hospital of Verona, Italy, with a large cancerous tumor on his left hip. Biopsies, x-rays, and hospital records confirmed the hopelessness of his condition. So dire was his prognosis that he was sent home without treatment, and within ten months his hip had completely disintegrated, leaving the bone of his upper leg floating in nothing more than a mass of soft tissue. He was, quite literally, falling apart. Near death, he was brought to Lourdes on May 27, 1963. He was carried on a stretcher and placed in the spring water (by this time he was in a plaster cast, and his movements were quite restricted). Immediately on entering the water he had a sensation of heat moving through his body. After the bath he felt better, his appetite returned and he wanted to eat. He felt a renewed energy. Soon he was walking around his hospital room, dragging his cast which had immobilized his useless leg. He had several more baths and then returned home.
Over the course of the next month he felt such an increasing sense of well-being he insisted his doctors X-ray him again. They discovered his tumor was smaller. They were so intrigued they documented every step in his improvement. It was a good thing because after Michelli's tumor disappeared, his bone began to regenerate, and the medical community generally views this as an impossibility. Within two months he was up and walking again, and over the course of the next several years his bone completely reconstructed itself. X-rays and numerous examinations by doctors showed that he had grown a new hip!
A dossier on Michelli's case was sent to the Vatican's Medical Commission, an international panel of doctors set up to investigate such matters, and after examining the evidence the commission decided that Michelli had indeed experienced a miracle.
As the commission stated in its official report, "A remarkable reconstruction of the iliac bone and cavity has taken place. The X rays made in 1964, 1965, 1968 and 1969 confirm categorically and without doubt that an unforeseen and even overwhelming bone reconstruction has taken place of a type unknown in the annals of world medicine."
All doctors who studied the case agreed that no medical explanation was possible. This miracle was investigated and reported by Reader's Digest, April 1982, in an article, "Vittorio Micheli's Pilgrimage to Lourdes."
A fine book which carefully documents the events at Lourdes is The Miracle of Lourdes by Ruth Carnston, a non-Catholic journalist.