Lourdes: Body and Spirit in the Secular Age

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9780670879052: Lourdes: Body and Spirit in the Secular Age

A magisterial history of the world's greatest Catholic healing shrine: an examination of its incredible flowering, and how it shaped the Church and the faith of millions

In 1858, near the tiny French town of Lourdes in the foothills of the Pyrenees, a young peasant girl, Bernadette Soubirous witnessed the Virgin Mary in a grotto. Since then, millions of pilgrims from all over the world have gone there every year to walk in a procession to a shrine whose waters have made it a synonym for healing.

Oxford historian Ruth Harris traces the history of this mass phenomenon, placing Lourdes at the center of nineteenthcentury debates on religion, science, and medicine--debates being revisited today. She examines the pivotal role of women and children as its visionaries, devotees and advocates address issues of mysticism and non-orthodox faith that speak to our own era of spirituality. Above all she explores how, at a moment in French history when the Church was under attack, this place of pilgrimage improbably prospered. She offers a serious challenge to the view that the spirit of modern Europe has been exclusively secular and progressive. Lourdes is a major work and sure to become an important history of the greatest of healing shrines.

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Review:

Lourdes by Ruth Harris is a compulsively readable history of the most famous Catholic healing shrine in the world. In 1858, a peasant girl named Bernadette saw the Virgin Mary in a grotto. Millions of pilgrims from around the world have since traveled to Lourdes in order to petition the Virgin for healing. In Harris's hands, the story of Lourdes (up to World War I) is "a story about France, about the struggles of Catholics in the aftermath of revolutionary turmoil, the capacity of the Second Empire to adjust to, and even profit from, religious movements, and the inability of the Third Republic to suppress them." It is also "a focal point in the wider debate between science and religion, and between anti-clericalism and clericalism." If you don't have the historical knowledge to recognize or consider all of the topics identified above, don't worry about it. Harris will give it to you, in language that is as down to earth as it is sophisticated. Her arguments (illustrated by dozens of fascinating photographs) range widely, but through them all she remains attentive to "one fixed point: the essential image of a young, poverty-stricken and sickly girl kneeling in ecstasy in a muddy grotto." --Michael Joseph Gross

About the Author:

Ruth Harris, Fellow and Tutor in Modern History at New College, Oxford, is the author of Murders and Madness: Medicine, Law, and Society in the Fin de Siècle and is at work on the nineteenth-century volume of the Penguin History of Modern France. She lives in Oxford, England.

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Ruth Harris
Editore: Viking Adult (1999)
ISBN 10: 0670879053 ISBN 13: 9780670879052
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