MD, PhD, FMedSci, FRSB, FRCP, FRCPEd.

The purpose of this qualitative research was to explore whether pilgrims visiting Lourdes, France had transcendent experiences and to examine their nature.

For this purpose, the researchers traveled to Lourdes and spoke with 67 pilgrims including assisted pilgrims, young volunteers, and medical staff. About two in five reported a transcendent experience: some felt they had communicated or had close contact with a divine presence, while others reported a powerful experience of something intangible and otherworldly.

The authors concluded that visiting Lourdes can have a powerful effect on a pilgrim and may include an “out of the ordinary” transcendent experience, involving a sense of relationship with the divine, or experiences of something otherworldly and intangible. There is a growing focus on Lourdes as a place with therapeutic benefits rather that cures: our analysis suggests that transcendent experiences can be central to this therapeutic effect. Such experiences can result in powerful emotional responses, which themselves may contribute to long term well-being. Our participants described a range of transcendent experiences, from the prosaic and mildly pleasant, to intense experiences that affected pilgrims’ lives. The place itself is crucially important, above all the Grotto, as a space where pilgrims perceive that the divine can break through into normal life, enabling closer connections with the divine, with nature and with the self.

Some people can have powerful effects when they expect something powerful. So what?

To make any sense out of this, we need a controlled experiment. I am glad to tell you that Austrian psychologists recently published a controlled study of this type. They tested the effects of tap water labeled as Lourdes water versus tap water labeled as tap water found that placebos in the context of religious beliefs and practices can change the experience of emotional salience and cognitive control which is accompanied by connectivity changes in the associated brain networks. They concluded that the findings of the present study allow us to draw preliminary conclusions about the placebo effect in the context of religious beliefs and practices. We found that this type of placebo can enhance emotional-somatic well-being, and can lead to changes in rsFC in cognitive control/emotional salience networks of the brain. Future research is warranted to replicate the results. Moreover, future research should investigate whether the observed effects generalize across different religious affiliations. The idea of “holy water” (or blessed water) is common in several religions, from Christianity, Islam, Buddhism to Sikhism.

Placebo can enhance emotional-somatic well-being. Expectation can play all sorts of tricks on us. This makes sense to me – much to the contrary to the ‘qualitative study’ suggesting that transcendental experiences can be central to this therapeutic effect experienced by believers in Lourdes.

4 Responses to Transcendent Experiences Among Pilgrims to Lourdes

  • They should have a a third group with Lourdes water labeled as tap water. 😀

  • For some reason it reminded me of this, expectation vs. reality.

    https://www.theguardian.com/world/2012/nov/23/india-blasphemy-jesus-tears

  • Have an unbiased look at the miracle of Mr Traynor at Lourdes and others well proven by the Lourdes Scientific Investigation committee which thoroughly research all cures submitted to it by the Church before approval.

    • This article examines the cures recorded in Lourdes, France, between 1858, the year of the Visions, and 1976, the date of the last certified cure of the twentieth century. Initially, the records of cures were crude or nonexistent, and allegations of cures were accepted without question. A Medical Bureau was established in 1883 to examine and certify the cures, and the medical methodology improved steadily in the subsequent years. We discuss the clinical criteria of the cures and the reliability of medical records. Some 1,200 cures were said to have been observed between 1858 and 1889, and about one hundred more each year during the “Golden Age” of Lourdes, 1890-1914. We studied 411 patients cured in 1909-14 and thoroughly reviewed the twenty-five cures acknowledged between 1947 and 1976. No cure has been certified from 1976 through 2006. The Lourdes phenomenon, extraordinary in many respects, still awaits scientific explanation. Lourdes concerns science as well as religion.
      https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/22843835/

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