Case File: Healing Waters of Lourdes
Location: Lourdes, France
Date: February 11 to July 16, 1858
Description: Lourdes is a small market town in the Hautes-Pyrénées department lying in the Midi-Pyrénées region of Southwest France, famous for the Marian apparitions of Our Lady of Lourdes which started appearing in 1858 to Bernadette Soubirous. At that time, the most prominent feature of the town was the fortified castle that rises up from a rocky escarpment at its center.
History: On February 11, 1858, a teenage girl named Bernadette Soubirous had accompanied her sister and a schoolmate to outside Lourdes, France, looking to collect firewood when she had the first of eighteen visions of "a young lady" in a cave near the River Gave. She was told to "drink from the spring and wash there." She discovered a seep inside the cave and digging with her hands unearthed another stream. The lady was thought to be the Virgin Mary, and she finally identified herself as "the Immaculate Conception," The water is believed to have miraculous healing properties. The Lourdes Medical Bureau, which includes Catholic, non-Catholic, and atheist doctors and staff, examines reported cures to see if they are "inexplicable" and therefore miracles.
Up until July 16, Bernadette had eighteen apparitions of the lady. In 1933, the Vatican declared that Bernadette was a saint. In the years since she unearthed the stream, millions of people have come to Lourdes in order to pray, reflect, and be healed by the water. The lady also told Bernadette to ask clergy to build a chapel on the site. Lourdes now has an immense shrine complex that includes a basilica built right over the grotto where the lady appeared. The Catholic church has documented sixty-nine miracles at Lourdes as of 2017.
The Unsolved Mysteries segment profiled two women who were ill until they went to the healing water of Lourdes. In 1937, Jeanne Fretel, then twenty-three, contracted a serious and mysterious illness. Her abdomen grew rock-hard and was painful to the touch. Blood came from her nose, mouth, and intestines. Over an eleven-year period, she underwent thirteen different operations, but nothing helped. Eventually, she was diagnosed with tubercular peritonitis. On four occasions, her priest administered last rites.
Several of Jeanne's friends convinced her to go to Lourdes. By the time she arrived there in October 1948, she had been virtually comatose for three months. Her bandages had to be changed twenty times per day. Due to her condition, she was taken immediately to the Rosary Basilica where Mass was being held. Father Roques was one of the priests there and tried to give her Communion. With the help of her friend, he put part of it in her mouth. Just seconds later, she awoke from her near-comatose state.
Jeanne was moved into the grotto where Bernadette had her vision. That night, she felt someone lift her to a sitting position. She looked for the person, but saw no one. The presence then took her hands and placed them on her stomach. She felt that she was immediately cured. Soon, she could stand for the first time in years. She felt hungry and was able to eat without problems. She was taken to be bathed in the water a few hours later. The next day, a group of doctors came to examine her. Virtually every symptom of her illness had disappeared. She was released in November 1948 and returned to her home. In 1950, she took vows to become a Benedictine nun. To this day, she shows no signs of the illness, and her recovery was called a "miracle" by the church. She goes to Lourdes often to help those that are ill.
Another woman, Lorraine Echevarria, then fourteen, was struck with a mysterious illness in November 1975, while living in New Jersey. Doctors did several tests on her, but were unable to help her. Her family decided to take her to Lourdes in March 1976. When she arrived, her kidneys began to fail and she had difficulty moving. While there, she had a strange dream. She saw herself separated from her body and realized that a woman was with her. The woman told her to go back to her body, but she said she did not want to because it was dying. The woman told her that she had to because she "had to tell people that he [presumably Jesus] still exists".
Lorraine was bathed in the water and her mother stood by her, praying. Her mother felt a release from her body soon after. That night, her grandmother slept in her room with her. Sometime during the night, she felt hungry and decided to get up and get something to eat. After getting up, she realized that her pain was finally gone. Somehow, she almost immediately recovered. She is free from the illness to this day. However, a medical examination was not done after her visit, so the Catholic church can't recognize what happened to her as a miracle. She is certain that she received one at Lourdes.
Background: Bernadette Soubrious was fourteen when she began having the visions in Lourdes. She passed away in 1879, and in 1933, she was canonized as a saint. Lourdes is located in the foothills of the Pyrenees Mountains, and was a small market town until the visions.
Extra Notes: This case first aired on the February 16, 1994 episode.