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Biddle, S. (1943). Lourdes: By Edith Saunders. New York: Oxford University Press, 1940. 292 pp.. Psychoanal Q., 12:138-139.

(1943). Psychoanalytic Quarterly, 12:138-139

Lourdes: By Edith Saunders. New York: Oxford University Press, 1940. 292 pp.

Review by:
Sydney Biddle

A historical essay on the evolution of a healing cult which arose as a spontaneous religious expression of the masses and was later exploited by certain elements in the Catholic church for political and mercenary purposes, this is a conscientious piece of work, carefully documented, and displaying considerable knowledge both of current political events and of human motivation.

The style is simple and pleasing, and the carefully constructed composition has the charm of a tapestry in which the assembled historical personages are held together by a common interest in their relation to the central figure, little Marie Bernard, the shepherdess of the Pyrennes, to whom in 1858 was vouchsafed a series of visitations from the Virgin Mary. Although there are some references to Groddeck, the author does not make use of psychoanalysis to explain either the cult or the materialization of the Virgin on the basis of unconscious motives, and assumes a rationalistic attitude toward both.

The little girl's visions—she was fourteen, but immature, and seemed like a child of ten—might have been hardly more at first than simple fantasies of childish self-aggrandizement which were seized on by the crowds and converted into a miracle which Marie, in turn, was induced to accept as her own authentic experience. Miss Saunders suggests that it was the collective insistence of the masses which produced in her the conviction of reality, and she emphasizes the disparity between the girl's distressing emotional poverty and the narcissistic character of the delusion. The development of the miraculous healing cult was the result, according to Miss Saunders, of the deliberate exploitation by the church of the crowd's religious fervor. How this was brought about by pandering to the superstitious credulity of the masses, how the century-old devotion of the common people to the Virgin was harnessed to the political ambitions of the Body Ecclesiastic, and how the new cult which gave the church greater political power was sanctified by the erection of the massive basilica as an ostentatious emblem of the clergy's newly acquired political power—these are the themes to which is attached the main interest of the book.


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