As a Danish catholic theologian I have often wondered at those
phenomena widely known as "miracles". During the course
of the last eight years I have therefore been examining various
source material about miracles and have, as a "participant
observer", visited those places where people have witnessed
miracles. Time and again I have been moved to learn of the immense
impact of miracles on people's lives, and by the joy which remains
with them at the memory of the event. In many cases I myself was
able to witness that which they witnessed.
My travels brought me far and wide:
To Turin in northern Italy,
where a shroud, bearing the inexplicable imprint of a man who
met the same violent death as Jesus, is kept.
To Lanciano on the Italian east coast, where a priest around the
year 800 witnessed the transformation of a host, which he had
just consecrated, into a piece of flesh, on display there today.
Only with the advent of modern science has it been possible to
identify it as a slice of a human heart. Like a number of consecrated
hosts kept in the cathedral in Siena since 1730, the host from
Lanciano ought to have turned to dust a long time ago.
To Naples, where the normally coagulated blood of San Gennaro
inexplicably becomes viscous at three annual masses, only to coagulate
again afterwards and become as hard as it was before.
To Worcester near Boston in the United States, where a handicapped
girl receives regular visits from pilgrims, who come to wonder
at the numerous icons and statues which, in her presence, secrete
an oil claimed to have healing properties.
To San Giovanni Rotondo in southern Italy, the home of Italy's
most famous mystic in modern times, Padre Pio, who for more than
50 years wore the so-called stigmata, inexplicable sores on hands
and feet. He died in 1968, but is said still to perform miracles
To Perugia, where I met Gemma di Giorgi, who was born without
pupils, rendering her completely blind. Despite this fact, when
she visited Padre Pio at the age of seven in 1947, she suddenly
became able to see. Today, she still sees - without pupils.
To Damascus in Syria, where a young woman by the name of Myrna
Nazzour on several occasions, most recently during Easter of 2001,
received stigmata and experienced visions about church unity.
To Rome, where a woman by the name of Vassula Rydén, having
led a normal, secularized life as the wife of a diplomat until
1985 and never having received any theological education, suddenly
started experiencing revelations and writing down conversations
with Jesus. The messages, also about church unity, have been translated
into 38 languages.
To Civitavecchia, the port of Rome, where in 1995 a statue of
the Virgin Mary cried blood on 14 separate occasions, as witnessed
by several thousand people.
To the convent Malevì in Greece, where an icon has been
secreting oil since 1964, and where terminally ill patients have
experienced inexplicable healings.
To the church of The Holy Theodora, also in Greece, from the roof
of which grow seventeen magnificent trees, apparently without
To the Greek island of Kefalonia, where believers at an annual
religious feast wonder at small snakes which honour an icon portraying
the Virgin Mary and baby Jesus.
To the Chruch of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem, where believers
from the Orthodox Church each year experience the "miracle
of the holy fire", which has been taking place for more than
1200 years and holds great significance for Orthodox Christians'
identity, but is largely unknown outside of the Orthodox churches.
To Rome, where father Gabriel Amroth tells of his job as official
exorcist to the Catholic Church.
To The Vatican, where a panel of Italy's best doctors examine
and bear witness to inexplicable healings, thought by theologians
to be examples of miracles brought about by Christ.
The first chapter of the book gives a short introduction to what
is meant by the term 'miracle'. The last two chapters take the
form of a discussion: The first of these takes as a starting point
a miracle which occurred in the Russian orthodox church in Bredgade
in Copenhagen in 1995. It examines the various ways in which we
can relate to miracles, and asks why there appears to be less
of a tradition for miracles in Northern Europe than in a country
such as Italy.
The second of the two chapters elaborates on how modern science,
owing to a growing awareness based on both theoretical knowledge
and experience, has begun to display a more positive attitude
towards the possibility of miracles. For many years, a tradition
for dogmatizing rationalism has dictated that miracles were impossible.
But with the advent of the great scientific revolution, among
whose principal contributors were Albert Einstein and Niels Bohr,
there is once again a growing awareness of the fact that the universe
holds more than that which can be explained by means of Newton's
Laws, that there are more things in heaven and earth than meet
the eye. This awareness may become one of postmodernism's greatest
challenges to both secular science and theological cognition.
It provides a legitimate framework for a discussion of the miraculous
incidents experienced by people over the years. Because miracles
still do happen in the form of experiences in this, our reality.
Within the Catholic Church in particular there is century-old
tradition for this form of awareness. It sees the spiritual reality
as an enormous space, encompassing not only more than meets the
eye but everything in heaven and earth. Unfortunately, it also
encompasses many negative things. The fact that something appears
to be supernatural does not immediately make it a miracle. Various
archives in catholic institutions abound in sources detailing
stories of persons who have been diagnosed as "possessed
by demons", rendering them capable of doing the most incredible
things - twisting their bodies into physiologically impossible
positions, speaking curses in languages unknown to them, walking
on the church walls, etc. However, these inexplicable abilities
are not taken as an expression of God's miraculous intervention,
but as evidence that obscure forces are at work, and the victims
usually suffer greatly. It is possible to speak of miraculous
intervention, when the exorcist, with the help of God's benign
powers, overcomes the evil forces and releases the possessed person.
The material in this book has been put through a screening process.
I have chosen those miraculous events, which, because of the lasting
fruits they bear among the people involved, are taken as an expression
of God's good works. In doing so, I have obviously no intent to
forestall future assessment of church authorities. In order to
limit the bulk of the material further I have chosen to focus
on accounts of miracles from within the Catholic and Orthodox
Churches, which have a particular and long-standing tradition
for miracles. Of course this does not mean that people in other
churches do not experience miracles. Particularly within Evangelical
Churches and Protestant Free Churches miracles continue to play
an important part. Neither does the book include anything about
the so-called Marian apparitions occurring at known pilgrim sites
such as Guadeloupe, Fatima, Lourdes and, in recent years, Medjugorje.
These deserve an independent, collective study.
The purpose of this book is not to provide an exhaustive examination
of the theological reflections and problems which the accounts
of miracles presented here must inevitably result in. Such matters
are left for future projects to investigate. The purpose of this
book is neither to cynically force a natural explanation upon
the accounts of miracles, nor is it to provide irrefutable evidence
for their authenticity. The approach and method of the book is
not the oft-seen analytical "for-and-against"-methodology.
I follow the phenomenological approach, seeking not to analyse
the inner cause and structure of the phenomena, but rather the
way in which they appear and are perceived by the people who experienced
the miracles. The objective is to describe miracles as they are
tangibly seen and felt by and make sense to people all over the
world today - to tell the miracle stories as they were
experienced. Only with this approach is it possible to impart
to others the fascination produced by miracles in the lives and
minds of the people experiencing them, and the way in which this
fascination has enriched and even changed their lives forever.
I would like to extend my warm thanks to all those who contributed
financially to the various phases of the project, the necessary
travelling activity during the course of the last few years and
my work in Rome: The Carlsberg Foundation, Ingeniør Ernst
B. Sunds Fond, Lippmann Fonden, Kong Frederik og Dronning Ingrids
Fond, Aslaug og Carl Friis' Legat, The Danish Institute in Rome,
the private institution San Cataldo, Skt. Knuds Stiftelse, Texaco
Danmark, Siemens, H. Lundbeck, Neg Micon, Tryg Danmark, B&W
MAN Diesel Co, ABB Energi & Industri, P. Paul Maria Sigl and
Managing Director Hans Michael Jebsen.
Thank you for many good years at the faculties of theology at
Copenhagen University and the Gregoriana University in Rome. I
would like to thank Publisher Johannes Riis and Editor Lene Wissing
at Gyldendal for their excellent cooperation and Alec Due for
his invaluable assistance in the collection of illustrations.
I would also like to thank those people who read all or parts
of the manuscript and provided useful comments - especially Director
of Study Peder Nørgaard Højen at the Faculty of
Theology at Copenhagen University, Senior Lecturer in Church History
Jørgen I. Jensen at the same faculty, Paul Pilgaard Johnsen
at Weekendavisen, Bo Lidegaard, PhD, and my father, Torsten Hvidt.