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Niels Christian Hvidt, Mirakler – Møder mellem Himmel og Jord,
Copenhagen: Gyldendal, 2002





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 today.

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 any roots.
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.

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© Niels Christian Hvidt 2007. All rights reserved.

 

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