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Lourdes: Body and Spirit in the Secular Age (Compass) Paperback – November 1, 2000

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Product Details

  • Series: Compass
  • Paperback: 496 pages
  • Publisher: Penguin Books; 2nd edition (November 1, 2000)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0140196188
  • ISBN-13: 978-0140196184
  • Product Dimensions: 5.6 x 1.1 x 8.3 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 14.1 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 3.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (12 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #405,792 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

Lourdes by Ruth Harris is a compulsively readable history of the most famous Catholic healing shrine in the world. In 1858, a peasant girl named Bernadette saw the Virgin Mary in a grotto. Millions of pilgrims from around the world have since traveled to Lourdes in order to petition the Virgin for healing. In Harris's hands, the story of Lourdes (up to World War I) is "a story about France, about the struggles of Catholics in the aftermath of revolutionary turmoil, the capacity of the Second Empire to adjust to, and even profit from, religious movements, and the inability of the Third Republic to suppress them." It is also "a focal point in the wider debate between science and religion, and between anti-clericalism and clericalism." If you don't have the historical knowledge to recognize or consider all of the topics identified above, don't worry about it. Harris will give it to you, in language that is as down to earth as it is sophisticated. Her arguments (illustrated by dozens of fascinating photographs) range widely, but through them all she remains attentive to "one fixed point: the essential image of a young, poverty-stricken and sickly girl kneeling in ecstasy in a muddy grotto." --Michael Joseph Gross --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Publishers Weekly

This is a deftly balanced history of religious pilgrimage to the small town of Lourdes in the foothills of the French Pyrenees. Harris crafts a book that simultaneously provides a historical context of the pilgrimage for religious readers and constructs an interpretive model for nonbelievers that will enable them to sympathize with the appeal of the tradition rather than dismiss it as ignorant superstition. Lourdes became the focal point for pilgrimage by Catholic followers of the Virgin Mary after a 14-year-old girl named Bernadette Soubirous began having visions of a figure (who identified herself as the Immaculate Conception) in a grotto in 1858. Harris, a historian at Oxford University (Murders and Madness: Medicine, Law, and Society in the Fin de Si?cle), accomplishes her goal of respecting the religious tradition of the site while offering a dense social history of what appears to be a cultural paradoxAthe growing popularity of the shrine during periods of rapid secularizationAby contextualizing the pilgrimage within the broader histories of the French nation, the Catholic church and the worldwide Marianist movement. One of the more interesting features she analyzes is the constant interplay between strong religious women and male authority figures throughout the history of the increasing popularity of the shrine. Harris also explores the interdependent relationship between positivistic science and the spirituality represented by the grotto, and she challenges the notion that the two remain in clear and perpetual opposition. A deceptively easy read, this is in fact a complex and sensitive history that refuses to dehumanize religious believers. Photos not seen by PW. (Nov.)
Copyright 1999 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

Customer Reviews

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27 of 28 people found the following review helpful By Judith Noone on January 26, 2000
Format: Hardcover
Everything you ever wanted to know about Bernadette Soubirous, Lourdes, Catholicism and French politics. It is definitely not a "Song of Bernadette" type of book, but,scholarly and, for the most part, a real page turner. It's obvious that a great deal of effort went into it. The bibliography, alone, is mind-boggling! It is not time wasted to read this book.
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18 of 19 people found the following review helpful By Jean E. Pouliot on September 8, 2004
Format: Paperback
Unlike the standard pious or devotional book on the phenomenon of Lourdes, Ruth Harris approaches her subject not as a devotee or skeptic, but as a historian. With no axe to grind, she (theoretically) can take a dispassionate view of a topic that has claimed the passions of generations of believers and non-believers since 1858, when Bernadette Soubirous reported her visions of the Blessed Virgin. Harris chronicles the visions themselves, of course, but throws her net much wider to help the reader understand their historical and social context.

In 1854, Pope Pius IX (whose anti-democratic bent would appall modern American Catholics) promulgated the dogma of the Immaculate Conception - which stated that the Blessed Virgin herself was conceived without the stain of Original Sin. Just four years later, Bernadette's vision revealed its identity in Bernadette's Pyrenean patois: "Y soy Immaculad Conceptua" -- virtually confirming the newly-proclaimed dogma. How this must have gratified the wing of the Church that supported the Pope - and how it must have rankled those who saw Pius IX as a retrograde disaster for the Church!

Harris subjects Bernadette herself to close scrutiny, chronicling her family's hardscrabble existence, her father's business incompetence and the family's recent shameful residence in a cold, drafty former prison. Harris presents the Bernadette of history--asthmatic, lice-ridden, desperately poor, barely educated yet devoutly religious--whom the Virgin graced with her visible presence. In detailing Bernadette's stark, grimy reality, Harris allows us to witness the girl's no-nonsense and even gritty brand of holiness.

Bernadette's visions are wonderfully detailed.
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57 of 70 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on August 23, 2000
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
This is a well-researched, well-written study of Lourdes, its origin and its impact. It's excellent history, on the whole. But the interpretation of Lourdes leaves much to be desired. Harris does not believe in the miracles she describes--she is Jewish--and fails, ultimately, to take a position on Lourdes that is anything other than vague and unsatisfactory. Moreover, the narrative is marred by feminism (a couple of lines on page 331 evoked laughter) and an undue emphasis on the anti-Semitism inherent in 19th century France. Harris is every bit the politically correct historian of her time. Alas.
Oh yes, we also get a nice dose of anti-Catholicism in the Epilogue. It seems that the Church liked Nazis. Alas. And the critics rave.
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13 of 14 people found the following review helpful By F. Orion Pozo on May 28, 2000
Format: Hardcover
Ms. Harris tells the story of the wonderous events in the small town of Lourdes, and relates them to the history of France in the second half of the 19th Century. Her approach is to tell the story of the events through the lives of the people involved. To do so she quotes from letters and diaries as well as official records. In order to write in such depth, she must have read everything ever written during this period about Lourdes. Between the Notes and the Bibliography at the end of the book is a three page Dramatis Personae listing all the major people associated with the shrine. Not just for Catholics, the book devotes many pages to the role of women in 19th Century France and will be of great interest to anyone wanting to know about women's rights in France. It is also a "must read" for people interested in French social history. She also looks into the relationaship of anti-Semitism to the Catholic piety of the time. People are never presented two-dimensionally to represent the ideals or concepts they championed. Ms. Harris treats the people she writes about with respect and intelligence. As for Bernadette's vision and the miracles, she tells what is known (and she knows a lot!) and the reactions they caused without taking a stand one way or the other herself. Truly a great work of historical writing.
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44 of 56 people found the following review helpful By Cordelia VINE VOICE on January 10, 2003
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
Having received an Amazon gift certificate, I eagerly a sought book on Lourdes which I had not yet read. I came upon Ruth Harris' book, surprised that I had never seen mention of it in any Catholic literature. Indeed, each and every one of the rave reviews in the book is from secular sources, and scant wonder. The book is an unabashed attack on Catholicism from beginning to end. The author seems bent on depicting the Lourdes phenomenon as being made possible primarily because of a deeply-rooted pagan or earth-based folk spirituality beneath a forced, thin veneer of orthodox Catholicism. The author consistently uses the term "Counter-Reformation" as synonymous with 19th century orthodox Catholic culture, as if to imply that this culture was largely reactionary and paranoid, and sets out to portray the true believers at Lourdes as being in opposition with and repressed by the orthodox Catholic hierarchy. In spite of her reviewers' awe of her "elegant scholarship," she makes incredible leaps of interpretation. For example, in describing how people over the years have been led by stray cattle and other animals to discover miraculous hidden statues of the Virgin Mary, Harris concludes that the presence of animals in these tales and their wooded settings must indicate a pagan sensibility. She gives a sexual interpretation to the anecdote of a bull licking a statue of the Blessed Virgin. With this kind of thinking, Harris would probably look upon the story of St. Francis and the Wolf and determine that St. Francis must really be a pagan at heart!Read more ›
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