Medical Miracles: Doctors, Saints, and Healing in the Modern World

Duffin, Jacalyn

Primary Category: Literature / Nonfiction

Genre: History

Annotated by:
Miksanek, Tony
  • Date of entry: Jun-19-2009


Medicine and religion cross paths in the examination of miracles and the canonization process of Roman Catholic saints. The author of this book, a medical historian and hematologist, compiles an impressive amount of data procured largely from four trips to the Vatican Secret Archives. She reviews 1,400 miracles from the time period 1588 to 1999 and discovers that 95% of these phenomena involve the healing of a physical illness. The author scrutinizes the nature of these miracles and investigates the dynamics and beneficiaries of them.

Medical expertise plays a central role in the substantiation of miracles. After all, miracles that involve healing imply a failure of medical treatment. Over the centuries, any physician providing testimony about the occurrence of a possible miracle must address two issues. The doctor must confirm the hopelessness of a patient's prognosis. The doctor must admit that the positive outcome of the case is nothing short of astonishing. The text is adorned by some splendid and strange paintings that illustrate people requesting or receiving miracles. It profiles celebrities in the history of the canonization process such as Prospero Lambertini (Pope Benedict XIV) and Paolo Zacchia.


Saint-making has a fascinating history and is a labor-intensive process that requires major medical input. Miracles are sometimes contentious. Although most people would recognize a miracle if they saw one, defining "miracle" is tricky. Here is a particularly good definition: "A miracle is an event of wonder, which lacks any other reasonable explanation" [p 5]. The validity of a miracle involves the honesty of witnesses, accuracy, scrutiny, and "plausible wonder." A miraculous cure requires healing that is instantaneous, complete, and durable.

Religion and medicine are both concerned with human suffering. Religion reconciles humanity to suffering. Medicine tries to relieve it. The two traditions accept the inevitability of physical death. Religion strives to prepare us for it. Medicine attempts to delay it. Hope is integral to both religion and medicine. The possibility of miracles is equally essential.

Primary Source

Medical Miracles: Doctors, Saints, and Healing in the Modern World


Oxford University Press

Place Published

New York



Page Count