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Book 3 A Critical Interpretation of the Royal Miracle

The royal healings do indeed constitute one of the so-called supernatural phenomena that are the best-known, and easiest o study, and one might almost say one of the best-attested in the whole of history. Renan was fond of observing that a miracle had never taken place in the presence of the Academie des Sciences; this one at least was witnessed by numerous doctors who were not without at least a smattering of scientific method. As for the crowds, they believed in miracles with whole-hearted passion. Thus we possess a large number of testimonies to them from very varied sources. After all, what other manifestation of this kind has ever continued as regularly and uninterruptedly over nearly eight centuries of history? Even in 1610, we find the historiographer Pierre Mathieu, a good Catholic and a zealous monarchist, expressing his opinion that this was 'the only miracle to take place continually in the Christian religion and in the House ofFrance'.2 Now it so happens, by an extremely fortunate chance, that this miracle, although extremely well-known and of admirably long continuance, is one of those no longer believed in by anyone today; so that historical study of it by critical methods runs no risk of shocking pious souls. And this is a rare privilege, to be used to the full. Others may then feel free to apply to other facts of the same kind the conclusions derived from our study of this particular phenomenon.