Les Miraculées de Lourdes: Sacred Celebrities in the Age of Mass Spectacle
Scholars have claimed that the rise of modern print media and the mass production of goods turned the promotion of saints and other exceptional religious figures into a mass cultural phenomenon. That these same technologies provided new opportunities for lay Catholics to experience a parallel kind of celebrity‐making has gained less attention. Focusing on the development of the Lourdes pilgrimage in late nineteenth‐century France, this article argues that the practices at this shrine produced a new cultural rhetoric of miraculous healing, one that focused primarily on humble women who had suffered years of devastating illness and ineffective medical treatment only to be healed by the Virgin's intervention. Marketing these cured women as embodied evidence of the miraculous, the Church positioned the female miraculé as a novel kind of sacred celebrity that proved God's continuing intervention on earth. In the new setting of mass pilgrimage, commercialised media enabled celebratory practices that were widespread but also relatively fleeting. Despite the short‐lived nature of this fame, however, I will suggest that the process of transforming otherwise‐ordinary miraculées into public figures was crucial to the popularity of twentieth‐century Lourdes, while also enabling these cured women to act with sacred authority in their home communities.