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The miracle of miracles

Writing on the subject of faith, some correspondents question whether “faith has ever made an amputated limb grow back”.

... the restored leg was indeed the same one, buried over two years before, over 100 kilometres away
- Alfred E. Zammit, Żebbuġ

Apparently, it has! In July 1637, Miguel Juan Pellicer, the 19-year-old son of poor peasants in Calanda, Spain, fell under a wheel of the heavily-laden mule cart he was driving. It passed over his right leg, below the knee, fracturing his tibia. After weeks of ineffective treatments, he was transported to the hospital in Zaragoza, where the surgeons decided to amputate his gangrenous leg. Juan de Estanga and Diego Millaruelo performed the operation, during which Mr Pellicer suffered excruciating pain and unceasingly called upon the Virgin of the Pillar, to whom he was greatly devoted. A surgical student, Juan Lorenzo García, buried the amputated leg in a reserved part of the hospital cemetery, as he would later testify.

The hospital provided Mr Pellicer with a wooden leg and a crutch. To survive, Mr Pellicer made himself pordiosero, a beggar authorised by the canonical chapter at the sanctuary of “the Pillar”. In the sanctuary, against Prof. Estanga’s advice, Mr Pellicer would smear his stump with oil from the lamps burning before the statue of Our Lady.

In March 1640, Mr Pellicer returned to his family in Calanda. One night, the Pellicer family was forced to billet a Royal Cavalry soldier. Returning home exhausted, Mr Pellicer lay down on a ground mattress in his parents’ room, stretched a short cloak over himself, and fell asleep. Shortly afterwards, his mother entered carrying an oil lamp, and seeing two feet sticking out from under the cloak, she assumed it was the soldier sleeping in the wrong place and she fetched her husband. They discovered to their astonishment that it was their son.

Awake and after the initial shock, Mr Pellicer said he had dreamt of being within the Sanctuary of Our Lady of the Pillar, rubbing his leg with the holy oil. Soon, all three agreed that the restoration of his leg was due to the Virgin’s intercession.

The incredible news spread. Don Juseppe Herrero, the parish vicar, arrived at the Pellicer home, followed by the justice of the peace, the mayor, the royal notary and other dignitaries. A procession accompanied the miraculously cured man to the church, where everyone was waiting, dumbfounded to see him on two legs, since, until the evening before, they had seen him with only one. Marks of authenticity were discovered on the leg: namely, the scar left by the cartwheel, the excision of a large cyst when Mr Pellicer was a boy, two deep scratches from a thorny plant and a dog-bite on his calf.

These details, carefully observed during the subsequent proceedings, proved that the restored leg was indeed the same one buried over two years before, over 100 kilometres away. Mr Pellicer and his parents swore this unhesitatingly and under oath before the Zaragoza judges. On June 4, 1640, L’Aviso Histórico newspaper reported that, in spite of searches within the Zaragoza hospital cemetery, the buried leg had not been found – the hole that had contained it was empty!

In Zaragoza, on June 5, 1640, the canonical process was officially opened. It was open to the public. More than 100 people of all classes testified. There was not a single conflicting voice. On April 27, 1641, the archbishop solemnly declared the restitution of the formerly amputated right leg of Miguel Juan Pellicer “wonderful and miraculous”.

The Calanda miracle is described in detail in the book Il Miracolo by Vittorio Messori, published by Rizzoli, 1998. Referring to the extant authentic documentation, Messori said (translation “The events are proven in such a granite fashion that if we deny that up to 10 p.m. of March 29, 1640 Miguel Juan Pellicer had only one leg, and half an hour later he had two, we would have to deny history itself. (It would be) like denying that Napoleon ever existed. What I have written is a book of history”.

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