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Foules, événements, mémoires

Zola, Lourdes and the New Religious Crowd in Ideological Debates in Portugal (1894-1932)

Zola, Lourdes et la foule religieuse dans les débats idéologiques au Portugal (1894-1932)
Eduardo Cintra Torres


L’impact du roman Lourdes d’Émile Zola au Portugal s’est fait avant même sa publication en France en 1894. Cette fiction documentaire de l’écrivain naturaliste a touché une corde sensible dans les débats politiques et religieux de l’époque, notamment en atour de questions telles que la dichotomie entre science et religion, le renouveau de la foi catholique et la légitimité de la foule dans l’espace public. Cet article se penche sur un aspect particulier des débats qui furent actifs au Portugal entre 1894 et 1932 : l’impact de la thèse originale de Zola sur les foules religieuses de Lourdes et le pouvoir guérisseur de la foule. Le développement des débats montre comment les catholiques ont progressivement incorporé la « foule » dans leur vision d’un catholicisme renouvelé, alors que la bourgeoisie libérale continua à rejeter les masses, particulièrement après les apparitions de Fátima en 1917.

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Mots-clés :

foules, Lourdes, Portugal, Zola


crowds, Lourdes, Portugal, Zola
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1Written by one of France’s best-known personalities, Zola´s upcoming novel on Lourdes had created great expectations in the press since his second visit to the shrine in 1892 to further observe the religious phenomenon and conduct interviews. First published as a serial between April and August 1894, Lourdes was released in book form on this date. Two months later, it had already sold 121,000 copies. In Paris, the first literary reviews came out in July and August (Noiray, ‘Notice’, in Zola, 1995 : 587-610). Not only was Lourdes Zola’s ‘most successful novel, it did more than any other publication to bring the shrine, the cures and the debate over the nature of healing to the wider public’ (Harris, 1999 : 331).

2This paper analyses the religious crowd motif, by focusing exclusively on the Portuguese reaction to Zola’s Lourdes. The work by the French novelist was simultaneously trigger, bullet and target in an interesting and vivid debate. The corpus under analysis includes all relevant books and booklets directly related to Lourdes, published in Portugal between 1894 and 1932. I intend to show an evolution in Catholic thinking similar to that of right-wing politics, as well as the unrelenting attitude of the liberal bourgeoisie and anticlerical intellectuals : in a first phase, Zola’s Lourdes crowds were seen mainly as an excuse to discuss its ‘healing power’ in a science-versus-religion debate ; after Fátima, Zola’s novel unexpectedly reappeared, with right-wing Catholics now showing a new confidence in the power of Catholic crowds, including their political significance ; meanwhile, liberals, whether Catholic or not, maintained their disdain for the crowd. The debate on Lourdes in Portugal was much less complex than in France, showing a marked manichaeism in its arguments (for France, see Harris, 1999). The crowd was one of the main topics of discussion, adding new elements to understand the place of ‘the people’ in elite’s conceptions of power and social control. Like most authors quoted here, I take crowd as a large gathering of people with a shared purpose, which is recognised as having a synecdoche capacity to represent a large part of the ‘people’ or the ‘nation’.

3Lourdes’ central characters are a doubting priest and a crippled young woman who travel to Lourdes during the annual ‘national pilgrimage’ to the sanctuary, organized from 1872 and lived intensely by the large crowds arriving on special trains. The priest is now secretly a non-believer, but he expects her illness, that he considers to be of a hysterical nature, to be cured by her faith in the effervescent ambience of the shrine. The novel touches all the main aspects regarding the new, largest pilgrimage of the 19th century : it discusses thoroughly the science versus religion issues involved in the miraculous cures ; it attributes the cures to faith-healing and suggestion ; it describes the commercial activities developing around the shrine, which shocked both friends and adversaries of the sanctuary (Kaufman, 2005).1 But Zola depicted the pilgrims’ motives and actions with realism and sincerity, as well as their pains and dreams of a better life, either on earth or in Heaven. He understood the novelty brought about by Lourdes to Catholicism and to politics. In his clever analysis the role of the crowd stands out : he establishes ‘the model of the peaceful and generous crowd available for a ‘new religion’ of justice and happiness, but also ready to be lead by a conservative meneur’. He was thus the first to study the crowd from this viewpoint, anticipating a change in the crowd psychology of the day (Torres, 2007 : 733). This new ‘science’ had originated in the 1880’s in France and Italy. The crowd was seen as a being with a ‘soul’ of its own ; in its midst individuals lost their individuality. Its behaviour could be dangerous and even criminal, posing a serious threat to order and power. In fact, after Hippolyte Taine made the crowd play an important political role in his History of France from the revolution onwards, the main authors of crowd psychology were jurists and criminologists. A year after Zola’s Lourdes, Le Bon published his Psychologie des Foules, summarizing crowd literature up to then and developing a theory of crowd leadership (Sighele, s.d. ; Tarde, 1890, 1992 ; Le Bon, 1998). Crowd theory was a typical zeitgeit phenomenon, closely connected to the political life of countries like France and Italy (Nye, 1975 ; Moscovici, 1981 ; McClelland, 1989 ; Ginneken, 1992 ; Barrows, 1999 ; Bosc, 2007 ; Rubio, 2008). Although most crowd representations by 19th-century authors were negative, others later tempered their views to include references to peaceful and socially useful crowds (Sighele, 1911 ; Tarde, 1992). But, as shown in Torres (2007), Zola was the first to develop, through fiction, the concept of the religious crowd, peaceful and positive, struggling for happiness amidst sickness, pain and poverty, with a faith capable of operating miraculous cures through self-suggestion and eventually available for conservative political mobilisation – not, as before, for revolutionary mobilisation. This theoretical innovation was missed by Schor (1978) and all the above mentioned authors who dealt with Zola’s crowds.2

4Lourdes turned out to be a disappointment for Catholic sectors, who, after Zola’s much publicized journey to the sanctuary, expected his conversion. Zola had had unrestricted access to the shrine and the full cooperation of its authorities and experts. As a Portuguese priest wrote in 1895, ‘after his visit to Lourdes, everybody expected to see a radical change in the famous French writer’s spirit. The book was finally published, but alas ! Zola the nonbeliever, the immoral novelist […], true only to his old impious and demoralizing self, has described the Lourdes miracles by capriciously reducing them to mere cures of nervous disorders, thus distorting, truncating and ridiculing them.’ (Maciel, 1895 : 9-10).

5In France the controversy was set off in 1894 The writer’s main informant in Lourdes, Henri Lasserre, considered the novel ‘a crime against mankind’. That same month the Vatican, with unusual haste, included Lourdes in the Index Librorum Prohibitorum (Noiray, op. cit.). In Portugal, the first negative responses appeared that same year, but we find a first reference to Zola’s still unpublished novel in a text by Portuguese journalist and diplomat Jaime de Séguier, a supporter of naturalism and realism (Andrade, 1968 : 309). While a consul in Bordeaux, Séguier visited Lourdes in the late 1880’s and in 1893. In his first visit, Lourdes ‘was deserted and looked dormant […]. There were no processions or religious festivities’ (1894 : 124). There were no crowds, which gave the place a totally different atmosphere. In his second visit, however, there was no missing the crowd, as he visited Lourdes at the time of the French ‘national pilgrimage’, a phrase which is also the subtitle of his work. The national pilgrimage was first organised in 1872, gathering a crowd of 50,000 from all over the country, and became a defining feature of the shrine the following year (Claverie, 2008 ; Harris, 1999). By the end of the century Portuguese Catholics were also organising Portuguese annual pilgrimages to Lourdes. Séguier was aware of Zola’s intentions to write a novel about Lourdes, as reported by the press the previous year, which he mentioned briefly. His text was dated December 1893 and published in 1894, the same year as Zola’s Lourdes. The book contains detailed accounts of places, people, gatherings and religious events, as well as a reflection on the Lourdes phenomenon. Like Zola, Séguier sympathized with the place, the crowds, the festive atmosphere and the wish to overcome grief and pain, but loathed the relic trade. He was also impressed by the orderly crowds and saw the bright side of the Lourdes phenomenon – that of giving the poor and the wretched a worldly escape to live the promise of a better life now.

6The crowd has a prominent role in the narrative. Séguier began his description in the Lourdes pilgrim-packed railway station and compared it to ‘one of those German border stations used for the mobilization of troops’. Military similes continued : ‘endless lines of tiny moving dots – it was the body of the army (…) these massive invasions’ (idem : 123-4). The word crowd (multidão) appears 19 times, throng (turba) 14 times ; people (povo, in the sense of great gathering) 8 times, wall (muralha) [of people] twice, and mass(es) twice. Added to the terms ocean (twice), army (twice) and hive (once), the references to the crowd total 51, i.e. an average of 1.16 per page (Table 1). To Séguier, Lourdes was the crowd. But, while Zola proposed a ‘new religion’ for the crowd to replace obsolete Catholicism, his was a more moderate positivism – he claimed that the Catholic faith played its role : ‘Is it well established that humankind can live without belief in the supernatural, without hope in another life ? By shattering a chimera, an illusion, in the spirit of the miserable who suffer and moan under the weight of poverty and toil, I am well aware of what they are deprived, but cannot see what they get in return’. He did not, however, believe in miracles : ‘No, I do not, or, better, I cannot believe in the Lourdes miracles. What I have seen is amazing, grandiose and moving to the utmost degree, but ultimately explainable by the natural laws’ (idem : 297, 299-300). Séguier’s sympathetic opinion regarding the role of the new mass Catholicism was therefore different from Zola’s position. This is a reason why Séguier’s text would be forgotten during the argument raised by Lourdes in Portugal, whereas Zola’s novel was used as a weapon in an ideological and political battle that lasted more than three decades.

First stage

7At the opening of the academic year in the Porto Seminary in 1894, Bishop Castro delivered his inaugural address to the Theology class against Lourdes (1895 : 6). The following year, a book was published about Lourdes and the ‘Portuguese Pilgrimage’ to the sanctuary (Azevedo, 1895) and Father Maciel published Lourdes – Crítica dum Romance Histórico, in which he explained that ‘unfortunately’ Zola’s book, ‘produced by the pen of the painter of putrefaction, has already made its way to Portugal like a worm wriggling out of the foul-smelling dunghill and here has found friends, sympathizers and supporters’ (1895 : 10-1). Finally he asked : ‘if the novel is such a gross fabrication, why take it seriously ? (…) because its champions and spokesmen do their best to glorify and make known this filthy, abject novel far and wide’ (idem : 66).

8This criticism condemned Zola for scorning three miracle cures that he had witnessed as well as rejected the novel’s main theses, particularly the use of Charcot’s ‘faith healing’ concept (that is, faith that heals through the power of suggestion) and the writer’s review of visionary Bernardette’s biography. Also central to these accusations was the criticism against Zola’s theory about the healing power of the crowd gathering in the sanctuary (analyzed by Torres, 2007). Clergymen’s reviews published in 1895 revealed their disappointment in the novel and saw it as a pawn in the battle between the Church and its enemies. Zola’s international prestige made it necessary to counterattack, as he dedicated 600 pages to the most recent and powerful weapon that the Church could use against agnosticism, anticlericalism and the desertion of the places of worship by the urban masses. The French Pyrenees sanctuary shifted the religious centre from urban to rural areas and gave impetus to the Catholic revival undergone by several European countries in the last decade of the 19th century. Lourdes called the masses – a new way of looking at the crowd – back to religious faith, in synchrony with Pope Leo XIII’s encyclical Rerum Novarum (1891). In addition, it developed a new international Catholicism as a response to the powerful working-class internationalism of the time. Lourdes was the destination of national and international pilgrimages from all over the world : for the first time in history, the railway not only did spread news from Paris throughout Europe, but carried miracle-believing Catholics to a tiny place lost in southern France. Lourdes was vital for Catholic theory and practice of the time – the geographical and theological periphery thus became central. Therefore, Zola’s novel was seen as an act of aggression against the new radiating centre of reborn Catholicism : ‘Zola made [general interest in Lourdes] manifest’, wrote Bishop Castro (1895 : 5).

9Their expectations dashed, critics claimed that nothing but offensive words against Lourdes could be expected from the ‘writer of disbelief’, author of ‘bad’ and ‘demoralizing’ novels, written with ‘vicious naturalism’ (Maciel, 1895 : 10-14). After all, Zola was sent to Lourdes ‘by secret societies’ (Castro, 1895 : 181). These writers stood up for Lourdes supernatural events against Zola’s explanations using the medical theories of the time. The title of Castro’s booklet is self-explanatory : Lourdes, Milagre e Ciência. Zola – Charcot – Bernheim – Histeria, Hipnotismo, Sugestão (1895). Charcot had coined the phrase ‘faith healing’ and Bernheim had devised the concept of suggestion (which allowed an individual to accept an induced idea or notion as true), both rejected by the Church. Castro observed that ‘Zola, in the trail of some pseudo-scientists, insinuates and even claims that there are other suggestive influences at work in the renowned grotto. He mocked Zola for asserting that ‘the ardent enthusiasm of the crowd produces these wonders in Lourdes’ (idem : 167). For him, ‘this explains nothing’ :

These supernatural cures happen in Lourdes and in other places, amidst the crowd’s enthusiasm and in the silence of the home, at the stream and at the Eucharist, while drinking the Lourdes water or not, on the hysterical and susceptible to hypnosis and on the sceptical to all forms of suggestion, on those who have confidence in the cure and on those who do not expect it or are not aware of it. (idem : 192).3

10In order to deny the crowd thesis, an interesting relationship was established between Lourdes and diverse forms of mass entertainment, which corresponded, after all, to a modern view shared by Catholics and agnostics alike – that of Lourdes as spectacle :

If enthusiasm had this power to totally and instantly heal incurable, organic or even functional diseases, doctors and philanthropists would not fail to show the way to theatres, bullfights and political rallies, to all the wounded, the phthisic, the maimed, the blind. It would be easy and inexpensive therapy. On the other hand, there is no record of any crowd, no matter how enthusiastic, making the blind suddenly see, the lame walk straight or the phthisic and wounded get rid of their ulcers. (idem : 168)

11Lourdes was a spectacle not only because of the ritualistic display, essential to a great assembly of people, but because elite members of society understood that it was possible to have a bystander’s, or voyeur’s, viewpoint (Torres, 2007). Séguier (1894) used the words ‘spectacle’ and ‘spectator’ 16 times, particularly when observing the crowd, but to the supporters of Catholic orthodoxy, the spectacular aspect was irrelevant at this stage, since it failed to explain the supernatural.

12In Crítica dum Romance Histórico, also published in 1895, Father Maciel followed Castro’s arguments. As regards the crowd motif, he stated that Zola debased the sanctuary, as ‘he described Lourdes under a coarse and materialistic light ; he did not feel the crowd’s soul throbbing along the processions’ (Maciel, 1895 : 28). The use of the phrase ‘the crowd’s soul’ is peculiar ; it was used by press critics and chroniclers and in theoretical essays in France and Italy from the late 1880’s onwards. Maciel literally reduced the ‘soul’ to the Catholic expression of collective sharing, whereas for other authors it meant the collective expression of religious life as a social phenomenon, a concept later crystallized in Durkheim’s effervescence collective (2002). Only through the catholicisation of the crowd could Maciel deny Zola’s understanding of ‘the crowd’s soul’. Indeed the novelist made it play a central role and a necessary one for the development of a ‘new religion’ in favour of the suffering multitude. But Father Maciel was categorical. He continued by denying that ‘the crowd’s enthusiasm’ could heal, as Zola sustained, because ‘those large crowds rarely assemble in Lourdes, only when great processions are held’. Though ‘most calm’ the rest of the year, ‘miracle cures take place at the same rate, whether on those days or at the times of great assemblies’. The author also used Castro’s argument about theatre and circus performances, where miracle cures do not take place ‘under the audience’s applause’ (Maciel, 1895 : 52-3).

13In 1922, Catholic journalist Fernando de Sousa compiled a book containing articles published after 1898 in Correio Nacional about Zola’s Lourdes, Rome, Paris trilogy, ‘that earned such noisy notoriety’ (Sousa, 1922 : 6, 139). Sousa denounced Zola’s ‘hostility against the Church’ and his ‘childish confidence in the emancipating power of science left to its own resources’ (idem : 6-7). Though still filled with facile insult, Sousa’s four texts had theoretical consistency and the qualities of genuine critique, allowing for an analysis of Zola’s works as well as for extensive quotations. Sousa was the only Portuguese reviewer mentioning the novelist’s intention to see the crowd’s ‘spectacle of every sorrow and misery’ as ‘the wish to live and enjoy life, the ardent aspiration to health and happiness’. In Zola’s work, he added, ‘neurosis reaches the paroxysm of madness. Crowd psychology provides a bizarre pathological case for study. The power of suggestion exerted by excited imaginations combined (...) operates strange cures, which popular credulity calls miracles, but science explains without resorting to the supernatural’. ‘Amidst this neurotic crowd’ Zola would see ‘the repugnant silhouette of a priestly Tartuffe’, methodically organizing ‘the pompous liturgical performances and the endless processions, conducting the chorus of eager prayers and frenetic clamours that ask for a miracle and sometimes make it come true through self-suggestion’. Sousa deconstructed Zola’s development of the trilogy to show that charity cannot resolve the contradiction between ‘the two societies that fight each other’ : on the one hand, ‘corrupted and corrupting bourgeoisie’ and on the other, ‘the hosts of the poor, the proletarian, those who suffer and toil in misery, hunger and disease, deprived of all joy or pleasure’. Since that ‘social Christianity’ was not viable and, in Zola’s theory, the extreme anarchists’ ‘propaganda through fact’ was no solution, Sousa remarked that ‘science is pointed out as the true revolutionary force’ (idem : 140-4).

14Sousa rejected the theses put forward in the trilogy, especially those related to the crowd’s healing power. He did justice to the ‘great talent and evocative power’ of Zola’s style, which was put to the test by the Lourdes crowd, ‘that odd revival of religious fervour in a positivist, utilitarian and sceptical century’ (idem : 146). Just like Maciel, who had referred to Zola as ‘photographer’ (1895 : 11), Sousa compared ‘the unforgettable scenes of a great procession’ in Lourdes with the cinematic ‘illusion of life and motion’, which shows the effect of naturalist writing on readers before the cinema replicated the mastery of literary fiction. Sousa also followed Maciel when stating that Zola lacked ‘that delicate spiritual perception that animates those crowds’ : ‘however insightful, still his analysis could not grasp the true psychology of the believer’s soul’. The critic rejected the theory according to which the crowd’s faith in Lourdes was nothing but ‘intense neurosis, religious rapture, collective madness, generated by the longing for life and enjoyment’ and ‘the crowd’s clamour’ was not but ‘furious demands to an unknown power for justice and equality in pleasure and health’. Sousa asserted with irony that in Zola ‘believers pray and anarchists kill guided by the same feeling and, though manifesting itself in different ways, with the same frenzy’. Though never actually rebuffing Zola, Sousa used utmost irony to give new meaning to the French author’s words and deny his theory of the ‘crowd’s healing breath’ (Sousa, 1922 : 146-7).

15Lourdes also called the attention of those who stood up for science as opposed to religion. In 1896 in Porto’s Medical and Surgical School, Alfredo de Magalhães defended a doctoral thesis called Os Milagres de Lourdes. Como Terapêutica Psicológica. This text intended to renovate the interest in Lourdes and quoted Zola’s novel (1896 : 59). In the nine-page acknowledgements, this physician made his ideological position quite clear : Júlio de Matos, Teófilo Braga, Ricardo Jorge and Bernardino Machado were some of the scientists and republicans to whom he dedicated his paper. Magalhães recognised the difficulty in denying Lourdes by resorting to a psychological explanation due to the rudimentary state of the ‘science of the nervous system’. As long as this was the case, he wrote, ‘priests will often triumph over us physicians’ (idem : 3). Once again, the crowd phenomenon was in focus. The author, who claimed to have visited Lourdes, wrote about :

the passion of those immense crowds, consumed by the love of their Faith. These are true intellectual epidemics [...]. Collective diseases that, when not under the pathogenic influence of the air, the heat, the cold, the miasmas or the morbid agents of all kinds, are determined by surprising forces of moral nature, like belief (1896, no page indication).

16The power of the crowd is such that it goes against the ‘permanent laws of evolution, which rule revolutions as well as alchemy, sanctifications as well as crusades, miracles as well as witchcraft’. The text revealed how liberal bourgeois elites despised the crowds, leaving them at the mercy of the Catholic clergy and of other beliefs, like the collective hallucinations of entire crowds in the frenzy of the Sabbath in medieval Rome. Magalhães recorded cases of the time, such as a ‘mass’ of Porto’s population throwing themselves before a certain ‘Blessed Carvalho to kiss him and ask for miracles !’ or ‘the fervent and foolish crowds that constantly flow from lands far away to the chapel of Loureiro [Régua], where a kind and sickly man [...] is kissed and venerated by hundreds of worshippers’. Unlike Zola and his Catholic adversaries, Magalhães despised that ‘ruthless, wonder-thirsty mob’ and their ‘incomprehensible madness’ and ‘foolishness’ (idem : 11-6). This attitude of the republican side towards religious peasants – whether of Lourdes or Fátima – turned out to be disastrous for the regime established in 1910. The Republic was a period during which, paraphrasing Alfredo de Magalhães, ‘scientists’ triumphed over ‘priests’.

Second stage - after Fátima

17After a few years, Zola’s roman à these on Lourdes disappeared from books and booklets published in Portugal. This was probably due to the natural renewal of subjects within the political and religious debates of the time, the lack of a Portuguese version (it was translated in 1911, after the establishment of the Republic) and Zola’s redirected interest in the Dreyfus case after 1897. The latter factor is confirmed by three texts about the Zola-Dreyfus Affair, published by ‘Biblioteca de elite social’ in 1898-9 (Porto, Empr. Litográfica e Tipográfica Editora). Zola’s death in 1902 also contributed to the eclipse of Lourdes.

18In 1904, Pereira Pinto Balsemão’s Notas de Viagem. Do Porto a Lourdes did not mention the novel. The book was a series of chronological notes made by a touriste who went on a group pilgrimage to Lourdes in August 1903. Balsemão seldom went beyond a description of the picturesque. However, the chapter on the shrine dealt extensively with the crowd, mentioned five times. The author understood the moving power of the crowd and its role within the Catholic revival of the turn of the century – ‘how the French sectarians would bite themselves in rabid rage if they could hear these most fervent prayers, like those of another forty thousand of their compatriots gathered in Lourdes, who represent the sentiment of an entire nation, of the primeval Church’ (1904: 185-97).

19After the republican revolution of 1910, the priorities of the Catholic side no longer included Lourdes. The only reference to Zola in the first years of the Republic came from a priest who ‘took exile’ in Lourdes. The letters that he sent from Lourdes to the journal Revista Católica in 1913-14 were later collected in a book (Moita, 1958). This clergyman’s main target was ‘the democratic, not to say demagogical, fury’ that Portugal was going through and, therefore, the reference to Zola is less heated than that of his predecessors: ‘There was Zola, the famous novelist who either demanded to see recent cures or complained that he could not accept them as miracles because they had taken place a few moments before’ (idem: 15, 57).

20Lourdes was again in the public eye in Portugal by the late 20’s and early 30’s. Zola’s novel, now three decades old, once again became an instrument for the debate between agnostics and Catholics, or, better, between republicans and those who stood up for a political alternative to the right of the Republic. Why this comeback? In one word, Fátima. The Republic was found incapable of assuring stability and safety. In addition, the Fátima phenomenon looked like a re-edition of Lourdes and this parallelism rekindled the controversy brought about by Zola’s novel in the 1890s. The apparitions of the Virgin to three shepherd children in Fátima, central Portugal, between May and October 1917, was a crowd event almost from the start, just as Lourdes had been.

21From July 1917, the Portuguese press made several references to Lourdes in diverse articles about Fátima: the Catholic Ouriense asked ‘Does the Queen of Angels want to make a second Lourdes of this parish?!...’; the republican O Mundo commented that all the clergymen flowing to Fátima ‘found in little [Lúcia] the characteristics of that talking parrot called Bernardette of Lourdes’; Correio da Extremadura echoed ‘the re-edition of the Lourdes miracle’ in Fátima; the monarchical A Pátria compared ‘the apparition of the Virgin to the little shepherds’ of Fátima with the Lourdes events ‘in extremely radical France’ (apud Fernandes, 1999: 39-46). Their contemporaries did not miss the similarities regarding their protagonists, places and events. As reported by eyewitnesses (apud,idem: 239-40), the ‘Ave de Lourdes’ was chanted by the crowd at least during the apparition of 13 October 1917. A major figure in the promotion of Fátima and its recognition by the Church, Father Manuel Nunes Formigão spent three months in Lourdes in 1909, where ‘he prayed before the image at the entrance of the grotto’ asking for the grace to become ‘one of the most fervent campaigners of its worship in Portugal’ and promising to devote himself to that mission, as he wrote in 1930. He was in Fátima on 13 September 1917 and again the following month to interview the peasant children and other witnesses, thus becoming ‘the first and undisputed source of information on these phenomena’. Shortly before she died in 1920, little seer Jacinta appointed him ‘new messenger’ and in 1922, this clergyman was a member of a commission appointed by the Bishop of Leiria to study and organize a canonical process about the apparitions. He dedicated an extensive body of work to spread the word of Fátima, which has often earned him the title of ‘fourth messenger and apostle’ of Fátima (Azevedo e Cristino, 2007: 232-7). In the light of the link between Lourdes and Fátima (idem: 236), Formigão’s commitment to Fátima can be interpreted as the fulfilment of his promise made in Lourdes in 1909.4

22In the 1920s Fátima was the stage of a political and religious battle between two extreme factions, just as Lourdes had been in the second half of the 19th century. Of little relevance to this discussion, I have left aside the many nuances that characterised the two fields of the political and religious debate in this period. Fátima was an exemplary case, including the resistance of some Catholics as well as a breach among Republicans, which ‘opened a few cracks in their rigid dogmatism’ (Fernandes, 1999: 331). Generally speaking, it can be said that the Fátima phenomenon was the battlefield ‘where the most virulent conflict took place between Church and State, faith and science, the vestiges of Christian feeling and the ecclesiastical institution, and between the different ways of approaching progress and advancing the nation’ (ibidem). The role of Fátima within Portuguese political struggles became more prominent when both Republicans and Catholics used the concept of nation as a weapon against each other. The nation was the battlefield and ‘both the Republic and the Church had their own ideas of nation and sought to fight for its improvement according to their own particular views’ (idem: 231). In the synecdoche capacity of the crowd mentioned above, the Fátima crowd also stood for the political nation. According to Formigão, the apparition of the ‘Nation’s Patroness’ in Fátima announced ‘a new period in the history of Portugal’. Thus, Fátima began to rise as ‘the beginning of something new’ and ‘the nation became the essence of Catholicism’ (Ramos, 1994: 611). According to Aires da Fonseca, the Portuguese people’s renewed display of religious faith was Fátima’s ‘greatest miracle’ (1934: 175).

23As had been the case in Lourdes, a key aspect for the recognition of Fátima by the public opinion of the time lay in legitimising the crowd phenomenon. From July 1917 onwards, the press started to report the number of worshippers. The almost fifty-thousand people who had gathered for the last and most widely covered apparition on 13 October made up a very impressive number. In spite of the lack of sufficient accesses and means of transportation, ‘it is possible to say that the growing flow of people to Fátima was significant for that time’ (Fernandes, 1999: 60). Non sectarian republicans had a different attitude towards the crowd: O Século became one of the main advertisers of the miracles and the crowd, showing them in photographs; on 18 October, according to A Luta, ‘the tide of faith rose so high that no dam could contain its waves’ (apud,idem: 60); and on 14 May 1923 Diário de Lisboa claimed that the Fátima processions were made up of ‘good, pious and innocent people’ (apud, Ramos, 1994: 608). When confronted with the Catholic crowd, these republicans did what Zola ‘had done in Lourdes’ (Ramos, 1994: 608), that is, came to terms with the phenomenon.

24The Fátima crowd, like that of Lourdes, showed the strength both of religion and of a political and religious sector that, even though divided, used it to legitimise its ideology. On 21 October 1917, the newspaper Liberdade stated the facts in black and white: ‘For those who only concern themselves with political events, the comment is the following: the latest apparition in Fátima attracted fifty thousand spectators (...); the uncovering of the monument to Miguel Bombarda and Cândido dos Reis, twenty-three people. It appears that the Republic is not of much interest to the crowds’ (apud Fernandes, 1999: 161).5 In a scarcely representative regime of supervised freedom like the First Republic, the presence of the crowd in the streets (or the fields, like in Fátima) was a significant tool to measure its strength and influence on public opinion. If ‘the collapse of the First Republic cannot be understood without looking at its religious policy and the opposition from the Church itself’ (Cruz, 1998: 11), then Fátima was a turning point in the path towards that collapse. It became unstoppable. On 13 May 1922, when the Church organised a reparation procession for the destruction of the original chapel in Fátima, almost sixty thousand people attended. Twelve years later Father Fonseca wrote: ‘all provinces were well represented, as well as all social and professional classes in Portugal’ (1934: 83). All these ideological elements had already been present in connection with Lourdes and in Zola’s novel (Torres, 2007). The Portuguese political and ideological debate took new interest in Lourdes and, as a consequence, in Lourdes. The latter’s first ‘comeback’ to the political arena was probably a reference in the republican newspaper O Democrata, dated 9 November 1917, in order to dismiss both the Fátima and Lourdes events as miraculous ‘fabrications’ (apud Fernandes, 1999: 259).

25Let us then examine our sources: essays, booklets and books. As already mentioned, in 1922 Sousa republished his texts on Zola’s trilogy. Two years later, this ‘great Catholic journalist’ wrote the preface to yet another book on Lourdes. Its author explained the reason why he had quoted Zola in the following terms: ‘talking about Lourdes without mentioning Zola’s name’ would be ‘giving an excuse to the detractors of the supernatural’ (Novo, 1924: 139). Such was still the influence of the 1894 novel and of the French writer. However, in the two chapters dealing with ‘the enemies of Lourdes’ (Zola and Renan), Novo’s references to Zola had lost much of their former virulence. The work was found as of ‘undeniable literary worth’ and the ‘moving and thrilling’ crowd scenes were the product of ‘the admirable pen of his fecund imagination’. Unlike Maciel and Sousa, who saw Zola´s Catholic crowds as soulless, to Novo ‘the novelist sang, though without feeling it, the most eloquent epopee in honour of the Immaculate Virgin’ (idem: 139-42). This new approach could already be found in Les Faits de Lourdes, published by physician A. Marchand in 1923 in France, from which Vieira Novo quoted: ‘But, in the end, what [Zola] accomplished was to call the attention of the entire world to the Massabielle prodigies and to increase the flow of pilgrims that every year go to the miraculous grotto’ (Marchand, Les Faits de Lourdes: 56; apud, idem: 142).

26After reading Marchand and the echoes of his work in Novo – ‘Unintentionally, Zola has become the greatest bard of the Virgin’s Glory and the most unsuspicious propagandist of the Lourdes prodigies’ –, it was easy to forget that Lourdes, as well as Zola’s entire work, had been listed in the Index. When writing about the crowd, they showed a confidence that was unheard of in the 1890’s. Though Novo didn’t accept Zola’s thesis about ‘the crowd’s healing power’, his gentle prose and surprising references to science seemed more understanding: ‘how unfair he was in analysing the cases that he had witnessed in Lourdes and that he rigidly tried to attribute, against all scientific conclusions, to animal magnetism, which he dogmatically called the fanatic crowd’s healing breath’ (Novo: 143, 147).

27Also in 1924, a doctoral thesis on medicine (approved the year before in Coimbra University) was published under the title of Lourdes e a Medicina.6 The author introduced an unexpected concept, in tune with the ideas of the board of examiners: after declaring to be a ‘steadfast believer’, he thanked ‘the learned professors’ on the board for ‘their usual kindness’ and for accepting his thesis7, which had ‘the intention of establishing a precedent for other papers on medical-confessional matters’ (Souto, 1924: 9). Souto’s thesis was a mere description of the cures, some of them recent, but not any different from those that had been reported for the last forty years. He also insisted that Zola had witnessed cures omitted in the novel, thus implying that fiction should work as documentary writing.8 Unlike Novo, Souto refused to come to terms with the novelist and his work: he denied the ‘defence of Zola’s sincerity’, incompatible with ‘the infamous distortion of the truth published in the novel Lourdes’. Following Catholic critics of the 1890’s, he rejected all the theories on Lourdes including that of ‘the crowd’s healing power’ fabricated by Zola’. He added, ‘Zola wanted to call ‘the crowd’s healing power’ in aid of his rationalism, but it proved useless to explain the cures experienced by so many patients that were far from the crowd, (…) even outside Lourdes (…) or on the way back home’. He concluded that the Lourdes cures ‘do not have a scientific explanation, but they are still natural facts – they are miraculous, they are supernatural’ (56, 109-16).

28This new debate on Lourdes did not take place in the seminary, like in 1894, but in Medical School. That was enough to shock a moderate Republican like Brito Camacho, who wrote a series of newspaper articles on Lourdes and the miracles (probably shortly after the publication of Souto’s thesis), eventually published as a book around 1931. Camacho decided to write after observing that although Souto’s thesis ‘had not the least merit – neither scientific background nor literary value’, it was graded 18/20. He accused the paper of being passed for ‘establishing the precedent for confessional theses’ (n.d.: 5-6) and Coimbra University of being an accessory to scientific and academic fraud, as its author did not substantiate his assertions nor his refutations, going only as far as to say that ‘all these cases are well-known and had already been analysed; their study will surely confuse unbelievers and embarrass intellectual merchants like Zola’ (Souto, 1924: 56, apud Camacho, n.d.: 22). Making fun of the intended exchange of places between Zola’s prose à these and Souto’s superficial writing, Camacho commented: ‘One could be led to think that Zola wrote Lourdes e a Medicina, whereas Mr. Meireles Souto is the author of Germinal, L’œuvre and La Terre. Some intellectual merchant, Zola!’ (n.d.: 22). Camacho added that when writing his thesis, Souto’s ‘only goal was to advertise Lourdes in Portugal’ (idem: 8, 31). He was offended by the insolence of the paper as well as by the fact that the University had not only accepted it but passed it with such a high grade. Long ago were the times when the opposite thesis was approved in Porto’s Medical and Surgical School (Magalhães, 1896).

29Another republican writer, Tomás da Fonseca, who had been a senator during the Republic and had addressed Parliament about the Fátima events in 1917 (Fernandes, 1999: 48), spoke and wrote newspaper articles about Lourdes in the 1920’s, his, as well as Camacho’s, words sounding like an epitaph to the liberal and republican positions on the subject. Fonseca suspected that ‘still better times lie ahead’ for the Church, particularly because ‘the Portuguese people’s devotion inconspicuously, almost automatically, has turned towards Fátima’ (1932: 8, 73). Fonseca’s No Rescaldo de Lourdes reproduced a 1924 lecture showing the same liberal bourgeois scorn for the crowd as that of Magalhães (1896). He admitted that the fight against superstition and crowd manipulation by the Church was almost lost: ‘former habits return with such prodigious strength!’ Though impressed by what he had seen in Lourdes regarding the ritualistic mise-en-scène, he focused, quoting Zola, on superficial criticism to the commercial aspect of the place and the crowd’s ‘ignorance’: ‘the origin of this prosperity is well-known’, he wrote, it is the same as enjoyed by ‘the Lady of Fátima in Portugal – a children’s game, which could easily be called blind man’s buff’ (Fonseca, 1932: 7, 44-5, 39). Fonseca’s contempt for the crowd led him to quote Séguier’s (1894) sole negative reference to it, in which he used Lombroso’s ‘scientific’ theories to put down Lourdes and the ‘crude bestiality’ of the crowd (apud Fonseca: 25-26).

30A. Gomes’s Crer e Raciocinar (A Propósito de Lourdes) may be pinned down as the first Portuguese attempt to incorporate Lourdes into a political theory against ‘the so-called liberalism’, resulting from ‘the rationalism so widespread among Catholic nations’ (1925: 110). One of its chapters was entitled ‘Lourdes and social regeneration’, containing frequent quotes from Maurras, the theoretician of the French authoritarian reaction. The Lourdes phenomenon was increasingly interpreted as a response to the policy and lack of religiosity of the cities and their inhabitants: ‘The Holy Virgin left the cities and the populated centres in favour of the country side, filled with the bounty of that nature which wise men had chosen as their meditation temple’. It was the rebirth of Christendom, as Mary ‘seemed to be saying’: ‘come and behold. I will unfold a myriad of wonders. But I want many people to come here’. In view of ‘the crowds flowing to Lourdes, where more than forty thousand pilgrims sometimes gather’, ‘Catholicism moves forward with increasingly steadier steps’. The author revealed the new Catholic confidence after 1917: ‘Europe is showing, after the Great War that swept through the land, that the new generations are getting rid of former degenerate ideologies. Les dieux s’en vont. Even Germany is shaking off the poisonous ideals on which it once fed’. It was the end of the ‘criminal mobs’ that had spread fear throughout Europe since the Paris Commune in 1871. Gomes remarked God’s return to ‘the social wheel’, as legitimised by the real and symbolic crowds streaming into Lourdes (idem: 107-9).

31The first Portuguese edition of Um Romance de Lourdes, attributed to ‘an unbeliever’, was also published that year (Anonymous, 1925). No mention was made as to its author or translator. Zola’s novel played a prominent role within the Catholic arguments of this fictional work about a Paris bourgeois family, and it could be considered as a Catholic counterpart of the 1894 novel. As the unbeliever was planning to read Lourdes, a relative of his asked ‘I beg you not to read that! […] I hate it!’ And a few pages ahead: ‘To hell with Zola (…) he must already be there’. The text briefly listed the reasons why Zola was ‘a man of bad faith’ and ‘a swine’ (idem: 27-31). The character of the unbeliever prevented the analysis of Lourdes from being a sheer Catholic vulgate. The crowd’s ‘spectacle’ had a prominent place, revealing that ‘the Catholic Church was the only one to understand the importance of scenic effects’ and made Lourdes ‘the centre of excitement and emotion’. The ‘electrified’ crowd cried ‘in the supplicating tone of a loving child’. Combining the protagonist’s sceptical viewpoint with Zola’s theories already integrated into Catholic thought, this increasingly ‘fanatical and delirious’ crowd made ‘the whole immense valley vibrate’ (idem: 29, 35, 56-9, 69-70):

It was the cry of a crowd turned mad, mad with suffering, mad with excitement, appealing to God, who could hear but was indifferent. Every look glowed with unwavering faith. Every voice had echoes of delirium. It was a crowd turned mad that roared with joy, quivered with excitement, laughed and wept at the same time (idem: 70).

32The novel mentions the crowd very often. In addition to the ‘huge throng’ and the ‘populace’, the term ‘crowd’ appears thirty times along its 178 pages (Table 1). This crowd was stabilised in renewed Catholicism and not hated, like in Catholic writer Huysmans (1993 ; for an analysis of his 1907 Les foules de Lourdes, Torres, 2007) : ‘What a beautiful spectacle, Felix, (…) Look at the Grotto ! All those thousands of lights make it look as if it were on fire (…). Come, admit it, say it’s beautiful ; don’t try to look superior, like that horrible Huysmans !’ (Anonymous, 1925 : 135). As a convert to Catholicism, Huysmans was nevertheless spared by most authors. His adherence to the idea of the shrine’s crowd as a symbol of popular support to conservative politics made him acceptable, whereas Zola, who expressed that same view in his novel, was still rejected decades later. The crowd’s involvement in the shrine’s supernatural events was confirmed in the end of Um Romance de Lourdes when (in contrast to Zola, the unconverted ‘infamous’ writer), the protagonist, a doctor who was ‘even afraid’ because ‘he thought like Zola’ was cured from an eye disease while surrounded by the crowd : Felix reached Rosary Square, then ‘almost deserted’, and ‘noticing the crowd’s quietude’ thought that ‘there would be no miracles’ ; then came the ‘huge throng’ and ‘the crowd knelt down around him’ ; ‘a loud clamour of joy and triumph went through the crowd and Felix felt it like the echo of a more powerful, more triumphant, cry bursting from his own soul : A miracle ! A miracle ! He was converted at last’ (idem : 163-78). Thus, a novel in which Zola was damned and insulted, ended precisely with a practical confirmation of the healing-crowd thesis, as only when in its midst did Felix experience the miraculous cure. The difference lay in the origin of that same cure.



Per chapter

Per page

Lourdes, Zola




Les foules de Lourdes, Huysmans




Um Romance de Lourdes, Anonymous




Lourdes – Terra de Milagres, Grave




Table 1. Occurrence of ‘crowd’ and related terms in Zola, Huysmans, Anonymous and Grave

33The first two fictional works on Lourdes signed by Portuguese writers appeared at about the same time. The earliest one was a three-act play by Alfredo Cortez (1927), in which the characters took part in the Portuguese pilgrimage. Due to scenic limitations, Cortez placed the crowd offstage. The first act ended with the candlelight procession, while the sick girl watched ecstatically from her bedroom window, in a voyeuristic attitude. The play had an original ending – whereas in other fictional works the characters were cured or witnessed a cure, here Ana, the protagonist, died at the precise moment of her conversion, which was felt as if she were in the middle of the crowd :

Ana : Can’t you hear the crowd’s clamour ? !...
Nazaré (runs to the window and listens): I can’t hear anything.
Ana (very cheerful): But I can! I can hear them perfectly!... It’s like a divine madness that has possessed them!... They are shouting wildly!... So many disorderly cries! So many souls united! (the Magnificat begins to be faintly heard) Can’t you hear them singing?!... (idem: 119)

34The young woman dies crying ‘I am the miracle’, while the Magnificat sounds far away (idem : 122). The crowd’s power has worked at a distance. Staged after the May 28, 1926 successful coup against the 1910 regime, which was followed by an interregnum in the Republic, the play was cheered by a theatre critic as a sign of the new political and religious times : ‘in these passing times of escapist emotions and flustering wickedness, in which the theatre is a window to moral deformities, Lourdes twinkles like a beautiful star in a mourning sky’ and ‘has come up at the right time ; so much so that audiences, even those who are numbed by the licentiousness of free theatre, have applauded Lourdes with pleasure and deep feeling’ (Santos, 1927 : 6, 14). Remarkably, ‘Lourdes is the first Catholic play ever written in Portugal’. Although he saw ‘the times that we are going through’ ‘as if we had fallen from the grace of God’, the critic noticed the change of attitude in the theatre : ‘The elite classes already feel certain nostalgia for the good old subjects and motifs of the theatre, definitely less noisy, but more rightful and profound’. New times also in politics : ‘the Bolshevik wave – a wave of blood and bereavement, of mud and murder – roared, rose and spread’, added Santos, who then asked : ‘What brought to a halt, like an unsurpassable dam, that rushing force of death ? Was it the power of weapons or the cunning of diplomacy ? No, it was the belief of the crowd and the faith of the soul whose vigour steadily grows stronger’. Led by the Church, the crowd conquers, as foretold by Zola’s novel in 1894. The ‘growing vigour’ of the crowd and of religion could be seen in Portugal in the still unofficial popular ‘pilgrimages to Fátima’ (which would soon be recognised by the Church), as well as in the ‘permanent pilgrimages from all over the world’ to Rome and Lourdes (idem : 9, 16, 23). Fátima thus rose among the unrecognised local pilgrimages and to the level of the great pilgrimages to Rome and Lourdes.

35Lourdes – Terra de Milagres, a novelette published in 1928, is flawed by a lack of originality (Simões, 1978 : 93). Grave quoted only from Zola and Huysmans and copied Zola’s model : the train journey by a group of pilgrims, the ‘immense parade of miseries’ (1928 : 251), the sceptical middle-class protagonist who observed the collective effervescence and Lourdes’s deserted places and understood the phenomenon on his way back, the references to trade and art, the train journey back to Porto. However, Grave copied Huysmans’s criticism of Zola and his political interpretation of the Lourdes crowd. The crowd played a role in the novel (Table 1). In addition to the term ‘crowd’, that appears 23 times, we can also find ‘throng’ (six times), ‘populace’ (twice), ‘mass of people’, ‘human anthill’, ‘wave’ of people or of pilgrims, ‘ocean’ of human heads. But this was a minor role, both in quantitative and qualitative terms, corresponding to a lesser concern with the crowd phenomenon. The mixture of social classes came from Zola and Huysmans : ‘aristocratic ladies mingled with poor, rustic plebeian creatures, whom only their facial features marked as humans’ ; from the latter Grave copied his political project to appease the crowd under the banner of the Church : ‘Oh ! If only the entire globe could be inhabited by such humanity’. In Grave’s text, the diverse, international, crowd of Zola and Huymans was controlled and ruled by religion : ‘that complex throng was completely unified and organized as a psychological crowd, guided by the same idea. Religious feeling overcame any other’. This was no longer a ‘dangerous mob’, the bourgeois could even ‘mingle’ with such a crowd, which ‘when rambling through the town streets, showed no hurry, no impatience, no excitement. (…) No angry complaints were heard, nor rough words. Filipe mingled with it and followed it for a while’ (idem : 215-8, 252-3). Quoting Zola, Grave admitted that ‘religious belief is a great source of comfort for those unfortunate souls who, even in grief, find its light and never despair, because they never separate the reality from the dream’ (Zola, 1995 : 301). On the other hand, while Zola demanded a new religion of justice, all the other authors who endorsed Lourdes were reconciled with the fact that the hopeful crowd ‘never despaired’.

36Cortez and Grave wrote about Lourdes at the time when Fátima’s fame was steadily rising. In 1920, Fátima was referred to as ‘the next Portuguese Lourdes’ within Portuguese ecclesiastical circles (Barreto, 2002 : 36). In 1927, the apparitions had already been recognised by the Bishop of Leiria, who in that same year presided over the first official ceremony in Fátima. Also in 1927, As Grandes Maravilhas de Fátima was published by Father Formigão (Azevedo e Cristino, 2007 : 233).9 However, it was not until 1930 that a Pastoral Letter by the Bishop of Leiria declared ‘the visions of the children’ of Fátima ‘worthy of credit’ and explicitly allowed devotion to them (idem : 33).10 The new interest in Lourdes throughout this period reflected Fátima’s mimetic aspirations in order to be consecrated by the Catholic Church.

37Also in 1930, Fátima was confirmed as ‘the Portuguese Lourdes’ by Luis Fischer, a German priest who had visited Fátima the year before. The first two editions of his first book, Fátima, das Portugiesiche Lourdes – Reiseeindruecke, sold 20,000 copies. Its structure was very similar to that followed by Lourdes pilgrims and novelists (including Zola) : journey, religious experience, crowd, return home. Fischer wrote four books on Fátima between 1930 and 1937 (idem : 229-30). All of them omitted any reference to Zola’s novel but, on the other hand, none was necessary. The purpose of these texts was to place Fátima at an equal level to Lourdes, or even higher. And how could that be accomplished ? By means of the crowd : ‘Fátima must have already received the same number of pilgrims that go annually to Lourdes, unless that number was long ago surpassed’ (Fischer, 1930 : 140). Fischer emphasised the ‘millions of people who, for the past twelve years [since May 1917] have come here to pray, weep and suffer [...] Millions of people ! Millions of people, indeed, and it is no exaggeration’. And some pages further on, he added : ‘In 1925, I witnessed the canonisation of Saint Therese of Lisieux at Saint Peter’s Basilica in Rome, where eighty thousand people had gathered. But what is that number, compared with the crowd that I can see here ?’ Fátima outdid not only Lourdes and Lisieux, but Saint Peter’s Square itself – it is, therefore, the crowd that legitimises the place.11 It is only natural then that Fischer so often mentioned the crowd present in Fátima in 1929. It was a loving crowd, like ‘Jesus, hand in hand with His priests, walking through the crowd of His children thirsty and hungry for His love !’ Fischer recalled former times and customs : ‘With refined cunning, ancient paganism devised the amphitheatre shape in order to subjugate the masses and allow evil to celebrate its victories. In the same way modern paganism has recovered the arena and the amphitheatre. It is no wonder ; the devil is always the same and has a special predilection for the crowd’. But in these new times, religion can win the crowd over : ‘The arena that Mary chose for Her victory is the great amphitheatre built by nature in the Cova da Iria’ (idem : 60, 102-11).

38The German priest also understood the political significance of the new Portuguese sanctuary : ‘Fátima is Heaven’s answer to the revolution’, thanks to the crowd who turned the shrine into ‘the centre of religious restoration across the country’ (idem : 44). Zola’s intuition in 1894, confirmed by Le Bon the following year, that the crowd could be used by the Catholic or conservative fields to counteract the frightful urban mob eventually came true in Portugal thirty years later.

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GRAVE, João, 1928, Lourdes – Terra de Milagres. Porto, Livr. Chardron, de Lello & Irmão

HUYSMANS, J. K., 1907, Lourdes. Póvoa de Varzim, Livr. Povoense – Ed. José Pereira de Castro.

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Magalhães, Alfredo de, 1896, Os Milagres de Lourdes. Como Terapêutica Psicológica, Inaugural Address delivered at the Porto Medical and Surgical School. Porto, Impr. Portuguesa

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NOVO, A. Vieira, 1924, Lourdes perante a História, a Ciência e a Fé, Preface by Conselheiro Fernando de Sousa. Braga, Liv. Cruz Editora

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1  Thecommercial aspect in Lourdes, studied by Kaufman (2005), was mentioned by several Portuguese authors, but only as a lateral topic. Relic trade in Fátima was not developed in the period under study.

2  The fact that Zola wrote fiction does not dismiss the theoretical importance of his work, as he himself wrote in Le roman experimental (Zola, 1880). The distinction between fictional writers and essayists was not as yet firmly established. For a brief discussion, see Torres (2007). On the documentary value of the realistic novel, see Lyon-Caen (2006).

3  Physician Lacerda (1899) asserted exactly the opposite in a specialised press article four years later: ‘away from Lourdes, without the interesting psychic orchestration of the sick, devout crowd, these cures are rare, hesitant’. This author supported Zola’s theory, though without mentioning the French writer.

4  Despite the obvious intrinsic and contextual, as well as political, religious and historical similarities between Fátima and Lourdes, scholars have shown little interest in their study. The Enciclopédia de Fátima (Azevedo e Cristino, 2007), for instance, the first reference work on the Fátima phenomenon, did not include an entry for Lourdes.

5  Bombarda and Reis were considered as martyrs of the Republic. Both died hours before the successful republican coup in October 1910, although the first was murdered by one of his mental patients and the second committed suicide.

6  The cover shows the year of 1923 (thesis defence), whereas the date on the front page is 1924 (publication).

7  The author of the thesis seemed so sure of himself that he did not even bother to justify his argument, referring his readers to other sources to study the subject further (56). The dissertation contained a brief 36-word conclusion.

8  This confusion between fiction and factual prose was partially a result of naturalism, but it continues to this day. For instance, Harris (1999) gives credit to Zola’s critics in this respect.

9  Directed by Rino Lupo, the film Fátima Milagrosa was premiered in the same year as Grave’s novel. It contained documentary footage filmed in the actual location, which bore witness to its popular appeal.

10, as of 4 Feb. 2006.

11  The continuity of Lourdes through Fátima and the legitimacy of both sites by means of the crowd was pointed out by Cardinal Cerejeira: ‘Lourdes and Fátima, I insist, have become evidence within the Church, or better, evidence of the supernatural life of the Church’. Cerejeira quoted Pious X on Lourdes – ‘People from everywhere are impelled towards these places’ and added that ‘both famous sanctuaries have attracted crowds from all over the world’ (1958: 6-10).

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Eduardo Cintra Torres, « Zola, Lourdes and the New Religious Crowd in Ideological Debates in Portugal (1894-1932) »Conserveries mémorielles [En ligne], #8 | 2010, mis en ligne le 25 septembre 2010, consulté le 26 septembre 2023. URL :

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Eduardo Cintra Torres

is a PhD candidate in Sociology at the Institute of Social Sciences, Lisbon University. He is the author of 10 books, the latest being Mais Anúncios à Lupa (2008), Anúncios à Lupa. Ler publicidade (2006) and A Tragédia Televisiva. Um Género Dramático da Informação Audiovisual (2006). He is also a journalist, a television and media critic in the daily journal Público since 1996 and an advertising critic in the daily Jornal de Negócios since 2003. He is the author of a telefilm script and of two documentary series about Macao for Rádio e Televisão de Portugal, of radio programmes and of didactic material for the Ministry of Education.
Eduardo Cintra Torres est doctorant en sociologie à l‘Institut des sciences sociales de l‘université de Lisbonne. Il est l‘auteur de 10 livres, les plus récents étant Mais Anúncios à Lupa (2008), Anúncios à Lupa. Ler publicidade (2006) and A Tragédia Televisiva. Um Género Dramático da Informação Audiovisual (2006). Il est également journaliste, critique des medias et de la television pour le quotidien Público depuis 1996 et critique publicitaire pour le quotidien Jornal de Negócios depuis 2003. Il est l‘auteur des scripts d‘un téléfilm et de deux documentaires sur Macao pour Rádio e Televisão de Portugal, d‘émissions radiophoniques, et de matériel didactique pour le Ministère de l‘éducation.

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