Parapsychology, as has been stated before, is the scientific study of the paranormal (namely ESP, PK and Survival). Even though I am a Parapsychologist, I have a passionate interest in a fringe area of this controversial science, what I like to call Christian Parapsychology. This deals with unexplained phenomena associated with Christianity (e.g. possession, stigmata etc.). I have conducted several intense investigations into various phenomena of this type over the years and I find them fascinating. One area of Christian Parapsychology I’ve been particularly involved with the last few years are miracles, specifically miracle blood.
Saint Pantaleon was a martyr during the Diocletian persecution of 303AD in the northwest region of Anatolia (the westernmost protrusion of Asia). His fascinating life was a mix of religious fervour and science, of a man battling with early instruction in Christianity and a passion for medicine. After his mother’s death, he rejected Christianity and studied medicine with a renowned physician, Eurphosinos, ultimately serving as personal physician to Emperor Maximian (Roman Emperor from 285 to 305). Saint Hermolaus brought him back to Christianity, convincing him that Jesus Christ was the better physician. He became a faith healer, miraculously healing a blind man by invoking the name of Jesus over him. With his knowledge of medicine and his new found healing abilities he became revered in some circles whilst denounced for playing with magic in others. The Emperor ordered him to be executed and it is his death which became legend as his reputation throughout Europe grew. Supposedly he was burned, submerged in a bath of molten lead, drowned, fed to wild beasts, bound on the execution wheel and beheaded (the sword bent) all in an effort to execute him. When he desired death himself, only then was it possible to behead him.
His veneration spread throughout Europe and, following the Black Death in the mid 14th Century, he came to be regarded as one of the fourteen guardian martyrs, the Fourteen Holy Helpers (considered within Roman Catholicism for their healing properties due to intercessory prayer). There are relics of St. Pantaleon found all over Europe. His head is venerated at Lyon, at the Basilica of the Vierzehnheiligen in Germany he is venerated with his hands nailed to his head, many churches, shrines and monasteries have been named for him, other relics can be found at Saint Denis in Paris. By far the most fascinating aspect of his veneration concerns his blood.
My own investigation of St. Pantaleon’s miracle blood began following a visit to Madrid in Spring 2009. Whilst there, I heard of a little known monastery in the centre of Madrid which had a relic room containing hundreds of religious relics (including a piece of the True Cross). Monasterio de la Encarnación also houses a phial of St. Pantaleon’s blood, permanently kept in a glass capsule, which remains solid throughout the year apart from on 27th July (his feast day) when it liquifies for 24 hours. According to legend, if it does not liquefy disaster will follow. Given the visit in April 2009 during which I was able to speak briefly to various members of the Monastery and conduct cursory research (including photos and temperature readings of the Reliquario - Relics Room) I planned a revisit around St. Pantaleon’s Feast Day. Armed with camera, dictaphone, temperature data loggers and notebook I began the follow-up investigation focused on examining the claims of the liquifying miracle blood. Without direct access to the blood (it hadn’t been opened for 400 years), the investigation was one of curiosity rather than hoping for a definite conclusion. Over the course of 2 days, however, what I encountered were hundreds of other, more personal miracles regarding healing.
Rather than find a definitive explanation for the miracle blood, I found a wealth of subjective reports that drew thousands of followers, year in year out, to a place where, compared to Lourdes for example, there appeared to be no tourism or desire for money or publicity. The Miracle Blood of San Pantaleon was not its reported physical transformation, but its focus for the ostensible healing power of intercessory prayer. Time and time again I spoke to Spanish people who had either appeared to seek healing by praying to San Pantaleon or who had returned to give thanks in prayer for a previous healing. Some of the accounts were unbelievable – paralysed legs walking again, bronchial infections cleared instantly, cataracts disappearing. I am not arrogant enough to explain away such personal miracles from the comfort of my office. I am, however, left with the feeling I discovered a hidden miracle, a monastery chapel whose real miracle was attracting thousands of followers each year without an ounce of commercialism in sight. In this day and age where psychic phone-lines, tacky crystals, and overpriced alternative therapy permeate the market, it was refreshing to experience.
© Ciaran O’Keeffe 2011