When considering unexplained Catholic miracles, most people think of the Shroud of Turin. Then there are the few interred Catholic saints whose bodies have not decayed.
Catholicism is open about the visions and unexplainable occurrences credited to the faith's higher power. The church is also open about particular processes used to verify Catholic miracles, such as the inconclusive forensic analysis of the Shroud of Turin. And there are scientific theories about how a statue could weep tears and how a large group of people could see the Virgin Mary appear to them on a building. Nevertheless, some Catholic miracles are strange occurrences that haven't been debunked.
Whether you're a follower of Catholicism or a neutral party, these miracles are sure to provoke a sense of curiosity.
In May 1917, children returning home from shepherding reportedly encountered an apparition of the Virgin Mary in Fátima, Portugal. She allegedly told the children of her plans to appear on the 13th day of the next six months, prompting the kids to rush home and tell their parents of their vision. People hoping to see the Virgin Mary at the appointed times gathered in Fátima to watch a miracle.
On October 13, 1917, the Virgin Mary supposedly appeared only to the children - and predicted the end of World War I. As the story goes, she then presented the 70,000 in attendance with a silver sun to clear the stormy skies, as described by the Lisbon paper O Dia:
The silver sun... was seen to whirl and turn in the circle of broken clouds. A cry went up from every mouth and the people fell on their knees on the muddy ground... The light turned a beautiful blue as if it had come through the stained-glass windows of a cathedral and spread itself over the people who knelt with outstretched hands. The blue faded slowly and then the light seemed to pass through yellow glass... People wept and prayed with uncovered heads in the presence of the miracle they had awaited. The seconds seemed like hours, so vivid were they.
Nonbelievers and believers alike provided eyewitness accounts for daily newspapers across Portugal, corroborating the movement of the sun. Some theories suggest the event was a mass hallucination brought on by fervor and the need to see something unexplainable.
In the early 20th century, saints known as "incorrupt" were discovered with preserved bodies. Some of these saints decomposed after their final resting places became unsealed, allowing everyday microbes and contaminants to end their time of untouched perfection. Still, believers in the miracle of incorrupt saints stay undeterred in their faith, feeling assured that God blessed his servants with bodies that remained in pristine condition after death - even though the Catholic Church eventually stopped declaring these to be miracles.
Coinciding with the Church's decision were the scientific discoveries that most of the saints underwent a mummification process as part of their preparation for burial. Other saints, meanwhile, had the luck of being kept in chilled vaults that staved off decay.
But a number of saints were scientifically proven to have no special conditions in their final resting place, nor any preparation to preserve them after burial. St. Zita received a full examination via intra-body camera by scientists working under pathologist Gino Fornaciari of the University of Pisa. They found no sign of post-mortem cuts or preservation methods on or in the corpse. At least three other saints - St. Ubald of Gubbio, Blessed Margaret of Savoy, and St. Savina Petrilli - are also inexplicably preserved.
In 1858, in Lourdes, France, a 14-year-old girl named Bernadette Soubirous lived with her family in an abandoned prison. Bernadette went with her sister and a friend to collect firewood on February 11. She lagged behind due to asthma and found herself alone at the Grotto of Massabielle, while the other girls had already crossed the cold stream.
According to Bernadette, as she worked to remove her socks and shoes, gusts of wind issued from the grotto before a blinding light followed. A woman in white robes with a blue sash, yellow roses on her feet, and a rosary in her hands appeared to Bernadette and encouraged her to pray. Bernadette's companions did not see any of this and brushed off her account of the vision.
She visited the woman daily over the next 15 days, despite police intervention and her parents' disapproval. On February 25, the woman told Bernadette to drink from and bathe herself in the fountain, but there wasn't one. The girl dug with her fingers until she found an underground water spring that still flows today. Three days later, the woman told the girl to build a church on the land, but the local clergy dismissed her until 1862 when they officially decreed the Virgin Mary had revealed herself.
Millions flock to the spring annually, and the Medical Bureau of the Sanctuary claims upward of 7,000 visitors have received healing from their ailments by immersing themselves in the spring. Each cured person submits their information to the Bureau for scientific authentication before leaving the holy grounds. Of the 7,000 reports of healing since 1862, 66 remain unexplained by science.
Bernadette became St. Bernadette after committing herself to a life of servitude as a nun and is one of the incorrupt saints recognized by the Catholic Church.
Between 1968 and 1971, millions of people claimed to see the illuminated Virgin Mary atop the St. Mary's Coptic Orthodox Church in Zeitoun, Egypt. One witness thought he saw a nun on the roof of the church and ran to intercept what he believed was a suicide attempt. Instead, the glowing woman disappeared. Over the next three years, the Virgin Mary reportedly appeared for minutes or hours to crowds of people gathered at the foot of the church. She was seen holding olive branches and with doves flying around her at night, or with St. Joseph and a baby Jesus on occasion.
Investigations by local police tried to debunk the miracle and disperse the crowds from the area. A search within a 15-mile radius of the church uncovered no special effects equipment, special lighting rigs, or projectors capable of putting on such a spectacle. Some theories include mass hysteria, with the gathered people seeing what they wanted or expected to see. Many of the assembled witnesses, though, were Muslim and had no reason to imagine a figure they don't consider highly significant to their religion.
Many religious scholars point to Mary's appearance as the fulfillment of a promise she made to the family who built the church. Around 1918, the Virgin Mary allegedly appeared to Ibrahim Khalil in a vision and told him to build the church in her name on the land. She promised to return to the location and bless the church in 50 years. The church was completed in 1924, and the Virgin Mary returned in 1968 to perform what is now considered the miracle of Zeitoun.