A Small Moment of Great Illumination: Searching for Valentine Greatrakes, the Master Healer

Leonard Pitt, Author . Shoemaker & Hoard $22 (196p) ISBN 978-1-59376-126-4

Pitt (Walks Through Lost Paris ) delves into the life and times of the now obscure but once famous Irish "healer," Valentine Greatrakes, a wealthy member of the gentry who amazed 17th-century contemporaries with his seemingly God-given ability to lay his hands on the afflicted, and cure them of every ailment, from dropsy to cancer. Patients said they felt the pain "move" through their body and leave via their fingertips, nose, toes, eyes, mouth or ears, never to return. Pitt, intrigued by a footnote in a history of medicine he happened to read in 1989, describes his years-long journey to discover as much as he could about this enigmatic man: was he a charlatan, a well-meaning quack or an authentic healer? Greatrakes's well-placed friends, such as the great scientist Robert Boyle, were inclined to believe the latter (as does Pitt, one infers), but he was subjected to bitter attacks by his many enemies. In the Middle Ages, Greatrakes might have had an easier ride, but living as he did on the cusp of the Enlightenment and the rise of the scientific method, Greatrakes's claims were intensely scrutinized. Likewise, modern readers may applaud Pitt's sleuthing but err on the side of skepticism. (Nov.)

Reviewed on: 09/25/2006
Release date: 11/01/2006
Genre: Nonfiction
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