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Miracle Cures

Episode 2 of 10

Peter White on the search for 'miracle cures' in his history of disabled people in the 18th and 19th centuries. From May 2013.

Peter White draws on the latest research to reveal the lives of physically disabled people in the 18th and 19th centuries. In this second episode - the search for Miracle Cures.

Peter says, 'Every so often in the street someone sees me with my white stick and comes up to me -and offers me my sight back. I'm usually quite rude to them, it depends what kind of day I'm having. But the idea of miracle cures runs very deep.'

It goes back at least to the Middle Ages, to the earliest accounts we have of disability in Britain. Peter investigates the roots of the idea of the miracle cure, in conversation with medieval historian Irina Metzler. She reveals that having a child with a disability was thought to be the result of 'the wrong kind of sex' - and there were many 'wrong kinds', such as sex on Feast Days and in daylight.

Thousands of people with illnesses and disabilities flocked to their local Cathedral, praying to the Saints for a cure. When that didn't work, they simply moved on to another cathedral. And the belief in miracles lasted at least until the 18th Century - we hear how the infant Samuel Johnson was taken to see Queen Anne, his mother hoping that the Royal touch would cure his skin disease. It didn't work, of course, but the great rationalist wore the amulet the Queen gave him all his life - hoping for a cure for his multiple disabilities. There's a triumph of hope over experience!

With historians Irina Metzler and Judith Hawley and voices from the past brought vividly to life by actors Emily Bevan, Ewan Bailey and Gerard McDermott.

Producer: Elizabeth Burke
Academic adviser: David Turner, Swansea University
A Loftus production for BBC Radio 4.

Available now

14 minutes

Last on

Sun 3 Jan 2021 00:15


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