The fame of the miraculous cures procured by the virtus, that is to say the “beneficial power” of Saint Martin, owes its publicity at the time to two authors: the poet Paulin de Perigueux in the Vth Century, then the chronicler Gregoire de Tours in the VIth Century. At this time, the popularity of the pilgrimage is at its height.
However, all the great people from the Carolingian period still go on it. Charlemagne, accompanied by Alcuin and by all of his family, makes the trip in the year 800. The Martin epic song [geste] gives a very early account of the miracles occurring at Tours: the curing of illness and infirmities of all kinds happening on the saint’s tomb. Gradually, the pilgrimage is codified and an unchangeable ritual is born.
Because they see the virtus of Martin as something palpable, material, the faithful try to capture the mysterious fluid which still emanates from objects or places which have been in contact with the saint. Near the tomb, the beneficial power infuses the earth of the atrium beside the basilica, the wall of the basilica, the curtains, the oil lamps and the candles which light it, the cloth which covers the tomb.
To expose oneself to the radiations emanating from the sanctuary, to rub one’s eyes with the pieces of cloth, remove fragments of stone, wood, material or drops of the oils which are used for the torches, so as to later make potions or unctions out of them, is particularly effective. The Martin pharmacopia prefers these powders of finely ground substances mixed with water: the dust obtained from scraping the tomb stones represents the panacea par excellence. The bishop, himself, goes nowhere, without taking with him, as prevention, a capsula of this miraculous powder. Once again, talismans and amulets are perfectly at home in divine proximity.
Medicine, in the sense which we give to this term today, was born only once. And it could only happen after science had given it a model. The XVIth Century, the pivotal period, is still marked by these paradoxes.
The great Paracelse (1493-1541) announces the principle of experimentation: “Practice should not be based on speculative theory.”. It will take two centuries for him to be heard. However, this master of Western esotericism, alchemist and occultist, who says that he has made the homunculus and the elixir of longevity, is also the one who gives life to the “theory of signatures” which perfectly resumes the logic of the men of the Middle Ages.
According to this theory, each plant carries signals indicating the organs or the illnesses which it is able to heal: the sap of chelidoine is the colour of bile, therefore it cures liver diseases; the bulb of the autumn crocus (meadow saffron) looks like a toe deformed by gout, therefore it cures gout…
Water from Lourdes and parallel medicines are still used today.