The Miracle of Calanda is an event that allegedly took place in Calanda, Spain in 1640, according to 17th century documents. The documents state that a young farmer's leg was restored to him after having been amputated two and a half years earlier. This event is described in detail in the book Il Miracolo by Vittorio Messori.
The following article is principally based on the account in Messori's book.
At the end of July 1637 Miguel Pellicer (1617-1647), a 20-year-old man from Calanda in Aragon was working as an agricultural labourer at Castellón, 60 km from Valencia, on his uncle's farm. While steering a cart by riding one of the mules that was pulling it, Miguel fell off, probably because he had fallen asleep. The cartwheel passed over his right leg, breaking the tibia. He received initial treatment at Castellón, then was admitted to the hospital of Valencia, where he stayed for five days. He then decided to leave for Zaragoza in order to receive treatment in the hospital dedicated to Our Lady of the Pillar to whom he had great devotion. The 300 kilometre journey took him some 50 days.
On his arrival, the doctors observed that the leg was in an advanced state of gangrene, leaving no other choice but to amputate it. In their testimony, the doctors described the leg as "very phlegmonous and gangrenous," to the point of appearing "black." In mid-October two master surgeons, Juan de Estanga and Diego Millaruelo, carried out the operation. The leg was cut "four fingers below the knee." Although they had made the patient drowsy with alcoholic and drugged drinks, as was the practice at the time, Miguel suffered excruciating pain: "In his torment," the witnesses would later say, "the young man called upon the Virgin of the Pillar, unceasingly and with great fervor." The leg was then buried, as was customary at the time, in a special part of the hospital's cemetery. The stub was subsequently cauterized with fire.
Miguel Juan Pellicer stayed in hospital for a few months, until in the spring of 1638 he was provided with a wooden leg and crutches and released from hospital. For the next two years, he made his living through begging. He was provided with the necessary authorization, at the Sanctuary of the Pillar. During this time he was certainly a familiar sight for a large number of the citizens of Zaragoza. He regularly returned to the hospital for checkups and treatment through Dr. Estanga.
Every evening he would ask the servants in the sanctuary for a bit of the oil that burnt in the lamp and use it as ointment to rub in the stub of his leg, with the conviction that he would so be able to draw the aid of the Virgin upon him. In the first months of 1640, now 23 years old, he decided to return to his parents at Calanda. After about one week's travel he arrived during the second week of Lent, i.e. between March 11–14. Unable to help in working on the fields, he once again took up begging, going around the neighbouring villages on donkey's back. Many people at the time must have witnessed that his lower leg was missing.
According to Messori, at about ten o'clock in the evening of 29 March 1640, Pellicer laid himself to rest. Because his bed was occupied by a soldier of a garrison that stayed at Calanda over night, he went to sleep on a provisional bed in his parents' room. Between half past ten and eleven o'clock, his mother entered the room and saw two feet appearing from below the cloak that covered her son. Thinking that Miguel Juan and the soldier must have changed places, she called her husband to resolve the misunderstanding. But while removing the cloak, husband and wife, were dumbstruck, as they realized that this was indeed their own son. They shook him and shouted at him to wake him up. Some minutes passed until Miguel Juan woke up from a deep sleep. He told them that he had dreamt of being within the Sanctuary of Our Lady of the Pillar and rubbing his leg with the holy oil, as he had done so often. Soon all three agreed that the restoration of the leg was due to the intercession of the Virgin of the Pillar.
News of the event immediately spread through Calanda. The following morning the local judge, assisted by two surgeons, examined Pellicer and set up a report which he immediately sent to his superiors. On April 1, Palm Sunday, Don Marco Seguer, parish priest of Mazaleón, a village fifty kilometres away, went to the place of the event, accompanied by the royal notary Miguel Andréu, who set up a certificate to express the testimony, confirmed by oath, of ten persons.
On April 25 Pellicer and his parents went on a pilgrimage to Zaragoza to give thanks to Our Lady of the Pillar, and here too the young man was seen by a great number of people who had known him before with only one leg. Following a request from the city's authority, a formal inquiry was initiated in order to ascertain the veracity of the event. Legal proceedings, presided by the archbishop of the city began on June 5 and took about a year. All hearings were public and no voice of dissent was recorded. Twenty-four witnesses spoke out, selected as the most trustworthy from among the great number of people that knew Pellicer, both from Calanda and from Zaragoza.
On April 27 of 1641 the archbishop of Zaragoza pronounced a judgment, thereby officially declaring the authenticity of the miracle. At the end of the year Pellicer was also invited to the royal court at Madrid, where King Philip IV knelt down before him and kissed the leg. Recordings also show that the restored leg was the same one as that which had been amputated two and a half years before, for it could be reidentified through some bruises and scars that were there before the amputation. Also, the hole in the cemetery of the hospital of Zaragoza in which the leg had been buried was excavated and found empty.
In the appendix of his book, Vittorio Messori also reports the opinion of Landino Cugola, primary surgeon of the hospital of the University of Verona, a specialist in limb replantation. Cugola has carefully studied the testimonies given in the recordings of the proceedings at Zaragoza, which reveal that the leg, after it had only just been restored, was cold and hard with contracted toes and blue in colour. Hence, Pellicer was not yet able to put his weight on it and still had to move around on crutches. After a few days the leg regained in strength and the toes were stretched out again. Also, the leg was initially a few centimetres shorter due to the loss of bone tissue that was caused by the fracture, but within about three months it regained its original length. According to Cugola, all this is in perfect accordance with the normal development following the replantation of a leg, although the growth of tissue is usually supported by exerting a pull onto the limb. In Pellicer’s case this was not necessary.
Vittorio Messori also lists and provides details of documents from the time which attest the miracle of Calanda, the most important ones being:The certificate set up by the notary Andréu. The original document, which fortunately escaped destruction in the Spanish civil war, is on display in a glass case in the town hall of Zaragoza.
The minutes of the proceedings at Zaragoza. The original document, having been kept in the archives of Zaragoza chapter house, was handed over to a Benedictine monk, Father Lambert, in about 1930, who then took it to France. Unfortunately Lambert was killed in World War II and it is unknown what has become of the manuscript since. However, before it disappeared four printed editions had been published, the first of which in 1829. Two notaries certified that these corresponded exactly with original text.
Two certified copies of the minutes of the proceedings, set up at the same day as the original. They were signed and sealed by the same notaries. One was kept in the archives of the town of Zaragoza, but burnt in 1808 during the Napoleonic wars. The other is still extant and is kept in the archives of the Cathedral of the Pillar.
The report of Calanda’s local judge, set up on the morning immediately after the event. It has not survived to our time, but documentary traces confirm that there was such a report.
Other documents of lesser importance:The certificate of baptism of Miguel Juan Pellicer.
The registration of his admittance to the hospital of Valencia.
A small booklet written by a Carmelite monk, commissioned by the chapter house of the Pillar, and published in 1641.
Another book, published by a German doctor in 1642. The Jesuit father who gave the imprimatur added a declaration in which he affirmed that he personally knew Pellicer, first with one leg and then with two.
The account of the audience of Miguel Juan Pellicer at the royal court of Madrid.
A number of other documents which confirm the existence of other persons involved in the event.
“By far the majority of past events (including the more important ones) is attested with less documentary proof and official warrantee. This is an objective statement of fact, not apologetic reassurance.”
Author Brian Dunning has done extensive research and claims that "there is no documentation or witness accounts confirming his leg was ever gone." He presents a non-miraculous explanation that Pellicer's leg did not develop gangrene during the five days at the hospital at Valencia. He spent the next 50 days convalescing, during which he was unable to work. He turned to begging, and discovered that having a broken leg was a boon. After his leg had mended, he decided that if a broken leg helped, a missing leg would be better. Traveling to Zaragoza, he bound his right foreleg up behind his thigh and for two years played the part of an amputee beggar. Later, back at his parents home in Calanda, forced to sleep in a different bed, his ruse was discovered. The story of the miracle was a way to save face. Dunning asserts "that no evidence exists that his leg was ever amputated — or that he was even treated at all — at the hospital in Zaragoza other than his own word. He named three doctors there, but for some reason there is no record of their having been interviewed by either the delegation or the trial." Dunning however is mistaken; this can be verified in the copy of the trial linked in the notes to this article.