Around the year 587, an intriguing troupe of figures entered the vicinity of Tours. Leading the group was a man named Desiderius, who was fond of tunics and goat-fur hoods. The rest of the party seemed to be his guards and servants, playing a supporting role for their leader. Desiderius claimed to be a healer, and when he set up his camp in the region, he let it be known that he was open for business. If asked about his methods, he apparently was quite boastful and known to embellish—one of his explanations was that he discovered his cures through divine, mystical visions. Putting aside the grandiose banter, however, Desiderius’ approach to healing might have been something akin to the work of chiropractors and physical therapists. Gregory of Tours (c. 539-594), the local bishop and historian of the region, reported with distaste on Desiderius’ healings:
“Those who were paralysed or disabled by some other infirmity he ordered to be stretched forcibly, as if he could restore by his own brute strength men whom he was unable to cure by the intervention of divine power. Some of his helpers would seize a patient’s hands and some would tug at other parts of his body, until it seemed that his sinews must snap” (Gregory of Tours, History of the Franks, IX.6).
Due to Bishop Gregory’s bias against Desiderius, it is difficult to determine the self-proclaimed healer’s skill and motivations. Desiderius apparently showed enough results in the beginning of his time in Tours to draw a large number of patients to his makeshift clinic. Yet, according to the aforementioned bishop, several of the people that Desiderius treated in Tours eventually died during, or soon after, their visit to the healer. It should also be said that Bishop Gregory accused Desiderius of being a conman who practiced necromancy and other forms of dark magic. Whatever the case, Tours eventually sided with their bishop and turned against Desiderius. He was banished from the region, never to be seen again.
Written by C. Keith Hansley
Picture Attribution: (St Anthony at Padua Healing a Youth, painted by Sebastiano Ricci (1659–1734), [Public Domain] via Creative Commons).
- The History of the Franks by Gregory of Tours, translated by Lewis Thorpe. New York: Penguin Classics, 1971.