The French health service is over 12 billion euros in debt. And it is much abused, at least to my way of thinking. My rather British attitude is “don’t bother the doctor unless the illness is still serious after 3 days”, in stark contrast to many of my French friends. If my daughter’s best friend so much as coughs, she is taken to the doctors immediately and returns with 5 or 6 different medicines just to treat a common cold.
So with this heavy reliance on the state health service, I was quite surprised to learn that the practice of faith healing is still very popular in rural areas. Nearly every small village in Brittany has a faith healer, or person with the “don de guérisson” (the gift of healing) of some kind or another. They tend to specialise in individual problems, rather than be a “cure all” type healer. You will find one who treats skin problems, another will cure headaches, another stomach problems etc. They cure simply by touching the affected part of the body.
My first encounter with this practice was 9 years ago, when I developed a nasty skin rash (due to a chlorine insensitivity). My octogenarian neighbours, Francis and Maria, sent a friend of theirs, Paul (a retired functionary) over to see me. He had a bottle of holy water from Lourdes and proceeded to splash some of this over my rash, whilst praying. I was extremely sceptical about this working, and went along with it largely not to offend my neighbours. However, a couple of days later, my skin cleared up and I’ve haven’t had had a problem since. My mother also saw Paul when she was staying once, and her skin problem also disappeared.
My second experience was with my son, Olivier, when he was a baby. After 9 months of broken nights, I was getting quite desperate. My neighbours suggested I went to see Maurice, a retired farmer who lives the other side of Tremblay and who had cured their children of teething problems. So I set off with my baby and arrived at his little house. The healing process this time involved Maurice washing his hands, then dipped a finger in a bottle of ‘eau de vie’ (a very strong alcohol, which is made of distilled apples here in Brittany). He then rubbed his finger around Olivier’s gums. For the next month my son slept through the night consistently. He started waking up again in the night, so I took him back and that was it, since then he has always slept soundly.
Marie-Christine is a farmer’s wife who lives nearby who has a ‘don’ (gift) and specialises in treating burns. Fortunately I haven’t had the misfortune to be burnt seriously enough to go and see her, but I wouldn’t hesitate as I’m quite a convert to faith healing now. It isn’t reimbursed by the social security, of course, but usually a bottle of something is all you need to give to show your gratitude to the ‘guérisseur’. And of course, it isn’t a drain on the resources of the health service.