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JOHANN JOSEPH GASSNER, who was regarded as a thaumaturge by his
partisans, and as a charlatan by his opponents, was born at Bratz, a
village of the Austrian Tyrol, August 20, 1727. He was educated at
Innsbruck and Prague, became a priest, and settled at Coire, the capital
of the Swiss canton of Grisons. Here he remained for some fifteen years,
ministering acceptably to his parishioners. It appears that he then
became impressed with the scriptural accounts of the healing of
demoniacs, and devoted himself to the study of the works of famous
Gradually he acquired a reputation as a healer by means of the methods
of laying on of hands, conjuration and prayer. Many of the Tyrolese
peasantry flocked to him, as did their Irish brethren to Greatrakes.
Gassner treated them all without recompense. He believed that the
efficiency of his methods was dependent upon the degree of faith of his
patients. Some cases he affected to benefit by drugs, others by touch,
and still others by exorcism. He was a pioneer in the employment of
suggestion, while summoning to his aid the forces of religious faith,
prayer and material remedies.
The Bishop of Constance sent for Gassner, and after a careful
examination of his methods and beliefs, became convinced of the purity
of his character, and of his good faith. The bishop therefore permitted
him to continue his practice at Coire and its neighborhood.
Gassner's reputation as a thaumaturge spread throughout Germany and
adjacent countries, and he numbered among his patrons many persons of
influence. In 1774, upon invitation of the Bishop of Ratisbon, he
removed to Ellwangen, in Wuertemberg, where he is said to have cured many
by the mere word of command, Cesset. He died at Bondorf, in the
Diocese of Ratisbon, in the year 1779.
The celebrated Dutch physician, Antoine de Haen, who was a contemporary
of Gassner, described the latter as a man of jovial temperament, and a
sworn foe to melancholy. He did not take advantage of the popular
credulity for his own pecuniary gain, and was therefore morally far
above the plane of an ordinary charlatan.