Valentine Greatrakes, Irish faith healer also known as “Greatorex” or “The Stroker,” is born on February 14, 1628, at Affane, County Waterford. He toured England in 1666, claiming to cure people by the laying on of hands.
Greatrakes is the son of William Greatrakes and Mary, daughter of Sir Edward Harris, Chief Justice of Munster, who are English Protestants settlers. He goes to the free-school at Lismore until he is 13 years of age and is designed for the college of Dublin. However, when the Irish Rebellion of 1641 breaks out he and his mother flee into England, where he is received by his great uncle, Edmund Harris. After Harris dies, his mother places him with John Daniel Getsius, a German minister, of Stoke Gabriel, in Devonshire.
After five or six years in England, Greatrakes returns to his native country, which he finds in a distracted state, and therefore spends a year in contemplation at the Castle of Cappoquin. In 1649 he is a lieutenant in Lord Broghill‘s regiment in the English Parliamentary army in Ireland, then campaigning in Munster against the Irish Royalists. In 1656, with a great part of the army being disbanded, Greatrakes retires to Affine, his native place, and is made clerk of the peace for County Cork, Register for transplantation, and a Justice of the Peace. However he loses these positions after the Restoration.
Greatrakes seems to have been very religious. His outlook is grave but simple. He says himself, that ever since the year 1662 he has felt a strange impulse or persuasion that he has the gift of curing the King’s evil. This suggestion becomes so strong, that he strokes several persons, and cures them.
Three years afterwards, an epidemical fever is raging in the country, he is again persuaded that he can also cure the fever. He makes the experiment, and he affirms to his satisfaction that he cures all who come to him. At length, in April 1665, another kind of inspiration suggests to him, that he has the gift of healing wounds and ulcers. He even finds that he cures convulsions, the dropsy, and many other distempers.
On April 6, 1665, Robert Phayre, a former Commonwealth Governor of County Cork, is living at Cahermore, in that county, when he is visited by Greatrakes, who had served in his regiment in 1649. Greatrakes cures Phayre in a few minutes of an acute ague. John Flamsteed, the famous astronomer, then aged 19, goes to Ireland in August 1665 to be touched by Greatrakes for a natural weakness of constitution, but receives no benefit. Crowds flock to him from all parts, and he performs such extraordinary cures, that he is summoned into the Bishop’s court at Lismore, and, not having a licence for practising, is forbidden to lay hands on anyone else in Ireland.
In 1665, Greatrakes is invited to England by his old commander, Lord Broghill, now Earl of Orrery, to cure Anne, Viscountess Conway of an inveterate headache. He arrives in England in early 1666 but fails to cure the Viscountess. Undaunted, he travels through the country healing the sick.
Every day Greatrakes goes to a place in London where many sick persons, of all ranks in society, assemble. Pains, gout, rheumatism, convulsions, and so forth are allegedly driven by his touch from one body part to another. Upon reaching the extremities, all symptoms of these ailments cease. As the treatment consists entirely of stroking, Greatrakes is called The Stroker. He ascribes certain disorders to the work of evil spirits. When persons possessed by such spirits see Greatrakes or hear his voice, the afflicted fall to the ground or into violent agitation. He then proceeds to cure them by the same method of stroking. While many are skeptical, Greatrakes does find zealous advocates for the efficacy of his healing powers.
In 1667, Greatrakes returns to Ireland and resumes farming in 1668 on £1,000 a year. Although he lives for many years, he no longer keeps up the reputation of performing the strange cures which procured him a name. But in this his case is very singular, that on the strictest enquiry no sort of blemish is ever thrown upon his character, nor does any of those curious and learned persons, who espouse his cause, draw any imputation upon themselves.
Greatrakes dies on November 28, 1682 at Affane, County Waterford. It is believed that he may be buried in Lismore Church or under the aisle of the old Affane Church near to his father.