In a time when Catholicism has become synonymous with scandal, a reminder of the true essence of the church in its role of providing a message of hope and a link to something more.
In 1844 Bernadette Soubirous the 14 year old daughter of a miller, lived with her family in misery and squalor in the small town of Lourdes at the foot of the Pyrenees in Southern France. The family had become homeless after losing their mill and the only place left to them was a single room, formerly the local jail. Bernadette attended a convent–run school where she was considered a slow learner, illiterate; she was put in a “pauper’s class” with no fees to pay, in the company of 7-year-olds.
On 11th February she went with her sister and a friend to gather firewood by the banks of the River Gave at a grotto named Massabielle. The day was bitterly cold, so when the other two girls took off their shoes and crossed a small stream, she waited behind, concerned not to catch cold because she suffered from asthma. Minutes later she decided to brave the stream and began to take off her stockings to cross. As she did so she heard a sound like a gust of wind and turned her head towards the meadow but saw that the trees were quite still. Then the sound came again, and when she looked towards the Grotto she saw a lady in a niche of the rock, wearing a white dress with a blue girdle; on each foot was a yellow rose and in her hands she carried a white beaded rosary. The lady made a sign for her to approach but she was frightened thinking this was an illusion. She rubbed her eyes but she could still see the lady who made the sign of the cross and slipped the beads through her fingers, as she silently said the rosary. Bernadette accompanied her and as she finished the lady disappeared.
Three days later Bernadette felt compelled to return to the grotto despite being told by her mother not to. This time she took holy water with her, when the lady appeared again, she threw holy water at the figure, saying unless you are from God, be gone. The lady smiled and remained but did not speak. Bernadette described her third visit on February 18th: “The Lady only spoke to me the third time. I went to the grotto with a few grown–ups, who advised me to take paper and ink, and to ask her, if she had anything to say to me, to have the goodness to put it on paper. I said these words to the Lady. She smiled and said that it was not necessary for her to write what she had to say to me, but asked if I would do her the favour of coming for a fortnight. I told her that I would. She told me also that she did not promise to make me happy in this world, but in the next. Bernadette kept her appointment for the next two weeks and the lady appeared each day apart from on two occasions. One when some in the crowd who were now drawn to the Grotto were disrespectful, the other a seeming test of her faith. No one else was ever able to see the lady but all were deeply affected by a sense of reverence which pervaded Bernadette and the site when she appeared.
- Feb 24th The lady gave a message asking for prayers for sinners.
- Feb 25th The lady again asked for prayers and also asked Bernadette to ‘wash her face in the water’ there was no sign of water but the lady indicated a spot and obediently Bernadette washed her face in the mud. The crowd laughed at her, believing she was mad, she left feeling humiliated. That day a spring appeared, followed by the first healing miracles.
- March 2nd The lady requested that Bernadette ask the parish priest to build a chapel and that processions of prayer take place. The priest dismissed the request, telling Bernadette to ask for the lady’s name.
- March 3rd The lady simply smiled when asked her name and repeated her request for a chapel
- March 4th 10,000 people attended for the final day of the fortnight. Bernadette was escorted by military escort and examined by a doctor during the visions.
March 25th a Catholic feast day ‘The Annunciation’ celebrates the day when Mary received the message from Archangel Gabriel that she would become the mother of Jesus. The lady again appeared to Bernadette who repeated the priests request for her name; after the third request she answered “que soy era Immaculada Councepciou“. Bernadette hurried to tell the priest the name she had been given, repeating the unfamiliar words all the way so that she would remember them. “que soy era Immaculada Councepciou.” translates as ‘I am the Immaculate Conception’ Only four years earlier in 1854 this title had been bestowed on Mary the mother of Jesus, by the Catholic hierarchy, something not yet broadly discussed. Bernadette who was illiterate could not possibly have known this. Local dignitaries had become concerned regarding the thousands of people now attending the Grotto and closed the site, Bernadette was unable to visit the Grotto until 16th July when she watched from the meadow across the stream. The lady appeared to her for the last time. “I thought I was at the Grotto, at the same distance as I was the other times. All I saw was Our Lady … She was more beautiful than ever.”
Bernadette entered entered the Convent of Nevers and became a nun, the Vatican set up an enquiry into the apparitions at Lourdes and after three years gave its approval of the authenticity of the apparitions. A church was built as ‘the lady’ had requested and today processions of prayer take place twice daily. Over 5 million pilgrims visit Lourdes annually. Healing miracles attested to by independent medical professionals continue, many attributed to the water from the spring which gives 72,000 gallons daily and is distributed worldwide.
Bernadette was made a saint of the church in 1933. Throughout her life she was hounded and asked to repeat the story which never changed. She died on April 16th 1879, the story however was not over. In line with Vatican protocol Bernadette’s body was exhumed three times, during the course of research into her beatification. The first time 30 years after her burial, the second ten years later and for a third time in 1929. Medical autopsy was carried out and each time the body was reported “incorrupt” and remains so today, almost 140 years after her death. After nuns washed the body and changed her garments, the body had some discolouration and a layer of wax was placed over her features. Her body is now kept on open view in a crystal casket on the side altar at her convent of Nevers.
* WHO BELIEVES IN MIRACLES?
* SAINT BERNADETTE OF LOURDES BODY IN THE SHRINE IN NEVERS FRANCE (2) https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8P4tn6fqhI4&t=16s