The Catholic Defender: The St. Bernadette Story
Lourdes France today is one of the top three pilgrimage sites along with Fatima Portugal and Medjugorje where millions of people have made there way there. Before the covid pandemic, many thousands of people traveled to Lourdes everyday with the promise of spiritual and physical healing.
The story of Lourdes would not take place without the first child of a poor miller. Bernadette Soubirous was born in 1844 and from the beginning her virtue was honest. Even at that time, the pages of the bible seem to be pointing to this poor child whom despite being the oldest child would seem to be most in need. She was sickly with asthma and missed much of her schooling. By age 14 (1858) St. Bernadette had not yet received her first Holy Communion.
On 11 February 1858, Soubirous, then aged 14, was out gathering firewood with her sister Toinette and a friend near the grotto of Massabielle (Tuta de Massavielha) when she experienced her first vision.
While the other girls crossed the little stream in front of the grotto and walked on, Soubirous stayed behind, looking for a place to cross where she wouldn't get her stockings wet. She finally sat down to take her shoes off in order to cross the water and was lowering her stocking when she heard the sound of rushing wind, but nothing moved. A wild rose in a natural niche in the grotto, however, did move.
The Lord Jesus Christ in due time in His Divine Plan sent His Mother, the Virgin Mary who made her first appearance to St. Bernadette on 11 February 1858. St. Bernadette described Our Lady as a girl of 16 - 17 years old wearing a white robe with a blue sash. Yellow roses covered her feet holding a large golden Rosary on her right arm. When the Virgin Mary first appeared within a niche in the grotto of Massabielle, she came as "a dazzling light, and a white figure".
The Virgin Mary appeared to St. Bernadette a total of 18 times giving the following main messages. The following dates are from Lourdes Sanctuaire:
Thursday 11th February 1858: the first meeting
Accompanied by her sister and a friend, Bernadette went to Massabielle on the banks of the Gave to collect bones and dead wood. Removing her socks in order to cross the stream, she heard a noise like a gust of wind, she looked up towards the Grotto : “I saw a lady dressed in white, she wore a white dress, and equally white veils, a blue belt and a yellow rose on each foot.” Bernadette made the Sign of the Cross and said the Rosary with the lady. When the prayer ended the Lady suddenly vanished.
Sunday 14th February 1858: holy water
Bernadette felt an inner force drawing her to the Grotto in spite of the fact that she was forbidden to go there by her parents. At her insistence, her mother allowed her; after the first decade of the Rosary, she saw the same lady appearing. She sprinkled holy water at her. The lady smiled and bent her head. When the Rosary ended she disappeared.
Thursday 18th February 1858: the Lady speaks
For the first time, the Lady spoke. Bernadette held out a pen and paper asking her to write her name. She replied; “It is not necessary” and she added: “I do not promise to make you happy in this world but in the other. Would you be kind enough to come here for a fortnight?”
Friday 19th February 1858: the first candle
Bernadette came to the Grotto with a lighted blessed candle. This is the origin of carrying candles and lighting them in front of the Grotto.
Saturday 20th February 1858: in silence
The Lady taught her a personal prayer. At the end of the vision Bernadette is overcome with a great sadness.
Sunday 21th February 1858: “Aquero”
The Lady appeared to Bernadette very early in the morning. About one hundred people were present. Afterwards the Police Commissioner, Jacomet, questioned her. He wanted Bernadette to tell what she saw. Bernadette would only speak of “AQUÉRO” (“that thing” in local dialect)
Tuesday 23th February 1858: the secret
Surrounded by 150 persons, Bernadette arrived at the Grotto. The Apparition reveals to her a secret “only for her alone”.
Wednesday 24th February 1858: «Penance !»
The message of the Lady: “Penance! Penance! Penance! Pray to God for sinners. Kiss the ground as an act of penance for sinners!”
Thursday 25th February 1858: the spring
Three hundred people were present. Bernadette relates; “She told me to go, drink of the spring (….) I only found a little muddy water. At the fourth attempt I was able to drink. She also made me eat the bitter herbs that were found near the spring, and then the vision left and went away.” In front of the crowd that was asking “Do you think that she is mad doing things like that?” she replied; “It is for sinners.”
Saturday 27th February 1858: silence
Eight hundred people were present. The Apparition was silent. Bernadette drank the water from the spring and carried out her usual acts of penance.
Sunday 28th February 1858: the ecstasy
Over one thousand people were present at the ecstasy. Bernadette prayed, kissed the ground and moved on her knees as a sign of penance. She was then taken to the house of Judge Ribes who threatened to put her in prison.
Monday 1st March 1858: the first miracle
Over one thousand five hundred people assembled and among them, for the first time, a priest. In the night, Catherine Latapie, a woman from Loubajac, 7 kilometres away , went to the Grotto, she plunged her dislocated arm into the water of the spring: her arm and her hand regained their movement.
Tuesday 2nd March 1858: message to the priests
The crowd becomes larger and larger. The Lady asked her: “Go and tell the priests that people are to come here in procession and to build a chapel here.” Bernadette spoke of this to Fr. Peyramale, the Parish Priest of Lourdes. He wanted to know only one thing: the Lady’s name. He demanded another test; to see the wild rose bush flower at the Grotto in the middle of winter.
Wednesday 3rd March 1858: a smile
From 7 o’clock in the morning, in the presence of three thousand people, Bernadette arrived at the Grotto, but the vision did not appear! After school, she heard the inner invitation of the Lady. She went to the Grotto and asked her again for her name. The response was a smile. The Parish Priest told her again: “If the Lady really wishes that a chapel be built, then she must tell us her name and make the rose bush bloom at the Grotto.”
Thursday 4th March 1858: the day all were waiting for !
The ever-greater crowd (about eight thousand people) waited for a miracle at the end of the fortnight. The vision was silent. Fr. Peyramale stuck to his position. For twenty days Bernadette did not go to the Grotto, she no longer felt the irresistible invitation.
Thursday 25th March 1858: the name they waited for !
The vision finally revealed her name, but the wild rose bush, on which she stood during the Apparitions, did not bloom. Bernadette recounted : “She extended her arms towards the ground, then joined them as though in prayer and said Que soy era Immaculada Concepciou (I am the Immaculate Conception)”. The young visionary left and, running all the way, repeated continuously the words that she did not understand. These words troubled the brave Parish Priest. Bernadette was ignorant of the fact that this theological expression was assigned to the Blessed Virgin. Four years earlier, in 1854, Pope Pius IX declared this a truth of the Catholic Faith (a dogma).
Wednesday 7th April 1858: the miracle of the candle
During this apparition, Bernadette had to keep her candle alight. The flame licked along her hand without burning it. A medical doctor, Dr. Douzous, immediately witnessed this fact.
Friday 16th July 1858 : the final apparition
Bernadette received the mysterious call to the Grotto, but her way was blocked and closed off by a barrier. She thus arrived across from the Grotto to the other side of the Gave. “I felt that I was in front of the Grotto, at the same distance as before, I saw only the Blessed Virgin, and she was more beautiful than ever!”
The spring that had developed as a result of St. Bernadette's obedience in digging where the Virgin Mary instructed her people began washing themselves from this spring. The reports of miracles began to pour in as pilgrims were now coming by the thousands. Today 69 healings have been "extremely rigorous scientific and medical examinations," these tested cures are a testimony to the visions to St. Bernadette. Many more miracles are reported so that the Catholic Church confirmed the visions as authentic in 1862.
St. Bernadette believed it was the faith and prayer of the pilgrims for the miracles, the water properties found no special ingredient that could be the wonder of it all. God's grace is not something that can be traced with healing properties.
During this process, St. Bernadette endured tough scrutiny by the Church, the politicians, and civil officials.
By 1863, St. Bernadette petitioned to enter the Sisters of Notre Dame of Nevers and on July 29, 1866 she took the religious habit. Working as an infirmary assistant St. Bernadette eventually served as a sacristan. She once exclaimed that the Virgin Mary appeared to her because she was the most ignorant.
St. Bernadette soon would be diagnosed with tuberculosis of the bone in her right knee. This presented her great pain preventing her from participating with the life of the convent. While serving at the Sainte Croix (Holy Cross) infirmary of the convent of Saint-Gildard, St, Bernadette at age 35 died on April 16, 1879, 21 years after the Marian Apparitions, she had been praying her rosary.
St. Bernadette was declared blessed on 14 June 1921 by Pope Pius XI and canonized by 8 December 1933 by the same Pope. Her Feast day is April 16
In 1928, Doctor Comte published a report on the exhumation of St. Bernadette in the second issue of the Bulletin de I'Association medicale de Notre Dame de Lourdes.
"I would have liked to open the left side of the thorax to take the ribs as relics and then remove the heart which I am certain must have survived. However, as the trunk was slightly supported on the left arm, it would have been rather difficult to try and get at the heart without doing too much noticeable damage. As the Mother Superior had expressed a desire for the Saint's heart to be kept together with the whole body, and as Monsignor the Bishop did not insist, I gave up the idea of opening the left-hand side of the thorax and contented myself with removing the two right ribs which were more accessible. ... What struck me during this examination, of course, was the state of perfect preservation of the skeleton, the fibrous tissues of the muscles (still supple and firm), of the ligaments, and of the skin, and above all the totally unexpected state of the liver after 46 years. One would have thought that this organ, which is basically soft and inclined to crumble, would have decomposed very rapidly or would have hardened to a chalky consistency. Yet, when it was cut it was soft and almost normal in consistency. I pointed this out to those present, remarking that this did not seem to be a natural phenomenon."