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The Story of


The Story of Bernadette

Lourdes, in the middle of the 19th century, was a small town of a few thousand inhabitants.  It was in this town that Francois Soubirous and Louise Casterot had set up their family home.  Marie-Bernarde Soubirous was born on January 7, 1844. Her real Occitan name is Maria Bernada Soubirous, aka Bernadeta (little Bernada). Madame Soubirous gave birth to nine children, of whom four boys and one girl died before reaching the age of ten.

From February 11, to July 16, 1858, Bernadette reported 18 apparitions of “a Lady.” Despite initial skepticism from the Roman Catholic Church, these claims were eventually declared to be worthy of belief after rigorous investigations. On December 8th, 1933 Bernadette was canonized as a saint by the Roman Catholic Church.

Her life

When Bernadette was only a few months old, her mother had an accident and could not nurse her. Bernadette was sent to Bartres, a couple of miles outside of Lourdes, where she stayed for about a year and a half to be wet-nursed by Marie Aravant Lague, who acted as her foster mother. Her father was a miller and ran the Boly Mill, but tended to give the product away to the poor instead of selling it. The family were reduced to poverty and had to move into the Cachot, a small room which had once served as the prison. Bernadette nearly died of cholera when she was ten. When she was thirteen her parents sent her back to Bartres. Shortly after her fourteenth birthday, Bernadette returned to Lourdes and began to prepare for her First Holy Communion. Bernadette still could not read or write and didn‘t even speak French, only patois.

Her Visions

On 11th February 1858, Bernadette and her two sisters were out gathering firewood. Bernadette was left behind as her sisters crossed a small stream. She heard a sound like a storm and looking across the stream she saw the apparition for the first time in a grotto at the foot of Roc de Massabielle. She saw a lady dressed in white with a blue sash and a yellow rose on each foot. The lady did not speak, but made the sign of the cross. The vision disappeared suddenly.

The lady did not speak until the third time she appeared to Bernadette. She asked Bernadette if she would like to meet her there every day for a fortnight, Bernadette said she would. She told Bernadette to tell the priests to have a chapel built there. Then she told her to drink at the spring. Not seeing one, she went to drink from the stream. The lady told Bernadette that the spring wasn‘t there, and pointed to a pool of muddy water. Bernadette scraped at the muddy ground and fresh water appeared. She drank some and the vision disappeared.

Bernadette returned to the Grotto every day for two weeks. The Blessed Virgin appeared on every occasion but two. The Lady insisted many times that the priests must build a chapel there, and that Bernadette must wash in the spring and that she must pray for sinners. During the fortnight the lady told Bernadette three secrets. Many times Bernadette asked the lady who she was, but she would only smile. In the end the lady replied...

... Que soy era Immaculada Conceptiou ... (I am The Immaculate Conception.)

Bernadette, having no formal education, did not understand what it meant. She repeated the exact same words to her parish priest, Fr. Peyramale. Four years earlier, Pope Pius IX had promulgated the doctrine of the Immaculate Conception; that - of all human beings who have ever lived, the Virgin Mary was born without the stain of Original Sin. This was not well known to Catholics at large at that time, being generally confined to discussion amongst the clergy. It certainly was not an expression known to a simple under-educated peasant girl who could barely read. Her parents, teachers and priests all later testified that she had never previously heard the words *immaculate conception* from them.

Her Final Journey : The Convent of St.Gildard

During this period, she hosted more and more pilgrims who began a pilgrimage to Lourdes and meet the visionary. Disliking the attention she was attracting, Bernadette went to the hospice school run by the Sisters of Charity and Christian Instruction, where she finally learned to read and write. She then joined the Sisters of Charity of Nevers convent moving into their motherhouse at Nevers at the age of 22. She spent the rest of her brief life there, working as an assistant in the infirmary and later as a sacristan. During a severe asthma attack, she asked for water from the Lourdes spring, and her symptoms subsided. She had followed the development of Lourdes as a pilgrimage shrine while she still lived at Lourdes, but was not present for the consecration of the Basilica of the Immaculate Conception there in 1876. She eventually died of her
long-term illness at the age of 35 on April 16, 1879.

After her death, Bernadette‘s body remained in-corrupt, and the shrine at Lourdes went on to become a major site for pilgrimage, attracting millions of Catholics each year. On 8th December 1933 she was canonized as a saint by the Roman Catholic Church.



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