Bernadette Soubirous - a Young Girl's Vision of the Virgin Mary the True Story of the Miracle of Lourdes
Poverty and Illness.
Bernadette Soubirous was born on the 7th January 1844, In Lourdes France. She lived with her mother and father, Francois and Louise Soubirous. She was the eldest of five children. Her mother Louise had given birth to nine children but sadly lost three before they reached the age of ten.
Her childhood was simple but filled with poverty and illness. Her father was a miller, and the money he earned was barely enough to feed the family. But because of these circumstances, they were a close and loving family. In 1854, something happened that would change their lives forever. And lead Bernadette down a path of fear, illness and desperation. Her father was suddenly accused of stealing two sacks of flour, and even though he protested his innocence, he was jailed for weeks.
At the same time, drought affected the land, and the wheat harvest became so poor it affected the mill where he worked. Their world collapsed around them, and they were forced to move to a one-room dwelling. The cold and the damp affected Bernadette to such an extent that she contracted cholera. High fevers wracked her body, and she suffered from the effects for the rest of her life, causing her to have asthma attacks. The emotional distress took its toll on her.
Isolation and Heartache
As Bernadette was unable to attend school, she was unable to read and write or speak French. When she was 14 years of age the only dialect that she could speak was the local dialect of Lourdes.
This not only affected her in her outside life but also upset her because she was not allowed to receive Holy Communion, as she could not understand the Catechism. At this point in time, her only comfort came from the love of her mother.
The irony of being turned away from the Church became obvious a few months into her 14th birthday when Bernadette's world would change forever, and the Church would have to open their eyes to the wonder of what befell them.
The Year of Wonders
On Thursday February 11, 1858, a day which started out ordinarily, Bernadette would step outside of her house, and would take her first steps into History.
After dinner, on this Thursday before Ash Wednesday, Bernadette was asked to go and fetch some more wood, as there was none left to feed the fire. Bernadette, her sister Toinette, and a friend called Jeanne Abadie, went to the river which was surrounded by woodland.
It was a cold day, and they had to cross the river. The water was freezing cold, and running fast, and the girls thought it would be best if Bernadette stayed on this side because they feared she would have an asthma attack. So Bernadette stayed and watched her sister and friend go. She was alone.
Suddenly a noise rose up around her, and fearing that a storm was about to descend on her, Bernadette ran for cover. The nearest place to rest and keep warm was the Grotto of Massabieille, a natural cave or grotto, that was in the side of the rock face. At this time it was just an old cave that was used for dumping rubbish or holding animals.
Bernadette realized that in fact, instead of a storm arising, everything was still. In fact eerily still. Silent.
The only thing that was moving, was a rose bush. Swishing and swaying in the wind. Only there was no wind. Looking up, she jumped and began to panic. Losing her sense of speech and movement, she was transfixed on the mouth of the cave. There was a Golden colored cloud drifting outwards towards her. She couldn't move. Then Bernadette saw movement. Behind the cloud, slowly coming towards her, she saw the most wonderful sight, a beautiful Lady. Silently, the Lady came and stood at the entrance to the Grotto. The rose bush was at her feet, and Bernadette had never seen anything so glorious. The lady held her hand out to Bernadette and signalled her to advance.
Bernadette took out her rosary and knelt before the Lady. Who she noticed had one laying across her right arm. Bernadette was paralyzed. It wasn't until the Lady made the sign of the cross, that Bernadette felt she could do the same.
At first, the Lady stood quietly, then softly she began to recite the Gloria's with her. Bernadette stared at her, her eyes misting with emotion, until the Lady smiled a wondrous smile and returned to the Grotto, and the Golden cloud disappeared too.
Bernadette stayed like this for some time, then realizing that she was getting colder, she ran back to find her sister. They all listened in awe at her story. But Bernadette was troubled and told them to keep it a secret. That evening, after the family prayer, Bernadette began to cry. After her mother kept asking what was wrong, Bernadette's sister told them everything. Her mother was scared that Bernadette was hallucinating and told her to keep away from the cave. But after Bernadette went to bed, she couldn't get the vision out of her mind. The description she had given to her family, was this:
"She has the appearance of a young girl of sixteen or seventeen. She is dressed in a white robe, girdled at the waist with a blue ribbon which flows down all around it.
A yoke closes it in graceful pleats at the base of the neck. The sleeves are long and tight fitting. She wears upon her head a veil which is also white. This veil gives just a glimpse of her hair and then falls down at the back below her waist.
Her feet are bare but covered by the last folds of her robe except at the point where a yellow rose shines upon each of them. She holds on her right arm a rosary of white beads with a chain of gold shining like the two roses on her feet"
By the following Sunday, her worried mother decided to allow Bernadette to return to the cave. Hoping that she would realise that it had just been an illusion. Little did she know that this was the start of something wondrous.
The Second Apparition -Sunday February 14 1858
This time, Bernadette was accompanied by her sister and friend. They carried a vial of Holy Water with them. This was because her parents wanted to know if the vision was real, or if it was an evil influence.
When they entered the Grotto, instead of throwing the water inside to ward of evil spirits, Bernadette suddenly poured the water down into the ground. Turning to her friends she told them that the Lady was there, and she was smiling.
The other two girls ran off screaming, and by the time Bernadette got home, her mother was standing by the door holding a switch, a long stick, getting ready to go to the Grotto and see for herself.
But by this time the whole town was talking about it. A local woman, who luckily for Bernadette, believed her and realised that something amazing was going on, managed to stop her mother. Calming her down, she asked permission to take Bernadette back to the Grotto.
Bernadette In Prayer
After saying Mass, they set off for the Grotto, carrying a blessed candle. They also took a pen, paper and ink to record the sightings.
On entering the Grotto, Bernadette saw the Lady again. She said to Bernadette, "There is no need to write down what I say to you, will you come here every day for fifteen days?" The Lady then gave Bernadette a pledge. She never said she would be happy in this world, but promised her that she would find happiness in the next.
On Friday, February 19 1858, Bernadette's parents accompanied her to the Grotto. With neighbours surrounding her, Bernadette's face was transfigured and illuminated.
Saturday, February 20 1858
The Lady taught Bernadette a prayer that she recited daily for the rest of her life. She never revealed it to anybody. She always took a blessed candle with her to the Grotto.
Sunday, February 21 1858
Bernadette was asked by the Lady to always pray for sinners. On this day, several hundred people followed her to the Grotto, and amongst them was a Doctor Dozous. He stated that " There is nothing wrong with Bernadette's mental state, in fact, her pulse was regular, and her breathing easier than normal".
Soon there was a meeting in the town to discuss the matter. One was the danger of such huge crowds gathering in one place, and the other concern was of course, was she imagining it? But soon a local official, M. Jacomet, the Chief of Police, and M. Estrade, who became Bernadette's friend, decided to investigate the whole business. And became invaluable by recording scrupulously each and every word that was spoken.
Suspicion and Disbelief
The local authorities tried everything they could to try to make Bernadette confess that it was just a story. They tried to trick her, by saying she had said something different at meetings with the Lady.
But Bernadette stuck to her story. On Monday, February 22 1858, Bernadette returned to the Grotto but was closely followed by two policemen. She knelt down at her usual place but was surprised by the policemen. When they asked, had she seen the Lady, Bernadette replied that, no, she hadn't appeared. The locals started laughing and said that the Lady was scared by the Police!
The Seventh Apparition. Tuesday, February 23 1858
Two hundred people were present at this time. And they all witnessed Bernadette's transition. Her face glowed with a radiance that was so bright, the local men removed their hat's and fell to their knees. Bernadette seemed to be listening gravely. Occasionally she would nod her head, or bow down. Sometimes she smiled. When asked what the Lady had said, she replied that the Lady had entrusted her with three secrets, which she never revealed.
On her eighth appearance on Wednesday, February 24 1858, Bernadette turned and faced the crowd and repeated these words, "penitence, penitence, penitence"
Then The Miracles Come
The Ninth Apparition Thursday, February 25 1858.
Bernadette knelt before her Lady. The crowd was quiet and awestruck. Then so quiet that they could hardly hear her, Bernadette repeated the words that the Lady had said to her.
"Drink from the fountain and bathe in it" Bernadette was puzzled, as there had never been a fountain at Massabieille. Not even any kind of natural spring.
The crowd held their breath.
Bernadette began to scratch the loose gravel and earth off the ground in front of her. As she did, she began to notice that the ground was beginning to get moist. Suddenly a little pool started to form, and bubbles were rising from the ground. She reached down and cupped the water in her hands. And drank. Then she washed her face in it. The crowd were silent as they made their way home. Everyone was in shock.
The next day, Bernadette returned to the Grotto, along with all the villagers. They all stood in amazed shock to see that the ground was now covered in water, and the pool was dripping down the rock. The following day, the trickle had become a stream.
It was said afterwards, that maybe the spring had always been there, but nobody had found it.
But Bernadette had. She had been given the message by direct command.
The Miracle Begins
The following Apparitions consisted of the Lady telling Bernadette to kiss the ground on behalf of sinners, which she did, and the crowd also followed. Then the Lady told Bernadette to build a Chapel on the site of the Grotto. Bernadette was then told by the Lady that she was wearing a different rosary, which was correct.
On the Thirteenth day, the Lady just prayed with Bernadette. But on the fourteenth day, the Lady repeated that she wanted a Chapel built on the Grotto. Bernadette was terrified of the Clergy but did as she commanded and asked to see the priest. He dismissed her and said, "If the Lady wants a Chapel, then tell her to reveal her identity"!
The Fifteenth Commandment
The fifteenth day. Thursday, March 4 1858.
Everybody knew that this was meant to be the last time the Lady would come to Bernadette. Twenty thousand people were present. This included an entire military garrison in full dress and armour.
A path was cleared for her to walk towards the Grotto. She was accompanied by two soldiers. Bernadette bowed down before the Lady. The crowd waited in anticipation. But they were disappointed. Bernadette turned to them and told them that she would continue to come to the grotto. The Lady had not said farewell. The crowd were disillusioned. They expected something special. They had all seen Bernadette's face, glowing with a strange radiance, but that was all.
I Am The Immaculate Conception
The Feast Of The Annunciation
Thursday march 25 1858.
This day, as Bernadette knelt before the Lady, she was to hear the words that would reveal the Miracle before her. With the crowd silent, and holding their breath the beautiful Lady smiled and said, " I am the Immaculate Conception". When Bernadette revealed this to the people, they flocked to the Grotto, and believed.
Just after this revelation, Bernadette was subjected to another medical examination, and was found to be of sound mind.
The Miracle Of The Candle
Bernadette had always taken a lighted candle to the Grotto, ever since she had been instructed to do so by the Lady. On this day, Wednesday, April 7 1858, Bernadette did something that was one of the most amazing Miracles so far. She placed her hand over the candle while she was praying with the Lady.
To the cries of horror coming from the crowd, she continued to talk to the Lady. For fifteen minutes her hand was seen shining with the flame flickering around her fingers. After she finished praying, she turned to walk away. her hand was untouched! There was not a mark on her skin. Doctor Dozous took another candle, and without Bernadette realising what he was going to do, yelled in horror as he placed the candle on her hand. She immediately cried out in pain. This horrified the crowd and dissension started to take place. The Grotto was immediately ordered shut. She had frightened them into believing it was magic.
The Last Visitation
After the Grotto was closed, Bernadette was relieved to find that the interest in her was slowly disappearing. The public had begun to leave her alone, and most presumed that the visitations were finished.
After a few months, Bernadette decided to visit the Grotto again. She and her aunt went to see how close they could get to the Grotto, but the barricades were still there. So they decided to kneel on the grass. Looking up, Bernadette smiled. The Lady had come to see her for the last time.
Shortly after, Bernadette decided to join the order of the Sisters of Charity. Her life became one of peace and order. But she remained sickly. In all that time she never once complained of pain, and continued to do her work for the sick and elderly.
The Last Miracle
Bernadette Soubirous died on April 16 1879. She was just 34 years old. She was buried in the grounds of Nevers convent, France. Thirty years after her death, her body was exhumed for examination. This was the first stage of preparing her for Sainthood. The church would remove such things as small bones and tissue for sacred relics. When they opened her coffin, the greatest miracle of all was revealed.
To the amazement of the witnesses, Bernadette's body was completely perfect. Death had not sunken the skin, there was no smell, and her face looked peaceful and perfect. She hadn't decayed at all.
Her preserved body had lain in a damp grave for thirty years. All the usual reasons for preserving a body were not there. If a body stays in this state, it is usually because of the chemicals in the skin, or lime and other minerals in the surrounding earth. In Bernadette's case, this was not so. There was no scientific reason for this.
Over the next few years, Bernadette was examined and washed according to the Holy Rules. She had a few marks on her body, where her skin had turned black on parts of her back, but her body was rigid enough to be washed. There was one thing that was strange. Her Rosary had turned green, and her robe had damp spots on it. This was completely opposite to the usual result of a perfectly mummified body. In normal mummification, the soil and the minerals would mummify all of the body. Bernadette's body was a contradiction to how she should look. The heat and water should have decomposed all of her body. But she was nearly perfectly preserved. She is now preserved in a Chrystal coffin, and visitors can go and see her.
On 8th December 1933, Bernadette was canonized as a Saint by the Catholic Church. Her Feast day is celebrated on the 16th April
The Chapel was built soon after Bernadette's death, with the endorsement of the Church..
After 1866, a railway was constructed to take pilgrims and the afflicted to Lourdes to be healed.
Bernadette's Tomb A Chrystal Casket
She Lays In Peace
At The Time Of Her Death
Now: The Beautiful Incorruptible
1. The water that flows in Lourdes has proven to have healed at least 68 people. These numbers are the only ones that scientists cannot find any other explanation for. But thousands of people have claimed that they have been cured.
2.At the time of Bernadette hearing the Lady say " I am the Immaculate conception" it was not common knowledge within the population of her town or city, that the church called Mary the Immaculate Conception, or indeed even knew what it signified, therefore they had no idea how Bernadette knew the phrase.
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