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Bernadette and the Lady of Lourdes

Updated on January 29, 2012

One of the Catholic Church's Greatest Saints

On February 11, 1858, the Lady of Lourdes appeared to Bernadette Soubirous for the first time at the Grotto of Massabielle, a watering hole for pigs.

Bernadette was gathering firewood near the River Gave along with a sister and her friend one Thursday. The other girls ran across the river to search there. Bernadette wanted to join them but did not want to get her stockings wet. When she had removed one stocking and was preparing to do the same with the other, a strange gust of wind blew past her ear. She ignored it. When it blew past her ear a second time, she looked up to see an apparition of an "Aquero" or Lady clothed in a white dress with a blue girdle, and adorned with a yellow rose atop each foot. The Lady stood on a ledge inside the Grotto of Massabielle. The Lady of Lourdes beckoned Bernadette to come closer, but the fourteen year old girl stood transfixed and in awe at the sight. The Lady was holding rosary beads the same color as the roses on her feet. She made the sign of the cross, and then, disappeared.

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The Lady Speaks

Bernadette Obeys the Lady of Lourdes

Bernadette brought holy water that she got from the parish church with her on the second visit to the grotto. When the Lady appeared, she sprinkled her until the bottle was empty, telling her that if she were from God she could stay, and if not, that she must go. The Lady just smiled and bowed to Bernadette and made signs as she was sprinkled. The Lady remained until the terrified girl completed praying the rosary. It was not until the third visit, February 18, 1858, that the Lady spoke to Bernadette, who was accompanied by a few adults. She told Bernadette that she did not need to write her words down but to come back for a fortnight, and that she did not promise to make her happy in this life, but would in the next. The adults did not see the Lady.

For the next two weeks Bernadette remained faithful. Only on two occasions did the Lady not appear. Curious townspeople began to assemble at the grotto along with Bernadette, believers and nonbelievers alike. On February 24, 1858 the Lady told Bernadette to pray for the conversion of sinners. On February 25, 1858, on the occasion of the ninth apparition, the Lady pointed to a spot under the rock of the grotto and told Bernadette to go drink at the fountain and to wash herself. The spot was an almost dried up mudhole, but Bernadette complied and dug until a trickle of water emerged. She rubbed her face and ate some grass there, bitter as it was. The crowd of three hundred fifty gasped when they saw her get up, revealing a mud streaked face with pieces of grass hanging from her mouth. They jeered and ridiculed her. Before long, however, a steady spring emerged from that spot. The Lady during the thirteenth apparition told Bernadette to have the town's clergy make a procession and to build a chapel on the spot of the grotto.

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Bernadette Asks the Lady of Lourdes a Question

The Lady of Lourdes Answers

At the end of the fortnight, Bernadette did not return to the grotto for another three weeks because she needed to study to receive her First Holy Communion. However, feeling compelled to see the Lady again, she returned to the grotto. This time, she insisted that the Lady tell her who she was, the Lady having before avoiding the repeated question gracefully. On March 25, 1858, after Bernadette asked her three times the Lady spoke, "I am the Immaculate Conception." Upon hearing this, the church priest disbelieved and questioned Bernadette as to her "storytelling" and "foolishness". Police officials had also disbelieved her, and grilled her incessantly as to her honesty. Two more times Bernadette met with the Lady.

During the second to the last visit on April 7, 1858, the town physician for about fifteen minutes witnessed Bernadette holding a candle flame in her hand without being burned. He attested to the fact that in his scientific opinion, Bernadette Soubirous while in a state of ecstacy, had envisaged the Mother of God. The final apparition was on July 16, 1858. Bernadette had to view the Lady of Lourdes from a few hundred yards away across the river because the police had blockaded the area. Bernadette later wrote, "I thought that 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."

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