Lourdes (France) 1858
Bernadette Soubirous 1844 –1879
The sleeping saint of Nevers
Our Lady of Lourdes - Optional Memorial: February 11th
Bernadette Soubirous - Memorial: 16 April; 18 February in France
Bernadette Soubirous is very closely associated with Gods plan and works in Lourdes. That is why I would like you to get to know her better. She is a Saint who is an ordinary person like you and I, it is her humanity and living the true gospel, which make her so attractive. She was just fourteen and did not know her catechism or her French. Bernadette Soubirous was taken in by the Hospice de Lourdes, run by the Soeurs de la Charité de Nevers (Sisters of Charity of Nevers), in January 1858 to learn to read and write in preparation for her first communion.
The Soubirous family in Lourdes
Her parents were François Soubirous and Louise Soubirous-Casterot. Bernadette their first child was born on Sunday January 7th, 1844 in Lourdes. Her birth was registered locally with the names of Bernarde-Marie Soubirous. During the following years six other children were born, of which three died. Bernadet herself was never a healthy child, she suffered from asthma. She was always very close to her parents and siblings. They lived in the mill belonging to Boly. Due to the bad conditions in the mill, the amount and quality of the flour went down, as did the number of customers. Eventually the family Soubirous was forced to leave the mill and move to a much poorer dwelling. François Soubirous had to look for work daily, which was usually badly paid. Thus he was unable to take proper care of his family. Louise Soubirous tried to help out by going to work, whilst her eldest daughter Bernadet looked after the little ones. People did try to give Bernadet catechism lessons. This proved to be very difficult and Bernadet was very often to be found alone with her sheep. She very religious and was always praying her rosary which she always had with her. She knew no other prayers.
Calendar of the 18 apparitions in the Massabielle cave in Lourdes:
- 11, 14, 18, 19, 20, 21, 23, 24, 25, 27 and 28 February 1858
- 01, 02, 03, 04 and 25 March 1858
- April 7, 1858
- July 16, 1858
Chronology of the Apparitions at Lourdes to Bernadet Soubirous
First Apparition - Thursday, February 11, 1858
Bernadette Soubirous (14), her sister Tionette (12) and their little friend Jeanne Abadie (13) had gone out to hunt for wood. They had walked to Massabielle and saw a grotto in front of which there was a stream. So Bernadette Soubirous started to take off her shoes and socks to walk through the water. She had hardly got them off when she heard a sound much like a gust of wind. Again she heard the same sound and when she looked at the grotto, she saw in the upper most corner a beautiful lady clad in a white dress with a blue belt and a yellow rose on each of her feet. The lady signalled, with her finger that Bernadette should come nearer. Bernadette was almost frozen to the ground. She spontaneously grabs her rosary kneels down and tries to make the sign of the cross. But she cannot do this until The Lady who is carrying a Rosary with a large shining Crucifix has made the sign of the cross. Whilst Bernadet is praying the rosary she sees that The Lady is also letting her beads slide through her fingers, but without moving her lips. This ‘vision’ lasts for about 15 minutes. The other girls saw nothing of this ‘vision’ but Bernadette told them about it and thus the news is told to mother Soubirous.
Second Apparition - Sunday, February 14, 1858
It is Carnival Sunday and Bernadette Soubirous feels forced to go to the grotto although her mother has forbidden her to do so. After a lot of persuasion Bernadette’s mother does agree with her going to the grotto which she does with the other two girls taking a bottle of Holy water with her to throw at the vision in the grotto should she see Her again. Bernadette gets the girls to kneel down and they pray the rosary together. Again Bernadette Soubirous sees The Lady with Her Rosary on Her arm. She sprinkles Holy water towards the lady and says: "if you are from God, stay. If not go away." As Bernadet sprinkles more water the Lady smiles more and more. When the bottle is empty Bernadette carries on with her rosary and the vision/lady disappears.
Third Apparitiones - Thursday, February 18, 1858
It is still very early in the morning when Bernadette Soubirous once again kneels down at the grotto. A few adults from the village have come with her and they give her pen and paper. Bernadette goes into the grotto and asks The Lady: "would you please write down your name". The people of the village have told her to do this.
Bernadet Soubirous hears the answer,"That is not necessary". She then hears The Lady ask her: "will you be good enough to come to the grotto for fifteen days?" Bernadet answers: "Yes, I promise". The lady makes the following promise: "I promise to make you happy, not in this world but in the next."
then the Lady says: "I would like to see lots of people here". This is the first time that Bernadette Soubirous hears Her Gentle very clear voice. This apparition lasts less than half an hour.
Fourth Apparition - Friday, February 19, 1858
Bernadette Soubirous is no longer afraid and feels a deep inner attraction/pull, to go to the grotto in Massabielle. Six or seven women including Bernadette’s aunt go with her. After barely three Hail Mary’s the vision reappears and it lasts for about 30 minutes. This day Bernadet takes a blessed candle with her, something that she continues to do every day until the fourteenth vision on 3 March 1858.
Fifth Apparition - Saturday, February 20, 1858
On this day the group with Bernadette Soubirous has grown to about 30 people. The same vision appears and when it has ended Bernadet is immediately her normal quiet self. She says very little about the vision, only says, very clearly, that she had once again seen "aquero", "The beautiful Lady", who smiles at her from the grotto.
Sixth Apparition - Sunday, February 21, 1858
On this Sunday morning the 100 or so people who go to the grotto with her are aware how deeply Bernadette Soubirous is moved. Our Lady appears to look with Her shining eyes over the whole world and She says: " pray for the sinners". In the afternoon Bernadet has to endure a long interview with the police commissioner Jacomet. Bernadette remains calm; Father Soubirous makes her promise never to go to the grotto again.
Seventh Apparition - Tuesday, February 23, 1858
In the confessional, the chaplain, Father Pomian, tells Bernadette Soubirous that nobody has the right to stop her going to the grotto. Then her father, Soubirous lifts his ban on her visits to the grotto. On this day, once again, there are at least one hundred witnesses. Among whom are doctor Dozous and many other important men from the little town. Our Blessed Lady teaches Bernadette Soubirous word for word a special little prayer. Which Bernadet keeps secret. She prays this prayer every day for the rest of her life. Mary also now gives her instructions. "Go to the Priests and tell them, that I want a Chapel built here".
Eighth Apparition - Wednesday, February 24, 1858
Two or three hundred people have come together at the grotto. They see the face of Bernadette Soubirous looking very sad She crawls on her knees over the ground stopping several times to mutter; penance…. penance.. penance…. She said that The Lady had asked her to do this as penance for the sinners.
Hail Mary…pray for us sinners
Ninth Apparition - Thursday, February 25, 1858
Once again the grotto is full of people. The outward apparition of Bernadette Soubirous during this apparition is strange, due to what Mary is saying to her. :" My daughter, I want to tell you, just for you and about you one last secret, which you must never tell anyone else. Now go and drink and wash at the spring and eat of the grass growing nearby. Mary points with Her finger to the grotto. Then Bernadet sees dirty muddy water, she cannot drink it. She tries three times to dig deeper and deeper. On the fourth occasion she can drink it and washes herself with it. Then she eats the grass. Some of the people present say: "she is mad". But after Bernadet dug in it the spring became enormous. It was to become a spring of 100,000 litres a day. Many people call it the ‘miraculous water’. Late on this day Bernadet had to undergo an interrogation from the Procurer Imperial, M.Dutour. But the investigator did not get any were with this interrogation.
Tenth Apparition - Saturday, February 27, 1858
The tenth apparition took place in the presents of 800 people. Once again Bernadette Soubirous drank water from the spring which was now bubbling and ate grass from nearby.
Eleventh Apparition - Sunday, February 28, 1858
Even more people than the previous day (1150) followed Bernadette Soubirous to the grotto. The chief officer of the Gendarmerie from Tarbe was present with his secretary. He was impressed, and said that the vision lasted fairly long. In the afternoon there was another interrogation by the Procurer Imperial and the Chief of Police. The headmaster of the local senior school came to question her in private. He thought that she was suffering from catalepsy, prior to this questioning, when he became certain that she really was having these visions.
Twelfth Apparition - Monday, March 1, 1858
According to the police count 1.500 people were present . Bernadette Soubirous sees the little girl who tells her that she is not carrying her own Rosary, but the one belonging to her sick girlfriend. Again Bernadette drinks from and washes herself at the spring. This was the first day that a Priest was present. The newly ordained Priest, Abbe Dezirat from Omex a small town close to Massabielle. He watches Bernadet very carefully and closely. Later, he said" What perfect peace! What perfect serenity! What a perfect saintliness! It is impossible for a child to make this up; so pure, so beautifully lovely. I felt as though I was standing on Heavens threshold."
Thirteenth Apparition - Tuesday, March 2, 1858
This time there were 1650 spectators. Bernadette Soubirous heard the following request; "go and ask the priests to build a chapel. I want the people to come here in procession". Father Peyramale is so nasty to her when she sees him, that she only remembers to ask about the procession and forgets all about the church. Very shaken she returns to the priest in the evening and tells him and three chaplains the rest of her message. The Parish priest says that she must first ask the Lady Her name.
Fourteenth Apparition - Wednesday, March 3, 1858
Early in the morning 3 or 4,000 people are present at the grotto, but nothing happens. In the afternoon Bernadette Soubirous returns and in the presence of a hundred or so people, she sees the vision. So as the parish priest had requested, she asked The Lady Her name. The Lady just smiles but gives no answer. Bernadet goes back to see the parish priest, who says that she is crazy and is being taken for a ride. He does however repeat his request that Bernadette should ask The Lady for Her name.
Fifteenth Apparition - Thursday, March 4, 1858
It is market day in Lourdes and the last day of the fifteen days mentioned at the third apparition. An awful lot of people, about 20,000 wander down to the grotto. The local police with help from police from other villages have more to do than they can cope with. Bernadette Soubirous remains there for three quarters of an hour entranced at the grotto Once again when she leaves the grotto she goes to see the parish priest and tells him that The Lady only smiled when asked Her name, but she still wants a church built. Peyramale repeats his request that Bernadet must ask The Lady Her name.
There follows a pause in the apparitions, which lasts for twenty days. During which time Bernadette does not go to the grotto. Neither does she feel that very strong pull which calls her to the grotto. This is a welcome pause for her in which she regains her peace. She goes to school and prepares for her First Holy Communion.
Sixteenth Apparition - Thursday, March 25, 1858
The feast day of the Annunciation. Bernadette Soubirous has not been to the grotto for three weeks. Then during the night of 24, 25 March she suddenly had a great urge to go to the grotto in Massabielle. At five in the morning, she is on her way to the grotto with some of her relatives. Even this early in the morning, several people, including the chief of police are at the grotto. As soon as Bernadet arrived, she saw The Lady. For about an hour she remains entranced as she looks at The Lady. She asks The Lady, her name, repeating the question three times. The Lady smiles at her and then Bernadette gets the courage to ask The Lady her name for a fourth time! Now she is given THE ANSWER.
I am the Immaculate Conception
This statement from the Lady confirms the doctrine of Pope Pius 1X. She is "The Lady Clothed with the sun", The completely pure one. Our Lady announced Her Immaculate
Conception to Sister Catharina Labouré during the apparitions at the Rue du Bac in 1830. She also taught Sister Catharina Labouré the following prayer.
O Mary conceived without sin, pray for us who have recourse to Thee
The miraculous medal was at first called: "the medal of Mary of The Immaculate Conception". Bernadette Soubirous did not understand it, not even following her visit to the Parish Priest She started to understand it in the afternoon following her talk with Mr. Estrade, a learned man, that The Lady was The Virgin Mother.
Then there is again a pause in the visions.
Seventeenth Apparition - Wednesday, April 7, 1858
Bernadette Soubirous had been to confession a few days earlier and so people expected her to go to the grotto. This she did, as usual carrying a lighted candle in her left hand, her right hand protecting the flame against the wind. In the ecstasy, which follows and lasts for 15 minutes, the flame blows against her fingers. Dr. Dozous sees no burns and believes that Bernadet really does see what she says.
This was followed by the longest pause between apparitions.
Eighteenth Apparition - Friday, July 16, 1858
On the feast day of Our Lady of Mount Carmel Bernadette Soubirous feels a very strong inner pull to go to the grotto. She goes there at 8 p.m. Since the previous apparition the authorities have fenced off the grotto following a decree pasted on 10th June 1858 locked it up. Bernadet kneels down on the other Side of the river Gave with her auntie Lucille. For a short period of time she is in deep ecstasy just like the previous time a few months earlier. When she is later asked what The Lady said to her, she answered: "nothing", but does say that she has never seen The Lady looking so beautiful.
Following this apparition Bernadette Soubirous again returns to her normal life in faith, which means to her being completely faithful every day.
The first of these eighteen apparitions of Our Lady in Lourdes took place 11 February 1858. During and after Bernadette Soubirous is subjected to admiration, seen as being important and has people turning away from her! Her parents had a very hard time of it, how could these poor people defend themselves against threatening public pressures! But Bernadet remains her normal self. A simple, honest and devote girl. She remains calm and very open with some humour in the face of the investigations from the church and worldly authorities, displaying a resolute resistance in the face of their indelicate persistence whilst repeatedly telling them about the apparitions. A decision to become a nun develops in Bernadet at this time and finally she decides to enter the convent in Nevers, as her health is not good enough to follow the rules of any very strict orders, she loves to care for the sick and as "nobody has tried to force me to go there".
Bernadette Soubirous in Nevers
On July 1866, wishing to realize her desire for a life dedicated to religion, she joined the Soeurs de la Charité of Nevers in Saint-Gildard, the seat of the congregation. Before she left her beloved Lourdes and her family, Bernadette Soubirous went to the Grotto on the 14th of July 1866. Bernadet lives with the nuns in Nevers under name given to her at her baptism. Soeur Marie-Bernarde. At the beginning of her noviciate Sister Marie-Bernarde told the entire congregation of the nuns her full story about the apparitions, after which she was never again allowed to mention them. Some of her Mother Superiors put her to work at humble and menial tasks to keep her meek and mild. She did suffer under these humiliations, but she accepted the situation and remained very cheerful. On the day she took her final vows, the Bishop told her, that is was her work to pray. She was given work in the convents hospital room, where she became a good and efficient nurse She herself was sick with asthma, she developed tuberculosis, calcium lose from her bones and open wounds, these things gave her a lot of suffering which together with her mental suffering, remained her daily of what Our lady had asked in Lourdes." Do penance and pray for sinners"
"I promise to make, you happy, not in this world, but in the next"
She died on Wednesday 16th of April 1879 aged 35. On her deathbed she once more reinforced, at the request of Pope Pius1X and the Bishop of Lourdes, under oath, her statements about the happenings at Massabielle. Following a long and strict process, as order by church law, Sister Marie-Bernarde was declared a Saint by Pope Pius X1 on the 8th of December 1933. Her body, remains intact, in a glass Shrine in the chapel of the convent in Nevers.
My personal note about Lourdes in relationship with Sister Marie-Bernarde:
She did not even know what "I am The Immaculate Conception," meant. She was an honest and sincere young girl. It was very special, that Our Lady should choose her. The visions only brought her suffering! The world however is very greatly blessed by Lourdes. More than 5 million pilgrims per year are not unusual When the lord mayor, had the grotto, shut down and then the Bishop of Tarbe was asked to reopen it, He said," Only the Emperor can reopen the grotto. Lets who is stronger, Our Lady or the Emperor?"It was at the repeated and urgent request of Empress Eugenie that Napoleon III had the grotto reopened.
"These apparitions in Lourdes are fully approved bij the Holy See: Jan 18, 1862"
Placing your petition at the Grotto of Lourdes
Prayer to Our Lady of Lourdes
Mary, you showed yourself to Bernadette
in the crevice of the rock.
In the cold and grey of winter,
you brought the warmth, light and beauty
of your presence,
In the often obscure depths of our lives,
in the depth of the world where evil is so powerful,
return our confidence!
You are the Immaculate Conception,
come to our aid, sinners that we are.
Give us the humility to have a change of heart,
the courage to do penance.
Teach us to pray for all people.
Guide us to the source of true life.
Make us pilgrims going forward with your Church,
whet our appetite for the Eucharist,
the bread for the journey, the bread of life.
The Spirit brought about wonders in you, O Mary :
by his power, he has placed you near the Father,
in the glory of your eternal Son.
Look with kindness
on our miserable bodies and hearts.
Shine forth for us, like a gentle light,
at the hour of our death.
Together with Bernadette, we pray to you, O Mary,
as your poor children.
May we enter, like her, into the spirit of the Beatitudes.
Then, we will be able, here below,
begin to know the joy of the Kingdom of Heaven
and sing together with you :
Glory to you, Virgin Mary,
blessed servant of the Lord,
Mother of God,
dwelling place of the Holy Spirit!
Prayer Saint Bernadette of Lourdes
Gracious God, the incorruptible body of Saint Bernadette, though she died in 1879, remains undeteriorated, a testament to her holiness and Your desire to protect our bodies from destruction. Because of her compassion, which she learned from life-long sicknesses and mistreatments, I ask her to intercede for all the people I know who have illnesses and diseases, all those who have asked me to pray for them as they hope for healing, and my own need to be healthy. Lord God, help us to grow in holiness so that our souls are purified and our bodies may testify to Your loving goodness. Saint Bernadette, pray for us.