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Marie-Bernarde (more commonly called Bernadette) Soubirous was born on 7th January 1844. Her father Francois, was a miller and her mother Louise, was a laundress. Bernadette was the eldest of 9 children, only four of which survived infancy.
The family, living in extreme poverty, were a close family group supporting each other with their love for one another and their strong religious beliefs. As a toddler Bernadette contracted cholera and suffered severe asthma throughout her life.
|Bernadette as pictured in the Sheepfold Chapel, Cite St Pierre|
On 11 February 1858, whilst collecting firewood Bernadette had her first vision of Our Lady. She noticed a rose bush moving, as though blown by wind, in a natural cave by the river, however, no other bushes or trees were moving. Bernadette talked of a dazzling light and a white figure whom she later described as a small young lady. This was the first of 18 visions.
During these visions, The Blessed Virgin asked Bernadette pray for sinners and to tell the priests to build a chapel on the site. On the 9th appearance of the vision (Our Lady did not reveal her identity until the 16th vision) Bernadette was told to ‘drink at the fountain and wash herself’. At the place directed she dug up the soil from which water started to spring.
On the 12th appearance a local woman after dipping her paralyzed arm into the spring regained movement in the arm.
It was not until the 16th Apparition on 25 March that Our Lady revealed her name. Bernadette recounted; "She lifted up her eyes to heaven, joined her hands as though in prayer, that were held out and open towards the ground and said to me: Que soy era Immaculada Concepciou (I am the Immaculate Conception)." On hearing this, the young girl left and, running all the way, repeated continuously the words that she did not understand, to be able to tell them to the Parish Priest. He was troubled by these words. Bernadette was ignorant of the fact that this theological expression was assigned to the Blessed Virgin four years earlier, in 1854, when Pope Pius IX declared this a truth of the Catholic Faith (a dogma).
|The magnificent Basilica which now towers over the site of the Apparitions|
In later years Bernadette attended a hospice school run by the Sisters of Charity of Nevers and joined the sisters at the age of 22. She spent the rest of her life in the convent at Nevers, working for a time as an assistant in the infirmary.
Following a long illness Bernadette died at the age of 35 on 16 April 1879.
After being declared Venerable by Pope Pius X and declared Blessed by Pope Pius XI on 2 June 1925, Bernadette was Canonized a Saint by Pope Pius XI on 8 December 1933.
healings, officially declared miraculous after extensive investigation by the Catholic Church. Given how many people visit Lourdes each year, this number if very small. However, it is the many hundreds of thousands of private signs given to individuals in answer to prayer that most Lourdes pilgrims experience - the strength to cope with an illness, the joy of new friendships and the comfort they bring, the grace to accept God's will, the courage to face life or even approach death with confidence.
To learn more about Lourdes visit the official site of the the Sanctuary of Lourdes, which also features a live webcam feed of the Grotto.
Lourdes Apparitions (Wikipedia)
Bernadette Soubirous (Wikipedia)