A Catholic Perspective on Life and Faith
The Appearances of Our Lady of Lourdes
to Bernadette Soubirous
in the Grotto of Massabieille
The Soubirous Family
The Soubirous family lived in the far north of the little town of Lourdes, in the Lapaca district. A large stream flowed there, and on this stream there were seven mills; one of them was known as the Boly Mill, and this had been the residence of the Soubirous. Francois Soubirous leased the mill from relatives of his wife, Louise. In many ways, it was the trade of the miller which had brought the couple together. They had married in the parish church on 9th January 1843.
By 1855, the family income had decreased drastically – trade was not as good at the mill, and the Soubirous were not the best of business people; often filled with pity for the poor of the local people, they would tell their customers to pay when they were able to, and they never refused credit. And of course there was the family to raise, which further drained their resources. No longer able to pay for the rent of the mill, the Soubirous were forced to quit their dwellings, give up the millers trade and take on whatever work they could find for themselves. Francois Soubirous recalled that another relative, Andre Sajous, owned a building in the Rue des Petits Fosses – this building was the former Lourdes jail. Andre and his family lived on the upper floor, but the ground floor was so cold and damp in the winter and so hot in the summer, that it had been declared unfit for human habitation; not even prisoners deserved such dire accommodation. However, this was the only option for the poor millers family, so it was to the old jail that they moved, having secured permission from Andre to rent the lower floor. The old jail was known locally as ‘the Cachot’. Filled with compassion for his poor relations, Andre Sajous allowed the Soubirous family to remain there rent-free.
When trade was going well at the Boly Mill, the Soubirous had slackened their religious practice; but with the decrease in prosperity, there came a renewal of their former fidelity, which afterward always remained. Each evening, the family gathered around the old fireplace for family prayers. This concluded with the recitation of the Rosary – often led by one of the Soubirous girls, particularly the oldest one, Bernadette.
The marriage of Francois Soubirous and Louise Casterot produced six children. The eldest of these was Marie Bernarde.
She was born of 7th January 1844, and was baptised the next day by the Abbe Forgues in the old parish church. Because of her small stature, she was always referred to by the diminutive form of the name, Bernadette.
Six months later, Louise was again expecting a child; because of this, Bernadette was entrusted to the care of a woman in near-by Bartres, Marie Aravant, who had just lost a baby boy. She stayed there for fifteen months.
From her birth, Bernadette was a weak child, suffering even then from the asthma which would cause her so much suffering that later, in the convent, she would beg the nuns to tear open her chest that she might breathe. Because of her delicate constitution, her parents would endeavour to give her little morsels of food not available to the other children, such as white bread instead of black. Invariably, the young girl would share these treats with her siblings – often missing out herself on the sumptuous feast.
When she was ten, Bernadette was again separated from her beloved family; the winter of 1855 was exceptionally cold and there was little work for the poor miller. Louise’s sister, Bernarde, offered to take Bernadette for a while to relieve the pressure on the family and to minimise the effects of the cold on Bernadettes’ health.
She stayed with her aunt Bernarde for seven months, until the weather improved sufficiently and there was more work available for Francois, enabling him to feed his family properly.
Bernadette left Lourdes one more time – in summer of 1857, she returned to stay with Marie Aravant for a few months, working for her as a shepherdess. There was also a great affection between the two. Bernadette celebrated her fourteenth birthday here in Bartres, but still there had been no mention of her making her First Holy Communion; Marie Aravant tried to teach Bernadette about the Faith – but described her as being thick-headed;
“It was useless to for me to repeat my lessons; I always had to begin again. Sometimes I was overcome by impatience and I would throw my book aside and say to her, ‘Go along, you will never be anything but a little fool’ “.
Marie asked the priest for advice – he said Bernadette should return to Lourdes to begin her Catechism classes. And so, in the early days of 1858, Bernadette returned to the Rue des Petits Fosses.
To the west of Lourdes, beyond the river Gave, is an old rock promontory, jutting up from the ground. This rock was known locally as the ‘Big Rock’, or Massabieille as it is called in the local patois. In those days, it was a dark and deserted place, always quiet and used as the local dumping ground. The path to Massabieille was a winding one, going from Rue de Baous (now Rue de la Grotte) toward the Gave, across the Pont Vieux and passing the field which belonged to Monsieur de La Fitte; then on toward the Savy Mill, crossing the little Merlasse stream and walking around the hill. This takes us opposite the grotto.
The huge old rock has an excavation at its base, eight metres deep and twelve across. This is the grotto itself. Above it, and a little to the right, is another opening, a small niche. There is a small tunnel joining the little niche to the main opening, but this is partly blocked by a marble cube. Beneath the niche, a wild rose bush hangs low down and sweeps across the floor of the grotto.
Trees and bushes surmount the rock, and in front of it rushes the waters of the Gave, combined with the water from the Savy mill. The locals tended to avoid the place, due to its quiet desolation and wild appearance. Bernadette knew the place existed, but she had never been there in all her life. Neither did she have any plans to visit it.
First Apparition – Thursday 11 February 1858.
At half past twelve on a cold February day, Mary, the Mother of God, descended from Heaven who meet our little peasant girl in a lonely grotto. The meeting was entirely unexpected. Who could possibly describe the following scene better than Bernadette herself?
“The Thursday before Ash Wednesday it was cold and the weather was threatening. After our dinner, our mother told us there was no more wood in the house and she was vexed. My sister Toinette and I, to please her, offered to go and pick up dry branches at the riverside. My mother said no, because the weather was bad and we might be in danger of falling into the Gave. Jeanne Abadie, our neighbour and friend, who was looking after her little brother in our house and who wanted to come with us, took her brother back to his house and returned the next moment telling us that she had leave to come with us. My mother still hesitated, but seeing that there were three of us, she let us go. We took first of all the road which leads to the cemetery, by the side of which wood shavings can sometimes be found.
“That day we found nothing there. We came down by the side which leads near the Gave and having arrived at the Pont Vieux we wondered if it would be best to go up or down the river. We decided to go down and taking the forest road we arrived at Merlasse. Then we went into Monsieur de la Fittes field, by the mill of Savy.
“As soon as we had reached the end of this field, nearly opposite the grotto of Massabieille, we were stopped by the canal of the mill we had just passed. The current of this canal was not strong for the mill was not working, but the water was cold and I for my part was afraid to go in. Jeanne Abadie and my sister, less timid than I, took their sabots in their hands and crossed the stream. However, when they were on the other side they called out that it was cold and bent down to rub their feet and warm them. All this increased my fear and I thought that if I went into the water I should get an attack of asthma. So I asked Jeanne, who was bigger and stronger than I, to take me on her shoulders. ‘I should think not!’ she answered – ‘If you won’t come, stay where you are!’.
“After the others had picked up some pieces of wood under the grotto, they disappeared along the Gave. When I was alone, I threw some stones into the water to give me a foothold, but it was no use. So I had to make up my mind to take off my sabots and cross the canal as Jeanne and my sister had done.
“I had just begun to take off my first stocking when suddenly I heard a great noise like the sound of a storm. I looked to the right and to the left, under the trees of the river, but nothing moved; I thought I was mistaken. I went on taking off my shoes and stockings, when I heard a fresh noise like the first. Then I was frightened and stood straight up. I lost all power of speech and thought when, turning my head toward the grotto, I saw at one of the openings of the rock a bush – only one – moving as if it were very windy. Almost at the same time, there came out of the interior of the grotto a golden coloured cloud, and soon after a Lady, young and beautiful, exceedingly beautiful, the like of whom I had never seen before, came and placed herself at the entrance of the opening, above the rose bush. She looked at me immediately, smiled at me and signed to me to advance, as if She had been my Mother.
All fear had left me, but I seemed to know no longer where I was. I rubbed my eyes, I shut them, I opened them; but the Lady was still there continuing to smile at me and making me understand that I was not mistaken. Without thinking of what I was doing I took my Rosary in my hands and went on my knees. The Lady made with Her head a sign of approval and Herself took into Her hands a Rosary which hung on Her right arm.
When I attempted to begin the Rosary and tried to lift my hand to my forehead, my arm remained paralysed, and it was only after the Lady had signed Herself that I could do the same. The Lady left me to pray all alone; She passed the beads of Her Rosary between Her fingers but She said nothing; only at the end of each decade did She say the Gloria with me. When the recitation of the Rosary was finished, the Lady returned to the interior of the rock and the golden coloured cloud disappeared with Her”.
When asked to describe the Lady of the vision, Bernadette said –
“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 along Her robe. 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.”
Bernadette then continued with her story –
“As soon as the Lady had disappeared Jeanne Abadie and my sister returned to the Grotto and found me on my knees in the same place where they had left me. They laughed at me, calling me an imbecile and asked me if I would go back with them or not. I now had no difficulty in going into the stream and I felt the water as warm as the water used for washing plates and dishes.
‘You had no reason to make such an outcry’ I said to Jeanne and my sister Marie, while drying my feet; ‘the water of the canal is not as cold as you would make me believe’. They replied, ‘You are fortunate not to find it so – we found it very cold’.
“I asked Jeanne and Marie if they had noticed anything at the Grotto – ‘No’, they answered. ‘Why do you ask us?’. ‘Oh, nothing’ I replied indifferently. But before we got to the house, I told my sister Marie of the extraordinary things which had happened to me at the Grotto, asking her to keep it a secret.
“Throughout the whole day, the image of the Lady remained in my mind. In the evening, at family prayer, I was troubled and began to cry. My mother asked what was the matter. Marie hastened to answer for me and I was obliged to give the account of the wonder which had come to me that day.
‘These are illusions’ answered my mother – ‘You must drive these ideas out of your head and especially not go back to Massabieille’.
“We went to bed but I could not sleep. The face of the Lady, so good and gracious, returned incessantly to my memory and it was useless to recall what my mother had said to me; I could not believe that I had been deceived.”
Second Apparition – Sunday 14 February 1858
From that day forward, little Bernadette could think of only one thing – the beautiful Lady she had seen. Her normally fun-loving nature had become grave and serious.
Louise continued to tell her daughter that she had to be mistaken – Bernadette did not argue, but she could not believe that she had been the prey of an illusion. Even her mothers warning that this may have been a trick of the devil seemed impossible to believe – how could Satan carry a Rosary and pray the Gloria?
On the Friday and the Saturday, Bernadette intimated her desire to return to Massabieille – her mother ignored her pleas. On Sunday, Bernadette heard within her soul a summons, calling her once more to a meeting with the beautiful Lady of the rock. She told Marie of this, who in turn mentioned it to Madame Soubirous, who again refused permission. Jeanne Abadie then pleaded the cause. Finally, Louise relented and gave permission – after all, if this was an illusion, it would prove itself to be so.
Bernadette had told no-one outside the family what had occurred on Thursday. Marie, on the other hand, had not been so reserved. Several of the local young girls knew the secret. These girls were then summoned by Marie to come to Massabieille.
Bernadette armed herself with a small phial of Holy Water and left for the Grotto. As soon as she arrived at the grotto, she fell to her knees opposite the niche, and began to pray. Almost immediately, she exclaimed – “There She is! There She is!”.
One of the girls present told Bernadette to throw Holy Water on the Lady, in case it really was Satan. Bernadette did as requested. “She is not angry”, she related, “On the contrary, She sanctions it with Her head and is smiling at all of us”. The girls knelt around their little companion and began to pray.
Bernadette then fell into ecstasy; her face completely transfigured and radiating happiness. Her expression was indescribable.
Just then a stone fell from the top of the Grotto, causing alarm among the girls. It was Jeanne – having been left behind, this was her revenge. Bernadette showed no reaction. The girls called to her, but she was unaware of their presence, her eyes remaining fixed on the niche. Thinking she was dead, the other girls began to cry out; their cries were heard by two of the Nicolau women from the Savy mill, who ran to the Grotto; seeing the ecstatic Bernadette, they called to her, attempted to move her, covered her eyes – all to no avail. Madame Nicolau then ran to get her son, Antoine, a young man of twenty eight years. Believing this to be some kind of joke, he came to the Grotto and could not believe the sight he found there. He said later –
“Never had I seen a more marvellous sight. It was useless for me to argue with myself – I felt I was not worthy to touch the child”.
Urged by his mother, Antoine gently pulled Bernadette away from the Grotto, leading her toward the Savy mill. All the way there, Bernadettes eyes remained fixed a little in front and above of her. It was only upon her arrival at the mill that she once more returned to earth, her ecstatic expression gradually disappearing and her face becoming once more that of the simple millers daughter.
The Nicolaus then asked Bernadette what she had seen and she related what had occurred at the Grotto; again she had prayed the Rosary accompanied by the Lady, who moved Her lips only at each Gloria, and who had again disappeared at the conclusion of the prayers.
By now, Louise Soubirous had been summoned to the Savy Mill. She was crying, thinking her little child was dead. She was angered to find Bernadette sitting telling her story;
“So, you want to make us a laughing stock! I’ll give it to you with you hypocritical airs and graces and stories of the Lady!”.
She was prevented from striking the child by Madame Nicolau, who cried –
“What are you doing? What has your child done to be treated like this? It is an angel, and an angel from Heaven that you have in her – do you hear? I shall never, never forget what she was at the Grotto!”
Madame Soubirous burst into tears once more, worn out with emotion and frustration. She then led the young girl home. On the way, Bernadette occasionally glanced behind her.
Third Apparition – Thursday 18 February 1858
The girls who had been present returned to Lourdes and began to describe the extraordinary sight they had witnessed. Few people believed them.
But not everyone laughed. Antoinette Peyret was a leading light in the Children of Mary, in Lourdes. Desperate to know more of what was happening, she found all sorts of excuses for visiting the Soubirous family. Each time she would question the little one about what she had seen. The answers never changed.
Upon hearing Bernadette describe the beautiful Lady, Antoinette was moved to tears; she believed this was her friend Elisa Latapie, who had been the president of the Children of Mary before her untimely death a few months beforehand.
Accompanied by her friend Madame Millet, Antoinette arrived at the Cachot in time to hear Bernadette pleading with her mother to be allowed to return once more to the Grotto. Louise was stern in her replies to Bernadette. This seemed to be the perfect opportunity for the pair to ask permission to be allowed to take the child to the Grotto, where they promised they would let no harm come to her. After some soul-searching and many tears, Louise granted their request.
The following morning, before dawn began to light the sky, the two ladies called at the Cachot. After collecting Bernadette, the trio left to attend Mass in the church. Following this, they left for the Grotto. Madame Millet carried with her a blessed candle, which she used to burn on special feast days. Antoinette Peyret took with her a pen and paper, hoping the mysterious Lady would write some messages for them.
Arriving at the Grotto, Bernadette ran on ahead. By the time the two older ladies caught up with her, she was already on her knees in prayer, her Rosary in her hand. The candle was lit and the two women knelt also. After a few minutes, Bernadette exclaimed “She comes! Here She is!”.
The two women could see nothing, but Bernadette was captivated by the sight she beheld.
Bernadette was happy and smiling, occasionally bowing her head. However, she gave no sign of ecstasy on this occasion. Since the Lady was about to speak, it was important that the child retain full use of her faculties. After the completion of the Rosary, Antoinette handed Bernadette the pen and paper.
“Please, ask the Lady if She has anything She wishes to tell us and in that case if She would be so good as to write it down”.
As the child moved toward the opening, the two ladies also moved forward; without looking back, Bernadette signalled to them to remain where they were. Standing on tip toe, she held up the pen and paper. She appeared to listen to words addressed to her, then lowered her arms, made a deep bow and returned to the place she just left. Antoinette asked what the Lady had replied.
“When I presented the pen and paper to Her She began to smile. Then without being angry She said ‘There is no need for me to write down what I have to say to you’. Then She seemed to be thinking for a moment and added ‘Will you be so kind as to come here every day for fifteen days?‘ “
“What did you answer?” asked Madame Millet.
“I answered ‘Yes'” said the child in all simplicity.
Asked why this request had been made, Bernadette replied,
“I do not know – She did not tell me”.
Madame Millet asked why Bernadette had signed to them to stay where they were. The child said this had been done in obedience to the Lady. Somewhat distressed, Madame Millet asked Bernadette to enquire of the Lady if their presence was disagreeable to Her. Bernadette raised her eyes to the niche, then turned and said –
“The Lady answers, ‘No, her presence is not disagreeable to Me’ “.
Once more the three began to pray. Bernadettes prayers were frequently interrupted – she seemed to be having a conversation with the invisible Lady.
At the end of the vision, Antoinette asked Bernadette is the Lady had told her anything else. Bernadette replied –
“Yes. She said to me, ‘I do not promise to make you happy in this world, but in the next’.”
“Since the Lady consents to speak to you,” enquired Antoinette, “why do you not ask Her for Her name?”.
Bernadette replied that she had already done so. Asked what Her name was, the young girl replied –
“I do not know. She lowered Her head with a smile, but She did not answer.“
Fourth Apparition – Friday 19 February 1858
Hearing Bernadette relate what had occurred, her parents were distressed – not least of all by the strange promise made by the mysterious Lady. Until now, they had thought this was simply the product of a childs imagination… But now the Lady had spoken – and what words! If this Lady was real, then who could it be? They considered that the childs description matched that of the Queen of Heaven. They immediately discounted this as a possibility; Bernadette was not worthy of such a grace. And the Mother of God would surely not appear in such a lowly place as the Grotto of Massabieille. Was it perhaps a souls from Purgatory? Or – most terrifying of all – was it the evil one? Why would She give no name? What did this mean?
They sought the advice of the wise Aunt Bernarde.
“If the vision is of Heavenly nature,” said Bernarde, “we have nothing to fear. If it is some trickery of the devil, it is not possible that the Virgin should allow a child who trusts Her with such innocence of heart to be deceived. Moreover, we ourselves have done wrong in not going to Massabieille with her to see what is really taking place there. This we must do before anything else and then we shall be able to form an opinion based upon the facts themselves and decide upon a future line of action.”
And so, the next morning, Bernadette was accompanied to the Grotto by both her parents and by her aunt, again leaving the house before dawn. Despite the precautions they took to remain unseen, some neighbours did see the small group – and began to follow. Eight people arrived at the Grotto along with the Soubirous.
Bernadette knelt and began her Rosary. All present noted how impressively this was made. Moments later her plain face was transfigured and illuminated; she no longer belonged to the world.
Louise had already heard how Bernadette’s countenance was changed in the presence of the Lady – but still she found the change hard to believe.
The ecstasy lasted thirty minutes, after which Bernadette rubbed her eyes and appeared as one waking from a sleep. She remained happy after the conclusion of the vision.
On the way home, Bernadette said that the Lady had expressed Her satisfaction at the childs fidelity to her promise to return to the Grotto; She also said that later She would reveal secrets to the child.
Bernadette also related that during the vision, she had heard loud, quarrelling voices, which had seemed to rise up out of the river, telling her to escape. The Lady had also heard the commotion; She had simply raised Her eyes in the direction of the voices, which were then seized with fear and began to disperse, finally fading away altogether.
No-one paid much attention to this incidental detail at the time – only much later did they recall what Bernadette had told them that morning.
Fifth Apparition – Saturday 20 February 1858
By now the entire town of Lourdes knew what was reported to be happening at the Grotto of Massabieille; only a few people, however, had actually seen Bernadette in ecstasy before the vision in the niche. By the morning of the fifth apparition, the people present numbered several hundred, whereas previously there had been only a few dozen.
Accompanied by her mother Louise, Bernadette approached the Grotto at half past six in the morning. She paid no attention to the crowds gathered there to witness what was to occur. She knelt upon the small rock which served her as a prie-dieux, which had become her usual place, and which was always left for her, no matter how many were present. She began her Rosary.
Seconds later, the ecstasy began.
“I must be out of my mind, for I simply can’t recognise my own daughter!”, exclaimed Louise Soubirous, such was the grace and charm of Bernadettes every movement and the heavenly light which was transfiguring her innocent face.
The crowd were straining for a glimpse of the little visionary. They shifted their eyes from the young girl to the niche which so captivated her gaze. They, however, could see nothing but the moss at the base of the niche and the long trailing rose bush.
After the vision had ceased, Louise questioned Bernadette about what had happened during the ecstasy. Bernadette said the Lady had very kindly taught her a prayer for her personal use; She had taught this word by word until Bernadette remembered it all. Asked to repeat the prayer, the girl said she did not think herself at liberty to do so, since the prayer had been composed by the Lady with the seers personal needs in mind. She appeared somewhat embarrassed in relating this.
Sixth Apparition – Sunday 21st February 1858
On this day there occurred an indication of the purpose of the apparitions.
A cold wind was blowing that morning, as Bernadette arrived at the Grotto in the company of her mother and her aunt. The crowds were greater than they had been so far. Notably absent were the members of the clergy.
In Lourdes there was an establishment called the Saint Johns Club. Here, the local free-thinkers would gather and discuss issues of the day, often forming conclusions on events. Of course, the events at Massabieille were a suitable topic for discussion by these august and learned gentlemen. The members of the club had already made a conclusion on this particular event; the occurrences were nothing more than the product of a neurotic imagination in an unstable adolescent.
Of course, none of these learned and august gentlemen had taken the time or trouble to witness the events first-hand. But this was certainly no reason not to discuss what was happening.
However, this situation was rectified the following morning. One of this circle, Dr Dozous, had decided to pay a visit to the Grotto.
Dr Dozous was not an especially religious man; in fact, quite the opposite. He was a man of science, which – he believed – held all the answers. What need was there for religion? After the events of that cold February morning, he changed his opinions substantially; he was later to champion the cause of Bernadette and of the Immaculate Conception, and he would also write books on the miracles which he was to encounter at the Grotto. He died a good death on 15th March 1884, aged eighty-five.
He himself relates what took place that morning.
“As soon as she had come before the grotto, Bernadette knelt down, took her Rosary out of her pocket and began to pray. Her face underwent a perfect transformation, noticed by all who were near her, and showed that she was in communication with the Apparition. Whilst she told her beads with her left hand, she held in her right hand a lighted candle which was frequently blown out by the strong draught which was blowing along the Gave; but each time, she gave it to the person nearest her to have it relighted. I was following with great attention all the movements of Bernadette, and I wished to know what was the state of the circulation of the blood and of the respiration at this moment. I took one of her arms and placed my fingers upon the radial artery; the pulse was tranquil and regular, the respiration easy. Nothing indicated any nervous excitement in the young girl.
“Bernadette, after I let her arm free, rose and advanced a little toward the Grotto. Soon I saw her face, which until then had expressed the most perfect joy, grow sad; two tears fell from her eyes and rolled down her cheeks. This change occurring in her face during her station surprised me. I asked her, when she had finished her prayers and the mysterious Being had disappeared, what had passed within her during this long station. She answered –
‘The Lady, looking away from me for a moment, directed Her glance afar, above my head. Then, looking down upon me again, for I had asked Her what had saddened Her, she replied – ‘Pray for the sinners’. I was very quickly reassured by the expression of goodness and sweetness which I saw return to Her face, and immediately She disappeared.’
“In leaving this place, where her emotion had been so great, Bernadette retired as she always did, in the most simple and modest attitude.”
The Lady Does Not Appear
After the last Apparition, Bernadette had been interrogated by Monsieur Jacomet, the Police Commissioner; he had sought a retraction from the child, believing that she was lying in her account of visions and a mysterious Lady. He did not succeed. Other than an account of what she had already made known, the little one gave nothing more away. Jacomet tried to trick Bernadette into contradicting herself and her story – attempting to mix up the details of the story and get her to make a mistake. He did not succeed. Finally, he had sought a promise that she would never again return to the Grotto. At this point the interrogation had been interrupted by the arrival of Francois Soubirous, Bernadettes father, who had been told of the interrogation and was concerned for his little daughters safety. Despite the fear he felt, he burst into the room where Jacomet sat and where the little girl had been left standing. Jacomet was furious, but realised the moment had been lost. The interview was abruptly terminated.
Jacomet had failed at every turn. Bernadette, however, had retained her simplicity, humility, veracity and sweet nature throughout.
On Monday 22 February, 1858, the Soubirous parents ordered Bernadette to go straight to school and to go nowhere near the Grotto; they had been terrified of the Police Commissioner. The child did as instructed. At lunchtime she returned home for a small meal and to collect a book.
She left the Cachot with every intention of conforming her behaviour to the instruction of her parents, but at the road to the Hospice (run by the Sister of Charity of Nevers) she was halted and could move no further. “An invisible barrier prevented me from passing” she related later.
She could not move forward along the road – she was able only to go in the opposite direction, toward the Grotto. Then she felt again the interior call to the Grotto and all hesitation left her. Her course was set.
This scene was witnessed by some of the local gendarmes, stationed nearby – they could not understand why Bernadette appeared unable to move forward. But upon seeing her change of direction, they guessed where she was headed. Taking another road, two of them caught up with her and asked where she was off to. She replied simply, “I am going to the Grotto”. They said nothing more, but followed her in silence until she reached her destination.
A local woman by the name of Mademoiselle Estrade, had been walking that day and had gone to see the now-famous Grotto. She gives the account of this days events, which she herself witnessed:
“My companions and I noticed a number of people collecting at a spot where the path by the fort joins the forest road. All were looking down the river and soon a cry of satisfaction was uttered by the group – ‘There she is! She is coming!’.
“We asked who was expected and they told us it was Bernadette. The child was coming along the path; beside her were two gendarmes and behind them a crowd of children. It was then that I saw for the first time the face of Mary’s little protégé. The seer was calm, serene and unpretending. She passed in front of us as tranquilly as if she had been alone.
“My companions and I arrived at the Grotto. Bernadette was on her knees and the gendarmes were standing a little way off. They did not disturb the child during her prayer, which was long. When she rose, they questioned her and she told them she had seen nothing. The crowd dispersed and Bernadette went away also.
“We heard that the seer had gone into the Savy mill and wishing to see her, we went to the mill to find her. She was sitting on a seat and a woman was beside her; I learnt that this woman was the mother. I asked the woman if she knew the child. She replied, ‘Ah, Mademoiselle, I am her unhappy mother!’. I asked why she called herself unhappy. ‘If you only knew, Mademoiselle, what we suffer! Some laugh at us, others say our daughter is mad. Some even say that we are receiving money for this!’.
“I asked what she herself thought of the girl and she said – ‘I assure you, Mademoiselle, that my child is truthful and honest and incapable of deceiving me. Of that I am certain. People say she is mad. It is true that she suffers from asthma but apart from that she is not ill. We forbade her to return to the Grotto; in anything else I am sure she would have obeyed us, but in this matter – well, you see how she escapes our control. She was just telling me that an invisible barrier prevented her from going to school and that an irresistible force dragged her in spite of herself to Massabieille.’ “
Seventh Apparition – Tuesday 23rd February 1858
Mademoiselle Estrade was determined that her brother, Jean Baptiste, should also see what was happening at Massabieille. Monsieur Estrade was a writer.
That evening at supper, she told him of her desire to witness the child in ecstasy, adding that since it was not fitting for a lady to walk alone on such a road, would he be kind enough to accompany her? He replied that he would not be so kind.
Later that evening, Monsieur Estrade paid a visit to his friend, Abbe Peyramale, the parish Priest. During their conversation, the subject of Mademoiselle Estrades request came up; the priest replied that going to the Grotto could do no harm, and that had he not been a member of the clergy he would have been there already. Monsieur Peyramale also believed that the visions were nothing more than the neurosis of a child who was unstable.
So the next morning, both Monsieur and Mademoiselle Estrade left home for the Grotto. He asked his sister had she remembered to bring her opera glasses. They arrived at the grotto at six in the morning, just as dawn was beginning to light the sky. He later estimated that some two hundred people were already present, even before Bernadette appeared.
The child appeared a few minutes later – soon she was in prayer before the niche. Close to her stood Monsieur Estrade – he had made a point of getting as close as possible, using his elbows to achieve this goal.
With no sign of awkwardness or self-consciousness, the child took the Rosary from her pocket and crossed herself in her usual profound manner; Monsieur Estrade later commented that
“If the sign of the Cross is made in Heaven, it must be as Bernadette made it that morning”.
All the while she was praying she kept on looking up into the niche, like one who was waiting. Suddenly, her whole appearance was once more transformed and she began to smile. Estrade said she “was no longer Bernadette; she was one of those privileged beings, the face all glorious with the glory of Heaven, whom the Apostle of the great visions has shown us in ecstasy before the throne of the Lamb”.
All doubt removed, the men present removed their hats and fell to their knees. They were in no doubt that the child did indeed see a heavenly Lady in the hollow of the rock.
Now the child appeared to be listening; she seemed grave and serious and would occasionally bow low. At other moments she seemed to be asking questions. She appeared transfused with joy whenever the Lady answered her. At points, the conversation was interrupted and the Rosary would continue, with the young child never for a moment taking her eyes off the beautiful sight she beheld.
The vision lasted for an hour. At its conclusion, Bernadette moved on her knees toward the rose bush and there she kissed the earth. The radiance of her face slowly faded, before she rose and left in the company of her mother.
Afterward, Bernadette was asked what the Lady had said on this occasion. She replied that the Lady had entrusted her with three secrets, but that these concerned no-one but herself. She also said that she was allowed to reveal these three secrets to no-one, not even her confessor; for many years afterward, people (including priests and bishops) tried their best to make the seer give up her secrets. But Bernadette carried them with her to the grave.
Eighth Apparition – Wednesday 24th February 1858
By now the newspapers were taking notice of the events at the Grotto. The local paper, the Lavedan, took a particular interest; unfortunately, its reports were neither accurate nor favourable. It promised to keep its readers informed of the “craze” concerning the “cataleptic” girl who had claimed to see “the Mother of the Angels”.
Events at the Grotto were about to take a new turn. Until this point, the visions had appeared to be more or less personal in nature; the prayer taught by the Lady and the three secrets She had revealed all concerned Bernadette alone. Now, however, the universal nature of the Apparitions was about to become apparent.
There were “four hundred to five hundred” people at the Grotto that day, as reported to the Lieutenant of Police by Constable Callet of the local gendarmarie.
Immediately upon her arrival, Bernadette commenced her Rosary as she always did. Before a decade had been completed, the ecstasy began; the child leaned forward and her face was lit with a heavenly smile and once more she began to reflect the grace of She whom she beheld. She smiled and – without lowering her eyes – made a number of graceful bows.
After several minutes, the ecstasy was interrupted; Bernadette turned to face the crowd and – referring to the long trailing rose bush – asked, “Who has touched the briar?”. The bush had been shaken by a young girl who was trying to get as close as possible to the visionary. The Lady had moved from the niche high in the rock, but had not disappeared; She had descended into the larger hollow at the base of the Grotto. Bernadette heard herself called and the ecstasy resumed, the child kneeling at the opening of the larger vault, within which the Vision was standing.
Again Bernadette listened to the words of the beautiful Lady. The childs face appeared sad and her arms fell to her side. There were tears upon her cheeks. She turned once more to face the crowd and three times she repeated, “Penitence…penitence…penitence!”. This was heard distinctly by those standing close to her, who quickly spread the words they had heard. Bernadette had given her first public message.
The seer returned once more to her former place and the vision continued, while the entire crowd remained silent – struck by the sincerity on the face of the child. One person, however, had not lost the power of speech; the Lourdes quarter-master pushed his way toward the girl, and when he had reached her he asked – “What are you doing, you little actress?”. Bernadette was not even aware of his presence, much less intimidated by it. His only response was the answer he gave to his own question – “And to think that such follies can take place in the nineteenth century!”.
Ninth Apparition – Thursday 25 February 1858
Discovery of the Miraculous Spring
The events of this day caused the on-lookers to re-assess what they believed about Bernadette and her visions. At the time, what was happening was unclear – only later did the true nature of that days apparition become clearer. Afterward, the day would never be forgotten.
The narration of the scene is given by Mademoiselle Elfrida Lacrampe, whose parents owned the Hotel des Pyrenees at that time, and who had the joy of being present as the marvellous events occurred. This morning, the vision began even before dawn.
“It was not yet light; we had a lantern to light us. Bernadette did not keep us waiting long”, she recounts. “Bernadette approached in the company of her aunt, walking rapidly toward her destination; as she came nearer, she called to the crowd, “Let me pass, let me pass!”.
Mademoiselle Lacrampe continues –
“At this moment, when nearly all the sightseers had arrived, there were – I think – about four hundred people in front of the Grotto and under the rocks near the Gave. Approaching her place, Bernadette raised her dress a little so as not to muddy it, then knelt down. I was standing on the right, up against the rock, almost beneath the niche where the Apparition used to come.
“The child had not recited a decade of her beads when all of a sudden she set off on her knees and began to clamber in this way up the slope that led to the interior of the Grotto. She passed in front of me, a short distance away. On reaching the entrance to the vault, she gently – and without pausing – pushed aside the branches that hung down from the rock. From there she went on towards the back of the Grotto. The crowd was pressing close behind her.
“When she reached the back of the Grotto, Bernadette turned about and came back, still on her knees, down the same slope. I witnessed there a tour de force and I ought to have marvelled more at the ease and dignity of this childs movements in such a posture and on deeply sloping ground that was very uneven and strewn with stones which jutted out sharply here and there. At the time I saw nothing in Bernadettes movements, apart from the tour de force, but a ridiculous wriggle, for it seemed to me purposeless.”
Mademoiselle Lacrampe lost sight of the child at this moment, being surrounded by the pressing crowd. But Aunt Bernarde was more fortunate –
“Everyone was astonished. Finding nothing, the child turned off towards the river” she stated.
But despite seeing the events occurring before them, those close by were unable to explain them. Only Bernadette could supply this. And she was soon required to do so.
It is important to state here that until that moment, there had been NO water in the Grotto other than a little stagnant water, probably collected rainwater. Just at this moment, Bernadette went towards the wild rose bush, pushed it aside and kissed the rock, then fell once more into ecstasy. She got up and seemed embarrassed – she walked toward the River Gave, then stopped and looked back, like one who has been called, and went in a different direction, into the large vault at the base of the rock, on the left hand side. Looking once more towards the niche, she appeared puzzled. She then began to dig with her hands. Muddy water began to slowly surface, which she scooped up and three times threw away. She drank the fourth scoop.
Later, in the convent, she joked to the Sisters that three times she threw the water away before drinking – and that this was why Our Blessed Lady made her ask three times for Her Name, before revealing Her identity!
When the on-lookers saw her mud-covered face they thought she was insane and laughed at her. Unaware of all this, Bernadette continued in her ecstasy until 7:00am, long after the sight-seers had departed.
Leaving the Grotto, a neighbour asked Bernadette to explain what had occurred. She replied –
“Whilst I was in prayer, the Lady said to me in a serious but friendly voice – ‘Go, drink and wash in the fountain’. As I did not know where this fountain was, and as I did not think the matter important, I went towards the Gave. The Lady called me back and signed to me with Her finger to go under the Grotto to the left; I obeyed but I did not see any water. Not knowing where to get it from, I scratched the earth and the water came. I let it get a little clear of the mud then I drank and washed.”
Seeing what was happening – but not understanding – the crowd wondered if Bernadette was mad after all. Why had she smeared her angelic little face with muddy water? What could it mean? Horrified, they watched in silence. Their distress was increased as they watched the child eat some wild herbs growing at the foot of the rock. Unknown to the crowd, the Lady had pointed once more to the floor of the Grotto and told her little one – “Go, eat of the herbs you will find there”. Bernadette then made her impressive Sign of the Cross once more, before coming away from the vault, kneeling once more and watching as the vision faded.
Quickly, Aunt Bernarde took hold of the child and ushered her away from the Grotto, fearful of the crowd who were calling out to the child that she was insane. No-one had bothered to examine the hole where the child had been digging; all were too concerned only with their reputations – after all, it would be embarrassing to have to admit to being fooled by this imbecile girl.
Later that afternoon, on the spot where Bernadette had knelt digging, the trickle had become a ribbon of water which was hollowing out its own channel in the topsoil.
A twenty-year debate followed about the origin of this spring, until finally the Abbe Richard, a famous hydro-geologist at the time, declared after a long and careful study, that the spring was miraculous in its discovery and in its effects, although not in its existence. Although the spring had always been present within the rock itself, it was only at the moment that the child began to dig that the water literally changed its course, bubbling up through the gravel and soil, into the waiting hands of the visionary
Later studies concluded that the rock itself is the source of the water, perfectly pure other than minimal deposits of salts, and that it contains NO therapeutic ingredients.
On 6 May 1858, a chemist by the name of Latour issued a statement on the water –
“The water .. is very limpid, inodorous and without any strong taste; .. it contains the following ingredients – chlorides of soda, lime and magnesia, bicarbonates of lime and magnesia, silicates of lime and aluminium, oxide of iron, sulphate of soda, phosphate, organic matter..”
He speculated that at some point a ‘curative element’ would be found in the water, but this never happened.
A further analysis, by Monsieur Filhol, of the Toulouse Faculty of Sciences (in August 1858) declared –
“The extraordinary results which I am informed have been obtained by the use of this water cannot, at least in the present condition of scientific knowledge, be explained by the nature of the salts whose existence is revealed by analysis”.
Analyses since that date have reached similar conclusions. And yet still the water from this spring flows – in itself not miraculous, not therapeutic. But countless miracles have resulted from its use since that happy day.
On the following morning, Friday 26th February 1858, Bernadette went to the Grotto as usual. Doctor Dozous, who watched the child that morning, said that she knelt and prayed her Rosary for “a long time” that morning, but at the end of her prayers she was sad and distressed. The Lady had not appeared.
By that day, however, Bernadette was once more in favour with the crowd at Massabieille – their insults and laughter were forgotten, washed away by the flowing waters of the spring which Bernadette had said was there, having been told so by her Lady.
Tenth Apparition – Saturday 27th February 1858
The Lourdes clergy were discussing the visions at Massabieille. Abbe Peyramale had always maintained a public silence on the subject. This morning, he gathered together his three curates to give them his opinion. The speech given to them by the Priest was related on several occasions to Monsieur Jean Baptiste Estrade, who retells it here –
“You have heard the reports which are going about respecting certain appearances which are supposed to have taken place in a Grotto near the Gave. I don’t know how much is truth and how much is fancy in the current legend, but it is our duty as Priests to maintain the greatest reserve in matters of this nature. If the appearances are genuine and of a divine character, God will let us know it in his own time. If they are illusions or caused by the spirit of lies, God has no need of our intervention to reveal the falsehood.
“It would therefore be rash of us to show ourselves at present at the Grotto. If the visions are recognised as genuine later on, we shall certainly be accused of bringing about this recognition by our own machinations. If they are subsequently rejected as without foundation, we shall be ridiculed for what will be called our disappointment. So we must not take any unconsidered step or speak any rash word; the interests of religion and of our own dignity are concerned. The present circumstances demand of us the greatest circumspection.”
Such was the outlook of the Lourdes Clergy at the time of the Apparitions.
On the morning of Saturday 27th February, Bernadette was once again at her beloved Grotto, undaunted by the non-appearance of the Lady the day before. After all, the Lady had simply asked Bernadette to come daily for fifteen days – She had not promised to appear on each of those days.
But she was not to be disappointed today – the Lady was there in the niche. Throughout the vision the child held her blessed candle in her hand as she prayed and listened. On several occasions she bowed low, touching the earth, sometimes smiling and sometimes weeping. She also approached the foot of the rock, kissing the ground on the way. This had been done in deference to the command of the Lady –
“Go, and kiss the ground in penance for sinners”.
As the vision approached its end, the Lady seemed to be lost in Her thoughts for a few moments. Bernadette patiently waited. Finally, the Lady smiled on her once more, then gave her a new command –
“Go and tell the Priests to have a Chapel built here”.
Leaving her state of ecstasy, the child moved toward the spring – there she drank some of the water. Leaving the Grotto, Bernadette informed her Aunt Bernarde of what the Lady had said.
“Though he is so good, I am more frightened of him than of a policeman!” said Bernadette to Monsieur Estrade. But despite her fear, the child headed straight for the presbytery immediately on leaving the Grotto. The Priest was praying the Divine Office in the garden as Bernadette approached. The following conversation was related by Monsieur Estrade.
The Priest knew the name of the child involved in the apparitions at the Grotto, but he did not recognise the child standing before him. In Catechism class he had only caught a glimpse of her. He asked her name.
On being told her name, he replied – “Oh, its you, is it?”
His reception was cold and austere, his appearance rugged and stern. The child was terrified of him. Appearances, however, are often deceptive; such was the case with this Priest, who in reality (after the initial contact) was warm and welcoming, a loyal supporter of those in need of any kind, a true shepherd of his flock. Later, this is how Bernadette would find him.
Leaving the garden, Peyramale went into the house. Bernadette followed, stopping on the thresh-hold. Peyramale asked what it was she wanted.
With her exquisite charm and simplicity, the girl replied – “The Lady of the Grotto has ordered me to tell the Priests that She wishes a Chapel to be built at Massabieille and that is why I have come.”
The Priest remained unmoved. “Who is this Lady of whom you speak?”
“She is a very beautiful Lady who appeared to me on the Massabieille rock.”
Still Abbe Peyramale gave away nothing of his feelings. “But who is She? Is She from Lourdes? Do you know Her?”
Bernadette replied that she did not.
“And yet you undertake to carry messages like the one you have just given me, from a person who you do not know?” he enquired coldly.
“Oh but Monsieur, the Lady who sends me is not like other ladies”. Asked to explain, she continued – “I mean that She is as beautiful as they are in Heaven, I would think”.
By now, the Priest was finding it difficult to control his emotion, touched by the obvious sincerity of the girl standing before him. He asked if Bernadette had never enquired of the Lady Her name.
“Yes, but when I ask Her She bows Her head slightly, smiles and gives me no answer.”
Peyramale asked if the Lady was, then, dumb.
“No, because She talks to me every day. If She were dumb, She would not have been able to tell me to come to you.”
Peyramale asked Bernadette to describe the events which had taken place so far. He pointed to a chair and she sat. He sat opposite her and listened. Within a few minutes, the Priest lost all his doubts – although he declined to make the child aware of this fact.
“You imagine that a Lady who has no name, who takes up Her abode on a rock and had bare feet, deserves to be taken seriously? My child, there is one thing I do fear – and that is that you are the victim of an illusion”.
Bernadette hung her head but did not reply. Then the Priest spoke once more.
“Tell the Lady who has sent you that the parish priest of Lourdes is not in the habit of dealing with people whom he does not know. Say that before anything else, he demands to know Her name and that – moreover – She must prove that this name belongs to Her. If this Lady has the right to a Chapel She will understand the meaning of my words to you; if She does not understand, tell Her that She need not trouble to send me any more messages.”
Bernadette rose, curtsied and left.
Eleventh Apparition – Sunday 28th February 1858
Bernadette arrived at the Grotto just before seven o’clock, together with her Aunt Lucille. In one hand she carried her ever-present Rosary, in the other, her blessed candle.
Monsieur Estrade estimated there to be approximately two thousand on-lookers at the Grotto that morning. The crowd was densely packed, so that during the vision, it proved difficult for Bernadette to move while performing her normal penances at the command of the Lady. Before she could move under the niche on her knees, the gendarmes present had to push back the crowd a little. This was by no means easy.
Several times the little one moved forward to the rock and back again, each time on her knees, each time kissing the ground at intervals. Her face and lips were mud-stained. But today no-one laughed at her.
The messages she received were of a personal nature and were not related to the assembled people. Her privacy in such instances was respected.
The large numbers present had caused the ground to become muddy and down-trodden. Only a few of the wild plants remained untrodden. Also, the constant coming and going had caused the water from the spring to run in several little streams towards the Gave. On this day, local workmen decided to dig a trough in which the water could collect.
After the vision, Bernadette and Lucille left the Grotto and went directly to Mass in the parish Church.
Twelfth Apparition – Monday 1st March 1858
From the beginning of the Apparitions in the Grotto of Massabieille, the popular press – and many individuals, most notably the ‘free-thinkers’ – had done all possible to put an end to these curious events; when this had failed and it was clear that they were powerless to stop what was happening, they resorted to the fall-back plan – to misrepresent, distort and discredit the occurrences. This was clearly seen in the lies being told about Bernadette in the papers – she was described as mad, a neurotic, a cataleptic, an epileptic, a psychotic, a fraud, a devious little liar, a fool who was manipulated by others, a pythoness… the list was nearly endless.
Particular events at the Grotto were also played upon and misrepresented – and sometimes taken out of context in an attempt to give them meanings which they did not possess. During the Twelfth Apparition such an event occurred. And as before, it was only after the event was explained by Bernadette herself that it made sense and cleared away the misrepresentations surrounding it.
Many people believed in the Apparitions – further, they were also certain of Who was appearing; they felt sure it was none other then the Blessed Virgin Mary, although Bernadette herself had never made this claim. Instead, the child had always spoken of ‘the Lady’ (un damizelo) who appeared, but who – so far – had declined to name Herself. But, believing that Bernadette was indeed in communication with the Queen of Heaven, the followers often made attempts of one sort or another to obtain souvenirs of the Apparitions and of Bernadette herself, frequently causing great irritation to the child.
Monday 1st March saw at least 1300 people at the Grotto – as Jacomet the police commissioner stated in a report he sent the next day. But this number was based solely on those counted by the gendarmes returning to the town after the Apparition; it did not include those who left in other directions and did not pass through Lourdes. That day, one of those present was a priest from nearby Omex; the priest, Abbe Dezirat, had been only recently ordained. He was the first cleric to visit Massabieille during the Apparitions. He described what happened after Bernadettes arrival at 7:00am in the company of both of her parents –
“From the moment she arrived, I watched her closely. Her face was calm, her look unassuming, her walk most natural, neither slow nor hurried. No sign of exaltation, not a trace of disease.
“The crowd on the road pressed close behind the child to get to the scene of the Apparition. Once there, I did as the rest. When we arrived in front of the Grotto, someone said – ‘Let the priest through!’. These words, though spoken softly, were easily heard, for there was deep silence over everything. They made way for me and advancing a few paces I was quite close to Bernadette, a yard away, not more.
“Between the moment when I got near to the child and the moment when the vision began, there was scarcely time to recite a decade.
“By her posture and by the expression on her face, it was evident that her soul was enraptured. What profound peace! What serenity! What lofty contemplation! Her smile was beyond all description. The childs gaze, fixed on the Apparition, was no less captivating. Impossible to imagine anything so pure, so sweet, so loving.
“I had watched Bernadette with scrupulous care while she was making her way to the Grotto. What a difference between what she was then and what she was as I saw her at the moment of the Apparition. It was like the difference between matter and spirit… I felt I was on the threshold of Paradise.”
Here, Monsieur Jean Baptiste Estrade, present throughout the Apparition, takes up the story – but it is also here that the misunderstanding of the day occurred.
“I witnessed that day a great display of religious enthusiasm. Bernadette had just returned from her place under the spur of the rock. Kneeling down again, she took her beads as usual from her pocket, but as soon as she lifted her eyes again to the privileged bush, her face became sad. She held up her beads with surprise as high as her little arm would allow – there was a moments pause, then suddenly went the beads back into her pocket. Instantly, she displayed another pair which she waved and held up as high as the first. The look of anguish vanished from her face. She bowed, smiled once more and recommenced her prayer.
“With a spontaneous movement, everyone took out their Rosaries and waved them. Then they shouted ‘Vive Marie’ and went down on their knees and prayed with tears in their eyes. The opponents of religion spread the rumour that Bernadette had that day blessed the Rosaries”.
One Paris newspaper printed the following article a few days later –
“That little actress, the millers daughter at Lourdes, collected round her again on the morning of the 1st of March, beneath the Massabieille rock, nearly two thousand five hundred boobies. It is impossible to describe the idiocy and moral degeneration of these persons. The visionary treats them like a troop of monkeys and makes them commit absurdities of every kind. This morning, the pythoness was not inclined to play the seer, and to make a little variety in the exercises, she thought the best thing was to play the priestess. Assuming a grand air of authority, she ordered the fools to present their Rosaries and then blessed them all.”
Since the day following the discovery of the Spring, the crowd had often imitated Bernadettes actions at the Grotto, such as kissing the ground in penance; today was no different, although the crowd had misinterpreted what had happened. If Bernadette had not blessed the Rosaries, then what had been the meaning of the strange event which had just occurred? Later that day a priest asked the child this same question; only after her explanation was the odd happening demystified.
Bernadette explained that while on her way to the Grotto earlier that morning, a lady named Pauline Sans (who was the Lourdes seamstress) had spoken to her; she had desired to have a memento of the Apparitions and so had asked the child if she would be kind enough to use her (Madame Sans’) Rosary that morning while the Blessed Virgin was praying with her. Bernadette had agreed to this proposal.
As Bernadette was about to make the sign of the Cross, she took the Rosary from her pocket but was not able to lift her hand to her forehead. The Lady asked Bernadette where her own Rosary was – here, the child lifted the Rosary high in the air for the Lady to see. But the Lady saw only too well – “You are wrong” She told Bernadette, “this Rosary is not yours”.
Realising she had Madame Sans’ Rosary in her hand, she put it back into her pocket and retrieved her own cheap Rosary of black wood beads on a knotted cord, bought previously by her mother. Again she lifted the beads –
“Use those” said the Lady sweetly, smiling at the child, and Bernadette was able to begin her prayers.
The priest who asked the child to explain said to Bernadette – “Is it true that you blessed Rosaries at the Grotto today?”.
Bernadette smiled and replied – “Oh but Monsieur, women do not wear the stole!”
Thirteenth Apparition – Tuesday 2nd March 1858
The thirteenth Apparition took place following the normal pattern – Bernadette arrived at the Grotto early in the morning, prayed the Rosary in the company of the Lady who remained silent except for the Gloria’s, then made her usual devotions and acts of penance.
After the vision, the child arose and appeared tremulous. She had been accompanied by both aunts – Basille and Lucile. Wondering what the Lady had said to make the child appear so anxious, Basille asked Bernadette what had happened. She replied –
“Oh I really am in great difficulty! The Lady has ordered me to tell the priest that She wishes a Chapel at Massabieille and I am nervous about having to go to the Presbytery. If only you knew how grateful I should be if you would accompany me!”
They left immediately to go and tell Abbe Peyramale of the Lady’s request.
Upon arriving at the presbytery, the priest enquired –
“Well, what have you come to tell me? Has the Lady spoken to you?”. Bernadettes anxiety increased.
“Yes, monsieur le cure. She has ordered me to tell you again that She wishes to have a chapel at Massabieille.”
Peyramale – in his reply to the child – left her in no doubt what he thought of herself, of the Lady of the rock, of the messages being relayed to him, and (above all) at the inconvenience of the interruption she was causing to his normally quiet and routine life.
“It is high time for me to get out of the imbroglio in which the Lady and you seek to entangle me. Tell Her that with the priest of Lourdes She must speak clearly and concisely. She wants a chapel. What right has She to these honours which She claims? Who is She? Where does She come from? What has She done to deserve our homage? Don’t let us beat about the bush – if your Lady is She whom you suggest, I will show Her a means of obtaining recognition and giving authority to Her messages. You tell me She stations Herself in a niche, above a wild rose bush. Well, ask Her from me to make the rose bush burst into flower suddenly in the presence of the assembled multitude. The morning when you come to tell me that this prodigy has occurred, I will believe your word and I will promise to go with you to Massabieille!”.
The tone and volume of his reply terrified the poor child so much that she forget the second part of the message and left without having passed it on to the man shouting at her.
Afterwards, she realised her error. She asked her aunt to accompany her once more to the priests house, but met with a definite ‘no’. She then asked both her parents – but they were more terrified of Peyramale than even Bernadette was. Later in the afternoon, the child spoke to one of her neighbour, a lady called Dominiquette Cazenave. She explained her predicament to this lady, who was more helpful than those she had already approached.
Madame Cazenave went to the presbytery in the late afternoon to arrange another meeting. She accomplished her task and the meeting was set for seven that evening.
At the appointed time, Bernadette and her neighbour found themselves in the priests company.
Her fear was not at all lessened by the prospect of a further contact with this stern figure who inspired such fear within her. But regardless of her personal feelings, she had to fulfil the requests made to her by the Lady in the Grotto.
The child spoke to the Priest –
“The Lady has ordered me to tell you that She wishes to have a chapel at Massabieille and now She adds ‘I wish people to come here in procession’.”
“My girl” replied Peyramale, “this is a fitting climax to all your stories! Either you are lying or the Lady who speaks to you is only the counterfeit of Her whom She pretends to be. Why does She want a procession? Doubtless to make unbelievers laugh and to turn religion into ridicule. The trap is not very cleverly laid! You can tell Her from me that She knows very little about the responsibilities and powers of the clergy of Lourdes. If She were really the One whom She pretends to be, She would know that I am not qualified to take the initiative in such a matter. It is to the Bishop of Tarbes, not to me, that She ought to have sent you!”
Bernadette spoke again. “But sir, the Lady did not tell me that She wanted a procession to come to the Grotto immediately – She only said, ‘I wish people to come here in procession’. And if I understand Her rightly, She was speaking of the future and not of the present”.
“We’ll do better than that – we shall give you a torch and you shall a procession all to yourself. You have many followers – you have no need of priests!” retorted Peyramale.
“But monsieur le cure, I never say anything to anyone. I don’t ask them to come with me to the Grotto”.
Peyramale was silent for a moment to collect his thoughts. A moment was all he needed.
“Ask the Lady Her name once more. When we know Her name, then She shall have a chapel – and I promise you, it won’t be a little one either!”
Bernadette left the house. Now she smiled – despite her fear of the priest, she had carried out the task given to her by the Lady.
She had given Abbe Peyramale the full message. Now it was up to him.
Fourteenth Apparition – Wednesday 3rd March 1858
That morning there were around three thousand people present when Bernadette arrived at the Grotto at seven in the morning, accompanied by her mother. The child knelt and began her prayers as usual. But her face – although sweet – did not take on the radiance of other mornings. The Lady had not appeared.
One onlooker, Monsieur Clarens of Lourdes, wrote to the Prefect of Police at Tarbes two days later –
“The vision failed the little girl and this seemed to cause her deep distress. It is important to note this point, for it might not perhaps seem to favour the hypothesis if an hallucination”.
The point of that statement was perfectly clear to many people present that day. Amongst them was the relative who allowed the Soubirous family to live rent-free in the Cachot, Andre Sajous.
Seeing the childs bitter sadness (she believed the Lady had not appeared because she had failed in her first visit to the priest the preceding day), he offered to go back to the Grotto with her. Her face lit up and she agreed. An hour and a half later (at nine in the morning) they were in front of the rock.
It was quieter there at that time, with only a few believers present. The remainder had departed once Bernadette had left earlier.
The Apparition took place in the same manner as before, with the Lady and her protégé joined in prayer.
After the Apparition, Bernadette went once more to see Abbe Peyramale. The Lady had asked once more about a Chapel. But this time the priest was a little less gruff in his approach, asking what was the purpose of the visit. The young girl replied that she had told the Lady about the priests request of the previous day –
“She smiled when I told Her that you were asking Her to work a miracle. I told Her to make the rose bush, which She was standing near, bloom; She smiled once more. But She wants the Chapel”.
Asking if Bernadette had money with which to build a chapel, the girl replied that she did not.
“No more have I! Ask the Lady to give you some!” responded the priest.
Later that day, more relatives of Bernadette arrived; the next day was the last day of the fifteen days and perhaps some great miracle would occur. Her cousin, Jeanne Marie Vedere, said to the child –
“I hear you did not see your Lady this morning”, to which Bernadette replied – “But I did see Her during the day!”. Jeanne Marie asked her cousin why it had taken two visits to the Grotto before the Lady arrived; Bernadette said she had asked the Lady the same question and had received the following reply from Her lips –
“You did not see me this morning because there were some people there who wanted to see what you looked like in My presence – they were not worthy of this honour; they spent the night at the Grotto and they dishonoured it”.
Fifteenth Apparition – Thursday 4th March 1858
The whole of France was aware that Thursday 4th March was to be the last of the fifteen days of which Bernadette Soubirous had promised the mysterious Lady to be present at the Grotto of Massabieille. What would happen today?
If the visions were a fraud, would all this nonsense cease? If real, would the Lady perform a great miracle to prove Her existence and presence? Who was the Lady? A soul from Purgatory? The Blessed Virgin Mary? The evil one in disguise? Perhaps today all would become clear.
Since early the previous evening, pilgrims had been arriving from all over France. They had travelled by horse, in carriages and on foot. Throughout the night torches had remained alight in front of the Grotto. Hymns were sung to the Queen of Heaven – surely this was the mysterious Lady of the visions? By morning, there were twenty thousand pilgrims in and around the Grotto of Massabieille.
Also present were a large number of gendarmes. Jacomet had felt the need for a strong police presence to prevent any of the trouble which always follows a large crowd. Consequently, he had called in extra police from the Garrison, all of whom were armed.
The night before, Jacomet – together with two colleagues – had undertaken a minute search of the Grotto, the niche and the entire rock of Massabieille. The niche was empty – no person, lamp, or any suspicious item was found within it. The same was true of the large vault beneath the niche – the only items found were a few coins, a small bouquet of flowers and a Rosary.
In the early hours of the morning, the search was repeated. Again, nothing suspicious was found.
Bernadette was present in the parish church for early morning Mass at six o’clock. After communion, she felt herself impelled to go to the Grotto – she left immediately. Her cousin – who had accompanied her to the Mass – ran after her once she noticed the little one had slipped quietly out of the Church, somewhat irritated at not having been told of the departure. Bernadette said she had not thought to tell her.
She arrived at the Grotto shortly after seven o’clock. The gendarmes cut a path through the crowd so that the child could reach the Grotto which had been the scene of so many marvels.
Bernadettes cousin, Jeanne Vedere, relates what happened –
“Holding a candle in one hand and her Rosary in the other, Bernadette recited her beads without a pause as far as the third Hail Mary of the second decade, her eyes fixed all the time on the niche and the rose bush. At that moment, a marvellous change came over her face and everyone cried out – ‘Now she can see Her!’ and they fell to their knees. I experienced at that moment such intense feelings of joy and happiness as I could never express; I felt the presence of a supernatural Being, but though I looked hard, I could see nothing.”
Jeanne relates that the Rosary was prayed three times in succession that morning. At the end of her Rosary, Bernadette tried to make the Sign of the Cross. But once more, she was unable to lift her hand to her forehead – despite three attempts.
Bernadette later explained that she had finished her prayers before the Lady had finished Hers – and it was only once the Lady made the Sign of the Cross that the child could do the same.
The vision continued after the Rosary was finished. Not once did Bernadettes eyes move from the object of her delightful gaze. Jeanne Vedere counted eighteen smiles on the childs face during the vision.
At one moment, Bernadette got up and walked forward into the vault at the base of the rock – Jeanne followed her. Later Bernadette said that at this point, the Lady had been so close that Jeanne could have put out her hand and touched Her. Bernadette went back to her usual place, but later went right into the vault once again and resumed the conversation.
Throughout the vision, Jacomet was always close by – scrutinising the child and taking notes in his little book. Of all those present, he alone stood throughout the Apparition, writing furiously.
This was to be the longest of all the visions, lasting more than an hour. At the end, Bernadette quietly finished her prayers and left the Grotto. People close by, as she was leaving the Grotto, asked the child how the vision had concluded. Bernadette said –
“Just as usual. She smiled when She departed but She did not say goodbye to me”.
“Now that the fortnight is up, you will not come again to the Grotto?” she was asked.
“Oh yes, I shall” replied the child. “I shall keep on coming, but I don’t know if the Lady will appear again”.
Sixteenth Apparition – Thursday 25th March 1858
The Lady Reveals Her Name
For the next twenty one days, Bernadette did not go to the Grotto in the early morning as she had been doing until then – she had not felt the call within herself which was her summons. But surely the matter had not reached a satisfactory conclusion – after all, the Lady had still not identified Herself, despite the childs repeated requests.
However, the child did go to the Grotto – but alone. She would go in the late afternoon and spend long hours in prayer and contemplation. But unlike the days of the visions, Bernadette would not kneel in her usual place; instead, she would go deep into the large rock vault at the base of the Grotto. There, cloaked in the gloom of the place, she would pour out her soul to the Lady of the Apparitions – whom she saw with the eyes of her soul, if not her body. By this time, some pious people in Lourdes had set up a small altar beneath the niche – upon an old table, they had placed a small statue of the Blessed Virgin, surrounded with flowers and candles. In fact, candles burned all over the Grotto. Whenever people were gathered at the place, they would begin to sing hymns to the Queen of Heaven. Nearly all of the pilgrims there would leave a small monetary donation, which would later be used to carry out the requests of the Lady. Strangely, none of this money was ever stolen – although it was left there with no-one to watch over it.
On the evening on March 24th, Bernadette told her parents of the feeling she had that she was being called to the Grotto once more by an interior impulse – she intended to return there in the morning. It had been a long time since the Lady had visited her – more than two weeks! How long that night was – try as she might, the child was unable to sleep. As soon as the first light of dawn began to pierce the darkness of night, she rose and quickly dressed.
There were a number of people present there at the Grotto already; it seemed they too felt there may be a fresh occurrence that day. But why today, after the silence of two weeks? That was simple to answer – today was the feast of the Annunciation of the Archangel Gabriel to the Blessed Virgin Mary – the day he saluted Her as ‘Full of Grace’. So perhaps ….
Bernadette arrived at the Grotto at five in the morning, with her blessed candle in her hand. Her parents were with her. Even before she reached the rock, she could see the wondrous light filling the niche, in which stood her beautiful Lady.
“She was there” said Bernadette, “tranquil and smiling and watching the crowd just as a fond mother watches her children. When I knelt down before Her, I begged Her pardon for coming late. Still kindly towards me, She made me a sign with Her head that I had no need to apologise. Then I told Her of all my love and regard for Her and how happy I was to see Her again. And after pouring out my heart to Her I took up my beads”.
At this moment, the Figure bathed in the heavenly light moved from the niche down into the larger vault. Rising to her feet, Bernadette went into the vault to be closer to the Lady. She remained standing in front of Her and a conversation followed. Soon afterward, the oval of light moved back up into the niche once more and prayers were resumed.
Bernadette herself describes the conversation and events which followed this moment –
“Whilst I was praying, the thought of asking Her name came to my mind with such persistence that I could think of nothing else. I feared to be presumptuous in repeating a question She had always refused to answer and yet something compelled me to speak. At last, under an irresistible impulsion, the words fell from my mouth and I begged the Lady to tell me who She was.
“The Lady did as She had always done before; She bowed Her head and smiled but She did not reply. I cannot say why, but I felt myself bolder and asked Her again to graciously tell me Her name; however, She only smiled and bowed as before, still remaining silent.
“Then once more, for the third time, clasping my hands and confessing myself to be unworthy of the great favour I was asking of Her, I again made my request.
“The Lady was standing above the rose bush, in a position very similar to that shown on the Miraculous Medal. At my third request, Her face became very serious and She seemed to bow down in an attitude of humility. Then She joined Her hands and raised them to Her breast. She looked up to Heaven. Then, slowly opening Her hands and leaning towards me, She said to me in a voice vibrating with emotion
– ‘I AM THE IMMACULATE CONCEPTION’ (Que Soy Era Immaculada Conceptiou).
“She smiled again, spoke no more, and disappeared smiling”.
After the vision, Bernadette asked her aunt Lucille to allow her to keep the blessed candle which she had used throughout the Apparitions. Lucile agreed. Having obtained the necessary permission, Bernadette placed the candle between some of the rocks beneath the niche, where it slowly burned itself out.
Lucile asked why Bernadette had wanted to do this. She replied –
“The Lady asked me if I would leave the candle to burn at the Grotto – as it was your candle, I could not leave it there without your permission”.
Leaving the Grotto, the child was laughing and smiling and quietly repeating some words to herself. Some neighbours from Lourdes came toward her and asked the cause of her happiness and what it was that she was saying. The child replied –
“Oh, I’m repeating the name the Lady has just this moment given me, for fear that I might forget it. She said to me, ‘I am the Immaculate Conception’.”
The child was mispronouncing the word ‘Conception’ and had to be corrected.
From the Grotto, the little one went directly to the Presbytery – still smiling, still repeating the words which already were spreading so quickly throughout Lourdes.
She was still repeating them when she entered the garden of the Presbytery, where Abbe Peyramale was praying his Office. He asked what she wanted today, but the child did not hear his question.
“What’s that you’re saying, you conceited little thing!”
” ‘I am the Immaculate Conception’ – it is the Lady who has just said these words to me!”
He asked if she knew what the words meant. She replied that she did not know their meaning.
“I see you are still being deceived. How can you say things you don’t understand?” he asked.
“All the way from the Grotto I have been repeating the words ‘I am the Immaculate Conception’ for fear that I would forget them.”
“Good!” added the Priest, “I shall consider what is to be done” and he entered the house, leaving the child and her aunt standing in the garden.
Later that day, the Priest admitted to a neighbour the effect of the child’s words on him – “I was so amazed by it that I felt myself stagger and I was on the verge of falling.”
Seventeenth Apparition – Wednesday, 7th April 1858
The Miracle of the Candle
The number of people travelling to the Grotto was steadily increasing, more so now that the mysterious Lady had finally identified Herself as the Immaculate Conception. Until this title had been announced, Bernadette had always called the Woman ‘the Lady’ – the people at the Grotto had also followed this example set by the little one. But after the Feast of the Annunciation, they were able to personalise the name of the Lady – there was now no doubt about Her identity; She was Mary, the Mother of God. And subsequently, She was referred to as Our Lady of Massabieille or Our Lady of the Grotto.
On Easter Sunday, 4th April 1858, the parish church in Lourdes was filled with people all day long. And throughout the day, people flocked to the Grotto. Commissioner Jacomet counted “in all, 3,625 visitors to the Grotto” between five in the morning and eleven at night.
The next day, Jacomet counted “3,433 strangers and 2,012 Lourdes people; in all 5,445 visitors” at the rock of Massabieille. Bernadette, however, had not been back to the Grotto since the day the Lady had named Herself.
On the Tuesday evening, 6th April, the child once more felt within herself the summons from the Lady of the niche – she was called to a further meeting.
It was the Wednesday of Easter week. At six in the morning, Bernadette was once more kneeling in prayer in front of her beloved Grotto, the place she would later call “my Heaven”.
The Lady was standing in the niche, bathed in the light of Heaven. Again the vision was a long one, lasting nearly forty-five minutes. The child was praying the Rosary as usual.
Doctor Dozous was present throughout the Apparition. He describes for us the scene as he watched it take place –
“Bernadette seemed to be even more absorbed than usual in the Appearance upon which her gaze was riveted. I witnessed, as did also every one else there present, the fact which I am about to narrate.
“She was on her knees saying with fervent devotion the prayers of her Rosary which she held in her left hand while in her right was a large blessed candle, alight. The child was just beginning to make the usual ascent on her knees when suddenly she stopped and, her right hand joining her left, the flame of the big candle passed between the fingers of the latter. Though fanned by a fairly strong breeze, the flame produced no effect upon the skin which it was touching.
“Astonished at this strange fact, I forbade anyone there to interfere – and taking my watch in my hand, I studied the phenomenon attentively for a quarter of an hour. At the end of this time Bernadette, still in her ecstasy, advanced to the upper part of the Grotto, separating her hands. The flame thus ceased to touch her left hand.
“Bernadette finished her prayer and the splendour of the transfiguration left her face. She rose and was about to quit the Grotto when I asked her to show me her left hand. I examined it most carefully, but could not find the least trace of burning anywhere upon it. I then asked the person who was holding the candle to light it again and give it to me. I put it several times in succession under Bernadettes left hand but she drew it away quickly, saying ‘You are burning me!’. I record this fact just as I have seen it without attempting to explain it. Many persons who were present at the time can confirm what I have said.”
A neighbour called Julie Garros (who later joined Bernadette in the convent of Nevers as Sister Vincent) also witnessed this. She relates –
“As the Apparition continued, the candle gradually slipped down so that the flame was playing on the inside of her hand”.
Bernadettes younger brother, Jean-Marie, recalled “seeing this very clearly as it passed between her fingers”.
Another neighbour present, a boy called Bernard Joanas, remembered that while this was taking place, Doctor Dozous checked the child’s pulse but could find no irregularity; and that when someone was about to remove the candle from her, the woman was told by Doctor Dozous to “Leave her alone”.
“Bernadette, meanwhile, made no movement”, stated the boy, who later became a curate in Lourdes and the Chaplain of the Lourdes Hospice run by the Sisters of Nevers.
Other witnesses later mentioned that this phenomenon also occurred earlier during the Apparitions, sometime before the end of February. At those times, people shouted to take the candle away from the child as it would burn her, although in fact she was not burned – despite the long period of time during which her hand was in contact with the flame.
The Three Months Leading To The End Of The Visions
Toward the end of the Apparitions, the civil authorities had made all sort of attempts to put an end to the occurrences at the Grotto of Massabieille. A number of doctors and psychiatrists had been called to examine her – the child submitted to each and every examination without question. The doctors concluded that while there still existed the possibility that the visions were the result of “some cerebral lesion”, still they could not conclusively decide if this was the case. Other doctors were unwilling to discount the possibility that what was occurring was the result of a supernatural manifestation.
The Bishop of Tarbes, Monseigneur Lawrence, was also following the unusual events in Lourdes. As yet, he had not formally set up a Commission to investigate the alleged Apparitions.
Between the penultimate and the final Apparitions, the child was quite ill – as a result of her asthma she was sent to the mineral springs in Cauterets for recuperation (although this was not entirely effective).
Also, the Grotto itself had undergone some changes; workmen had widened the path leading to the Grotto and had completed the stone troughs into which the waters of the spring were to be redirected and allowed to collect, so allowing pilgrims to bathe in the water or to take it away in bottles.
Bernadette also made her First Holy Communion, on the Feast of the Blessed Sacrament – Thursday 3rd June 1858. Also on that day, she was invested by Abbe Peyramale with the Brown Scapular of Our Lady of Mount Carmel – this scapular remained with her until death. Later, in the convent at Nevers, she would make her own scapulars as the need arose. Many of them can still be seen in the museum there.
That afternoon, Jean Baptiste Estrade and his sister were once again in the company of the child. Monsieur Estrade asked her –
“Tell me, Bernadette, which made you happier – receiving Our Lord or conversing with the Blessed Virgin?”.
The child replied without hesitation – “I don’t know. The two things go together and cannot be compared. All I know is that I was intensely happy in both cases”.
That day, there were more than six thousand people in attendance at the Grotto, hoping for some heavenly manifestation; they were not to be disappointed, despite the fact that no vision occurred that day.
Among the people present, there were many who were sick and crippled. A labourer from the countryside had come together with his family, including a boy of six years who was suffering from paralysis of the spine. Again Doctor Dozous was present at the scene – and he wrote later that he had taken quite an interest in the poor family with the paralysed child.
“Since you have come” he said to the father of the child, “to obtain from the Blessed Virgin a cure which you have asked for in vain from science, take your child, undress him, and place him under the taps of the spring”. This was duly done and the child was partially submerged in the cold water for a few minutes.
“The little invalid” continues the Doctor, “after he had been well dried and his clothes put back on, was laid on the ground. But he immediately got up by himself and made his way – walking with the greatest ease – toward his father and mother, who smothered him with vigorous hugs, shedding tears of joy”.
But there were also unhappy events. The civil authorities were trying their best to have the Grotto closed to the public, and use of the water disallowed until it had been properly checked once more.
Further – and more worrying still – they were plotting to have the child arrested and committed on her next visit to Massabieille. This sad state of affairs was only halted by the intervention of Abbe Peyramale who – despite his lingering doubts about the visions themselves – was in no doubt about the innocence of the visionary. She might be deluded, but she was certainly no threat to the moral order of Lourdes or of France!
At this time, there were also a number of Satanic manifestations at the Grotto.
From the start of time, God had warned Satan that there would forever be enmity between him and the Woman. Lourdes was to be no exception to this rule.
The Satanic manifestation had begun during the fourth Apparition, when Bernadette had heard the cacophony of dark voices rising from the waters of the river, until silenced by the glance from the Virgin.
Now, toward, the end of the Visions, he would once more commence his assault. A young lady of Lourdes named Honorine, had been at the Grotto one day when she heard voices coming from within the empty Grotto – she said these voices produced a strange effect on her senses. This was repeated the next day, when Honorine again heard sounds – this time, savage howls and sounds like wild beasts in combat. The girl was terrified, and did not return to Massabieille for a number of weeks. The People of Lourdes said she was simply hysterical.
At the same time, a young man from Lourdes was passing the Grotto one day on his way to work before dawn. He crossed himself as he passed the rock, in honour of She who had been present there. Instantly, strange globes of light surrounded him and he felt unable to move. Terrified, he made the Sign of the Cross once more – as he did so, each of the globes of light exploded loudly around him and he was able to leave the place. As this was occurring, he could hear from within the Grotto, maniacal laughter and blasphemies.
Jean Baptiste Estrade witnessed some of the assaults of the father of lies. A lady from the Rue des Bagneres in Lourdes, named Josephine, was experiencing apparitions in the niche – this lasted for two days. Estrade watched what was happening, but said that while Bernadette was in ecstasy, he felt “transported” – with Josephine, he merely felt “surprised”.
And whereas Bernadette during her ecstasy was “transfigured”, Josephine was simply beautiful. The girl in question related to Estrade that she had indeed seen strange figures within the niche, but that she had felt suspicious of them since they appeared to her to be evil in nature, not Heavenly.
One day a young boy named Alex returned to his home in Lourdes screaming and shouting, but so paralysed with fear that he could not tell his poor mother what was the matter. After several days, he calmed down sufficiently to relate the cause of his terror –
“When I left the house I went to walk with some other children by the side of Massabieille. When I reached the Grotto I prayed for a moment. Then, while waiting for my companions, I went up to the rock. Turning toward the hollow of the rock, I saw coming towards me a beautiful lady. This lady concealed her hands and the lower part of her body in an ashen coloured cloud, like a storm cloud. She fixed on me here great black eyes and seemed to wish to seize me. I thought at once that it was the devil and I fled”.
Many other similar events occurred around this time.
Bernadette also had her own problems. There was a constant stream of visitors to the Cachot, all seeking an interview with the child and wishing to hear her relate a narrative of the Visions. The child submitted herself to all of this without hesitation, question or complaint. She saw it as an opportunity to fulfil the requests of the Lady for penance, although she later said that having to tell the same story from early morning till late at night each day, was a greater penance even than the asthma which was troubling her so much at this time. The poor child was constantly exhausted. To make matters worse, the authorities were once more threatening to imprison the child, claiming that she was receiving financial rewards for telling her story. Of course this was untrue; the family were still living in abject poverty and were frequently without sufficient money to feed the children.
On one occasion, Pierre – one of Bernadette’s younger brothers – was found eating candle wax in the church, such was his hunger. He had previously accepted the gift of a small coin for showing a wealthy couple where the seer lived (although he neglected to mention that she was in fact his own sister). When Bernadette found out, she was very displeased and took him to the home of the couple in question, where he was forced to return the coin. Bernadette remained above any reproach of pecuniary – or other – gain until the day she died. After all, the Lady had said that her happiness lay not in this life, but in the next.
Eighteenth Apparition – Friday 16th July 1858
The Final Apparition of Our Lady of Lourdes in the Grotto of Massabieille
July 16th was the Feast of Our Lady of Mount Carmel – in the parish church there was an altar dedicated to the Blessed Virgin under this title. While praying there in the early evening, Bernadette – who faithfully wore the Brown Scapular of Carmel all the days of her life – once more felt herself called by her Lady to come to the Grotto.
The Grotto was boarded up now and closed to the public, access to it forbidden and use of the water disallowed. But nothing could stop the child responding to the call of the Immaculate One.
She left the Church immediately and ran to the home of her Aunt Basile, to ask her to accompany her to the Grotto. Since the Grotto itself was now closed, the two took another path, across the field known as ‘de la Ribere’, leading to the right bank of the river Gave, opposite the vault and the niche. On the way to the rock, they met several of the Lourdes women; these followed the visionary, since it was obvious she was going back to the Grotto.
On the far side of the river, the child knelt to commence her prayers. Almost immediately, her little face was transfigured with the heavenly light of her beautiful Lady, who stood once more in the hallowed niche across the water.
“Yes! Yes! She is there!” exclaimed the little one. “She welcomes us and is smiling upon us across the barriers!”. Then she began her intimate discourse with the Woman who so enraptured her and who was the sole reality for Bernadette at that moment.
It seemed to those present that at intervals during the dialogue, the child was almost trying to fly across the water, so far forward did she lean. But now the moment had come for the Lady to say farewell to her little protégé, her own child, who now would have to await her entry into Heaven before gazing upon Her beauty once more.
The child later declared that “The Blessed Virgin is so beautiful that when one has seen Her once, one would gladly wish to die so as to see Her again”. That feeling was now to flower within the heart and soul of the faithful child.
As the sun was beginning to set, the Lady who called Herself the Immaculate Conception took Her leave of the child, ending the vision with Bernadette still in the fullness of her joy. As She disappeared, She cast one last smile upon Bernadette.
Never again in this life would Bernadette see the Lady; now, she could only wait for Her to keep the promise She had made at the second Apparition –
“I do not promise to make you happy in this life, but in the next”.
The Bishop Sets Up A Commission
After many requests, many of them from the clergy of Lourdes, Bishop Laurence of Tarbes, the diocese covering Lourdes, announced that he would set up an investigative commission. His decision was dated 28th July 1858 and publicly posted on 1st August 1858.
“Order of the Monseigneur the Bishop of Tarbes, appointing a commission charged with the examination of the authenticity and nature of the events which have taken place during the last six months or thereabouts, on the occasion of an Appearance, real or alleged, of the Most Blessed Virgin in a Grotto situated to the west of the town of Lourdes.
“Bertrand Severe Laurence, by the mercy of God and the grace of the Holy See Bishop of Tarbes, to the clergy and the faithful of our diocese, health and benediction in our Lord Jesus Christ.
“Certain events of the greatest importance concerning religion which have stirred the diocese and been discussed far and wide have taken place at Lourdes since the 11th February last.
“Bernadette Soubirous, a young girl of Lourdes of the age of fourteen, is said to have had certain visions in the Grotto of Massabieille; the Immaculate Virgin is said to have appeared to her; a spring of water of water is said to have flowed there; the water of this fountain, drunk or applied as a lotion, is said to have caused a great number of cures. These cures are described as miraculous…
“To guide and enlighten the religion and piety of so many thousands of the faithful, to satisfy a public need, to clear away doubts and to calm minds, we accede today to the requests which have been made for so long from all parts… For this purpose we have resolved to establish in the diocese a permanent commission to collect and register the events which have occurred or may occur in the future at the Grotto of Lourdes, to bring those events before us and inform us as to their character and thus to furnish us with the necessary facts whereby we may arrive at a solution.
“For this cause, the Holy Name of God being invoked, we have ordained and do ordain that which follows –
“… A commission is established in the diocese of Tarbes in order to enquire whether any cures have been effected by the water of the Grotto of Lourdes, either drunk or applied externally, and if these cures can be explained naturally or must be attributed to a supernatural cause… Whether the visions which the child Bernadette Soubirous professes to have had in the Grotto are genuine, and if so, whether they can be explained naturally or whether they have a supernatural and divine character… Whether the object seen in the visions has made any requests, or revealed any desire to this child… Whether the child has been told to communicate them – if so, to whom, and what are the requests or desires revealed? …. Whether the spring now flowing in the Grotto existed before the vision which Bernadette Soubirous claims to have seen …
“Given at Tarbes at our Episcopal palace under our seal and signature and countersigned by our secretary the 28th July 1858, signed Bertrand Severe, Bishop of Tarbes.”
The Bishop’s Commission Reports Its Findings
On 18th January 1862, the Bishops Commission finally published the conclusions it had reached.
“The Charge of Monseigneur the Bishop of Tarbes, giving judgement on the Appearance which has taken place at the Grotto of Lourdes.
“The event of which we are speaking to you has been for four years the object of our anxious study. We have followed it in its different phases and been advised by a commission composed of holy, learned and experienced priests who have questioned the child, studied the facts, examined and weighed everything. We have also sought the opinion of scientists and we are finally convinced that the Appearance is supernatural and divine, and that consequently, She whom Bernadette has seen is the Most Blessed Virgin Herself. Our conviction is based , not merely upon the testimony of Bernadette herself, but more especially upon the events which have taken place and which can only be explained by divine intervention.
“The testimony of the young girl is in every way as satisfactory as possible. To begin with, her sincerity cannot be doubted. Who that has questioned her can fail to admire the simplicity, the candour, the modesty of this child? Whilst everyone is talking about the wonders which have been revealed to her, she alone keeps silence. She only speaks when she is questioned and then she recounts everything without affectation and with a touching simplicity, and she replies to the numerous questions addressed to her without hesitation, giving answers clear and precise, very much to the point and bearing the stamp of intense conviction. She has been tested most severely but no menaces have ever shaken her; she has responded to the most generous offers by a noble disinterestedness. She never contradicts herself; in all the different examinations which she has undergone, her story never varies; she never adds to it or takes away from it. Bernadettes sincerity cannot then be disputed. we may add that it never has been disputed; even her opponents, when she has had opponents, have paid her that homage.
“But if Bernadette has not deliberately deceived us has she not been deceived herself? May she not have thought that she heard and saw something which she did not hear and see? Has she not been the victim of an hallucination? How is it possible to believe such a thing? Her wise responses show that the child possesses a clear mind, a calm imagination, a common-sense above her age. The religious sentiment has never shown itself in her under the form of excitement; no-one has ever discovered in this young girl intellectual disorder, mental vagaries, eccentricity of character or any hysterical affection which might predispose her to creations of the imagination. She has seen the Appearance, not merely once but eighteen times; she saw it first of all suddenly, when nothing could have led her to expect the vision, and afterwards during the fortnight when she expected to see it every day, for two days she saw nothing, although she was in the same place and in exactly the same circumstances. And then again, observe what happened during the Appearances. A thorough transformation took place in Bernadette; her face wore a new expression, her eyes lighted up, she saw things which she had never seen, she heard a language which she had never heard, a language whose meaning she did not always understand but which never left her memory. All these circumstances together make it impossible to believe in the theory of an hallucination; the young girl has, then, really seen and heard a being who calls Herself the Immaculate Conception and as this phenomenon cannot be explained by natural laws, we are bound to believe that the Appearance was supernatural.
“The testimony of Bernadette, important in itself, gathers yet fresh force from the marvellous facts which have taken place ever since the beginning of the Appearances. These marvellous facts are indeed the complement of the Appearances. If the tree is to be judged by its fruits, we may certainly say that the Appearances of which the young girl tells us is supernatural and divine, for the results it has produced are supernatural and divine…
“How can we fail to be struck by the dispensations of providence? At the end of the year 1854 Pope Pius IX proclaimed the dogma of the Immaculate Conception. The winds carried to the ends of the earth the Pontiffs words… and now about three years later the Blessed Virgin, appearing to a child, says to her ‘I am the Immaculate Conception, I wish a chapel to be erected here in My honour’. Does it not seem that She Herself wished to consecrate with Her approval in the face of all the world, the infallible decree of Saint Peters successor?…
“For these reasons, after having conferred with our venerable brethren the dignitaries, canons and chapter of our Cathedral Church, the Holy Name of God being invoked, taking as our guide the rules wisely laid down by Benedict XIV in his treatise on the Beatification and Canonisation of Saints, in order to distinguish true Appearances from false (Book III, ch.51); in view of the favourable report which has been presented to us by the commission established to inquire into the Appearance at the Grotto of Lourdes and the facts relating to it; in view of the written testimony of the doctors whom we have consulted concerning the numerous cures obtained by the use of the water from the Grotto; considering in the first place that the fact of the Appearance, whether in relation to the young girl who has told us about it or in relation to the extraordinary results it has produced, can only be explained by the intervention of a supernatural cause;
“Considering in the second place that this cause can only be divine, inasmuch as the effects produced are on the one hand visible signs of grace, such as the conversion of sinners, on the other hand results outside the ordinary laws of nature, such as miraculous cures, and can therefore only proceed from the Author of Grace and the Lord of Nature;
“Considering lastly that our conviction is strengthened by the enormous crowds of the faithful who come spontaneously to the Grotto, who have not ceased to come ever since the first Appearances and whose purpose is to ask for blessings or to give thanks for those already received …
“After having sought the light of the Holy Spirit and the assistance of the Blessed Virgin, we have declared and do declare that which follows –
“We judge that Mary, the Immaculate Mother of God, did really appear to Bernadette Soubirous on the 11th February 1858 and on certain subsequent days, eighteen times in all, in the Grotto of Massabieille, near the town of Lourdes; that this Appearance bears every mark of truth and that the belief of the faithful is well-grounded. We humbly submit our judgement to that of the Sovereign Pontiff who is charged with the government of the Universal Church…
“In order to carry out the wish of the Blessed Virgin, expressed more than once at the time of the Appearances, we propose to build a sanctuary upon the ground adjoining the Grotto, which has become the property of the Bishop of Tarbes… We need therefore, in order to carry out our intention, the assistance of the clergy and laity of our diocese, of the clergy and laity both of France and of foreign countries. We appeal to their generosity and especially to all devout persons of every country to whom the cult of the Immaculate Conception of the Virgin Mary is dear…
“This our charge is to be read and published in all churches and chapels. Given at Tarbes on the 18th January 1862, Festival of the Chair of Saint Peter at Rome.
“Signed, Bertrand Severe Laurence, Bishop of Tarbes.”
Life In Lourdes After The Visions
After the visions had ceased, Bernadette simply carried on with her normal life in Lourdes. She answered all the questions asked her by the doctors, priests, pilgrims, even bishops and cardinals, simply and without affectation Each time she simply restated the facts of what had occurred at Massabieille. Her testimony never altered.
Yet in her simplicity, Bernadette really believed that after the Commission had completed its investigations, she would be able to return to her previous life. But unknown to her, people throughout the world were talking about this privileged child. Life would never be quite the same again.
She continued to attend the school run by the Sisters of Nevers. Frequently through the day, a bell would ring; this was a summons for Bernadette to go to the parlour, where there would be another visitor waiting to hear from the childs lips the story of the visions. These visitors paid no attention to the poor health of the child before them, who at that time was suffering from the asthma which so affected her. Their tributes often bordered on idolatry; many asked for a souvenir or asked that she would bless their Rosaries – to which she would respond,
“But Madame, you see I have no stole!”.
Despite her exhaustion and difficulty breathing, the child never failed to smile or to retain her sense of humour.
She attended Mass in her parish Church. There was nothing to elevate her above the other children of Lourdes. In all things, she was simple, natural and humble.
Monsieur Estrade and his sister had – since the time leading to the end of the visions – sought to have the child frequently in their house. By now, Estrade believed in the authenticity of the Apparitions. He desired to have first hand testimonies from the child, as he was now considering writing about the Visions. He has preserved a number of conversations which he had with Bernadette.
One day he asked her – “Tell me Bernadette, did the Lady of the Grotto speak to you in French or in the patois?”
Bernadette replied that it had been in patois.
“What! Do you mean to tell me that a Lady of such lofty rank knows patois?” he continued.
“Yes” responded the girl. “And it was the Lourdes patois which She spoke” she added proudly.
Estrade also asked about the secrets – “Are you quite sure that the secrets are known to no-one but yourself? After all, we were as close to the Lady as you yourself were”.
“Oh I am quite sure that you have not heard them. It was not like we are talking now” she replied. Estrade asked her to explain what she meant.
“When the Blessed Virgin entrusted me with Her secrets, She spoke to me here and not through the ear” – as she said this, she pointed to her heart. Estrade stated that he still did not understand what she meant by this.
“And I cannot make you understand me,” Bernadette continued. “Look here. All those persons who were round about me at the Grotto were as though they were yards away. And persons at that distance would see that we were talking, but would not understand what we said”.
Estrade told her she was talking nonsense. Bernadette simply smiled. He also asked about the exact words of the Lady when asking Her child to come to the Grotto for fifteen days.
“The Lady said to me, ‘Will you have the goodness..’ ” declared the child, then she stopped and lowered her head, appearing confused. She then continued – “She addressed me as ‘vous’“. This was the intimate form of the verb, used only when speaking to a person one considers an equal.
Then Mademoiselle Estrade asked a question. “Tell me, Bernadette, did the Virgin look only at you when we were all at the Grotto?”
“Oh no!” answered the little one. “She looked at everybody – and with much affection. Sometimes She seemed to look at each person individually and her gaze seemed to rest upon certain individuals there as though they were old friends”.
Despite all the wondrous events which had taken place, the Soubirous family continued to live in dire poverty. This remained unchanged, despite the well-meant attempts of a number of people to give the family money and gifts. This generosity was one of the greatest trials which had to be endured by Bernadette.
Often, such people would use every possible means to ensure the acceptance of the gifts they came bearing. Such means included trickery, prayers and sometimes threats. On each occasion, Bernadette made it perfectly clear that she had no wish to accept any gift – this was done humbly yet firmly. And never once was a gift of any sort accepted.
On one occasion a lady of some nobility arrived to speak with Bernadette at the Cachot. After an hour of intimate conversation, the lady arose from the chair; as she did so, she surreptitiously placed a small package of coins beneath the folds of the childs much-repaired apron. Bernadette jumped up from the chair as though she had been pricked with a pin. With good grace, she handed the package back to the lady, who despite her protestations and pleas, left the Cachot with the coins still in her possession.
A few days after this event, the Bishop of Soissons called to speak to the little confidante of the Immaculate One. At the end of the interview, he arose, taking from his pocket a Rosary with a chain of gold. This he gave to Bernadette, who replied –
“Oh, but its much too good for me! I thank you, Monseigneur, but I cannot accept it”.
But the matter was not yet concluded. “But my child,” said the Bishop, “the gift is not as disinterested as you might suppose. For in giving you my Rosary I had the intention of asking you for yours in exchange!”
Bernadettes gracefulness and lack of self interest once more shone through. “Why certainly!” she responded, as she brought her own simple Rosary from the pocket of her apron and gave it to the Bishop. Despite his attempts, he could not persuade Bernadette to take his golden Rosary. This, however, did not prevent him from accepting hers.
Even when she was ill and in bed, the visits continued. One day a lady from Lourdes came to see her. “You are always ill!” said the lady, “Poor child, how I feel sorry for you!”.
Bernadette replied – “Don’t be sorry for me! I can’t take a very cheerful view of life with this fever on me, but I certainly prefer it to my interviews with visitors”.
“But you must remember, my child” said the lady, “that you are fulfilling a duty which has been laid upon you by the Blessed Virgin”.
“Oh I willingly fulfil that duty” stated the little one, “but there are some people who come to see me and hear me just as they might go to a menagerie to see and hear certain curious animals”.
Bernadette At The Hospice Of Lourdes
The Hospice in Lourdes was run by the Sisters of Charity and Christian Instruction. Together with the Hospice, the Sisters also ran the school.
The Sisters were an order of nuns whose Motherhouse was in the distant city of Nevers. The order was concerned mainly with teaching and with nursing. At that time the order was prospering, with houses all over France and a large number of young women desirous of becoming Sisters of Nevers.
Although it was then customary for girls to stop attending the Hospice School once they had made their First Holy Communion, Bernadette was still attending – in part because of her continued poor health and in part because no-one was quite sure what was to become of her.
Her education was slowly progressing, as was her skill for writing. The Sisters described her as being lively and edifying, always kind and generous. They also mention her sense of humour, which – on occasion – was to land her in trouble. One day, during a short break, Bernadette spotted some strawberries growing outside the classroom window; the problem was how to get to them. Her accomplice this morning was Julie Garros, later Sister Vincent of Nevers. Julie recalled later –
“It was hot and the windows were open. We were eyeing the strawberries with a certain craving. Bernadette told me, ‘I’m going to throw my shoe into the garden. You go and fetch it and bring back some strawberries!’. No sooner said than done!”
Unfortunately, both were caught. Another day, the nun teaching the class was interrupted by a sudden fit of sneezing; Bernadette owned up as being the culprit. She had generously offered her snuff box to her companions.
The nuns watched for any sign of devotion in the little one. There was nothing extraordinary about her, other that the impressive sign of the Cross which she had made since the days of the visions. The nuns also mentioned that when she prayed the Hail Mary, her eyes were lifted to Heaven and she seemed to belong to the world no longer. Each night she would fall asleep with her little Rosary wrapped tightly around her wrist; in the convent years later she would recommend the novices to do this also. When she was nearly overcome by her asthma and found it difficult to breathe, she would clutch her Rosary to her chest.
In April 1862, Bernadette was declared to be suffering from pneumonia and her old friend, the asthma, was more problematic than usual. The childs breathing was greatly laboured – Doctor Balencie stated that Bernadette was going to die Francois Soubirous summoned the curate, Abbe Pomian, who attended and gave the child the Last Rites and Viaticum with a minute particle of the Blessed Sacrament. She asked for – and was given – a sip of water from the Grotto. Immediately, her breathing became easier and she stated that she had been cured. When the doctor returned the next morning, expecting to find the little one dead, he agreed with her own conclusion about her cure – it had been a miracle.
Twice a week the nuns would accompany her to Massabieille – there she would spend happy hours hidden in the gloom of the large vault at the base of the rock, hidden from prying eyes.
Amongst her frequent visitors were a number of religious of various orders. Often, they would attempt to persuade her to follow the path they themselves had taken. Julie Garros spoke later about these visits.
“I know from what Bernadette herself told me that the Sisters of Saint Paul came to see her in Lourdes and tried the cornette on her. She would have none of it! The Sisters of the Cross also sought to attract her to their order. They tried their long head-dress on her, but she said ‘I don’t want that long tunnel!'”.
The Carmelites were next. A visiting friar tried to persuade her this was where her vocation lay. She replied –
“I am very fond of Carmel, but if I do embrace religious life, I want to join a Congregation whose Rule I can keep”.
The friar mentioned that Religious Superiors could grant dispensations from keeping the Rule, under some circumstances.
“But Father,” replied the girl, “I don’t want any dispensations. I want to follow the Rule without any exceptions”.
Around this time, a relative of the little one was leaving Lourdes to join the Sisters in Nevers. She asked if Bernadette would soon join her. The little one replied –
“I do not know. I’m going to be a nun, but I don’t know which order – the Blessed Virgin has not told me. I am waiting”.
Bernadette And The Statue
It was already four years since the Apparitions. In that time, the Bishop of Tarbes had bought the land of the Grotto and its surroundings. Work was in progress to alter the area and make it less chaotic in its appearance.
The slope within the large vault was being levelled off, the path leading down to the Grotto had already been widened. Marble columns were being erected at either side of the Grotto, in preparation for rails which would guard the holy place. And the diocesan architect, Hippolyte Durand, was working on plans for the chapel which the Blessed Virgin had requested. Due to limitations of space, the architect had decided on a sanctuary which would grace the top of the very rock of Massabieille, almost like a crown. By doing this, the Grotto itself would be left open and as it had been when the Mother of God had descended to it, rather than enclosing it within the chapel – which had been the idea of the original plans, discounted by Monsieur Durand.
It was already a place of prayer and pilgrimage; but even now, there was only a small statue of the Virgin standing at the Grotto – this had been left there by a lady from Lourdes.
What the Grotto really needed now was a focus for the devotion of the faithful.
In September of 1863, Abbe Peyramale visited Bernadette at the Hospice. With him was another man. This man was Joseph Fabisch, the sculptor who had created the statue of the Blessed Virgin at the shrine of La Salette.
Peyramale explained that the Bishop had given his permission for a statue of the Blessed Virgin to be erected in the niche of the Grotto, on the very spot where the Blessed Virgin had stood. This statue was to be sculpted by Fabisch, who was to work under the instruction of Bernadette. Fabisch later recalled his first impressions of the young woman standing before him –
“She came in accompanied by a nun. Her appearance in fact was not that of a girl close on twenty, but rather that of a child of twelve. One’s attention was drawn to her face, which had something most engaging, a charm that appealed to the purest and most serene faculties of the soul, an expression so sweet, so open, that it compelled respect and inspired trust”.
The sculptor asked Bernadette to narrate to him the story of the visions – this she did. He was especially interested in how the Lady had looked – Her physical appearance, Her dress, the way the veil flowed, Her positions both in the niche and in the vault beneath. And above all, how She had looked when declaring Her Name. Bernadette adopted the position of the Lady at this moment. The sculptor noted –
“The girl stood up with great simplicity. She joined her hands and raised her eyes to Heaven. But neither Angelico nor Perugino nor Raphael ever painted anything so appealing and at the same time so profound as the look of that young girl. No, I shall never forget, as long as I live, that entrancing expression. I have indeed seen in Italy and elsewhere the masterpieces of the great artists, of such as have excelled in rendering the transports of Divine love and ecstasy – but in none of them have I found such sweetness”.
Three months later a rough model for the statue was complete. A photograph of this was shown to Bernadette who made suggestions for alterations.
Returning the photograph to Fabisch, Peyramale warned him that when the statue was finished, he should not be disheartened if Bernadette was not overly-impressed with it – after all she had seen the Original, and how could a mere statue compare to Her?
On Wednesday 30 March, 1864, Fabisch came back to Lourdes. He brought with him the statue, now complete, carved from white Italian Carrera marble. It was to be unveiled on April 4th, which that year was the feast of the Annunciation.
On that day, more than 20,000 people were present to see the statue unveiled. Bernadette was not present, however – she had once more been confined to bed with a severe bout of asthma. Neither was Abbe Peyramale present – he, too, was ill and in bed.
The crowd was astounded at the beauty of the statue. Fabisch, however, was less than delighted. Later in his life he wrote about that moment –
“I must mention one of the greatest grief’s of my life as an artist. It is the one I suffered when I saw my statue in position lit by a reflected light from below, which completely altered its expression”.
Once recovered, Bernadette came to the Grotto to see the statue. Kneeling on the spot she had occupied during the days of the visions, she prayed her Rosary. She looked at the statue for a long time. As she stood, one of the nuns asked what she thought of Fabisch’s work. She replied –
“Oh, its beautiful. But it isn’t Her”.
The nun asked if it was possible, upon gazing at the marble statue, to imagine the beauty of the Lady as Bernadette had seen her. Smiling, Bernadette said –
“Oh no. Its as different as Heaven is from the earth”.
The Bishop of Nevers Calls To Speak To Bernadette
On September 25th 1863, Bishop Forcade of Nevers called to the Lourdes Hospice to speak to Bernadette. In those days, the Bishop was also the Superior of the Sisters of Nevers, who were – then – a diocesan Congregation.
To prevent any danger to Bernadette’s humility, the Bishop did not wish her to know that she was the reason for his visit. Consequently a plan was hatched – he would ‘tour’ the Hospice and ‘accidentally’ come across Bernadette. This way, it would appear that the meeting was a chance one.
He found her in the kitchen, sitting on stool and peeling a carrot. As he was leaving the kitchen, he called to Bernadette; she knelt before him and kissed his ring. No words passed between – this would never do! How could he speak to her without the use of words? So after lunch, Bernadette was summoned to the parlour. There, Bishop Forcade was sitting awaiting her.
First of all he requested a narration of the events at the Grotto. He later wrote about this –
“She surprises me by the ease with which she understands and answers me. She expresses herself in French correctly, clearly and precisely, without having to search for a word. She is imperturbable and nothing ruffles her. You would think that her replies, which are always satisfying, came spontaneously to her lips, almost without her knowing it, and as if by inspiration”.
As Bernadette concluded her narration, he spoke again to her. “And now, my dear child, what are you going to be?”
“Oh, nothing” she replied.
“But you must be something in life, my child!” he continued.
She replied that she was happy to be with the Sisters; the Bishop told her that she could only stay there a short while longer, due to her age. Her response was that she would “like to stay here always”. When he told her that this would be difficult, she asked why. He responded –
“Because you are not a Sister. It is absolutely essential for you to be one in order to join the Community. As it is, you are nothing and at this rate you will never last very long anywhere. You are no longer a child. Perhaps you will be very glad to get suitably settled in the world with a little place of your own?”.
“No, not that!” Bernadette exclaimed.
He asked her – “In that case, why don’t you become a Sister? Have you never thought of it?”
She told him – “That is impossible. You are well aware how poor I am. I shall never have the necessary dowry”.
Bishop Forcade reminded her that when a vocation was judged by the Superior to be genuine, a dowry could be dispensed with.
“But the young ladies whom you accept with no dowry are clever and capable and you are well compensated for it. As for me, I know nothing and I am good for nothing”.
He immediately removed any lingering doubts she may have had –
“Good for nothing? Why, just now in the kitchen I saw that there is something you are good at. In religion, the Sisters would be able to make good use of you. And besides, in the Noviciate you could continue your education. Think it over. Speak to your confessor. Above all, ask the Blessed Virgin, She who condescended to appear to you, to obtain for you from Her divine Son, the light and the grace which you need. And then – if your heart says yes – ask the Mother Superior to tell either the Reverend Mother General or else myself. Then leave the rest to me”.
Bernadette now saw the possibility laid out before her. She was smiling.
“In that case, my Lord, I shall consider what you have said to me. But I have not yet made up my mind”.
After he left Lourdes, Bishop Forcade spoke to Mother Louise Ferrand, the Reverend Mother General of the Sisters of Nevers. He asked her opinion of the prospect of Bernadette’s joining the Community.
“But she has not the necessary health,” replied the nun, “she would be in and out of the Infirmary all the time. Further, there is little that she can do”.
“On the contrary – she scrapes carrots very well. And you realise that many other convents are seeking her admission”.
“Well,” conceded the nun, “we shall take her if she asks”.
At length, Bernadette accepted the offer made to her by Bishop Forcade. She had decided to test her vocation to the religious life with the Sisters of Nevers, if they would accept her.
At present, they would not, saying her health was too poor, but they agreed they would take her once she had improved sufficiently.
Shortly after Easter in 1866, Bernadette wrote a letter to Mother Marie Therese Vauzou, Mistress of Novices in the Convent of Saint Gildard in Nevers. She sought admission to the Congregation and she was accepted.
But before leaving Lourdes forever, there was one last joy for the little confidante of the Immaculate.
The Lady had asked for a Chapel to be built; now, the Crypt which was to form the basis of that ‘Chapel’ was complete and ready to be blessed. On Saturday 19 May, 1866, Bishop Laurence of Tarbes consecrated the five altars of the Crypt. Two days later, the Crypt was formally opened with a Solemn Mass.
Bernadette was present throughout, dressed in the costume of the Children of Mary, to which she belonged, and to which she continued to belong until her death, by kind permission of Bishop Forcade.
Pilgrims had journeyed from all over France for the occasion, many travelling by the railway which had recently opened.
Indeed the Grotto had changed from the time of the Visions. Bernadette had difficulty recognising the place where she had kneeled during the Apparitions.
The work there was now complete and the water of the spring flowed directly into a marble trough on which were inscribed the words, ‘Allez boire a la fontaine et vous y laver’ – ‘Go and drink at the Spring and wash yourself in it’.
Our Lady of Lourdes, pray for us.
Saint Bernadette, pray for us.