In 1858, in the grotto of Massabielle, near Lourdes in
southern France, Our Lady appeared 18 times to
Bernadette Soubirous, a young peasant girl. She
revealed herself as the Immaculate Conception, asked
that a chapel be built on the site of the vision, and
told the girl to be drink from a fountain in the
grotto. No fountain was to be seen, but when
Bernadette dug at a spot designated by the apparition,
a spring began to flow. The water from this still
flowing spring has shown remarkable healing power,
though it contains no curative property that science
Lourdes has become the most famous modern
shrine of Our Lady.
The marriage of Francois Soubirous and
Louise Casterot produced six children. The eldest of
these was Bernadette.
She was born of 7th January 1844, and was
baptised the next day by the Abbe Forgues in the old
parish church, being given the name Marie Bernarde.
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
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.
And return, she did.
She visited a local grotto,
The Apparitions to Bernadette
Later in life she became a Sister of
Charity of Nevers, and was besieged by many faithful
Bernadette (in religion, Sister Marie-Bernarde)
spent the latter part of her life at the convent,
saying that she had come to hide herself. She sought
God in the silence of the cloister, serving Him in
humility and under the vows of her profession as a
Sister of Charity of Nevers. She lived in the convent
for thirteen years, spending a large portion of this
time ill in the infirmary - when a fellow sister
accused her of being a 'lazybones', she said that her
'job' was "to be ill".
Bernadette died on 16th April 1879.
The Lady of Lourdes had kept the promise
She made to Bernadette in 1858 -
"I do not promise to make you happy in
this world, but in the next".
Although the apparitions of Our Lady at
Lourdes were over for Bernadette (at least in this
life), their message and mission were never to be
forgotten. Bernadette silently offered all of her
sufferings, internal and external, for the benefit of
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
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
but, she did, and when
she did, the first Apparition took place.
Thursday 11 February 1858
At half past twelve on a cold February
day, Mary, the Mother of God, descended from Heaven
who met our little shepherdess in a lonely grotto. The
meeting was entirely unexpected. Who could possibly
describe the following scene better than Bernadette
"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
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
"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."
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 - how could Satan carry a Rosary and pray
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
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
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
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
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
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.
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
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
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 Peyet took with her a pen and paper, hoping
the mysterious Lady would write some messages for
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
"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
"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.
Bernadette's prayers were frequently interrupted - she
seemed to be having a conversation with the invisible
At the end of the vision, Antoinette
asked Bernadette if 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
"I do not know. She lowered Her head with
a smile, but She did not answer."
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 child's imagination... But now the Lady
had spoken - and what words! If this was a real Lady,
then who could it be? They considered that the child's
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
"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
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 child's
fidelity to her promise to return to the Grotto; She
also said that later She would reveal secrets to the
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 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
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!", such was the grace
and charm of Bernadette's every movement.
The crowd was 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, Lousie
questioned Berndatte 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 seer's
personal needs in mind. She appeared somewhat
embarrassed in relating this.
Until the day she died, Bernadette never
related this personal prayer to any living soul,
although she maintained that she prayed it every
single day without fail.
Sunday 21 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
In Lourdes there was an establishment
called the Saint John's Club. Here, the local
free-thinkers would gather and discuss issues of the
day, often forming conclusions on events. Of course,
one such issue was the events at Massabieille. 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
Of course, these men had not taken the
time or trouble to witness the events first-hand. This
situation was rectified the following morning. One of
this circle, Dr. Dozous, had decided to pay a visit to
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 somewhat; he championed the cause of
Bernadette and of the Immaculate Conception, and wrote
books on the miracles he later encountered at the
Grotto. He died a good death on 15th March 1884, aged
He himself relates what took place that
"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
"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
"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 occuring 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, Bernadette's father, and the
interview was abruptly terminated. Jacomet had failed
at every turn. Bernadette 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 Commisioner. The child
did as instructed. At lunchtime she returned home for
a small meal and to collect a book.
She left the Cachot, but at the road to
the Hospice (run by the Sister of Charity of Nevers)
she was halted. "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
"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.' "
Tuesday 23 February 1858
Mademoiselle Estrade was determined that
her brother, Jean Baptiste, should also see what was
happening at Massabieille. Monsieur Estrade was a
That evening at supper, she told him of
her desire to witness the child in ecstasy, but said
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 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
priviledged 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
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
Wednesday 24 February
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
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
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
Again Bernadette listened to the words of
the beautiful Lady. The child's 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 his own - "And to think that such follies
can take place in the nineteenth century!".
Thursday 25 February 1858
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 day's 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
"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 child's 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
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
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 opening 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 surfaced, 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
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". She 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
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.
Friday 26 February 1858 - A Second Time,
THE LADY DOES NOT APPEAR
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.
Saturday 27 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
Abbe Peyramale 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
"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
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.
She was not 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
"Go and tell the Priests to have a Chapel
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
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,
it's 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
Leaving the garden, Peyramale went into
the house. Bernadette followed, stopping on the
threshold. 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
"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,
"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 has 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.
Sunday 28 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
Monday 1 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... the list
was nearly endless.
Particular events at the Grotto were also
played upon and misrepresented, 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
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.
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 enraputred.
What profound peace! What serenity! What lofty
contemplation! Her smile was beyond all description.
The child's 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
"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
"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
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
Realizing she had Madame Sans' Rosary in
her hand, she put it back into her pocket and
retrieved her own 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
The priest who asked the child to explain
said to Bernadette "Is it true that you blessed
Rosaries at the Grotto today?".
Bernadette smiled. "Oh but Monsieur,
women do not wear the stole!"
Tuesday 2 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 Glorias, then made her usual devotions and acts of
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
"Yes, monsieur le cure. She has ordered
me to tell you again that She wishes to have a chapel
Peyramale - in his reply to the child -
left her in no doubt what the priest 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.
The child spoke -
"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 have 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.
Wednesday 3 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
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 of 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 child's 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
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
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 priest's 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
"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
"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".
Thursday 4 March 1858
The whole of France was aware that
Thursday 4th March was to be the last of the fifteen
days during which Bernadette Soubirous had promised
the mysterious Lady that she would 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
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
In the early hours of the morning, the
search was repeated. Again, nothing suspicious was
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
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. She 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
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 child 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.
"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".
Thursday 25 March 1858
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 child's 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
"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
"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
(Que Soy Era Immaculada Conceptiou)
"She smiled again, spoke no more, and
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
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
" 'I am the Immaculate Conception'
it's 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
"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."
Wednesday 7 April 1858
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
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 "a little piece of 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
"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
"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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
"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
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
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
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
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
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
"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
Many other similar events occurred around
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
fulfill 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
On one occasion, Pierre - one of
Bernadettes 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.
Friday 16 July 1858
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 her 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 ESTABLISHES A
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
"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
"For this cause, the Holy Name of God
being invoked, we have ordained and do ordain that
"... 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."
REPORT OF THE EPISCOPAL
On 18th January 1862, the Bishops
Commission finally published the conclusions it had
"The Charge of Monseigneur the Bishop of
Tarbes, giving judgment 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 judgment to that of the Sovereign Pontiff
who is charged with the government of the Universal
"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
THE CANONISATION OF SAINT
Finally, on 8 December 1933, the feast of
the Immaculate Conception, Bernadette was declared a
Saint by Pope Pius XI. Present for this ceremony were
the Reverend Mother General and one hundred and sixty
of the Sisters of Nevers, Bernadette's sister in law,
and two of her nephews. With them, there were ten
thousand French pilgrims. In all, the crowd exceeded
forty thousand. Bishop Patrice Flynn, the Irish Bishop
of Nevers, and Bishop Gerlier of Lourdes and Tarbes,
were also present.
The Holy Father addressed the assembled
"To the honour of the Most Holy and
Indivisible Trinity, for the exaltation of the
Catholic Faith and for the spread of the Christian
religion, by the authority of Our Lord Jesus Christ,
of the Blessed Apostles Peter and Paul and by Our own,
after mature deliberation and having often implored
the Divine Assistance, on the advice of our venerable
brethren the Cardinals of the Holy Roman Catholic
Church, the Patriarchs, Archbishops and Bishops, We
define and declare the Blessed Marie Bernarde
Soubirous a Saint, and We enrol her in the Catalogue
of Saints, ordaining that her memory shall be piously
celebrated in the Universal Church on April 16th each
year, the day of her birth in Heaven. In the name of
the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit."
The body of Saint Bernadette remains in
the main chapel of the Convent of Saint Gildard in the
city of Nevers, France. To this day, she remains
entirely incorrupt. Less than four feet away, a
constant stream of pilgrims kneel, seeking her
powerful assistance in Heaven. At her shrine, flowers
and candles keep the little one company.
Around her shrine are inscribed the words
of the great promise made to her at Lourdes by the
Most Blessed Virgin, and fulfilled by Her:
"I do not
promise that you will be happy in this world, only in
* * * * * * * * * * * *
Feast of the Immaculate
Conception of the Blessed Virgin Mary Anniversary of
the Canonisation of Saint Bernadette
8th December 1995
Our Lady of
Lourdes, pray for us.
Bernadette, pray for us.
THE INCORRUPT BODY OF
In 1906, Mother Forestier of Saint
Gildard paid a visit to Mother Marie Therese Vauzou in
the Hospice at Lourdes, where she was dying. Mother
Forestier had been in Rome; while there, she had been
informed there was possibility of Bernadette's Cause
for Canonisation going before the Holy Father. She
mentioned this to Mother Marie Therese. Her reply to
this statement was direct - "Wait until I am dead!".
On 15 February 1907, Mother Marie Therese
died in Lourdes, upon her lips an invocation to Our
Lady of Lourdes, begging Her help in the hour of her
death. Hearing this news, Mother Forestier prayed to
her departed Sister in religion, asking her to help to
have Bernadette's Cause introduced.
On 20 August 1908, as Bishop Gauthey
prepared to begin the Annual Retreat for the Sisters
of Nevers, he informed them that Bernadette's Cause
was to be put before the Holy Father.
This was duly done and after one hundred
and thirty two sessions, the Ecclesiastical Court
finally had in their possession all the necessary
documentation. The Informative Process was now closed.
The next task before the Court was to
identify the relics of Bernadette Soubirous. So, at
half past eight on the morning of 22 September 1909,
Bishop Gauthey of Nevers, together with other Church
representatives and officials, entered the convent
Chapel and took an oath upon the Holy Bible to tell
Then the tomb was opened and the body
exhumed. Bernadette appeared exactly as she had been
on the day of her death. In her hands she held a
Rosary, which was rusting, and a Crucifix, which was
covered in verdi-gris. The body was completely intact.
There was no smell and no trace of
corruption was seen on the little body in the coffin.
Doctor Jourdan, the surgeon who was present for the
exhumation, has left a written record in the Community
archives describing what occurred -
"The coffin was opened in the presence
of the Bishop of Nevers, the mayors of the town
several canons and ourselves. We noticed no smell.
The body was clothed in the habit of Bernadette's
order. The habit was damp. Only the face, hands and
forearms were uncovered."
"The head was tilted to the left. The
face was dull white. The mouth was open slightly and
it could be seen that the teeth were still in place.
The hands, which were crossed upon the breast, were
perfectly preserved, as were the nails. The hands
still held a rusting Rosary. The veins on the
forearms stood out."
After the identification, the Sisters
washed the body and dressed it in a fresh habit. It
was then placed in a new coffin lined with white silk,
and lowered back into the tomb. The entire process was
completed at half past five in the evening.
On 13 August 1913, Pope Pius X authorised
the introduction of the Cause for Canonisation -
Bernadette could now be given the title 'Venerable'.
This meant that body had to be exhumed once again.
This process was interrupted by the war, and the body
was not re-exhumed until 3 April 1919. The process was
the same as before - as were the results. The body
On 18 November 1923, the Holy Father
announced the authenticity of Bernadette's virtues -
her beatification could now proceed.
Consequently, a third exhumation was
needed. This time, relics were to be taken from the
body - these would then be sent to Rome, to Lourdes
and to Houses of the Sisters of Nevers throughout the
On 18 April 1925, the exhumation took
place. Bernadette had been dead more than forty six
years. Yet, her body remained incorrupt. Doctor Talon,
a surgeon, removed the relics. Three years later he
wrote a report about this exhumation, for a medical
journal. In it, he described his amazement at the
perfect preservation of the skeleton and the muscles
in particular, as well as the liver which - he stated
- should have deteriorated entirely very soon after
death. he concluded that "this did not seem to be a
At this exhumation, it was noted that a
small portion of the skin on the face had discoloured
slightly, due probably to the washing the body had
received and its exposure to the organisms of the air.
Consequently, it was decided to cover the face and
hands with light wax masks. The firm of Pierre Imans
in Paris was contacted, and they agreed to make the
Also, the Armand Catelan workshop in
Lyons had been contacted and they would make a
beautiful reliquary for the body of the deceased
On 14 June 1925, Pope Pius XI declared
Bernadette 'Blessed' - her relics could now be exposed
for public veneration. But the reliquary was not yet
ready. So the body was put in the small chapel
dedicated to Saint Helen, which was then officially
On 18 July, the shrine was ready. The
body of the Beata was clothed once more in a new habit
and was then transferred to the shrine. The reliquary
was made of silver, gilt and crystal. On it were
depiction's of the Apparitions at Lourdes, and lilies
- the symbol of Bernadette's purity. Crowning the
reliquary were the initials 'N.D. de L.' Notre Dame de
Lourdes, entwined around which was a Rosary. The
Office of Virgins was sung by the assembled Sisters.
The shrine was solemnly transferred to the main chapel
of the convent on 3 August 1925. For the three days
following this, solemn Masses were sung in her honour.