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Saint Bernadette Soubirous

Saint Bernadette Soubirous

Biography of Bernadette Soubirous

Before becoming the world-famous Saint Bernadette, who was asked to obtain graces of salvation for the poor and small”, Bernadette was a small peasant woman in southwestern France. Marie-Bernarde Soubirous was born on January 7, 1844 near Lourdes. She was the eldest of nine siblings, four of whom died in infancy. His father, François, was a miller before losing his job. Ruined, the large family moved to the place called “Le Cachot”, a dirty, cramped room. Suffering from asthma at a young age, the frail Bernadette was sent as a servant to Bartrès, near Lourdes in 1857, before returning a year later to Lourdes to receive her first communion. In 1858, the 14-year-old girl would have eighteen apparitions of the Blessed Virgin. The miracle took place for the first time on February 11 at the cave of Massabielle, and again July 16, 1858. 

Two years after the apparitions, Bernadette entered the hospice of the Sisters of Charity of Lourdes as a boarder. Her religious vocation was strengthened and in 1864 she began her postulate in Lourdes and then left her native Pyrenees to join the convent of Saint-Gildard in Nevers in 1866. In October 1867, she made her vows and became Sister Marie-Bernard. For thirteen years, Bernadette Soubirous's life was marked by suffering linked to her precarious state of health and the severe treatment of her superiors. She offered her suffering to the world by tirelessly praying to the Virgin Mary and bringing care and comfort to the sick in the infirmary. Lying long months after a serious lung disease, she died on April 16, 1879, at only 35 years of age. In her last breath, she whispered: “Holy Mary, Mother of God, pray for me, a poor sinner”.

Bernadette Soubirous's body was exhumed from her coffin in 1909, 1919 and 1925 for her beatification process. Remaining inexplicably intact, her body is preserved at the Saint-Gildard Chapel in Nevers. St. Bernadette was canonized in 1933 by Pope Pius XI because of her faith and the exemplary nature of her religious life and not because of the apparitions she witnessed. Her feast is celebrated on February 18. She is the patron saint of the shepherds, the poor, the sick, and roommates! Even today, little Bernadette inspires many Christians around the world, including a number of artists who pay tribute to her through literary and cinematographic works such as the film Bernadette, released in 1987, or the musical, Bernadette de Lourdes.

The apparitions of Our Lady of Lourdes to Bernadette Soubirous

In the space of five months, between February 11 and July 16, 1858, Bernadette Soubirous had eighteen apparitions of the Blessed Virgin.

  1. The first appearance took place on February 11, 1858, when Bernadette, accompanied by her sister and a friend, went to fetch wood from the forest. She described a “gale of wind” then a “soft light”, before seeing, in the hollow of the cave of Massabielle, a “very beautiful child” who would become a “beautiful lady”. She recited her rosary in her presence.
  2. On February 14, 1858, Bernadette returned to the cave despite a ban. Seeing the appearance of the Beautiful Lady, she threw holy water at her, she smiles at her, together they recited the rosary.
  3. On the third apparition, on February 18, 1858, the lady replied for the first time to Bernadette, who asked her for her name: “it's not necessary” before adding: “Do you want to have the grace to come here for two weeks? I do not promise to make you happy in this world, but in the other. Bernadette would return to the cave for fifteen days in a row without the lady appearing to her.
  4. On February 19, 1858, Bernadette came with a candle blessed and lit, which would give rise to a custom in Lourdes.
  5. On February 20, 1858, the Lady taught a personal prayer to Bernadette.
  6. On February 21, 1858, after the apparition, Bernadette was questioned by the police commissioner, Jacomet.  
  7. On February 23, 1858, the Virgin revealed to Bernadette a secret “just for her”.
  8. On February 24, 1858, Our Lady said: “Penance, penance, penance. You will pray to God for the fishermen. Go and kiss the earth for the conversion of sinners. “
  9. On February 25, 1858, Bernadette discovered water after the Lady told her: “Go and drink from the fountain and wash there” and “you will eat of the grass that is there”.
  10. On February 27, 1858, the Apparition was silent, Bernadette drank water from the spring and performed the usual acts of penance.
  11. On February 28, 1858, Bernadette prayed, kissed the earth and crawled on her knees as a sign of penance.
  12. On March 1st, 1858, the first miraculous healing took place: Catherine Latapie went to the cave, dipped her dislocated arm in the water of the spring, and immediately, her arm and hand regained their suppleness.
  13. On March 2, 1858, the Lady said: “Go tell the priest to come here in procession and build a chapel here.” Bernadette repeats these words to the parish priest who asks her for the name of the Lady and proof of her visions.
  14. On March 3, 1858, Bernadette asked the Lady for her name, she answered with a smile.
  15. On March 4, 1858, the Lady was silent, the crowd waiting for a miracle was disappointed.
  16. March 25, 1858 is the day of the Annunciation, the day chosen by the Lady to answer Bernadette: “Que soy era Immaculada Councepciou”, which translates as “I am the Immaculate Conception”.
  17. On 7 April 1858, during the apparition, the miracle of the candle took place, the flame of which enveloped Bernadette's hand without burning her.
  18. On July 16, 1858, access to the cave of Massabielle was prohibited, so Bernadette went to the other side of Gave and saw the Blessed Virgin one last time. She testifies: “It seemed to me that I was in front of the cave, at the same distance as the other times, I saw only the Virgin, I never saw her so beautiful!

The legacy of Saint Bernadette: the shrine of Lourdes

On January 18, 1862, the apparitions to Bernadette Soubirous were recognized as authentic by the Bishop of Tarbes on behalf of the Church. This recognition took place after a careful and careful examination of all the facts. Father Peyramale, the parish priest of Lourdes during the apparitions, was the one to whom Bernadette addressed all the requests of the Virgin, including that of having a chapel built at the site of the cave. The bishop entrusted him with the establishment of an official pilgrimage and the construction of the future basilica of the Immaculate Conception.

Built between 1862 and 1871, the church overlooks the cave of Massabielle where the Virgin Mary appeared to Bernadette Soubirous. The largest Catholic pilgrimage site in the world, the sanctuary of Lourdes includes the cave, three basilicas (that of the Immaculate Conception, that of the Rosary and that of Saint Pius X) as well as a large esplanade, many service buildings, fountains, swimming pools, etc. Bernadette Soubirous's legacy is above all the millions of pilgrims who go each year to the Marian city in order to pray to the Virgin or to obtain grace.

Learn more on the Sanctuary of Lourdes.

Prayers to Saint Bernadette

Lourdes is one of the most famous places in the world for the abundance of grace that is spread there. Therefore, the intercession of Saint Bernadette and the Virgin Mary, who came to Lourdes under the title of the Immaculate Conception, is strongly requested. Here is a prayer to Saint Bernadette and Our Lady of Lourdes.