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The Story of Bernadette

Saint Bernadette, born Marie-Bernarde Soubirous (January 7, 1844 - April 16, 1879), was a miller's daughter from the town of Lourdes in southern France. Her real Occitan name is Maria Bernada Soubirous, aka Bernadeta (little Bernada).

From February 11, to July 16, 1858, she reported eighteen apparitions of "a Lady." Despite initial skepticism from the Roman Catholic Church, these claims were eventually declared to be worthy of belief after a canonical investigation.

On December 8th, 1933 she was canonized as a saint by the Roman Catholic Church.


Saint Bernadette

Bernadette's life

When Bernadette was only a few months old, her mother had an accident and could not nurse her. At this time it was usual to breast feed babies for at least two years. So Bernadette went to live with her foster mother in Bartres. She had six brothers and two sisters, five of the brothers died before they were ten. Her father was a miller. He ran the Boly Mill, but tended to give the product away to the poor instead of selling it, eventually the family were reduced to poverty and had to move into the cachot.

Bernadette nearly died of cholera when she was ten. When she was thirteen her parents sent her back to Bartres. Shortly after her fourteenth birhday, Bernadette returned to Lourdes and began to prepare for her First Holy Communion. Bernadette still could not read or write and didn't even speak French, only patois.

Bernadette's Visions

It was on February 11th 1858 that Bernadette and her two sisters were out gathering firewood. Bernadette was left behind as her sisters crossed a small stream. She heard a sound like a storm and looking across the stream she saw the apparition for the first time in a grotto at the foot of rock called Massabielle. She saw a lady dressed in white with a blue sash and a yellow rose on each foot. The lady did not speak, but made the sign of the cross. The vision disapeared suddenly.

The lady did not speak until the third time she appeared to Bernadette. She asked Bernadette if she would like to meet her there every day for a fortnight, Bernadette said she would. She told Bernadette to tell the priests to have a chapel built there. Then she told her to drink at the spring. Not seeing one, she went to drink from the stream. The lady told Bernadette that the stream wasn't there, but pointed to a pool of muddy water. Bernadette scraped at the muddy ground and eventually fresh water appeared. She drank some and the vision disappeared.

Bernadette returned every day for a fortnight and on every occasion but for two, the vision appeared. The lady insisted many times that the priests must build a chapel there, and that Bernadette must wash in the spring and that she must pray for sinners. During the fortnight the lady told Bernadette three secrets. Many times Bernadette asked the lady who she was, but she would only smile. Eventually the lady said

"Que soy era Immaculada Conceptiou" I am The Immaculate Conception.

When asked by the priest if she knew what that meant, Bernadette did not. Four years earlier, Pope Pius IX had promulgated the doctrine of the Immaculate Conception; that, alone of all human beings who have ever lived, the Virgin Mary was born without the stain of original sin. However, this was not well known to Catholics at large at that time, being generally confined to discussion amongst the clergy. It certainly was not an expression known to a simple under-educated peasant girl who could barely read. Her parents, teachers and priests all later testified that she had never previously heard the words 'immaculate conception' from them.

Final Journey : The Convent of St.Gildard

Disliking the attention she was attracting, Bernadette went to the hospice school run by the Sisters of Charity and Christian Instruction, where she finally learned to read and write. She then joined the Sisters of Charity of Nevers convent moving into their motherhouse at Nevers at the age of 22. She spent the rest of her brief life there, working as an assistant in the infirmary and later as a sacristan. During a severe asthma attack, she asked for water from the Lourdes spring, and her symptoms subsided. She had followed the development of Lourdes as a pilgrimage shrine while she still lived at Lourdes, but was not present for the consecration of the Basilica of the Immaculate Conception there in 1876. She eventually died of her long-term illness at the age of 35 on April 16, 1879.

After her death, Bernadette's body remained "incorruptible", and the shrine at Lourdes went on to become a major site for pilgrimage, attracting millions of Catholics each year. On December 8th, 1933 she was canonized as a saint by the Roman Catholic Church.