Our Lady of Lourdes

The Miracle at Lourdes, France

The Miraculous Spring at Lourdes


The apparitions of Our Lady of Lourdes began on 11 February 1858, when Bernadette Soubirous, a 14-year-old peasant girl from Lourdes admitted, when questioned by her mother, that she had seen a "lady" in the cave of Massabielle, about a mile from the town, while she was gathering firewood with her sister and a friend.[1] Similar appearances of the "lady" took place on seventeen further occasions that year.

Bernadette Soubirous was canonized as a saint, and many Catholics believe her visions to have been of the Virgin Mary. The first appearance of the "Lady" reported by Bernadette was on 11 February. Pope Pius IX authorized the local bishop to permit the veneration of the Virgin Mary in Lourdes in 1862.

On 11 February 1858, Bernadette Soubirous went with Toinette and Jeanne Abadie to collect some firewood and bones in order to be able to buy some bread. When she took off her shoes to wade through the water near the Grotto of Massabielle, she heard two wind noises (coups de vent) but the trees and bushes nearby did not move. She saw a light in the grotto and a little girl, as small as she was, dressed all in white, apart from the blue belt fastened around her waist and the golden yellow roses, one on each foot, the colour of her rosary. Bernadette tried to keep this a secret to herself, but after parental cross-examination, she and her sister underwent corporal punishment for this unusual story. [2] Three days later, Bernadette returned to the Grotto with the two other girls, who reportedly became afraid when they saw her in ecstasy. Bernadette remained ecstatic when they returned to the village. On 18 February, she was told by the Lady to return to the Grotto over a period of two weeks. The Lady allegedly said: I promise to make you happy not in this world but in the next. [3] After this created local interest, the police and city authorities got involved. Bernadette was prohibited by her parents and the police to ever go there again, but she went anyway. On 25 February, she was asked to drink from the water, which at first was rather muddy, but became increasingly clean. As the word spread, this water was given to medical patients of all kinds, after which numerous miracle cures were reported. Seven of them were confirmed as lacking any medical explanations by Professor Verges in 1860. The first person with a “certified miracle” was a woman, whose right hand had been deformed as a consequence of an accident. Several miracles turned out to be short term improvement or even hoaxes, one reason why Church and government officials became increasingly concerned. [4] The government barricaded the Grotto and issued stiff penalties for anybody trying to get near the off-limits area. In the process, Lourdes became a national issue in France, resulting in the intervention of emperor Napoleon III to reopen the grotto on 4 October 1858. The Church had decided to stay away from the controversy altogether.

Bernadette, knowing the localities rather well, managed to visit the barricaded grotto under the protection of darkness at night time. There, on March 25, she was told: I am the Immaculate Conception. On Easter Sunday, 7 April, her examining doctor stated that Bernadette, in ecstasy, was holding her hands over a candle without receiving any burns. [5] On 16 July, Bernadette went a last time to the Grotto. I have never seen her so beautiful before. [6] The Church, which so far was highly critical during the whole process, faced with nation-wide questions, decided to institute an investigative commission on 17 November 1858. On 18 January 1860, the local bishop declared: The Virgin Mary did appear indeed to Bernadette Soubirous. [7] This was the basis for the Marian veneration in Lourdes, which together with Fatima, is one of the most frequented Marian shrines in the world, to which 4-6 million pilgrims travel annually. The apparitions of Lourdes are not articles of faith for Catholics. Nevetheless all recent Popes visited the Marian shine. Benedict XV, Pius XI, and John XXIII went there as bishops, Pius XII as papal delegate. He also issued with Le Pelerinage de Lourdes a Lourdes encyclical on the 100th anniversary of the apparitions in 1958. John Paul II visited Lourdes three times and Pope Benedict XVI completed a visit there on 15 September 2008 to commemorate the 150th anniversary of the apparitions in 1858.

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 expexting a child; because of this, Bernadette was entrusted to the care of a woman in near-by Bartres, Marie Aravant, who had just lost a baby boy. She stayed there for fifteen months.

From her birth, Bernadette was a weak child, suffering even then from the asthma which would cause her so much suffering that later, in the convent, she would beg the nuns to tear open her chest that she might breathe. Because of her delicate constitution, her parents would endeavour to give her little morsels of food not available to the other children, such as white bread instead of black. Invariably, the young girl would share these treats with her siblings - often missing out herself on the sumptuous feast.

When she was ten, Bernadette was again separated from her beloved family; the winter of 1855 was exceptionally cold and there was little work for the poor miller. Louise's sister, Bernarde, offered to take Bernadette for a while to relieve the pressure on the family and to minimise the effects of the cold on Bernadettes' health. She stayed with her aunt Bernarde for seven months, until the weather improved sufficiently and there was more work available for Francois, enabling him to feed his family properly.

Bernadette left Lourdes one more time - in summer of 1857, she returned to stay with Marie Aravant for a few months, working for her as a shephardesst. 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 and religious.

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 "poor sinners".

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 multitude:

"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 the next."

* * * * * * * * * * * *

Feast of the Immaculate Conception of the Blessed Virgin Mary Anniversary of the Canonization of Saint Bernadette

8th December 1995

Our Lady of Lourdes, pray for us.

Saint Bernadette, pray for us.

Bernadette Soubirous of Lourdes In the middle of the nineteenth century, Lourdes was a small garrison town of four or five thousand inhabitants, situated in the foothills of the Pyrénées on the River Gave. It had a castle fortress, the sign of a fighting past [1], and for its size was up-to-date and progressive with the bulk of the population consisting of agricultural workers and quarrymen,and in the main practising Catholics.

Bernadette Soubirous was the eldest of five children [2] of hard-working parents who had fallen on hard times, and from operating a successful mill had been reduced to living with their family in one small room called the Cachot, which can still be seen today. Bernadette could hardly read or write, and suffered several childhood illnesses leaving her weak and asthmatic, and small for her age. From a very early age though, she showed signs of having immense faith in God, and when she was told she was stupid because she was unable to learn her Catechism, she whispered in a characteristic way that: ’At least she would always know how to love the good God.‘ She was a simple girl who worked partly in the house and partly, when with her aunt in Bartrès a village 4 miles from Lourdes, in the fields where her special task was to watch the sheep.

François and Louise Soubirous

On Thursday 11th February 1858 when she was fourteen years old, together with her sister Marie-Toinette and a friend Jeanne, Bernadette left the Cachot to collect firewood at the foot of a hill called Massabielle, meaning old rock, where there was a small cave or grotto where cattle often sheltered.

Marie-Toinette and Jeanne kicked off their wooden shoes and waded across the little stream in search of dead wood, leaving Bernadette hesitating because of the cold. Just as she was removing her stockings, she heard what sounded like a strong wind and, as she looked toward the Grotto, she noticed that the vegetation growing beneath the higher opening was tossing, though nothing else moved. To her amazement she saw a figure in the opening – a Lady of small stature and incomparable beauty. The Lady was surrounded by light and inclined her head graciously as if inviting Bernadette to approach. She put out her hands too, a little away from her body, and on her right arm could be seen a rosary with large white beads on what seemed a golden chain. Bernadette felt frightened, and yet she did not want to run away. She was fascinated, experiencing a mysterious attraction and quite naturally took out her rosary and started to recite the prayers. The vision lasted about a quarter of an hour and, as Bernadette finished the rosary prayers, quite suddenly the Lady disappeared.

The painting of the 16th Apparition - the miracle of the candle

On the way home, Bernadette told Marie-Toinette what she had seen, and although her sister promised secrecy, her sister did not keep her secret and that evening the Soubirous parents entered into what was to become an extremely vexing and puzzling period of their lives with much anguish to follow.

This vision was to be the first of eighteen apparitions over the next few weeks, frequently with many people in attendance out of curiosity, as by now the story of the Lady was the talking point of everyone in Lourdes. During one of these visions, Bernadette was asked by the Lady to drink at the spring and wash in the water, although there was no spring to be seen. Bernadette scratched away at the surface of the earth, and found water rising, which she was able to drink. Soon this spring was yielding 27,000 gallons of water a day, which has been maintained ever since even in times of drought. The spring has been channelled into a reservoir from which the Baths are filled and there are 20 drinking fountain heads. The extraordinary quality of this water is that it never becomes contaminated and can be kept for years, even in an ordinary plastic bottle.

During her seventh appearance, the Lady instructed Bernadette to ask the Priests to build a Chapel by the Grotto for people to process there, and this is at the heart of Lourdes today. All the appearances held the same prayerful characteristics, and at the fifteenth appearance the Lady disclosed herself as the Immaculate Conception. She appeared only three times more to Bernadette, but had nothing more to say.

In spite of enormous opposition from the Town and Church elders of the time, with Bernadette being scrutinised by all and sundry, eventually the Bishop of Tarbes declared the Apparitions as genuine, and from there the whole concept of Lourdes as it is today was developed.

Bernadette Soubirous's Resting Place Franz Werfel points out that death extinguishes a human face in the twinkling of an eye, but death illuminated the face of Bernadette.

It is not always realised by those who visit Lourdes that Bernadette's body remains incorrupt and is laid in a glass reliquary in the Convent of St Gildarde in Nevers, France, where it can be seen today.


[1]. The Castle Fortress has a walkway near the castle top marked COURSE DE PRINCE NOIR - a reminder that the Black Prince ( the eldest son of Edward III) commanded the Fortress after his victory at Poitiers in 1356.

[2]. The fifth child of Franois and Louise Soubirous was Pierre, born in 1856 and died soon after.

Bernadette Soubirous

Praise for The Book

I hope that the abridged Song of Bernadette will encourage many more to read this moving and immortal story of the miracle of Lourdes and appreciate the sturdy and loving character of Our Lady's little friend Bernadette who, with Heaven-sent grace, fought such a fearless fight for the authenticity of her visions

Cardinal Basil Hume, Archbishop of Westminister 1976-1999

Nine Days of Solemn Prayer to Our Lady of Lourdes

Daily Novena Prayer

Most blessed Lady, Mother of our Savior, I come to you now with full confidence in your mercy, and in deep sorrow for my past sins. As I know your power with God, so I beg your help in securing the favor I need.

Here, please mention your special intentions

You will obtain for me, I am sure, not only what I ask, but also the grace to profit from your aid by leading a Christian life modeled on your own life of love. Amen

Daily Consecration Prayer

Virgin Mother, Mary, you revealed yourself at Lourdes to St. Bernadette, and have since granted countless graces and favors to all who seek your aid. I now consecrate my life to you under your title of Our Lady of Lourdes, and ask you confidently to secrure for me and for all who implore your mercy, the blessings we stand most in need of. We ask your aid through your divine Son, our Lord, Jesus Christ. Amen.

Our Lady of Lourdes, pray for us.

Please try each day of the Novena to attend Mass in your parish church, and recite at least one decade of Our Lady's rosary for your own intentions, and for all who are praying with you during this Solemn Novena.

First Day

Son, they have no wine. (John 2:4)

Most Blessed Mother, because you asked Him, our Lord worked his first miracle at the wedding in Cana. Please ask Him now for my need as you did for the bridal couple at the feast.

In thanksgiving I pledge to lead a good life, avoid sin, and be more constant in prayer to honor you. Amen.

Our Lady of Lourdes, pray for us.

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Second Day

A sword shall pierce your heart. (Luke 2:35)

Most compassionate Mother, you were no stranger to grief in your lifetime. In remembrance of your great sorrows, please intercede now with God in mine.

In return I promise to imitate your patience and trust in God in all the trials of life. Amen.

Our Lady of Lourdes, please pray for us.

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Third Day

Son, why have you done so to us? (Luke 2:48)

Most loving Mother, you found it hard, as I do, to understand God's ways. Please come to aid me now, and help all you seek your assistance to trust as you did in God's goodness.

In gratitude I shall try, with your help, to treasure in my heart the words and example of your Son, and obey His commandments. Amen.

Our Lady of Lourdes, please pray for us.

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Fourth Day

You fill the hungry with good things. (Luke 1:53)

Most considerate Mother, the Lord rewarded your faith abundantly. In your goodness kindly take my cause as your own. I entrust my cares to you so that we may always rejoice in your help.

In appreciation I shall try to act humbly and purely always in daily imitation of your virtues. Amen.

Our Lady of Lourdes, please pray for us.

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Fifth Day

Be it done to me according to your word. (Luke 1:38)

Most obedient Mother, despite your fears and concerns, you proved faithful to God's will. Be gracious to me, then, and help me now in my pressing fears and anxieties.

In remembrance of your help I will be a faithful and devoted servant of your Son, our Savior. Amen.

Our Lady of Lourdes, please pray for us.

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Sixth Day

All generations shall call me blessed. (Luke 1:49)

Most blessed Virgin and Mother, the Lord rewarded your fidelity by making your power known to all generations of men. Please come now to my assistance to show your power anew.

Most merciful Mother, I will praise your goodness always and thank you by being ever devoted to the things of God. Amen.

Our Lady of Lourdes, please pray for us.

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Seventh Day

Son, behold your mother. (John 19:26)

Most sorrowful Virgin, you stood close to your Son as He suffered on the Cross. By your pain in that hour be kind to me now in my time of need, and entreat our Savior to grant my request.

With your unfailing aid, most loving Mother, I will remain always close to you and to the cross of Christ. Amen.

Our Lady of Lourdes, please pray for us.

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Eighth Day

They found the child with Mary, His mother. (Matthew 2:11)

Most glorious Mother, Mary, in your place of glory close to God's throne, be mindful of my problems and petitions; please mention them to your divine Son, who will grant my requests for your sake.

Most attentive Mother, I will strive to show my gratefulness by following your example and imitating your virtues. Amen.

Our Lady of Lourdes, please pray for us.

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Ninth Day

A woman dressed like the sun with the moon under her feet, and a crown of twelve stars on her head. (Rv 12:2)

Most glorious Mother, you are always with your Son. Speak to Him for me of my many needs. He will not fail to heed your plea.

By your constant aid, blessed Mother, may I remain ever close to you, and to your Son. Amen.

Our Lady of Lourdes, please pray for us.

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