Bernadette Soubirous

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Saint Bernadette Soubirous
Bernadette Soubirous.jpg
Saint Bernadette of Lourdes
Virgin, Penitent, Consecrated Religious
Born 7 January 1844[1]
Lourdes, Hautes-Pyrénées, France
Died 16 April 1879(1879-04-16) (aged 35)
Nevers, Nièvre, France
Honored in
Beatified 14 June 1925, Rome, by Pope Pius XI[2]
Canonized 8 December 1933, Rome, by Pope Pius XI[3]
Feast 16 April (18 February in France)
  • Bodily illness
  • Lourdes, France
  • shepherds and shepherdesses
  • against poverty
  • people ridiculed for their faith

Marie Bernarde "Bernadette" Soubirous (Occitan: Bernadeta Sobirós; 7 January 1844 – 16 April 1879) was the firstborn daughter of a miller from Lourdes, France, and is venerated as a Christian mystic and Saint in the Catholic Church.

Soubirous is best known for her participation in the Marian apparitions of a "small young lady" who asked for a chapel to be built at the nearby garbage dump of cave-grotto within Massabielle where apparitions are said to have occurred between 11 February and 16 July 1858. She would later receive recognition when the lady who appeared to her identified herself as the Immaculate Conception.[4]

Despite initial skepticism from the Catholic Church, Soubirous's claims were eventually declared "worthy of belief" after a canonical investigation, and the Marian apparition is now known as Our Lady of Lourdes. Since her death, Soubirous's body has apparently remained internally incorrupt, but it is not without blemish; during her third exhumation in 1925, the firm of Pierre Imans made light wax coverings for her face and her hands due to the discoloration that her skin had undergone. These masks were placed on her face and hands before she was moved to her crystal reliquary in June 1925.[5]

The Marian shrine at Lourdes (Midi-Pyrénées, France) went on to become a major pilgrimage site, attracting over five million Christian pilgrims of all denominations each year.[6]

On 8 December 1933, she was canonized by Pope Pius XI as a Saint of the Roman Catholic Church;[2] her Feast Day is observed on 16 April, yet observed on 18 February in her native France.[why?]

Early stages of her life[edit]

St. Bernadette

Bernadette (the sobriquet by which she was universally known) was the daughter of François Soubirous (Francés Sobirós in Occitan) (1807–1871), a miller,[7] and Louise (Loïsa Casteròt in Occitan) (1825–1866), a laundress. She was the eldest of nine children—Bernadette, Jean (born and died 1845), Toinette (1846–1892), Jean-Marie (1848–1851), Jean-Marie (1851–1919), Justin (1855–1865), Pierre (1859–1931), Jean (born and died 1864), and a baby named Louise who died soon after her birth (1866).

Bernadette was born on 7 January 1844 and baptized at the local parish church, St. Pierre's, on 9 January, her parents' wedding anniversary. Bernadette's godmother was Bernarde Casterot, her mother's sister, a moderately wealthy widow who owned a tavern. Hard times had fallen on France and the family lived in extreme poverty. Bernadette was a sickly child. She contracted cholera as a toddler and suffered severe asthma for the rest of her life. Bernadette attended the day school conducted by the Sisters of Charity and Christian Instruction from Nevers.[8]


Main article: Lourdes apparitions

By the time of the events at the grotto, her family's financial and social status had declined to the point where they lived in a one-room basement, formerly used as a jail, called le cachot, "the dungeon," where they were housed for free by her mother's cousin, Andre Sajoux.[9] On 11 February 1858, Bernadette, then aged 14, was out gathering firewood with her sister Marie and a friend near the grotto of Massabielle (Tuta de Massavielha) when she had her first vision. As she recounted later, while the other girls crossed the little stream in front of the grotto and walked on, Bernadette stayed behind, looking for a place to cross where she wouldn't get her stockings wet. She finally sat down in the grotto to take her shoes off in order to cross the water and was lowering her first stocking when she heard the sound of rushing wind, but nothing moved. A wild rose in a natural niche in the grotto, however, did move. From the niche, or rather the dark alcove behind it, "came a dazzling light, and a white figure." This was the first of 18 visions of what she referred to as aquero (pronounced [aˈk(e)ɾɔ]), Gascon Occitan for "that". In later testimony, she called it "a small young lady" (uo petito damizelo). Her sister and her friend stated that they had seen nothing.[10]

Bernadette Soubirous (in 1866)

On 14 February, after Sunday Mass, Bernadette, with her sister Marie and some other girls, returned to the grotto. Bernadette knelt down immediately, saying she saw aquero again and falling into a trance. When one of the girls threw holy water at the niche and another threw a rock from above that shattered on the ground, the apparition disappeared. Bernadette fell into a state of shock and the girl who had thrown the rock thought she had killed her.[11] On her next visit, 18 February, she said that "the vision" asked her to return to the grotto every day for a fortnight.[12]

This period of almost daily visions came to be known as la Quinzaine sacrée, "holy fortnight." Initially, her parents, especially her mother, were embarrassed and tried to forbid her to go. The local police commissioner called her into his office and threatened to arrest her,[13] as did the district attorney, but since there was no evidence of fraud there was little they could do.[14] The girl herself remained stubbornly calm and consistent during her interrogations, never changing her story or her attitude, and never claiming knowledge beyond what she said the vision told her.[15] The supposed apparition did not identify herself until the seventeenth vision. Although the townspeople who believed she was telling the truth assumed she saw the Virgin Mary, Bernadette never claimed it to be Mary, consistently using the word aquero. She described the lady as wearing a white veil, a blue girdle and with a yellow rose on each foot — compatible with "a description of any statue of the Virgin in a village church".[16]

Bernadette's story caused a sensation with the townspeople, who were divided in their opinions on whether or not Bernadette was telling the truth. Some believed her to have a mental illness and demanded she be put in an asylum.[17] She soon had a large number of people following her on her daily journey, some out of curiosity and others who firmly believed that they were witnessing a miracle.

The other contents of Bernadette's reported visions were simple and focused on the need for prayer and penance. On 24 February, she reported that aquero had said Penitenço ... Penitenço ... Penitenço ("penance").[18] That day Bernadette kissed the muddy ground of the grotto. The next day she went further, and during her trance, chewed and ate grass she plucked from the ground. She then rubbed mud over her face and swallowed some mud, to the disgust of the many onlookers and the embarrassment of those who believed in her visions. She explained that the vision had told her "to drink of the water of the spring, to wash in it and to eat the herb that grew there," as an act of penance. To everyone's surprise, the next day the grotto was no longer muddy but clear water flowed.[19]

On 2 March, at the thirteenth of the alleged apparitions, Bernadette told her family that the lady said that "a chapel should be built and a procession formed.[8] Accompanied by two of her aunts, Bernadette went to parish priest, Father Dominique Peyramale with the request. A brilliant but often roughspoken man[citation needed] with little belief in claims of visions and miracles, Peyramale told Bernadette that the lady must identify herself. Bernadette said that on her next visitation she repeated the priest's words to the lady but that the lady bowed a little, smiled and said nothing. Then Father Peyramale told Bernadette to prove that the lady was real by asking her to perform a miracle. He requested that she make the rose bush beneath the niche flower in the last week of February.[citation needed]

Statue of Our Lady of Lourdes in Lourdes, France

Her 16th claimed vision, which she stated went on for over an hour, was on 25 March. During this vision Bernadette was holding a lit candle. It burned down and the flame was said to be in direct contact with her skin for over fifteen minutes but she apparently showed no sign of experiencing any pain or injury. This was said to have been witnessed by many people present, including the town physician, Dr. Pierre Romaine Dozous, who timed and later documented it. It is unclear if observers other than Dozous were sufficiently close to witness if the candle was continuously in contact with Bernadette's skin.[citation needed]

According to Bernadette's account, during that same visitation, she again asked the woman for her name but the lady just smiled back. She repeated the question three more times and finally heard the lady say, in Gascon Occitan, "I am the Immaculate Conception" (Qué soï era immaculado councepcioũ, a phonetic transcription of Que soi era immaculada concepcion).[8] Four years earlier, Pope Pius IX had defined the dogma of the Immaculate Conception: that, alone of all human beings who have ever lived (save for Jesus, Adam, and Eve), the Virgin Mary was conceived without the stain of original sin. Her parents, teachers and priests all later testified that she had never previously heard the expression 'immaculate conception' from them.

Some of the people who interviewed her after her revelation of the visions thought her simple-minded. However, despite being rigorously interviewed by officials of both the Catholic Church and the French government, she stuck consistently to her story. Her behavior during this period is said to set the example by which all who have claimed visions and mystical experiences are now judged by Church authorities.

Results of her visions[edit]

Among the reported visions of Jesus and Mary, Bernadette's visions are believed[by whom?] to be at a high level of significance[clarification needed].

In the 150 years since Bernadette dug up the spring, 69[20][21] cures have been verified by the Lourdes Medical Bureau as "inexplicable" — after what the Church claims are "extremely rigorous scientific and medical examinations" that failed to find any other explanation. The Lourdes Commission that examined Bernadette after the visions ran an intensive analysis on the water and found that, while it had a high mineral content, it contained nothing out of the ordinary that would account for the cures attributed to it. Bernadette said that it was faith and prayer that cured the sick.

Her request to the local priest to build a chapel at the site of her visions eventually gave rise to a number of chapels and churches at Lourdes. The Sanctuary of Our Lady of Lourdes is now one of the major Catholic pilgrimage sites in the world. One of the churches built at the site, the Basilica of St. Pius X, can accommodate 25,000 people and was dedicated by the future Pope John XXIII when he was the Papal Nuncio to France.

Close to 5 million pilgrims visit Lourdes (population of about 15,000) every year, with individuals and groups (such as the HCPT) coming from all over the world. In France, only Paris has more hotels than Lourdes. In 2008, the 150th anniversary of the 1858 apparitions to Bernadette, it was expected that 8 million pilgrims would visit Lourdes. Lourdes is now a major centre where Catholic pilgrims from around the globe reaffirm their beliefs as they visit the sanctuary.

Later years[edit]

Disliking the attention she was attracting, Bernadette went to the hospice school run by the Sisters of Charity of Nevers where she finally learned to read and write. She then joined the Sisters at their motherhouse at Nevers at the age of 22. The Mother Superiour at the time gave her the name Marie-Bernarde in honor of her godmother who was named "Bernarde". She spent the rest of her brief life there, working as an assistant in the infirmary and later as a sacristan, creating beautiful embroidery for altar cloths and vestments. She later contracted tuberculosis of the bone in her right knee. 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 16 April 1879. Her body was laid to rest in the Saint Gildard Convent.


Bernadette Soubirous was declared venerable by Pope Pius X, and "Blessed" on 14 June 1925, by Pope Pius XI. She was officially canonized a Saint by Pope Pius XI on 8 December 1933.[2][3]

The year 2009 was declared "The Year of Bernadette".[citation needed]


Relic of St. Bernadette and stone from the Grotto of Lourdes

Bishop Gauthey of Nevers and the Church exhumed the body of Bernadette Soubirous on 22 September 1909, in the presence of representatives appointed by the postulators of the cause, two doctors and a sister of the community. They claimed that although the crucifix in her hand and her rosary had both oxidized, her body appeared incorrupt — preserved from decomposition. This was cited as one of the miracles to support her canonization. They washed and reclothed her body before burial in a new double casket. The Church exhumed the corpse a second time on 3 April 1919. A doctor who examined the body noted, "The body is practically mummified, covered with patches of mildew and quite a notable layer of salts, which appear to be calcium salts. ... The skin has disappeared in some places, but it is still present on most parts of the body."[22]

In 1925, the church exhumed the body for a third time. They took relics, which were sent to Rome. A precise imprint of the face was molded so that the firm of Pierre Imans in Paris could make a wax mask based on the imprints and on some genuine photos to be placed on her body. This was common practice for relics in France as it was feared that the blackish tinge to the face and the sunken eyes and nose would make an unpleasant impression on the public. Imprints of the hands were also taken for the presentation of the body and the making of wax casts. The remains were then placed in a gold and crystal reliquary in the Chapel of Saint Bernadette at the mother house in Nevers.

Wax coverings on the body of Saint Bernadette represent how her hands and face looked at the time of her death.
Statuettes depicting the apparition of the Immaculate Conception to Saint Bernadette

Three years later in 1928, Doctor Comte published a report on the exhumation of Blessed Bernadette in the second issue of the Bulletin de I'Association medicale de Notre-Dame de Lourdes.

"I would have liked to open the left side of the thorax to take the ribs as relics and then remove the heart which I am certain must have survived. However, as the trunk was slightly supported on the left arm, it would have been rather difficult to try and get at the heart without doing too much noticeable damage. As the Mother Superior had expressed a desire for the Saint's heart to be kept together with the whole body, and as Monsignor the Bishop did not insist, I gave up the idea of opening the left-hand side of the thorax and contented myself with removing the two right ribs which were more accessible." "What struck me during this examination, of course, was the state of perfect preservation of the skeleton, the fibrous tissues of the muscles (still supple and firm), of the ligaments, and of the skin, and above all the totally unexpected state of the liver after 46 years. One would have thought that this organ, which is basically soft and inclined to crumble, would have decomposed very rapidly or would have hardened to a chalky consistency. Yet, when it was cut it was soft and almost normal in consistency. I pointed this out to those present, remarking that this did not seem to be a natural phenomenon."

In media[edit]

  • In 1909 the French short movie Bernadette Soubirous et les Apparitions de Lourdes, directed by Honoré Le Sablais,[23][24] is the first attempt to tell with the new cinematographic art the story of Bernadette, according to Rai 3 documentary Lourdes. La storia.[25]
  • In 1929 the French film La vie merveilleuse de Bernadette directed by Georges Pallu and starring Alexandra as Bernadette.[26]
  • In 1935 the Portuguese Georges Pallu directed La Vierge du rocher ("The Virgin of the rock") with Micheline Masson in the role of Bernadette.[27]
  • In 1961 Daniéle Ajoret portrayed Bernadette in Bernadette of Lourdes (French title: Il suffit d'aimer or Love is enough) of Gilbert Cresbón.[23][26]
  • In 1981 Andrea del Boca portrayed Bernadette in a homonymous Argentine TV movie directed by his father Nicolás del Boca[28] (4 episodes of 1 hour each).[29]
  • In 1990 Fernando Uribe and Steven Hahn directed a short animated film, Bernadette: La Princesa de Lourdes, produced by John Williams and Jorge Gonzalez,[30] available in English since 1991 with the title Bernadette – The Princess of Lourdes.[31]
  • In 2007 an Indian film Our Lady of Lourdes directed by V.R. Gopinath and starring Ajna Noiseux.[32]
  • In 2008 Catherine Albrech and Philippe Cabidoche directed 1858, le film des Apparitions with the small child Camille in the role of Bernadette.[23]
  • In 2011 a French short film Grotta profunda, les humeurs du gouffre directed by Pauline Curnier-Jardin and starring Simon Fravega.[26]
  • Irving Wallace's 1984 fictional novel, The Miracle, tells the tale of St. Bernadette's purported private diaries forecasting a second coming of Mary to the grotto, prompting renewed interest in her story and pilgrims to Lourdes. Bernadette's actual journal and letters do not contain this prediction.[33]
  • An opera "The Joy of Bernadette" composed by Sonja Karlsen

See also[edit]

Notes and references[edit]

  1. ^ "St. Bernadette Soubirous", Saints Alive
  2. ^ a b c "Page 12. Consecration of our encounters with God and Mary. St Bernadette: February 18th". Florida Center for Peace. Miami, Florida. February 2007. Retrieved 30 September 2013. "On may 13, 1913, Pope Pius X signed the decree introducing the cause of Bernadette's beatification. She was beatified on June 14th, 1925. Eight years later, it was on the feast of the Immaculate Conception, December 8, 1933 she was canonized by Pope Pius XI." 
  3. ^ a b Ruggles, Robin (1999). Apparition shrines. Places of pilgrimage and prayer. Boston: Pauline Books & Media. p. 68. ISBN 0-81984799-2. ISBN 978-081984799-7. 
  4. ^ Holy people of the world: a cross-cultural encyclopedia, Volume 3 by Phyllis G. Jestice 2004 ISBN 1-57607-355-6 page 816
  5. ^ "Lourdes", The Skeptics Dictionary
  6. ^ Every pilgrim's guide to Lourdes by Sally Martin 2005 ISBN 1-85311-627-0 page vii
  7. ^ Foley O.F.M., Leonard, Saint of the Day (rev. Pat McCloskey, O.F.M.)
  8. ^ a b c "Saint Bernadette Soubirous", Lives of Saints, John J. Crawley & Co., Inc.
  9. ^ Taylor 42.
  10. ^ Taylor 59–60.
  11. ^ Taylor 62–63.
  12. ^ Taylor 68–69.
  13. ^ Taylor 82–86.
  14. ^ Taylor 91.
  15. ^ Taylor 82–84.
  16. ^ Taylor 84.
  17. ^ Pettinger, Tejvan. "Biography of Bernadette Soubirous", Biography online
  18. ^ Taylor 88.
  19. ^ Taylor 88–90.
  20. ^
  21. ^
  22. ^
  23. ^ a b c (French) Ruiz, Christophe (8 October 2008). "Cinéma: Un festival "Lourdes au cinéma"". La Semaine des Pyrénées. Retrieved 3 July 2013. 
  24. ^ (French) See occurrences on Google.
  25. ^ (Italian) RAI 3 – Lourdes. La storia.
  26. ^ a b c d e f g h i Bernadette Soubirous at the Internet Movie Database.
  27. ^ Credits at the Internet Movie Database.
  28. ^ (Spanish) "Los especiales de ATC". 1981. Retrieved 27 August 2013. 
  29. ^ "Forever Andrea Television". Retrieved 27 August 2013. 
  30. ^ Full movie on YouTube.
  31. ^ VHS tape and DVD Release.
  32. ^ Credits at the Internet Movie Database.
  33. ^ McEachern, Patricia A. (2005). A Holy Life: The Writings of St. Bernadette of Lourdes. San Francisco: Ignatius Press. ISBN 978-15-8617-116-2. 


  • Taylor, Thérèse (2003). Bernadette of Lourdes. Burns and Oates. ISBN 0-86012-337-5. 
  • Lourdes: In Bernadette's Footsteps, by Father Joseph Bordes, Copyright 2005 by MSM Company – Tells Bernadette's story, and describes the tourism at Lourdes.
  • The Song of Bernadette Franz Werfel's classic abridged by John Martin
  • Bernadette of Lourdes (St. Gildard, Nevers, France, 1926)
  • Visage de Bernadette (Rene Laurentin, Lourdes 1978), (French)
  • The Song of Bernadette (Franz Werfel), 1942 (English)
  • A La Gloire du Lys de Marie (Sisters of Nevers), 15 August 1926 (French)
  • Bernadette of Lourdes (Frances Parkinson Keyes), 1955
  • Lourdes: Its Inhabitants, Its Pilgrims, and Its Miracles (Richard Clarke, SJ), 1888
  • The Wonders of Lourdes (Anna T. Sadler), 1875
  • Annales de Notre Dame de Lourdes (Missionaries of the Immaculate Conception), Lourdes 1871 (French)
  • The Wonders of Massabielle at Lourdes (Rev. S. Pruvost), 1925
  • Notre Dame de Lourdes (Henri Lasserre), Paris 1870 (French)
  • Bernadette (Henri Lasserre), Paris 1879 (year of Bernadette's death), (French)
  • Our Lady of Lourdes (Henri Lasserre), June 1906 (English)
  • The Miracle Joint at Lourdes From "Essays " by Woolsey Teller, Copyright 1945 by The Truth Seeker Company, Inc. Critique of the Lourdes story.
  • Our Lady of Lourdes (Henri Lasserre), 1875 (English)
  • La Sainte Vierge a Lourdes, 1877 (French)
  • Das Lied von Bernadette (Franz Werfel), 1953 (German)
  • The Happening at Lourdes (Alan Neame), 1967
  • Lourdes (Ruth Harris), 1999
  • After Bernadette (Don Sharkey), 1945
  • And I Shall Be Healed (Edeltraud Fulda), 1960
  • Saint Bernadette (Margaret Trouncer), 1964
  • 15 Days of Prayer with Sainte Bernadette of Lourdes (Francois Vayne), 1999
  • A Queen's Command (Anna Kuhn), 1947
  • Bernadette (Marcelle Auclair), 1958
  • A Holy Life: St. Bernadette of Lourdes (Patricia McEachern), 2005
  • The Story of Bernadette (Rev. J. Lane), 1997
  • The Wonder of Lourdes (John Oxenham), 1926
  • Lourdes (Émile Zola), 1895 (German)
  • Bernadette Speaks: A Life of Saint Bernadette Soubirous in Her Own Words, René Laurentin, Pauline Books and Media, 2000.
  • St. Bernadette (Leonard Von Matt / Francis Trochu), 1957
  • Bernadette of Lourdes (J.H. Gregory), 1914 (1st U.S. book)
  • Bernadette of Lourdes (Therese Taylor), 2003
  • Lourdes (Émile Zola), 2000 (English)
  • The Miracle of Bernadette (Margaret Gray Blanton), 1958
  • My Witness, Bernadette (J.B. Estrade), 1951
  • St. Bernadette Soubirous: 1844–1879, by Abbe Francois Trochu, TAN Books and Publishers, Inc., 1957.
  • We Saw Her (B.G. Sandhurst), 1953

Magazines and articles[edit]

  • "L'Illustration Journal Universal": Story covering Bernadette and apparitions from time of apparitions (23 October 1858)
  • Election of Pope Pius X (15 August 1903): "The Graphic" England
  • "The Illustrated London News": Funeral of Pope Pius IX (23 February 1878)
  • "La Nacion" – Buenos Aires, Argentina (Newspaper Movie section advertising The Song of Bernadette (12 September 1944))
  • "The New York Times": Pope Pius X Dies, (20 August 1914)
  • "The London Illustrated News": The Election of Pope Pius XI (11 February 1922)
  • "L'Opinion Publique": The Funeral of Pope Pius IX (14 March 1878)
  • "The Illustrated London News": The Conclave & Election of the Pope (9 March 1878)
  • "The Graphic": With the Lourdes Pilgrims (7 October 1876)
  • "Harpers Weekly": French Pilgrims – Romish Superstitions (16 November 1872)
  • "The Graphic": A Trip to the Pyrenees (12 October 1872)
  • "Harpers Weekly": The Last French Miracle (20 November 1858) – Recounts actual happenings at the time of apparitions
  • "St. Paul Dispatch": Throne of St. Peter Made Vacant by the Death of Pope Leo XIII, (21 July 1903)
  • "St. Paul Dispatch": Cardinal Sarto (St. Pope Pius X) of Venice Called to Throne of St. Peter, (5 August 1903)
  • "The Minneapolis Journal": Pope Pius X is Reported Dead; Relapse Caused by Grief Over War (19 August 1914)
  • Caroline

External links[edit]