History of Miracle Sites Lourdes France Part 1

About Lourdes, France, history of St. Bernadette and location of the healing site of the miraculous appearances of the Virgin Mary.



The Site: The grotto of Massabielle, where the Gave de Pau River meets the old canal, on the outskirts of the town of Lourdes in the foothills of the French Pyrenees.

Original Miracle: Bernadette Soubirous came from a peasant family so impoverished that they lived in one room, called the prison because it had once served as a jail cell. When still a child, she worked as a shepherdess. She was considered ordinary but likable, popular with her classmates, and a mediocre student in the classes she attended at the hospice directed by the Sisters of Charity and Christian Education. Not particularly beautiful and somewhat sickly (she was an asthmatic), she had big, dark eyes and clear, rosy skin.

Bernadette was 14 years old when she saw her first apparition, on Feb. 11, 1858. She, her sister, and a friend were on their way to gather firewood. The other two had gone on ahead, and she was about to cross the canal by the Gave de Pau River when she heard a noise like the sound of a storm. Later she said, "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 rosebush, one only, moving as if it were very windy. Almost at the same time there came out of the interior of the grotto a golden-colored cloud, and soon after a lady, young and beautiful, exceedingly beautiful, the like of whom I had never seen, came and placed herself at the entrance of the opening above the rosebush." The Lady, as she said afterwards, was about 16 or 17 years old. She was dressed in a white robe with a blue ribbon at the waist, and her bare feet were decorated with two yellow roses. She was carrying a rosary with white beads on a gold chain.

Reassured by the Lady, Bernadette started to say her Rosary, but her arm was paralyzed until the Lady made a sign that seemed to release it. When Bernadette's friends and sister returned, they found her still on her knees. She said, "They laughed at me, called me imbecile and bigot, and asked me if I would go back with them or not. I had now no difficulty in going into the stream, and I felt the water as warm as the water for washing plates and dishes."

Forbidden at first by her mother and later by the chief of police to go back to the grotto, she disobeyed them, so strongly attracted was she by the vision she had had. The experience caught the imagination of the local people, too, who began to accompany her. In the next five months, the Lady appeared to her 18 times and each time gave her messages. On the ninth visit, she told Bernadette to "drink from the fountain and bathe in it." There was no fountain, but Bernadette, not knowing how else to obey, began to scratch in the gravel. A bubbling pool rose in the hollow she dug; by the following day, it had become a full stream. In two other visitations, the Lady asked Bernadette to build a chapel at the site and to have the faithful come in processions to it. On Mar. 4, at the 15th visitation, 20,000 people jammed Lourdes, and soldiers in full-dress uniform were on display. On Mar. 25 the Lady revealed her identity to Bernadette: "I am the Immaculate Conception." In that year, seven miraculous cures of the sick occurred at Lourdes.

Bernadette spent the last 12 years of her life as a nun. She died in 1879. In 1933 she was canonized as a saint by the Catholic Church.

The grotto rapidly became the focus of pilgrimages of the desperately ill and the religious.

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