Bernadette of Lourdes
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Marie Bernarde ("Bernadette") Soubirous was born in 1844, the first of six children of a miller whose family lived in extreme poverty. She was malnourished when young, and ailing and asthmatic throughout her life. As a child, she was cheerful and pleasant, but was generally considered backward.

Between 11 February and 16 July in 1858, when she was fourteen, she is said to have had a series of remarkable experiences in a shallow cave near a spot where she and two companions had gone to gather sticks for firewood. On eighteen occasions she saw a lady who identified herself as the Virgin Mary and gave her a message for the world. The content of the message was an exhortation to prayer and penitence. The lady pointed out a spring of water and told her to drink from it. The spring now produces 27,000 (British) gallons of water a week (roughly 13 liters a minute), and pilgrims come from all over the world to bathe in its waters, to pray, and to seek healing from various ailments. A committee of physicians (not all of them Roman Catholic) investigates reports of healings that are claimed to be miraculous, and publishes accounts of those that seem most noteworthy.

Bernadette's reports of her visions subjected her to much skepticism, and to much curiosity. She retired to a convent, at first as a visitor, taking formal vows as a nun in 1866, and dying 16 April 1879, after a life of chronic illness patiently borne. (She was urged to go to Lourdes and ask for healing at the shrine that had been built in response to her visions there; but she said that the healings there were for others, not for her, and that her business was to bear her illness.)

It should be understood that the Church of Rome does not officially certify any revelations said to have been made since the time of the Apostles, and that therefore it is possible to be a devout Roman Catholic in good standing and yet completely disbelieve in the genuineness of the appearances at Lourdes and the subsequent healings.

The best known English account is the novel The Song Of Bernadette, by Franz Werfel (1942), later made into a movie. Its historical accuracy has been questioned by Dom Bede Lebbe in The Soul Of Bernadette (1947).

written by James Kiefer


Gracious Father, whose Son Jesus Christ went about healing the sick: We praise you for the gift of healing, whether granted directly or through the work of dedicated physicians, surgeons, and nurses; and we pray you to keep us always grateful for deliverance from illness whenever it pleases you to heal us, and patient and cheerful in affliction when for any reason you call us to endure it; and this we ask through your Son Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, now and ever. Amen.