Yesterday, February 11, was the memorial of Our Lady of Lourdes in the Catholic Church. This memorial celebrates one of the more famous apparitions of the Blessed Mother in history. On February 11, 1858, the Blessed Mother appeared to one Bernadette Soubirous near Lourdes, France, in a hollow of a massive rock at a place known as Massabielle. Bernadette was fourteen years old at the time. She was from a poor family and was a weak child who suffered from asthma all her life. She was also a poor student in school. This apparition was the first of eighteen total, with the final appearance occurring on July 16 of that same year. Details, in Bernadette’s own words, are found on pages 114-115 in a book titled “See How She Loves Us” by Joan Carroll Cruz (TAN, 2012).
During the ninth visit, Bernadette was told to “drink from the fountain and bathe in it.” In search of this “fountain,” she scratched the ground where she was until a small pool of water miraculously appeared. She then willingly obeyed the Blessed Mother’s request. This underground spring eventually became a flowing river and is the source of many miraculous healings to this day. When asked about her identity during the sixteenth apparition, she responded and said “I am the Immaculate Conception.” It was four years earlier, before the start of the apparitions, that Pope Pius IX had declared the doctrine of the Immaculate Conception of the Blessed Mother to be an article of faith to be believed by all Catholics.
Bernadette eventually became a Sister of Charity of Nevers. The motherhouse is located in Nevers, France. She suffered from tuberculosis and died of this disease on April 16, 1879. Her body is incorrupt, and can be viewed today in a gold and glass case in the chapel of the motherhouse in Nevers, France. A large basilica was constructed on the site of the apparitions, next to the flowing water from the spring. It is a pilgrimage site today, and many lame and infirm Christians come to the basilica and to the water hoping for a miraculous cure. Many such cures have been documented. It is estimated that five million people visit the site each year. One of my daughters visited this shrine some years ago and purchased a bottle of the water. I now have this water in my house behind me on a shelf as I write this. Bernadette was declared a saint of the Catholic Church in 1933.
A movie was made of this story. It is entitled “The Song of Bernadette” and it hit the big screen in 1943, following the publication of an historical novel of the same title in 1941. The movie won four academy awards, including Jennifer Jones for best actress in a leading role, and was nominated for eight others. It also won the Golden Globe award for best picture that same year.
The photograph below is that of a replica of the site of the apparitions located on the grounds of Mount St. Mary Seminary in Emmitsburg, Maryland. A statue of a kneeling St. Bernadette is on the left and a statue of the Blessed Mother in the hollow of the rock is on the right.