By: Morgan Sharpe
Lourdes, a small town in the South of France was privileged to have our Lady appear there 18 times between the nth of February and the 8th of ,July in 1858, to a poor, uneducated and sickly young girl, whose name is now known around the world: Bernadette Soubirous.
During one of these apparitions, a water spring mysteriously appeared, and while the water has no medicinal properties in itself, it has miraculous qualities. From the time of its appearance, to the present, millions of people, mainly sick and suffering, have come to bathe in the waters each year in the hope of a cure.
While many miraculous cures have occurred and can be attested to by the recipients, there are only 70 that have been officially pronounced as miracles, having gone through a very rigorous test ing process by the Church.
Having been so privileged to see, hear and converse with Our Blessed Lady, it would he fair to assume that celebrity status would have followed for Bernadette. However, the opposite occurred.
Over the period of eight years that Bernadette remained in Lourdes she was subjected to insults, harassments, intimidation but not once did she waver in her testimony.
ln 1866, Bernadette departed from Lourdes, and never returned.
She travelled to Nevers, where she had decided to join the Sisters of Charity order, whose mother house remains situated in that town to this day.
The order was founded in 1680 by a Benedictine priest, Dom changed to Sr. Marie Bernard in Jean-Baptiste De-Laveync,to serve the poor of he area the time.
History tells us that life in the convent was often very difficult for all there, but particularly for Bernadette. While her failing health was always a concern, her novice mistress,Sr.Therese Marie Vauzou was determined not to grant Bernadette any celebrity status in the convent. One of the many humiliations she had to endure during her time there was to have her name changed to Sr. Marie Bernard in order to shield the order from the attention her identity would bring, and this remained her name until her death in Sainte Croix (Holy Cross) infirmary in the convent of St. Gildard in 1879.
Her body was interred in the crypt of the small chapel dedicated to St Joseph which is within the confines of the convent grounds.
In the autumn of 1909, the work of the Episcopal commission look ing into Bernadette’s reputation for Saintliness, virtue and miracles with a view to canonisation was complete. Her body was exhumed and found to be incorrupt. This procedure was performed in 1919 and again in 1925 with the same results.
Later in that year, her remains were placed in a bronzed glass casket and placed in the church of St Gildard in Nevers. ln 1933, Sr. Marie Bernard was canonised and her name reverted to Bernadette.
Nowadays, pilgrims visit Nevers in their thousands each day to venerate her body. lt is here that pilgrims kneel in front of the Incorruptible body of St. Bernadette, whose eyes had seen the Blessed Virgin Mary, whose fingers had scratched the ground to make the miraculous spring appear, whose ears had heard the messages from Our Lady and whose lips have repeated the Our Lady’s desired title to Fr. Peyramale, Parish Priest of Lourdes at the time: ‘I am the ImmaculateConception’.
Within the grounds of the convent can be seen the beautiful grotto of Our Lady of Lourdes built in 1884, and is a reminder of the events of 1858. Thern is also a museum where personal items of St. Bernadette may be viewed, including the chair where she died.
The private gardens also include the main convent where Bernadette spent her final year; at the bottom of the garden there is a statue of our Lady known as’The Lady of the Waters’, where Bernadette prayed daily until her failing health pre vented her from doing so.
The Chapel of St. Joseph is in the centre of the garden, and this is where St Bernadette’s body was interred initially in 1879. The Holy Cross Oratory where St. Bernadette died at 3pm April 1879, can still be visited, with her death bed replaced by an alter and tabernacle.
While 11th February is commemorated as the Feast of Of Lady of Lourdes, it is also worth remembering that the 16th of April is the Feast of St. Bernadette.