Bernadette Soubirous and the Healing Waters of Lourdes

Bernadette Soubirous was the daughter of a miller and laundress born on 7 January 1844. She lived in Lourdes in the south of France, and, on 11 February 1858, at the age of fourteen, she, her younger sister, and a friend were gathering wood in an area near some poplars. At one point they came to stream and to prevent wetting her stockings, she stopped to remove them and sat near an alcove or niche.

Bernadette Soubirous, Courtesy of Wikipedia

Bernadette Soubirous. Courtesy of Wikipedia.

As Bernadette bent down to take off her stockings the wind suddenly whipped up. She was so startled she looked up, but the poplars were not moving with the wind. Bernadette was puzzled. She bent down again to take off her stockings and again she heard the wind. This time when she looked up she “would have uttered a loud cry if she had not been choked with fear. She trembled in all her limbs, and fell to the earth dazzled, completely overcome by what she had seen.”[1]

There within the darkness of the niche was an amazing figure of a heavenly woman of “incomparable splendor.” She was young, oval-faced, blue-eyed, and exhibited an “air of eternal grandeur.”[2]  The angelic woman seemed to have an expression of love and peace about her, and, a dazzling light encompassed her whole body with “surpassing brightness.”

This angelic and virginal figure was dressed in a robe created from some unknown material that was as brilliant and white as fresh fallen snow. The robe was long, had a train, and fell to her unshod feet, exposing her toes. Tied at the waist was a blue girdle that fell in two long bands, nearly touching her feet.

The amazing angelic figure was not ostentatious in her dress. She wore no jewelry — no rings, no diadem, no necklace. But she did have a chaplet (a garland) of white beads that fell from her hands, and, as she stood there, each bead was sliding gently through her fingers. She also wore a pure white veil that was fastened to her head and fell to the lower edge of her robe.

Bernadette Soubirous Praying Before the Grotto of Massabielle at Lourdes, Public Domain

Bernadette Soubirous praying before the grotto of Massabielle at Lourdes. Public domain.

Bernadette would see this angelic woman eighteen times between 11 February and 16 July, and each time she related these visitations to others. However, some people did not believe her. Even Bernadette’s mother was skeptical and claimed she must be experiencing hallucinations. But Bernadette’s sister and friend reported that Bernadette fell on her knees and that her face and countenance were “transfigured by ecstasy.”

As news of Bernadette’s vision spread, it created a sensation throughout the area and people began to flock to the area, where they too witnessed Bernadette transfixed. Moreover, one early vision told Bernadette to drink the water and wash in it, and the next day the muddy stream was suddenly clear, which then convinced even more people Bernadette’s visions where authentic. Eventually,  the angelic and virginal figure identified herself as “the Immaculate Conception.” She also requested a church be built on the site and noted the area was possessed healing powers.

Hundreds of people came to the area after news about Bernadette’s visions came to light. This caused the church to try to prevent the spread of Bernadette’s story. However, it was impossible to stop. People continued to share Bernadette’s miraculous story, and, in fact, believers began to conduct pilgrimages to the site. Moreover, when these believers achieved miraculous healing themselves, it further confirmed Bernadette’s claims of having a vision and seeing the Immaculate Conception.

By 1862, there were so many stories of cures and healing, church authorities acknowledged and confirmed Bernadette’s story. The angelic figure had also requested that a church be built, which resulted in several churches being built. More good news followed in 1925 because that was the year that Bernadette became venerated as a Christian mystic and Saint in the Catholic Church. Today, because of Bernadette, her visions, and her sainthood, the area remains popular and continues to be visited by pilgrims “either for purpose of devotion or to bathe in the healing pool and the water of Lourdes.”[3]

Statue of Bernadette, Courtesy of Wikipedia

Statue of Bernadette. Courtesy of Wikipedia.

References:

  • [1] Hammond, William Alexander, On Certain Conditions of Nervous Derangement, Somnambulism-Hypnotism-Hysteria-Hysteroid Affections, etc., 1881, p. 137.
  • [2] Donahoe’s Magazine, Volume 5, 1881, p. 395
  • [3] Hammond, William Alexander, Spiritualism and Allied Causes and Conditions, 1876, p. 314.

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