The Our Lady of Lourdes Shrine in France may be the most popular Marian shrine in the world, with an estimation of about 5 million pilgrims visiting annually.  Known for its healing spring, which within the first half century of its existence already had 3,962 extraordinary cures recorded and attested from its use.  Cures ranging from tumors, necrosis, and abscesses to malignant tuberculosis in its third or fatal stage, lupus, and organic lesions.

The events that lead to the construction and popularity of this shine are remarkable.  The Lourdes apparitions took place in a grotto or small cave wrought into a hill’s facade known as Massabieille, meaning “old rock.”  In 1858, it was not accessible by road or path and only the poor of the town gathered firewood or brought their pigs to feed there. However, the Blessed Mother had other plans for this insignificant place.  On Thursday, February 11, 1858, it was there that Bernadette Soubirous, a humble, illiterate fourteen year old girl beheld a young, beautiful Lady, more beautiful than anyone she had ever seen.

Bernadette described her as “a young girl of sixteen or seventeen. She was wearing a white gown with a blue girdle, the ends hanging down on one side. On her head she wore a white veil so that you could hardly see her hair, and at the back the veil fell below her waist. Her feet were bare, but the folds of her gown almost covered them, except quite in front, and there was a golden rose on each. On her right arm she had a rosary of milk-white beads, joined together with golden links that shone like the two roses on her feet.” (recorded by Jean Baptiste and taken from his book “Les Apparitions de Lourdes, Souvenirs Intimes d un Temoin,” published in 1899.)

The Lady beckoned Bernadette to come to her and Bernadette felt compelled to kneel and pray a rosary.  The Lady approved and then withdrew back into the Grotto when the rosary was finished.  On the morning of February 18, Bernadette returned to the grotto after promptings from two devout women.  She knelt and began praying the rosary, when the Lady reappeared.  During this visit the Lady asked Bernadette to return to the grotto every day for fifteen days, and thus began Bernadette’s daily morning visit from February 18 to March 4.  With each visit Bernadette prayed, entered into ecstasy, and radiated happiness to the perplexity of the growing crowds that would accompany her.

During the visit on February 21, that year’s first Sunday in Lent, Bernadette started to cry.  She said that the Lady became sad and asked for penance and to pray for sinners.  By this day news broke out in the local paper and hundreds were accompanying Bernadette on her daily visits to Massabieille.

It wasn’t until the 25th of February, that the Lourdes spring broke loose for the first time.  While praying, the Lady asked Bernadette to go, drink and wash herself at the spring, directing her to the grotto.  Since there was no spring, Bernadette scratched up the soil and a spring was freed.  Bernadette also began walking on her knees, kissing the ground of the grotto and eating the bitter herbs that grew by the spring as acts of penance for sinners.  Although the crowds thought she might have gone mad, Bernadette continued to do these acts of penance on the days that followed.

One morning, after meeting with the Lady, Bernadette made a visit to the parish priest of Lourdes, Father Abbe Peyramale, in order to relay that the Lady of the grotto requested a chapel be built there at Massabieille and that people come there in procession.  When Monsieur Abbe questioned Bernadette as to the identity and name of the Lady, she admitted she didn’t know, and the priest dismissed her.

By the end of the fortnight, Bernadette still didn’t know the Lady’s name.  It was not until three weeks later, on March 25, the feast of the Annunciation, that Bernadette met the lady again at the grotto.  While praying the rosary, Bernadette felt compelled to ask the lady for her name.  In Bernadette’s own words, she describes what happened:

“The Lady was standing above the rose-bush and showed herself as on the wonder-working medal, (i. e. with outstretched arms and hands open and turned outwards like Thorwaldsens statue of Christ and the miracle-medal commemorative of the vision of the Blessed Virgin to Catherine Laboure in a chapel in the Rue du Bac in Paris in November, 1830.) When I made my request the third time she looked grave and seemed to humble herself deeply before God. Then she lifted up her hands, laid them against each other on her breast, and looked up to heaven. After that she slowly took them apart again, and as she bent forward towards me she said in a voice that trembled, ‘Que soy er Immaculada Counceptiou (I am the Immaculate Conception).’”

Bernadette, who was still learning her catechism, was unfamiliar with the dogma of the Immaculate Conception since it was only given to the faithful on December 8th, three years earlier.  Upon hearing the Lady’s name, all doubt was removed from the priest.  The Bishop of Tarbes lost no time in appointing a commission to interrogate Bernadette and inquire into the genuineness of the cures.  On February 18, 1862 an Episcopal decree was released assuring the faithful that the revelation of the Blessed Virgin at the grotto was real and devotion to her in his diocese under the title of Our Lady of Lourdes permitted and recommended.  Pilgrimages began even before the basilica was completed and consecrated at the site.

Our Lady, the Immaculate Conception, last appeared to Bernadette on the feast of Our Lady of Carmel, July 16, where our Lady bade her au revoir, implying she would see her again in heaven.  Bernadette entered the novitiate of the Sisters of Nevers, at the convent of St. Gildard at Nevers, in 1866. She never returned to Lourdes and preferred to live humbly and unknown.  In time her chronic asthma developed into tuberculosis, and on the Wednesday after Easter, April 16, 1879, at three o clock in the afternoon, she went to Heaven for the eternal vision of our Lady of Lourdes with the crucifix in her hands and on her lips the familiar words: “Holy Mary Mother of God.”

 

 

Walsh, John. Our Lady of Lourdes: Lourdes, its grotto, apparitions and cures. Troy, NY: St Peter’s Rectory, 1918. Print.