More than 160 years ago, a lady in white with a blue sash appeared to an illiterate teenager in Southwestern France. The place was Massabielle, a pasture and garbage dump on the outskirts of the quiet market town of Lourdes.
The teenager was 14-year-old Bernadette Soubirous, and when she began experiencing visions of the Blessed Virgin Mary, her townsfolk thought she was mentally ill and wanted her confined to a mental asylum. However, upon separate investigations of both the Church and the French government (which included relentless interrogations of the girl), it was confirmed that she spoke the truth.
Also Read: Lourdes: A Place of Miracles
On February 11, 1858, Bernadette, the frail and sickly child of a miller, was gathering firewood with a younger sister and a friend, when the first apparition took place. The figure, who wore blue and white, appeared above a rosebush in a small cave. This small young lady or “uo petito damizelo,” as the teenager described in later recollections, first smiled at her before making the sign of the cross with a rosary of ivory and gold. This prompted Bernadette to pull out her rosary and pray, arousing curiosity in her companions who claimed to not see anything.
Our Lady’s Visits
This signified the start of a sequence of visitations—18 in all, which took place during the spring and early summer of 1858, with the Lady speaking to Bernadette for the first time on February 18. On February 25, she claimed the Lady had instructed her “to drink of the water of the spring, to wash in it and to eat the herb that grew there” as an act of penance. Miraculously, the muddy waters of the place cleared, giving way to fresh, clear water.
During subsequent visitations, the Lady asked for a chapel and processions. Despite the growing crowds that flocked to Massabielle, parish priest Dominique Peyramale insisted on knowing who Bernadette’s patroness was before any action could be taken.
What’s in a Name?
On March 25, which is the feast of the Annunciation, Bernadette asked the Lady for her name. after joining her hands at the breast and looking up toward heaven, the Lady said: “I am the Immaculate Conception.” The teenager ran off to the parish church, mumbling the strange announcement she had heard so as not to forget. The message left Father Peyramale speechless, realizing the Lady had indeed answered his question—for how could an uneducated girl like Bernadette know about one of the most advanced teachings of the Catholic Church?
Bernadette last saw the Virgin Mary on July 16, 1858. This day is the feast of Our Lady of Mount Carmel.
Today, Lourdes has become one of the most important Catholic pilgrimage sites, on the same plane as Fatima in Portugal, the Holy Land, and Vatican City in Rome. It now welcomes some six million visitors every year from all parts of the globe. They come to pray at the Sanctuary of Our Lady of Lourdes for various intentions most particularly for healing illnesses.
Text by Margie T. Logarta.
To know more about St. Bernadette and her encounter with Our Lady, read the full article in the April 2018 issue of My Pope Philippines. Call +63917.711.1818 to order back issues.
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