Lourdes – One of the Defining Marian Apparitions of all Time
Our Lady of Lourdes
‘Je suis l’Immaculée conception’
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THE POSITION OF THE CHURCH – APPROVED
What ensued next was one of the greatest apparitions of all times. It was also one of the most scientifically documented, researched and to this day – still proven as REAL! Nothing has disproved Lourdes.
Bernadette – The Visions and miracles
On 11 February 1858, aged 14, while she was out gathering firewood with her sister and a friend at the grotto of Massabielle outside Lourdes, Bernadette claimed to see the first of 18 visions of what she termed “a small young lady” standing in a niche in the rock. The other girls stated that they saw nothing. The apparition supposedly did not identify herself until the 17th vision, and until then Bernadette called her simply ‘Aquero’ (‘it’ in Gascon). As Bernadette later reported to her family and to church and civil investigators, at the ninth visitation the lady supposedly told Bernadette to drink from the spring
that flowed under the rock. Although there was no known spring there, and the ground was hard and dry, Bernadette assumed the “lady” meant that the spring was underground. She did as she was told and dug into the dirt, and a small puddle appeared. The spring began to flow a day or so later. Soon the spring was a recorded 3.5 m high. The water of the spring does not contain any special chemical compounds that would make it alone capable of producing the cures associated with it; moreover, the Lourdes Bureau, the official medical board made up of both Catholic and atheist physicians, states that most reported cures take place during or after the Blessing of the Eucharist procession rather than after bathing or drinking.In the 145 years since Bernadette dug up the spring, 67 cures have been “verified” by the Lourdes Bureau as “inexplicable” (not “miraculous”), but only after what the Church claims are “extremely rigorous scientific and medical examinations” fail to find any other explanation. Bernadette herself said that it was faith and prayer that cured the sick.
The other contents of Bernadette’s claimed visions were simple, and focused on the need for prayer and penance. However, at the supposed thirteenth apparition on March 2nd, Bernadette told her family that the lady had said “Please go to the priests and tell them that a chapel is to be built here. Let processions come hither.” Accompanied by two of her aunts, Bernadette duly went to parish priest Father Dominique Peyramale with the request. A brilliant but often roughspoken man with little belief in claims of visions and miracles, Peyramale told Bernadette that the lady must identify herself. Bernadette said that on her next visitation she repeated the Father’s words to the lady, but that the lady bowed a little, smiled and said nothing.
Her sixteenth, which she claimed went for over an hour, was supposedly on March 25, 1858. During this supposed vision, the second of two “miracles of the candle” was said to have occurred. Bernadette was holding a lighted candle; during the vision it burned down, and the flame was said to be in direct contact with her skin for over 15 minutes but she supposedly showed no sign of experiencing any pain or injury. This was claimed to be witnessed by many people present, including the town physician, Dr. Pierre Romaine Dozous, who timed and later documented it. According to his report, there was no sign that her skin was in any way affected, so he monitored Bernadette closely but did not intervene. After her “vision” ended, the doctor said that he examined her hand but found no evidence of any burning, and that she was completely unaware of what had been happening. The doctor then said that he briefly applied a lighted candle to her hand, and she reacted immediately. It is unclear if observers other than Dozous were sufficiently close witness if the candle was continuously in contact with Bernadette’s skin.
According to Bernadette’s account, during that same visitation she again asked the lady her name but the lady just smiled back. She repeated the question a further three times, and finally heard the lady say, in Occitan, “I am the Immaculate Conception”. Four years earlier, Pope Pius IX had promulgated the doctrine of the Immaculate Conception; that, alone of all human beings who have ever lived, Mary the mother of Jesus was born without the stain of original sin. However this was not well known to Catholics at large at that time, being generally confined to discussion amongst the clergy. It certainly was not an expression known to a simple undereducated peasant girl who could barely read. Her parents, teachers and priests all later testified that she had never previously heard the words ‘immaculate conception’ from them.
Bernadette was a sickly child; she had had cholera in infancy and suffered most of her life from asthma, and some of the people who interviewed her following her revelation of the visions thought her simple-minded. But despite being rigorously interviewed by officials of both the Catholic Church and the French government, she stuck consistently to her story. Her behavior during this period set the example by which all who claim visions and mystical experiences are now judged by Church authorities.
Bernadette’s later years
Disliking the attention she was attracting, Bernadette went to the hospice school run by the Sisters of Charity and Christian Instruction, where she finally learned to read and write. She then joined the Sisters of Charity convent moving into their motherhouse at Nevers at the age of 22. She spent the rest of her brief life there, working as an assistant in the infirmary and later as a sacristan, creating beautiful embroidery for altar cloths and vestments. During a severe asthma attack, she asked for water from the Lourdes spring, and her symptoms subsided, never to return. However, she did not seek healing in this way when she later contracted tuberculosis of the bone in the right knee. She had followed the development of Lourdes as a pilgrimage shrine while she still lived at Lourdes, but was not present for the consecration of the basilica there in 1876. She eventually died of her illness at the age of thirty-eight on April 16, 1879.
The water from Lourdes was thoroughly analyzed by independent chemists in 1858 and 1859. It does not have power in itself to cure anyone and has no special scientific properties for cures or miracles.
Thursday 11th. February 1858 : the meeting Accompanied by her sister and a friend, Bernadette went to Massabielle on the banks of the Gave to collect bones and dead wood. Removing her socks in order to cross the stream, she heard a noise like a gust of wind, she looked up towards the Grotto : “I SAW A LADY DRESSED IN WHITE, SHE WORE A WHITE DRESS, AN EQUALLY WHITE VEIL, A BLUE BELT AND A YELLOW ROSE ON EACH FOOT.” Bernadette made the Sign of the Cross and said the Rosary with the lady. When the prayer ended the Lady suddenly vanished.
Sunday 14th. February: Holy Water Bernadette felt an inner force drawing her to the Grotto in spite of the fact that she was forbidden to go there by her parents. At her insistence, her mother allowed her; after the first decade of the Rosary, she saw the same lady appearing. She sprinkled holy water at her. The lady smiled and bent her head. When the Rosary ended she disappeared.
Thursday 18 th. February : the lady speaks For the first time, the Lady spoke. Bernadette held out a pen and paper asking her to write her name. She replied; “It is not necessary” and she added: “I do not promise to make you happy in this world but in the other. Would you be kind enough to come here for a fortnight?”
Friday 19th. February: short and silent Apparition Bernadette came to the Grotto with a lighted blessed candle. This is origin of carrying candles and lighting them in front of the Grotto.
Saturday 20th. February: In silence The lady taught her a personal prayer. At the end of the vision Bernadette is overcome with a great sadness.
Sunday 21st. February: “Aquéro”
The Lady appeared to Bernadette very early in the morning. About one hundred people were present. Afterwards the Police Commissioner, Jacomet, questioned her. He wanted Bernadette to tell what she saw. Bernadette would only speak of “AQUÉRO” (“that thing” in local dialect)
Tuesday 23rd. February: The secret. Surrounded by 150 persons, Bernadette arrived at the Grotto. The Apparition reveals to her a secret “only for her alone”.
Wednesday 24th. February: Penance.
The message of the Lady:
“Penance! Penance! Penance! Pray to God for sinners. Kiss the ground as an act of penance for sinners!”
Thursday 25th. February: The spring.
Three hundred people were present. Bernadette relates; “She told me to go, drink of the spring (….) I only found a little muddy water. At the fourth attempt I was able to drink. She also made me eat the bitter herbs that were found near the spring, and then the vision left and went away.” In front of the crowd that was asking “Do you think that she is mad doing things like that?” she replied; “It is for sinners.”
Saturday 27th. February: Silence
Eight hundred people were present. The Apparition was silent. Bernadette drank the water from the spring and carried out her usual acts of penance.
Sunday 28th. February: Penance Over one thousand people were present at the ecstasy. Bernadette prayed, kissed the ground and moved on her knees as a sign of penance. She was then taken to the house of Judge Ribes who threatened to put her in prison.
Monday 1st. March: The First Miracle Over one thousand five hundred people assembled and among them, for the first time, a priest. In the night, Catherine Latapie, a friend from Lourdes, went to the Grotto, she plunged her dislocated arm into the water of the Spring: her arm and her hand regained their movement.
Tuesday 2nd. March: Message to the priests.
The crowd becomes larger and larger. The Lady asked her: “Go, tell the priests to come here in procession and to build a chapel here.” Bernadette spoke of this to Fr. Peyramale, the Parish Priest of Lourdes. He wanted to know only one thing: the Lady’s name. He demanded another test; to see the wild rose bush flower at the Grotto in the middle of winter.
Wednesday 3rd. March: A smile From 7 o’clock in the morning, in the presence of three thousand people, Bernadette arrives at the Grotto, but the vision did not appear! After school, she heard the inner invitation of the Lady. She went to the Grotto and asked her again for her name. The response was a smile. The Parish Priest told her again: “If the Lady really wishes that a chapel be built, then she must tell us her name and make the rose bush bloom at the Grotto.”
Thursday 4th. March: The day all were waiting for!
The ever-greater crowd (about eight thousand people) waited for a miracle at the end of the fortnight. The vision was silent. Fr. Peyramale stuck to his position. For twenty days Bernadette did not go to the Grotto, she no longer felt the irresistible invitation.
Thursday 25th. March: The name they awaited for!
The vision finally revealed her name, but the wild rose bush, on which she stood during the Apparitions, did not bloom. Bernadette recounted; “She lifted up her eyes to heaven, joined her hands as though in prayer, that were held out and open towards the ground and said to me: Que soy era Immaculada Concepciou (I am the Immaculate Conception) .” The young visionary left and, running all the way, repeated continuously the words that she did not understand. These words troubled the brave Parish Priest. Bernadette was ignorant of the fact that this theological expression was assigned to the Blessed Virgin. Four years earlier, in 1854, Pope Pius IX declared this a truth of the Catholic Faith (a dogma)
Wednesday 7th. April: The miracle of the candle
During this Apparition, Bernadette had to keep her candle alight. The flame licked along her hand without burning it. A medical doctor, Dr. Douzous, immediately witnessed this fact.
Thursday 16th. July: The Final Apparition.
Bernadette receives the mysterious call to the Grotto, but her way was blocked and closed off by a barrier. She thus, arrived across from the Grotto to the other side of the Gave. “I felt that I was in front of the Grotto, at the same distance as before, I saw only the Blessed Virgin, and she was more beautiful than ever!
Table of the apparitions
The Church officially recognises the Apparitions.
The solemn declaration by the Bishop Laurence, the Bishop of Tarbes at the time of the Apparitions, can be read on a marble slab on the right hand side after entering the Upper Basilica
“We judge : that Mary Immaculate, the Mother of God, really did appear to Bernadette Soubirous, on eighteen occasions from 11th. February 1858 at the Grotto of Massabielle, near the town of Lourdes ; that these Apparitions bear the characteristics of truth ; that the faithful can believe them as true. We humbly submit our judgement to the judgement of the Sovereign Pontiff, who is responsible for governing the Universal Church”.
This was a major declaration by the Bishop of Tarbes: four years after the Apparitions, on 18th. January 1862, he recognizes these Apparitions as authentic in the name of the Church.
Proven and Verified Miracles at Lourdes
In the 145 years since then, 70 events have been “verified” by the Lourdes Bureau as scientifically “inexplicable”, after scientific and medical examinations commissioned by the Catholic Church failed to find any other explanations. Among these approved cases are:
May 10, 1948 Age 31: Rennes, France. Student nurse.
Tubercular peritonitis with complications for seven years, extreme emaciation and oscillating fever. Comatose when brought to Lourdes, was given a tiny fragment of the Eucharist and awoke. Reported being “instantly and permanently cured” later that night while lying in her wheelchair beside the spring. She had not yet bathed in or drunk the water. Recognized officially on November 11, 1950.
Brother Schwager Leo
30 April 1952 Age 28; Fribourg, Switzerland multiple sclerosis for five years; recognized on 18 December 1960
Alice Couteault, born Alice Gourdon
15 May 1952 Age 34; Bouille-Loretz, France multiple sclerosis for three years; recognized on 16 July 1956
8 October 1953 and 10 October 1954 Age 32; La Richardais, France.
Arachnoiditis of posterior fossa (blindness, deafness, hemiplegia); recognized , France 15 August 1956
Ginette Nouvel, born Ginette Fabre
21 September 1954 Age 26; Carmaux, France. Budd-Chiari disease (supra-hepatic venous thrombosis); recognized on 31 May 1963
Elisa Aloi, later Elisa Varcalli
June 1958 Age 27; Patti, Italy. Tuberculous osteo-arthritis with fistulae at multiple sites in the right lower limb; recognized on 26 May 1965
17 July 1959 Age 22; Marseilles, France. Femoral osteoperiostitis with fistulae, epistaxis, for ten years; recognized on 11 May 1965
1 June 1963 Age 23; Scurelle, Italy. Sarcoma (cancer) of pelvis; tumor so large that his left thigh became loose from the socket, leaving his left leg limp and paralyzed. After taking the waters, he was free of pain and could walk. By February 1964 the tumor was gone, the hip joint had recalcified, and he returned to a normal life. Recognized on 26 May 1976.
1 May 1970 Age 41; Lion D’Angers, France. Recurrent right hemiplegia, with ocular lesions, due to bilateral carotid artery disorders. Symptoms, which included headache, impaired speech and vision, and partial right-side paralysis began without warning in February 1964. During the next six years he became wheelchair-confined, and nearly blind. While on pilgrimage to Lourdes in April 1970, he felt a sudden warmth from head to toe, his vision returned, and he was able to walk unaided. Recognized on 17 June 1978.
Delizia Cirolli, later Delizia Costa
24 December 1976 Age 12; Paterno, Italy. Ewing’s Sarcoma of right knee; recognized on 28 June 1989
9 October 1987 Age 51; French multiple sclerosis; recognized on 9 February 1999
Mgr. Laurence did not allow things to drag on : the 18 Apparitions took place from 11th. February to 16th. July 1858 and on 28th. July 1858 he appointed a commission of enquiry
“to gather and to set down the facts about what happened or what could happen again in the Grotto of Lourdes ; to inform us of these, to make us aware of their nature, and to furnish us, as well, with all the important elements involved in order to arrive at a solution…”
THE COMMISSION OF ENQUIRY.
The Commission had to examine the cures caused by using the water of the Grotto. Is the water natural or supernatural? Are the visions of Bernadette true? If ‘yes’; are they of divine character? Did the object that appeared make demands of the child? What were these demands? Did the spring in the Grotto exist before the vision which Bernadette claimed to have had?
And the Bishop insisted, in his mandate, which set up the Commission, of the seriousness of the work in hand : an enquiry to establish the facts, question the witnesses, consult with scientists not just with doctors who cared for the sick before their cures, but also those who specialise in physical science, chemistry, geology : “The Commission must neglect nothing in order to tie up all loose ends and arrive at the truth, whatever it may be.”
For almost four years the Commission made its enquiry, during which it questioned Bernadette, and the Bishop gave his conclusion in the famous document of 18th. January 1862
“giving the judgement on the Apparitions which took place at the Grotto of Lourdes.”
A DOCUMENT THOROUGHLY ARGUED.
After recalling the description of the Apparitions, the Bishop explained the reason for the lack of haste which the church has in examining supernatural things: she demands definite proof, before admitting to them and to proclaiming them as divine, because the devil can lead people astray by taking on the form of an angel of light :
“We are inspired by the Commission comprising of wise, holy, learned and experienced priests who questioned the child, studied the facts, examined everything and weighed all the evidence. We have also called on science, and we remain convinced that the Apparitions are supernatural and divine, and that by consequence, what Bernadette saw was the Most Blessed Virgin. Our convictions are based on the testimony of Bernadette, but above all on the things that have happened, things which can be nothing other than divine intervention”.
THE TESTIMONY OF BERNADETTE
The first argument of the Bishop was that Bernadette did not wish to deceive: she was sincere and her testimony gives all the guarantees that we could wish for. “Who could not admire, on meeting her, the simplicity, the openness, and the modesty of this child? She only spoke when she was spoken to. She spoke without exaggeration and with a touching naivety. To the many questions asked of her, she gave clear and precise answers always to the point, without hesitation and stamped with a strong conviction.”
The Bishop underlined that Bernadette was not shaken by threats or tempted by generous offers by saying : “Always in control of herself, she has, in the many different interrogations to which she was submitted, constantly maintained what she said, with nothing added, nothing retracted. The sincerity of Bernadette is, thus, unquestionable.”
But the Bishop goes further in his argument: sincere, Bernadette is not mistaken : “But if Bernadette does not want to deceive, was she not deceived herself? How could she believe to see and hear what she did not see and hear? Was she not the victim of hallucinations? How could we believe her? The wisdom of her answers reveals in this child a spirit of goodness, a quiet imagination, good sense beyond her years. Religious feelings never showed in her a spirit of exhalation; nobody could prove in the young girl neither intellectual disorder, nor change of mind nor unusual personality nor morbid feelings which would allow her to give way to a creative imagination.”
And the Bishop added that Bernadette saw not once but eighteen times, suddenly, when nothing was prepared there and that there were other times when she waited and saw nothing. He notes that her expression changed during the Apparitions and that she heard in a language that she did not always understand, but which she always remembered. “These circumstances put together do not allow us to believe in a hallucination, the young girl has truly seen and heard a being calling herself the Immaculate Conception. And this phenomenon cannot be explained naturally, we have good reason to believe that the Apparition is supernatural”.
THE MARVELS OF GRACE.
To complement the testimony of Bernadette, the Bishop recalls “the marvellous things that
have been happening since the first event. If one judges the tree by its fruits, we can say that the Apparition as seen by the young girl is supernatural and divine, because she has produced supernatural and divine results”.
The Bishop recalls how the crowds grew and gathered during the Apparitions and afterwards when the Apparitions had ended : “pilgrims came from faraway districts and neighbouring countries hurrying to the Grotto…to pray and ask favours from the Immaculate Virgin Mary.
Souls already Christian are strengthened in virtue, people frozen into indifference have been brought back to the practice of their religion, obstinate pilgrims are reconciled with God after having Our Lady of Lourdes invoked in their favour. These wonders of grace, which have a universal and lasting character, can only have God as their author, do they not come, as a result, to confirm the truth of the Apparitions?”
After the wonderful things that happened “for the good of souls”, the Bishop moved on to the results produced by way of physical healing, especially among the sick who imitated Bernadette by drinking and washing themselves in the place pointed out by the Apparition, asks if this was not an indication of a supernatural power coming down upon the spring of Massabielle “In this way, sick try the water of the Grotto, and this is not without success, many were sick who did not respond to the most stringent of treatments, and who suddenly recovered their health. These extraordinary cures have had an immense effect…Sick people of all countries request the water of Massabielle…we cannot list here all the favor’s granted, but what we want to say is that it is the water of Massabielle which has cured those who were sick and who were abandoned or declared incurable. These cures have been obtained by using a water which in itself has no special curative qualities, according to those skilled in chemistry who have carried out rigorous tests.” These cures are permanent, specifies Mgr. Laurence, who wonders what had caused them: “Science, which was consulted on this subject, responded negatively. These cures are thus the work of God.” Because, the Bishop remarks, they are directly linked to the Apparition which is the point of departure and inspiration of the confidence of the sick.”
THE JUDGEMENT OF THE BISHOP.
To conclude, the Bishop said : “There is thus a direct link between the cures and the Apparitions, the Apparitions are of divine origin, since the cures carry a divine stamp. But what comes from God is the truth! As a result, the Apparition, calling herself the Immaculate Conception, that Bernadette saw and heard, is the Most Holy Virgin Mary! Thus we write: the finger of God is here.” And the Bishop making reference to the declaration of the dogma of the Immaculate Conception by
Pope Pius IX at the end of 1854 states :
“Then about three years afterwards, the Virgin Mary appeared to a child telling her: ‘I am the Immaculate
Conception…I want a church built here in my honour’. Does this not appear that she wants to confirm, by a monument, the infallible word of the successor of St. Peter?” Then, following the invoking of the Holy Name of God we have the text of the mandate carrying the official recognition of the Apparitions that we cited at the beginning.
THE APPARITIONS IN THE LIFE OF THE CHURCH.
This judgement of the Church is essential because the Apparitions add nothing to the Creed or the Gospel; they are a reminder for an age that had a tendency to forget them, they are indeed, a prophetic Visitation to our world. God does not want us focusing on the wonderful or the extraordinary; but through the Apparitions he gives us a sign that we should return to the Gospel which is the Word of his Son, the Word of Life. Faithfulness to the message of the Gospel, the authenticity of our life of witness, the results of holiness which flow out from it for the people of God are the criteria of an authentic Apparition in the Church. At Lourdes they are verified with a special clarity: the Church is not deceived in this.
The Time of Reflection
The first discovery of religion for Bernadette was in contemplation. She knew the Carmelite convent in Bagnères. In 1860-61 she spoke to her cousin about an order dedicated to St. Bernard. She wished to go there because they practised vigils, fasting, discipline, mortification… but Bernadette’s health was an obstacle as well as her poverty because you to be requested to join.
In 1863, the Sisters at the Hospice began to look after the sick. This was a decisive experience. What she really appreciated about the Sisters of Nevers was their discretion towards her compared with other congregations that sought her. Later she said “I’m going to Nevers because they did not try to attract me”. On 27th September 1863, Bernadette has an interesting conversation with Bishop Forcade of Nevers. During the following months, Bernadette developed her intentions on this new base.
On 4th April 1864, after Mass in the Hospice, Bernadette sought out the Mother superior, Sister Alexandrine Roques, and told her: “Now I know, dear Mother, where I must become a sister (…). With you, dear Mother.” From 4th October to 19th November 1864, Bernadette left on holidays without a reply to her request of previous 4th April. In Nevers, the Superior, Mother Josephine Imbert, hesitated. She was uneasy about the difficulties that the famous visionary would cause for the religious house that accepted her. Mother Marie-Therese Vauzou, the Mistress of Novices, was in favour. The bishop supported the request. When she returned to on 19th November she received the good news that the response was favorable.
Her postulancy could begin. Bernadette delayed it from the beginning of December 1864 to the end of January 1865. Her convalescence was further set back by the death of her young brother Justin.
Bernadette began her postulancy in February 1865 and in April 1866 she requested to enter the Novitiate.
On 28th April 1866, she announced her departure. But Bishop Laurence wanted her present at the opening of the Crypt. Bernadette attended the celebration and took part in the first official procession in response to the request of the Blessed Virgin Mary. Bernadette underwent the attention of the curious and finally, Bishop Laurence allowed her to depart.
On 3rd July 1866, the whole family were together for a final meal in the Lacadé Mill.