St. Bernadette Soubirous was a young French girl born in 1844 in the town of Lourdes. At the age of 14, she reported having 18 apparitions of the Virgin Mary in a grotto near Lourdes. These apparitions transformed Lourdes into a major pilgrimage site. St. Bernadette died at the age of 35 in 1879 after years of illness.
Bernadette’s Visions and Miracles in Lourdes
On February 11, 1858, Bernadette Soubirous went with her sister and a friend to gather firewood near a grotto called Massabielle outside of Lourdes. There she claimed to have her first vision of a “small young lady” who asked her to return every day for 15 days. At first, Bernadette’s claims were met with skepticism by local authorities and scorn from her family and the public. However, as news spread, crowds started to gather at the grotto.
On February 25, during the ninth apparition, Bernadette said the lady told her to drink from a spring in the grotto. Although no spring was visible, after digging in the mud Bernadette found a small puddle of water which soon began flowing as a stream. The Lady later identified herself as “the Immaculate Conception”. Many miracles of healing were soon attributed to drinking and bathing in the spring water.
Church Investigations and Recognition
The reports of Bernadette’s visions caused such a stir that the Catholic Church sent investigators to look into the matter. After four years of extensive investigation, the apparitions were declared “worthy of belief” by the local bishop in 1862. Pope Pius IX confirmed this in 1864.
A grand basilica was later constructed at the site of the visions between 1864-1872. The Lourdes water from the spring was found to have inexplicable healing properties. Even today, over 5 million pilgrims visit Lourdes each year in hopes of being cured.
Bernadette’s Life of Suffering and Her Last Words
Despite the miracles at Lourdes, Bernadette herself endured continual suffering from chronic asthma and bone disease. As word of the apparitions spread, crowds of pilgrims and curiosity seekers descended on Bernadette seeking to speak with the visionary. This constant attention caused Bernadette distress and exacerbated her illnesses.
In 1866, to escape the crowds, Bernadette became a boarder at the local hospice school run by the Sisters of Charity of Nevers. She joined the Order as a postulant in 1866, becoming a novice in 1867. As a nun, she spent the rest of her life there serving as a sacristan and infirmarian.
Bernadette’s health continued to decline over the years. In addition to asthma, she contracted tuberculosis of the lungs and bones which caused her great pain. Despite her illnesses, she remained patient and cheerful. On April 16, 1879 at age 35, Bernadette was on her deathbed suffering from severe pain. Her last words were:
“Holy Mary, Mother of God, pray for me, a poor sinner, a poor sinner.”
After saying this, she made the sign of the cross and died.
Legacy and Sainthood
St. Bernadette was beatified in 1925 and canonized as a saint in 1933 by Pope Pius XI. Her body, which did not decompose, was exhumed in 1909 and again in 1919. It is preserved and venerated in the Chapel of Saint Bernadette at the motherhouse in Nevers.
The spring water from Lourdes which she discovered possesses remarkable healing properties. Over 7,000 miraculous cures have been documented by the Lourdes Medical Bureau. Nevertheless, Bernadette herself was never cured of her ailments.
Bernadette’s humility, piety, and quiet suffering made her an exemplary model of holiness. The convent at Nevers which she joined as a teenager became the center of devotion to St. Bernadette. As she wished, she lived and died unknown to the world.
The message Bernadette conveyed from the apparitions was simple – prayer, repentance, and performing acts of mercy. The Lady emphasized the importance of praying for sinners and doing penance. Over 10 million pilgrims travel to Lourdes each year following this call for prayer and sacrifice.
- St. Bernadette was born Maria Bernarde Soubirous in 1844 in Lourdes, France.
- Between February 11 and July 16, 1858 she reported 18 apparitions of the Virgin Mary at a grotto near Lourdes.
- The identity of the Lady was revealed as “the Immaculate Conception”, leading to the veneration of Lourdes.
- Numerous miracles were attributed to the Lourdes water Bernadette discovered.
- Bernadette joined the Sisters of Charity of Nevers and lived the rest of her life there in obscurity.
- She died in 1879 at age 35 uttering the words: “Holy Mary, Mother of God, pray for me, a poor sinner, a poor sinner.”
- She was canonized as a saint in 1933. Her incorrupt body is displayed in Nevers.
- The Lourdes water and Bernadette’s example of suffering made Lourdes a major pilgrimage site.
St. Bernadette of Lourdes was a humble, pious young woman chosen by the Virgin Mary to receive miraculous visions. Despite enduring constant illness and hardship, Bernadette maintained her unwavering faith. She conveyed the Virgin’s request for prayer and penance to heal sin. The miraculous spring found by Bernadette made Lourdes one of the most popular pilgrimage sites devoted to healing and conversion.
On her deathbed, St. Bernadette prayed to Mary for mercy, calling herself a “poor sinner”. Her patient endurance through suffering and focus on salvation for sinners made her an inspirational saint. The millions who visit Lourdes each year remember her sacrifice and carry on the mission of prayer she began there.