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St Bernadette

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The famed visionary of Lourdes, she was baptised "Mary Bernard". Bernadette was born in Lourdes, in the south of France, on January 7th, 1844, the daughter of Francis and Louise Soubirous. Bernadette, a severe asthma sufferer, lived in abject poverty. On February 11th, 1858, she was granted a vision of the Blessed Virgin Mary in a cave on the banks of the Gave River, near Lourdes. She was placed in considerable jeopardy when she reported the vision, and crowds gathered when she had futher visits from the Virgin, from February 18th of that year through to March 4th.

The civil authorities tried to frighten Bernadette into recanting her accounts, but she remained faithful to the vision. On February 25th, a spring emerged from the cave and the waters were discovered to be of a miraculous nature, capable of healing the sick and lame. On March 25th, Bernadette announced that the lady of the vision stated that she was the "Immaculate Conception", and that a church should be erected on the site. The authorities tried to shut down the spring and delay the construction of the chapel, but the influence and fame of the visions had reached Empress Eugenie of France, wife of Napoleon III, and construction went forward. Crowds gathered, now free of harassment from the anti-clerical and anti-religious officials.

In 1866, Bernadette was sent to the Sisters of Notre Dame in Nevers, in central France. There she became a member of the community, and faced some rather harsh treatment from the mistress of novices. This oppression ended when it was discovered that she suffered from a painful, incurable illness. She died in Nevers on April 16th, 1879, still giving the same account of her visions.




St Bernadette's incorrupt body in Nevers, France today

 

Lourdes became one of the major pilgrimage destinations in the world, and the spring has produced 27,000 gallons of water each week since emerging during Bernadette's visions. She was not involved in the building of the shrine, as she remained hidden at Nevers. Bernadette was beatified in 1925 and canonised in 1933 by Pope Pius XI.

Our Lady of Lourdes