Born on January 7th, 1844, Marie Bernadette Soubrious was the daughter of a miller and a laundress and was the oldest of 9 children in the town of Loures France. She grew up learning the language of Occitan, a dialect similar to Catalan and used by the local populace of the Pyrenees region of France, and only began learning French after the age of 13. Her family lived in extreme poverty and at the time of her visions lived in the basement of a house formerly used as a jail cell.
February 11 1858
On Thursday, Feburary 11th, 1858, Bernadette was gathering wood with her sister and a friend at the grotto of Massabielle outside Lourdes. Her sister and friend crossed the little stream in front of the Grotto and walked ahead, while Bernadette looked for a place to cross to prevent her stockings from getting wet. As she stood looking, she heard the sound of rushing wild but curiously the grass and trees around her did not move. In a small niche of the Grotto stood a bright rose which was the only object she could see moving with the wind. Behind it came a dazzling white light and a small, young lady dressed in white. Her sister and friend reportedly were unable to see the same and so Bernadette asked them to keep it a secret. Her sister however, could not keep it a secret and told their mother who initially did not believe the story.
Bernadette described the second visit as:
"The second time was the following Sunday. I went back because I felt myself interiorly impelled. My mother had forbidden me to go. After High Mass the two other girls and myself went to ask my mother again. She did not want to let us go, she said that she was afraid that I should fall in the water; she was afraid that I would not be back for Vespers. promised that I would. Then she gave me permission to go. I went to the Parish Church to get a little bottle of holy water, to throw over the Vision, if I were to see her at the grotto. When we arrived, we all took our rosaries and we knelt down to say them. I had hardly finished the first decade when I saw the same Lady. Then I started to throw holy water in her direction, and at the same time I said that if she came from God she was to stay, but if not, she must go. She started to smile, and bowed; and the more I sprinkled her with holy water, the more she smiled and bowed her head and the more I saw her make signs. ...Then I went on saying my rosary. When I had finished it she disappeared and we came back to Vespers"
On February 18th, the "beautiful lady" spoke for the first time, asking her to come back every day for the next fifteen days. She used the very formal version of Occitan when speaking to the girls, an extremrely rare way of speaking to children of poverty.
Occitan: Boulet aoue ra gracia de bié aci penden quinze dias?
French: Voulez-vous me faire la grâce de venir ici pendant quinze jours?
English: "Would you have the goodness to come here for fifteen days?"
She also told her,
"I do not promise to make you happy in this world but in the other"
Bernadette came again to the Grotto with a group of eight people including some of her family. She carried a blessed candle with her and placed it at Mary's feet.
In total, a group of 30 came to the Grotto with Bernadette. Mary taught her a prayer on this day, and Bernadette did not share or write it down, but said to herself every day.
Over 100 people came to the Grotto with her. Mary said to her
"You will pray to God for sinners"
Over 150 people came with her this time to the Grotto. Mary revealed a secret to Bernadette that she kept to only herself the rest of her life.
This time, a crowd of 250 people travelled to the Grotto with Bernadette. Mary's message to the young girl was
"Penance! Penance! Penance! Pray to God for sinners! Kiss the ground as an act of penance for sinners!"
A crowd of 300 travelled to the Grotto. Bernadette describes what happened on this day:
“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.”
A crowd of 800 walked with her to the Grotto. The apparition said nothing this time as Bernadette carried out her acts of penance for sinners.
Bernadette performed penance in front of the crowd and experienced several minutes of ecstasy. After kissing the ground and moving only on her knees, Judge Ribes questioned her and threated prison time for what he described as a grand lie.
A massive crowd of 1,500 people followed Bernadette to the Grotto. Catherine Latapie had walked 7 kilometers to be present at the Grotto and was suffering the full paralisys of one arm due to an accident. She plunged the arm into the spring and reported full healing of her arm instantanously. A local doctor, Pierre Romaine Dozous began collecting information on the healings happening at the spring.
Upon arriving at the Grotto, the Lady commanded Bernadette to return to the town and build a chapel on the spot:
"Go, tell the priests to come here in procession and to build a chapel here"
Father Peyramale, not believing, replied demanding the Lady's name.
On her first visit to the Grotto in the morning with over 3,000 followers, the Lady did not appear for Bernadette. She returned in the afternoon, and upon seeing her asked the Lady of her name. The Lady did not speak but smiled. When this story was relayed to the priest, he said:
“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.”
The vision was silent on this day and the priest refused to move from his demands of a sign. For the next 20 days, Bernadette did not return to the Grotto, no longer feeling an irrestible invitation.
Bernadette records the following:
After the fortnight I asked her three times consecutively. She always smiled. At last I tried for the fourth time. She stopped smiling. With her arms down, she raised her eyes to heaven and then, folding her hands over her breast she said, "I am the Immaculate Conception" Then I went back to M. le Curé to tell him that she had said she was the Immaculate Conception, and he asked was I absolutely certain. I said yes, and so as not to forget the words, I had repeated them all the way home
This time, the Priest, Father Peyramale visited the bishop in the town of Tarbes, describing the story. The Bishop ordered Father Peyramale to remain away from the Grotto.
A local doctor, Pierre Romaine Dozous recorded the following as a witness on this day:
Bernadette seemed to be even more absorbed than usual in the Appearance upon which her gaze was riveted. I witnessed, as did also every one else there present, the fact which I am about to narrate. She was on her knees saying with fervent devotion the prayers of her Rosary which she held in her left hand while in her right was a large blessed candle, alight. The child was just beginning to make the usual ascent on her knees when suddenly she stopped and, her right hand joining her left, the flame of the big candle passed between the fingers of the latter. Though fanned by a fairly strong breeze, the flame produced no effect upon the skin which it was touching. Astonished at this strange fact, I forbade anyone there to interfere, and taking my watch in my hand, I studied the phenomenon attentively for a quarter of an hour. At the end of this time Bernadette, still in her ecstasy, advanced to the upper part of the Grotto, separating her hands. The flame thus ceased to touch her left hand. Bernadette finished her prayer and the splendour of the transfiguration left her face. She rose and was about to quit the Grotto when I asked her to show me her left hand. I examined it most carefully, but could not find the least trace of burning anywhere upon it. I then asked the person who was holding the candle to light it again and give it to me. I put it several times in succession under Bernadette's left hand but she drew it away quickly, saying 'You are burning me!'. I record this fact just as I have seen it without attempting to explain it. Many persons who were present at the time can confirm what I have said.
On June 8th, 1858, the Grotto was barricaded by the mayor of Lourdes to prevent public access. Anyone caught kneeling near the Grotto was subject to fines or arrest.
Bernadette kneeled by the riverbank, unable to access the Grotto due to the fencing. As she knelt, she had one final vision:
"I thought I was at the Grotto, at the same distance as I was the other times. All I saw was Our Lady ... She was more beautiful than ever."
There have been 69 official, verified miracles or cures at the Grotto and spring since 1858.
Two churches were built at the Grotto - the Sanctuary of Our Lady of Lourdes and the Basilica of Saint Pius X. Bernadette joined the Sisters of Charity and took the name Marie-Bernarde. She spent the rest of her life at the motherhouse, working as an assistant in the infirmary. When asked of the apparitions, she replied
The Virgin used me as a broom to remove the dust. When the work is done, the broom is put behind the door again.
She died of illness at the age of 35, on April 16th, 1879 (the Wednesday after Easter) while praying the rosary. Her final words were
"Holy Mary, Mother of God, pray for me, a poor sinner, a poor sinner"