Our Lady of Lourdes

Saturday, February 11, the Church remembers the apparitions of Our Lady of Lourdes to St. Bernadette Soubirous that took place a little over 150 years ago in Lourdes, France.  Since Our Lady of Lourdes Parish down the street on Napoleon Avenue has been closed, I thought a little “refresher course” on the apparitions of Lourdes might be in order.

On 11 February 1858, Bernadette Soubirous went with two girlfriends to collect some firewood to sell in order to be able to buy some bread. As she was wading through a river near the Grotto of Massabielle, she heard the wind but did not see the trees and bushes move. As she looked toward the Grotto, she saw a light and a beautiful lady – “Lovelier than I have ever seen” – dressed in white with a blue sash fastened around her waist and two golden yellow roses on each foot. She remained in an ecstatic state contemplating the Lady until called by her friends. Three days later, Bernadette returned to the Grotto with the two other girls, who reportedly became afraid when they saw her in ecstasy. Bernadette remained ecstatic when they returned to the village. On 18 February, she was told by the Lady to return to the Grotto over a period of two weeks. The Lady said: “I promise to make you happy not in this world but in the next.” In total, there were seventeen apparitions, the last taking place on July 16 of the same year. Bernadette often fell into an ecstasy during these apparitions, which were witnessed by the hundreds of people, although no one except Bernadette ever saw or heard the apparition.

During one of the apparitions, the Lady told Bernadette to drink of a mysterious spring within the grotto itself, something unknown and unseen. Bernadette scratched at the ground, and water began bubbling up and soon gushed forth. The water was muddy at first, but became increasingly clean. As word of the “miraculous spring” spread, the water was given to medical patients of all kinds, after which numerous miracle cures were reported. The first cure with a “certified miracle” was a women whose right hand had been deformed as a consequence of an accident. However, several miracles turned out to be short-term improvement or even hoaxes, so Church and government officials became increasingly concerned. Eventually, the government barricaded the Grotto and issued stiff penalties for anybody trying to get near the spring. In the process, Lourdes became a national issue in France, resulting in the intervention of emperor Napoleon III to reopen the grotto on 4 October 1858.