Birthday: January 7, 1844
Died At Age: 35
Sun Sign: Capricorn
Also Known As: Saint Bernadette of Lourdes, Bernadeta Sobirós
Born in: Lourdes, France
Famous as: Saint
Spiritual & Religious Leaders
father: François Soubirous
mother: Louise Soubirous
siblings: Jean Soubirous, Jean-Marie Soubirous, Justin Soubirous, Louise Soubirous, Pierre Soubirous, Toinette Soubirous
Died on: April 16, 1879
place of death: Nevers, France
Diseases & Disabilities: Asthma
Notable Alumni: Sisters Of Charity And Christian Instruction
Cause of Death: Tuberculosis
education: Sisters of Charity and Christian Instruction
Who was Bernadette Soubirous?
Saint Bernadette, also known as Bernadette Soubirous, was a simple Christian girl who was posthumously venerated and later canonized a Saint of Catholic Church by Pope Pius X and XI respectively. Coming from a humble background, Bernadette’s life turned after she had Marian apparitions, of a small young lady who asked for a chapel to be built near the grotto of Massabielle. Between February 11, 1858 and July 16, 1858, she experienced eighteen visions. It was on the sixteenth vision that the lady identified herself as the Immaculate Conception. Though Bernadette’s vision met with scepticism early on, after a thorough investigation they were claimed to be true and worthy. Adhering to her vision, a chapel was built at the grotto, which eventually has become the Sanctuary of Our Lady of Lourdes. The Marian shrine is one of the major pilgrimage sites for Christians across the globe. Bernadette in her later life became a nun and served at a hospice. She followed the development of Lourdes as a pilgrimage shrine while she lived at Lourdes, but was not present for the consecration of the Basilica of the Immaculate Conception there in 1876
Childhood & Early Life
Saint Bernadette was eldest of the nine children born to Francois Soubirous and Louise on January 7, 1844 at Lourdes, Hautes Pyrenees, France. While her father was a miller by profession, her mother worked as a laundress. Her maternal aunt Bernarde Casterot was her godmother.
She was baptized at the local parish church, just two days after her birth. As a child, Bernadette was frail and mostly unwell. She suffered from digestive problems and in 1855, she contracted cholera. Later, she suffered from severe asthma and had to cope with it all through her life.
She attended the day school conducted by the Sisters of Charity and Christian Instruction from Nevers.
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It was on February 11, 1858 that Bernadette had her first of the eighteen visions. She was out with her friend gathering firewood near the grotto of Massabielle. While her friends crossed the stream ahead of grotto, she stayed behind to find an alternate place where her stockings could be saved from getting wet.
It was while she was taking off her shoes and stockings to cross the stream that she had a vision, which she referred to as ‘aquero’. A beautiful lady appeared to her above a rose bush in the grotto. Dressed in blue and white, the lady made sign of cross with rosary of ivory and gold. Interestingly, none of her friends saw anything.
Three days after her first vision, on February 14, she visited the grotto along with her friends and sister, Marie. Upon reaching there, she knelt down, stating she saw aquero and went into the state of trance. Her friends, ignorant of her vision, threw holy water and stone at the niche which made the apparition disappear.
On February 18, she visited the grotto yet again. Once again she saw aquero and went into the state of trance. It was during this visit that she claimed that the lady asked her to return to the grotto every day for a fortnight.
Adhering to the instruction, she visited the grotto every day for the fortnight, much against her mother’s wishes who forbade her to go. The regular visions that she had during this period came to be known as la Quinzaine sacrée, or ‘holy fortnight’.
The apparition that Bernadette saw as a vision did not identify herself until her seventeenth vision. It were the village people who claimed that she saw Virgin Mary after she described her vision stating that the lady is dressed in a white veil, blue girdle and has a yellow rose on each foot. The description matched the statue of Virgin Mary present at the village church.
On February 25th vision, the lady asked her to dig in the mud. Unexpectedly, a spring of water began to flow. The lady asked her to drink the water of the spring, and eat the herb that grew there as an act of penance. Surprisingly, the following day the muddy water in the grotto had changed to clear crystal water.
It was during her thirteenth vision which occurred on March 2 that the apparition asked her that a chapel needs to be built and a procession should be formed. During her sixteenth vision, Bernadette asked the alleged apparition her name. After an hour-long apparition, the lady claimed herself to be the Immaculate Conception.
Bernadette’s visions attracted attention of both the Catholic Church and the French government. People wanted to know in details about her apparition and the alleged lady. Without fearing, she recounted her story the way it had occurred.
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After several investigations conducted by the Church authorities, in 1862 they finally claimed the apparitions to be authentic. Interestingly, the water of the grotto cured and healed several sick and unwell people. Though they conducted extensive scientific and medical research, they couldn’t find out anything extraordinary in the water except for high mineral content that would account for the cures. Bernadette claimed that the cures were the result of faith and prayer.
Following the miracles and authentication of her visions, the priest of the local church granted her request of building a chapel at the site of her vision. Subsequently, a number of chapels and churches were constructed in Lourdes.
Later Years & Death
Following the authenticity of her visions, Bernadette garnered a lot of public attention which she despised. In an urgency to get out of public attention, she went to a hospice school, which was managed by Sisters of Charity of Nevers. It was here that Bernadette learned to read and write.
Despite her wish to join the Carmelites, she did not enter the same as her frail health did not allow her for any strict contemplative order.
On July 29, 1866 she along with 42 other candidates took on the religious habit of postulant and joined the Sisters of Charity at their motherhouse at Nevers. She was given the name, Marie-Bernarde, by Mother Superior.
She spent much of her later life working in the hospital as an assistant. Additionally, she served as the sacristan, creating beautiful embroidery for altar cloths and vestments.
Her health condition deteriorated further when she contracted tuberculosis of the bone in the right knee. The bad health restricted her to take active part in the day-to-day on goings
Bernadette passed away on April 16, 1879 at the age of 35. She was interred at the Saint Gildard Convent.
Almost four and a half decades after her death, she was declared venerable and ‘Blessed’ by Pope Pius X on June 14, 1925.
On December 8, 1933, Pope Pius XI officially canonized her Saint.
Saint Bernadette’s body was disinterred thrice. The first was on September 22, 1909 by Bishop Gauthey of Nevers, followed by the second exhumation on April 3, 1919 and the last in 1925 during which her relics were sent to Rome. Interestingly, despite being dead for more than 46 years, her corpus was in an incorrupt state. After the third exhumation, her body remains were placed in a gold and crystal reliquary in the Chapel of Saint Bernadette at the mother house in Nevers
Posthumously, Saint Bernadette and her visions have served as the central theme in several films, novels, portraits, television films and series.
When asked by a nun if she felt proud of herself as Blessed Mother favoured her, Saint Bernadette replied that how could she be proud of herself when she was chosen for the visions, because she was the most ignorant of all.