2009 has been declared the year of the patron saint of the sick, of family, and of poverty, Saint Bernadette.
Bernadette Soubirous was born January 7, 1844 as Maria-Bernada Soubirous in Lourdes, France to a miller, Francois Soubirous, and his wife, Louise, a laundress.
France was suffering through very difficult times, and the family lived in severe poverty in the town of several thousand inhabitants. Despite the poor conditions under which the family lived, the home was full of love for each other, and they were deeply devoted to their religion.
Bernadette first began to experience visions of a kindly, young, small lady in 1858, when she was a frail child of 14, collecting firewood near a cave.
Bernadette described “the beautiful lady” as being surrounded by light, wearing a white garment, a blue sash around her waist, a golden rose on each foot, and holding a rosary of pearls.”
When she told people about the vision she had seen, most assumed it was the Virgin Mary. Although some of the people in her town thought Bernadette was suffering from a mental illness, there were many who believed in her.
The vision appeared to Bernadette 18 times. On one visit, the “lady” told her to drink from a spring flowing under a rock. There was no spring visible to the eye, but Bernadette dug in the spot indicated, and a few days later, water began to flow at that exact spot.
People came to the spring to drink and cleanse themselves, and reported that the water had the ability to heal. A team of doctors from the Faculty of Medicine of Montpellier confirmed the healing properties of the water
During one of the visions, witnessed by many, Bernadette held a candle until it burned down and the flame was touching her skin for a quarter of an hour. Her skin was unmarked. This incident was documented by Dr. Pierre Romaine Dozous.
After considerable investigation, in 1862, the Bishop of Tarbes confirmed the apparitions to be genuine.
At the request of the lady in her vision, she asked the local priest to build a chapel at the cave at Lourdes. All these many years later, the Sanctuary of Our Lady of Lourdes is visited by millions of Catholic pilgrims each year.
When Bernadette was 22, she went to live in a convent at Nevers, France. She was ill for a long time, and died in 1879 at the age of 35.
The body of Bernadette Soubirous was exhumed three times after her death. The first time in 1909, the second time in 1919, and the final exhumation took place in 1925.
The rosary and crucifix she had been buried with had both oxidized, but Bernadette’s body appeared preserved.
Bernadette Soubirous was canonized as a saint in 1933, her feast day is April 16, and today her remains are kept in a special shrine in the Chapel of Saint Bernadette in Nevers, France, for anyone to visit.
References/For further information:
Ventura, Varla. The Book of the Bizarre. SF: Weiser Books, 2008.