"Keep close to the Catholic Church at all times, for the Church alone can give you true peace, since she alone possesses Jesus, the true Prince of Peace, in the Blessed Sacrament." - Padre Pio of Peitrelcina

Sunday, March 18, 2012

Saint Bernadette Soubirous of Lourdes


This is the incorruptible body of Catholic Saint Bernadette Soubirous of Lourdes, France in the Church of St. Gildard at the convent in Nevers, France where her body, enclosed in a glass coffin, is laid undisturbed and on view since August 3, 1925.

Bernadette, whose complete name is Marie Bernarde Soubirous, was born to a very poor family on January 7, 1844. She was a very sickly child having suffered sever asthma, and was such a poor student that she took her first Holy Communion at aged 14 in 1858. 

The Soubirous Family

On February 11 of the same year, the Blessed Virgin Mary, standing in a niche in the rock, appeared to Bernadette who was gathering firewood with her sister, Marie and a friend along the river Gave at the grotto of Massabielle in the outskirts of Lourdes. The apparition became known through out the Catholics as the Apparition at Lourdes. In her own words, Bernadette described the vision she saw:

"I came back towards the grotto and started taking off my stockings. I had hardly taken off the first stocking when I heard a sound like a gust of wind. Then I turned my head towards the meadow. I saw the trees quite still: I went on taking off my stockings. I heard the same sound again. As I raised my head to look at the grotto, I saw a Lady dressed in white, wearing a white dress, a blue girdle and a yellow rose on each foot, the same color as the chain of her rosary; the beads of the rosary were white."

The young Bernadette
Since then, the Blessed Virgin Mary appeared to Bernadette 18 times. On the ninth apparition, Bernadette was asked by the Lady to drink from the spring. Finding none nearby, Bernadette began digging with her bare hands in a muddy patch and drank a few drops of muddy water in which the Lady also asked her to eat some loose grasses. Many onlookers, disgusted by Bernadette's face which was covered in mud, until her relatives wiped it clean with a handkerchief, returned home in dismay, proclaiming it a fraud. However, in the days following the apparition, water started flowing from the muddy ground where Bernadette had been digging. From this water flowed a spring in which people started to have miraculous healing experiences. Today, the miraculous spring at Lourdes remains one of the greatest locations of Catholic pilgrimage.

On the March 25, 1858, the Blessed Virgin appeared for the 15th time and identified herself as the "Immaculate Conception." This very title by which the Blessed Virgin Mary identified herself, confirmed the pious belief which Pope Pius IX, 4 years earlier, had raised to the dignity of a dogma of the infallible Church.

Two more apparitions followed after this announcement by the Lady. On Friday, July 16, 1885, Bernadette made one final pilgrimage to the Lady. The Virgin Mary made several revelations to Bernadette and asked her to do penance and pray for sinners. Bernadette was also told of one secret that she was not to reveal to anyone and this she never did.

At age 22, Bernadette was admitted to the order of the Sisters of Nevers - a short distance from Lourdes, where she spent the rest of her days there. After suffering for many years from tuberculosis of the bone in the right knee, including several complications, she died a holy death on April 15, 1879.

Reclothed body of Bernadette's in 1909 
On September 2, 1909, Bernadette's body was first exhumed 30 years after her death in the presence of representatives appointed by the postulates of the cause, 2 doctors, and a sister of the community. On opening the coffin, they discerned no odor and the virginal body lay exposed, the arms and face were completely uncorrupted and had maintained their natural skin tone. The teeth were barely visible through her slightly parted lips. The rosary in her hands had become rusty, and the crucifix was coated with verdigris.

The sisters thoroughly washed the body and reclothed it in a new religious habit before placing it in a new casket. After the official documents of the exhumation were placed beside the body, and the double casket officially sealed, the remains were again placed in the tomb.

On April 3, 1919, the body was exhumed again and was found in the same state of preservation as 10 years earlier except that the face was slightly discolored due to the washing it had undergone during the first exhumation. A thin wax coating was applied to the face of the Saint who had been dead for 40 years. The body was placed in a coffin of gold and glass and can be viewed in the Chapel of Saint Bernadette at Nevers.

Incorruptible body of Bernadette as enshrined today at Nevers, France

Bernadette's body was exhumed a third time in 1925 and a few ribs were removed and sent to Rome as relics. The skeleton and muscles were found perfectly preserved, including the liver.

Following the events of the apparitions, a papal investigation was founded. After long deliberation and careful examination of the evidence, it was declared that the visions of the Virgin Mary indeed occur at the Grotto of Lourdes. She received Beatification in 1925 and Canonization in 1933 under Pope Pius XI, not so much for the content of her visions, but rather for her simplicity and holiness of her life. Saint Bernadette Soubirous is the patron saint of sick persons and also of the family and poverty.


Grotto of Lourdes today where the Blessed Virgin Mary appeared
to Bernadette Soubirous in 1858

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