St. Bernadette Soubirous


Also known as

  • Bernada
  • Bernardetta
  • Bernardette Soubirous
  • Bernardette
  • Maria Bernadette
  • Marie Bernarde
  • Sleeping Saint of Nevers
  • against bodily ills
  • against illness
  • against poverty
  • against sickness
  • Lourdes, France
  • people ridiculed for their piety
  • poor people
  • shepherdesses
  • shepherds
  • sick people


Bernadette Soubirous was born in the Boly Mill, on 7th. January 1844. Bernadette lived there for 10 years with her parents, François Soubirous and Louise Castérot; they gained a decent living as millers. She used to call the place the "Mill of Happiness", because it was there that she discovered something that is very important to every man and woman – human love.

Bernadette used to say that her mother and father loved each other. This experience made into a balanced person, especially at times of difficulty, poverty and sickness.


Here is what contemporaries said about Bernadette:

1.) Marie Laguës, foster-mother of Bernadette. 
- "As a baby, Bernadette was already very loveable, the neighbours loved to see her and to hold her in their arms." 
- "You could not stop loving her enough, she was sweet and loveable." 
- "Bernadette, in spite of the tiredness which was caused by her shortness of breath and difficulty in breathing, always appeared happy and cheerful. She never gave us any trouble, she took what she was given, and appeared happy. We loved her very much as well." (1857)

2.) Bernarde Castérot, aunt and godmother of Bernadette. 
- "Bernadette was always good natured, she was very docile; when scolded, she never retaliated."

3.) Abbé Pène, Curate, or Assistant Priest, of the Parish of Lourdes in 1858. 
- Bernadette was small for her age, puny, slightly asthmatic, her face was round but regular, beautiful eyes. Her slim size would allow her to pass for a young girl about two or three years younger than she really was." 
- " everything about Bernadette radiated naïvety, simplicity, goodness."

4.) Jean Barbet, teacher. 
- "Bernadette has difficulty to retain the Catechism word by word, because she cannot study, she does not know how to read, but she puts a lot of care into the appropriate meaning of the explanations. Besides, she is very attentive, above all very pious and modest."

The time of trial:

In November 1844, Louise burnt herself and was no longer able to feed Bernadette who had to be sent to a foster mother outside Lourdes in the village of Bartres.

Bernadette stayed in Bartres for about 18 months. The separation was not just painful; it was also expensive (5 francs per month). In April 1845, the first sorrow hit the Soubirous in the form of the death of their second child, Jean at the age of 2 months. Then things began to go badly in the mill. François was a good man and was never in a hurry about being paid, especially by his poorest customers.

New events take place in 1850 when the health of Bernadette worsened: she suffered from asthma as well as with her stomach and spleen. Then, the father of Bernadette injured in his left eye when it was struck by a chip that flew off while repairing a mill stone. In 1854, when Bernadette was 10, the family had to move. Bernadette was forced to leave her "mill of happiness"

Furniture was transported to the Laborde house and her father started to seek precarious work to provide food for his four children. From being a miller, François Soubirous became a manual worker. Louise also began working: housework, washing and agricultural work.

During the autumn of 1855, cholera struck Lourdes. Bernadette was not spared. Her delicate health since the age of six became worse and the asthma would always be with her.

The death of grandmother Castérot helped the financial situation. They were able to buy some animals and rent the Sarrabeyrouse Mill in Arcizac-ez-Angles. But the contract that François signed was to ruin him.

During the winter of 1856-57 the Soubirous decided to have one less mouth to feed and Bernadette was taken in by Aunt Bernarde to work in her bar.

One of the important things for Bernadette in her daily life was her faith. She knew nothing about the catechism, but that did not stop her being brought up as a Christian. She knew the "Our Father" in French as well as the "Hail, Mary". She always carried her rosary beads.

At the beginning of 1857, because of unemployment, the Soubirous were evicted from the Rives household and had to find refuge in the Cachot, a dark room of 3.72m by 4.40m. In 1856, their descent into misery continued and starvation was on the horizon.

On 27th March 1857, the police visited the Cachot. They took François away with them as a thief. Two sacks of flour had been stolen from the Maisongrosse Bakery. He accused François Soubirous of taking them.

In September 1857 Bernadette returned to the home of her foster-mother, Marie Lagües, to help the family a little. In the evening her foster-mother gave her some rudimentary lessons in the catechism. Bernadette was not happy being away from homer so she returned to the Cachot on 17th January 1858. To continue learning her catechism she went to the Sisters in the Hospice.

The Apparitions in 1858:

Thursday 11th. February 1858 : the first meeting

Accompanied by her sister and a friend, Bernadette went to Massabielle on the banks of the Gave to collect bones and dead wood. Removing her socks in order to cross the stream, she heard a noise like a gust of wind, she looked up towards the Grotto :
" Bernadette made the Sign of the Cross and said the Rosary with the lady. When the prayer ended the Lady suddenly vanished.

Sunday 14th. February: Holy Water

Bernadette felt an inner force drawing her to the Grotto in spite of the fact that she was forbidden to go there by her parents. At her insistence, her mother allowed her; after the first decade of the Rosary, she saw the same lady appearing. She sprinkled holy water at her. The lady smiled and bent her head. When the Rosary ended she disappeared. 

Thursday 18 th. February : the lady speaks

For the first time, the Lady spoke. Bernadette held out a pen and paper asking her to write her name. 

She replied; "It is not necessary" and she added: "I do not promise to make you happy in this world but in the other. Would you be kind enough to come here for a fortnight?" 

Friday 19th. February: short and silent Apparition

Bernadette came to the Grotto with a lighted blessed candle. This is the origin of carrying candles and lighting them in front of the Grotto. 

Saturday 20th. February: In silence

The lady taught her a personal prayer. At the end of the vision Bernadette is overcome with a great sadness.

Sunday 21st. February: "Aquéro"

The Lady appeared to Bernadette very early in the morning. About one hundred people were present. 

Afterwards the Police Commissioner, Jacomet, questioned her. He wanted Bernadette to tell what she saw. Bernadette would only speak of "AQUÉRO" ("that thing" in local dialect)

Tuesday 23rd. February: The secret.

Surrounded by 150 persons, Bernadette arrived at the Grotto. The Apparition reveals to her a secret "only for her alone".

Wednesday 24th. February: Penance.

The message of the Lady: "Penance! Penance! Penance! Pray to God for sinners. Kiss the ground as an act of penance for sinners!"

Thursday 25th. February: The spring.

Three hundred people were present. Bernadette relates; "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."

Saturday 27th. February: Silence

Eight hundred people were present. The Apparition was silent. Bernadette drank the water from the spring and carried out her usual acts of penance.

Sunday 28th. February: Penance

Over one thousand people were present at the ecstasy. Bernadette prayed, kissed the ground and moved on her knees as a sign of penance. She was then taken to the house of Judge Ribes who threatened to put her in prison.

Monday 1st. March: The First Miracle

Over one thousand five hundred people assembled and among them, for the first time, a priest. 
In the night, Catherine Latapie, a friend from Lourdes, went to the Grotto, she plunged her dislocated arm into the water of the Spring: her arm and her hand regained their movement.

Tuesday 2nd. March: Message to the priests.

The crowd becomes larger and larger. The Lady asked her: "Go, tell the priests to come here in procession and to build a chapel here." Bernadette spoke of this to Fr. Peyramale, the Parish Priest of Lourdes. He wanted to know only one thing: the Lady's name. He demanded another test; to see the wild rose bush flower at the Grotto in the middle of winter. 

Wednesday 3rd. March: A smile

From 7 o'clock in the morning, in the presence of three thousand people, Bernadette arrived at the Grotto, but the vision did not appear! After school, she heard the inner invitation of the Lady. She went to the Grotto and asked her again for her name. The response was a smile. The Parish Priest told her again: "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."

Thursday 4th. March: The day all were waiting for!

The ever-greater crowd (about eight thousand people) waited for a miracle at the end of the fortnight. 
The vision was silent. Fr. Peyramale stuck to his position. For twenty days Bernadette did not go to the Grotto, she no longer felt the irresistible invitation. 

Thursday 25th. March: The name they awaited for!

The vision finally revealed her name, but the wild rose bush, on which she stood during the Apparitions, did not bloom. Bernadette recounted; "She lifted up her eyes to heaven, joined her hands as though in prayer, that were held out and open towards the ground and said to me: 
Que soy era Immaculada Concepciou (I am the Immaculate Conception) ." 
The young visionary left and, running all the way, repeated continuously the words that she did not understand. These words troubled the brave Parish Priest. Bernadette was ignorant of the fact that this theological expression was assigned to the Blessed Virgin.Four years earlier, in 1854, Pope Pius IX declared this a truth of the Catholic Faith (a dogma)

Wednesday 7th. April: The miracle of the candle

During this Apparition, Bernadette had to keep her candle alight. The flame licked along her hand without burning it. A medical doctor, Dr. Douzous, immediately witnessed this fact. 

Thursday 16th. July: The Final Apparition.

Bernadette received the mysterious call to the Grotto, but her way was blocked and closed off by a barrier. She thus, arrived across from the Grotto to the other side of the Gave. "I felt that I was in front of the Grotto, at the same distance as before, I saw only the Blessed Virgin, and she was more beautiful than ever!

Reflection :

The first discovery of religion for Bernadette was in contemplation.

She knew the Carmelite convent in Bagnères. In 1860-61 she spoke to her cousin about an order dedicated to St. Bernard. She wished to go there because they practised vigils, fasting, discipline, mortification… but Bernadette's health was an obstacle as well as her poverty because you to be requested to join.

In 1863, the Sisters at the Hospice asked her to look after the sick. This was a decisive experience. What she really appreciated about the Sisters of Nevers was their discretion towards her compared with other congregations that sought her. Later she said "I'm going to Nevers because they did not try to attract me".

On 27th September 1863, Bernadette has an interesting conversation with Bishop Forcade of Nevers. During the following months, Bernadette developed her intentions on this new base.

On 4th April 1864, after Mass in the Hospice, Bernadette sought out the Mother superior, Sister Alexandrine Roques, and told her: "Now I know, dear Mother, where I must become a sister (…). With you, dear Mother."

From 4th October to 19th November 1864, Bernadette left on holidays without a reply to her request of previous 4th April. In Nevers, the Superior, Mother Josephine Imbert, hesitated. She was uneasy about the difficulties that the famous visionary would cause for the religious house that accepted her. Mother Marie-Therese Vauzou, the Mistress of Novices, was in favour. The bishop supported the request.

When she returned to on 19th November she received the good news that the response was favourable.

Her postulancy could begin. Bernadette delayed it from the beginning of December 1864 to the end of January 1865. Her convalescence was further set back by the death of her young brother Justin.

Bernadette began her postulancy in February 1865 and in April 1866 she requested to enter the Novitiate.

On 28th April 1866, she announced her departure. But Bishop Laurence wanted her present at the opening of the Crypt. Bernadette attended the celebration and took part in the first official procession in response to the request of the Blessed Virgin Mary. Bernadette underwent the attention of the curious and finally, Bishop Laurence allowed her to depart.

On 3rd July 1866, the whole family were together for a final meal in the Lacadé Mill.

Religious life:

From 4th to 7th July 1866, Bernadette  travelled to Nevers. This was the first and last time that Bernadette took a train and left the Pyrenees.

After telling the story of the Apparitions Bernadette removes her bonnet and puts on the cape of a postulant.

In this way she makes it clear that she had come there to "hide herself"
Bernadette was home sick. She would say, "This is the greatest sacrifice of my life". She overcame this uprooting with courage as well as humour. 
She also undertook this new stage without any looking back: "My mission in Lourdes is ended." "Lourdes is not heaven.

" Together with 42 other postulants, she took the religious habit on 29th July 1866, three weeks after her arrival. She was given the name Sister Marie-Bernarde.

In September 1866, her asthma became worse. In October 1866, her condition was deteriorating.
 Doctor Robert Saint-Cyr, the doctor to the community, said that she would not last the night.
 Mother Marie-Therese decided that Bernadette should make her profession "in danger of death". She survived the night.

In December 1866, she learned of the death of her mother at the age of 41.

On 2nd February 1867, Bernadette recovered and returned to the novitiate and she made her profession in the hands of Bishop Forcade on 30th October 1867. 
She committed herself to living a life of poverty, chastity obedience and charity.
 Each professed received a crucifix, a copy of the Constitutions and a letter of obedience and her work in the religious house. 
Bernadette was assigned to the mother-house as a nursing assistant.

In 1869, her health problems returned.

In March 1871, she learned of the death of her father.

From 1875 to 1878, her illness progressed. In this condition she made her final vows.

On 11th December 1878, she was finally confined to bed in the white chapel as she referred to her bed with its white curtains and she died on 16th April 1879.

On 30th May 1879, her coffin was placed in the tomb of the Oratory of St. Joseph.

The Intact body in Nevers:

30 years after her death, the cause of the Beatification of Bernadette required that her body be exhumed.

When it was exhumed in September 1909, April 1919 and again in April 1925 it was found intact. Since 3rd August 1925 the body of Bernadette is preserved in a shrine in the chapel of what was known as the Convent of St. Gildard of Nevers. It is now known as "Espace Bernadette Soubirous – Nevers".

 The body of Bernadette is, according to doctors, "mummified". Only a few relics have been removed. A very thin film of wax has been laid on her face and hands and moulded directly onto her features. 

Coming to reflect before the body of Bernadette, the pilgrim sees, to-day, the face that 18 times looked on the Virgin Mary, the hands that, at the request of the Blessed Virgin, had scraped the ground and allowed the spring to flow at the back of the Grotto, the lips that related the words of the Immaculate Virgin and the Message of Lourdes.

A reliquary in the sanctuary of Lourdes

There is, in Lourdes, a reliquary containing a relic of the saint, one of the ribs, at the altar of St. Joseph in the Crypt. On the feast of St. Bernadette, 18th. February, the relics are carried in procession through the town from the Parish Church to the Grotto. 

Incorrupt Body Of Saint Bernadette Soubirous

The beatification of Bernadette:

On 2nd June 1925, in the Consistory Hall, Pope Pius XI declared that Bernadette could be declared Blessed. On the morning of Sunday 14th. June, the feast of the Sacred Body and Blood of Christ (Corpus Christi), the Basilica of St. Peter in Rome, was vibrating with joy and glittering with light. Under the vaulted ceilings and the golden domes, a huge crowd was assembled around Mother Marie-Thérèse Bordenave, Superior General of the Congregation of the Sisters of Charity of Nevers, and a large number of her Sisters. After the text of the Beatification had been read, applause broke out everywhere; this was followed by the singing of the 'Te Deum' while the bells of St. Peter's rang out. At the same time a picture of Bernadette was unveiled showing the visionary of Lourdes being carried by the angels towards the Immaculate Virgin Mary standing there with outstretched arms. From that moment, Bernadette, proclaimed "Blessed", would have her own liturgical feast and her own office, wherever Rome allowed it. Her relics could be publicly displayed and venerated. Kneeling in the Sanctuary, Pope Pius XI recollected himself. Someone walked towards him, as he ended his prayer - the youngest brother of Bernadette, Pierre Soubirous, came to offer to the Head of the Church a relic of his Blessed Godmother. On the following 3rd. August, the remains of Bernadette were laid in the Sanctuary of the Chapel of Convent of St. Gildard at Nevers (France).

The canonization of Bernadette:

On 8th. December 1933, Pope Pius XI solemnly reads the declaration of the Canonization of Bernadette:

"To the honour of the most Holy and Undivided Trinity, for the glory of the Catholic Faith, and the increase in the Christian Faith, by the authority of Our Lord Jesus Christ, the blessed apostles Peter and Paul, and our own, after a lengthy deliberation calling often on divine help, the advice of our brother Cardinals of the Holy Roman Church, the Patriarchs, the Archbishops and bishops, we declare and define Saint, the Blessed Marie-Bernard Soubirous, and we inscribe her in the Litany of the Saints, stating that her memory be piously celebrated in the Universal Church on 16th. April each year, the day of her heavenly birth. In the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Sprit. "

At the end of the Solemn Mass celebrated by Pope Pius XI, the crowd spontaneously intoned the singing of the "Ave Maria" of Lourdes as it is sung in the Sanctuary of Lourdes. 

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