Bernadette Soubirous

Saint Bernadette Soubirous (/ˌbɜːrnəˈdɛt ˌsbiˈr/, French: [bɛʁnadɛt subiʁu]; Occitan: Bernadeta Sobirós [beɾnaˈðetɔ suβiˈɾus]; 7 January 1844  16 April 1879), also known as Saint Bernadette of Lourdes, was the firstborn daughter of a miller from Lourdes (Lorda in Occitan), in the department of Hautes-Pyrénées in France, and is best known for experiencing Marian apparitions of a "young lady" who asked for a chapel to be built at the nearby cave-grotto at Massabielle. These apparitions are said to have occurred between 11 February and 16 July 1858, and the woman who appeared to her identified herself as the Virgin Mary.

Bernadette Soubirous
Saint Bernadette of Lourdes
Virgin, Consecrated Religious
BornBernadette Soubirous
7 January 1844
Lourdes, Hautes-Pyrénées, France
Died16 April 1879(1879-04-16) (aged 35)
Nevers, Nièvre, France
Venerated inCatholic Church
Beatified14 June 1925[1], Rome, by Pope Pius XI[1]
Canonized8 December 1933[1], Rome,[1] by Pope Pius XI[1]
Major shrineConvent of Saint Gilard (Espace Bernadette Soubirous Nevers), Nevers
Feast16 April
18 February (France, some traditionalist congregations)
PatronageBodily illness, Lourdes, France, shepherds and shepherdesses, against poverty, people ridiculed for their faith

Despite initial skepticism from some Church authorities, Soubirous' claims were eventually declared "worthy of belief" after a canonical investigation, and the Marian apparition became known as Our Lady of Lourdes. Since her death, Soubirous's body has apparently remained internally incorrupt. The Marian shrine at Lourdes (Midi-Pyrénées, from 2016 part of Occitanie) went on to become a major pilgrimage site, attracting over five million pilgrims of all denominations each year.

On 8 December 1933 Pope Pius XI declared Soubirous a saint of the Catholic Church. Her feast-day, initially specified as 18 February—the day her Lady promised to make her happy, not in this life, but in the next— is now observed in most places on the date of her death, 16 April.

Early stages of her life

Marie Bernarde Soubirous was the daughter of François Soubirous (1807–1871), a miller, and Louise (née Casteròt; 1825–1866), a laundress.[2] She was the eldest of nine children—Bernadette, Jean (born and died 1845), Toinette (1846–1892), Jean-Marie (1848–1851), Jean-Marie (1851–1919), Justin (1855–1865), Pierre (1859–1931), Jean (born and died 1864), and a baby named Louise who died soon after her birth (1866).

Soubirous was born on 7 January 1844[3] and baptized at the local parish church, St. Pierre's, on 9 January, her parents' wedding anniversary. Her godmother was Bernarde Casterot, her mother's sister, a moderately wealthy widow who owned a tavern. Hard times had fallen on France and the family lived in extreme poverty. Soubirous was a sickly child and possibly due to this only measured 4 ft.7in. tall. She contracted cholera as a toddler and suffered severe asthma for the rest of her life. Soubirous attended the day school conducted by the Sisters of Charity and Christian Instruction from Nevers.[4] Contrary to a belief popularized by Hollywood movies, Soubirous learned very little French, only studying French in school after age 13 due to being frequently ill and a poor learner. She could read and write very little due to her frequent illness. She spoke the language of Occitan, which was spoken by the local population of the Pyrenees region at that time and to a lesser degree today (which is similar to Catalan spoken in eastern Spain).


By the time of the events at the grotto, the Soubirous family's financial and social status had declined to the point where they lived in a one-room basement, formerly used as a jail, called le cachot, "the dungeon", where they were housed for free by her mother's cousin, André Sajoux.[5]

On 11 February 1858, Soubirous, then aged 14, was out gathering firewood with her sister Toinette and a friend near the grotto of Massabielle (Tuta de Massavielha) when she experienced her first vision. While the other girls crossed the little stream in front of the grotto and walked on, Soubirous stayed behind, looking for a place to cross where she wouldn't get her stockings wet. She finally sat down to take her shoes off in order to cross the water and was lowering her stocking when she heard the sound of rushing wind, but nothing moved. A wild rose in a natural niche in the grotto, however, did move. From the niche, or rather the dark alcove behind it, "came a dazzling light, and a white figure". This was the first of 18 visions of what she referred to as aquero (pronounced [aˈk(e)ɾɔ]), Gascon Occitan for "that". In later testimony, she called it "a small young lady" (uo petito damizelo). Her sister and her friend stated that they had seen nothing.[6]

On 14 February, after Sunday Mass, Soubirous, with her sister Marie and some other girls, returned to the grotto. Soubirous knelt down immediately, saying she saw the apparition again and falling into a trance. When one of the girls threw holy water at the niche and another threw a rock from above that shattered on the ground, the apparition disappeared.[7] On her next visit, 18 February, Soubirous said that "the vision" asked her to return to the grotto every day for a fortnight.[8]

This period of almost daily visions came to be known as la Quinzaine sacrée, "holy fortnight." Initially, Soubirous' parents, especially her mother, were embarrassed and tried to forbid her to go. The supposed apparition did not identify herself until the seventeenth vision. Although the townspeople who believed she was telling the truth assumed she saw the Virgin Mary, Soubirous never claimed it to be Mary, consistently using the word aquero. She described the lady as wearing a white veil, a blue girdle and with a yellow rose on each foot – compatible with "a description of any statue of the Virgin in a village church".[9]

Soubirous' story caused a sensation with the townspeople, who were divided in their opinions on whether or not she was telling the truth. Some believed her to have a mental illness and demanded she be put in an asylum.[10]

The other contents of Soubirous' reported visions were simple and focused on the need for prayer and penance. On 25 February she explained that the vision had told her "to drink of the water of the spring, to wash in it and to eat the herb that grew there," as an act of penance. To everyone's surprise, the next day the grotto was no longer muddy but clear water flowed.[11] On 2 March, at the thirteenth of the alleged apparitions, Soubirous told her family that the lady said that "a chapel should be built and a procession formed".[4]

Soubirous' 16th claimed vision, which she stated went on for over an hour, was on 25 March. According to her account, during that visitation, she again asked the woman for her name but the lady just smiled back. She repeated the question three more times and finally heard the lady say, in Gascon Occitan, "I am the Immaculate Conception" (Qué soï era immaculado councepcioũ, a phonetic transcription of Que soi era immaculada concepcion).[4]

Some of the people who interviewed Soubirous after her revelation of the visions thought her simple-minded. However, despite being rigorously interviewed by officials of both the Catholic Church and the French government, she stuck consistently to her story.[4]

Results of her visions

After investigation, Church authorities confirmed the authenticity of the apparitions in 1862.[2] In the 150 years since Soubirous dug up the spring, 69[12] cures have been verified by the Lourdes Medical Bureau as "inexplicable" – after what the Church claims are "extremely rigorous scientific and medical examinations" that failed to find any other explanation. The Lourdes Commission that examined Bernadette after the visions ran an intensive analysis on the water and found that, while it had a high mineral content, it contained nothing out of the ordinary that would account for the cures attributed to it. Bernadette said that it was faith and prayer that cured the sick: "One must have faith and pray; the water will have no virtue without faith".[13]

Soubirous' request to the local priest to build a chapel at the site of her visions eventually gave rise to a number of chapels and churches at Lourdes. The Sanctuary of Our Lady of Lourdes is now one of the major Catholic pilgrimage sites in the world. One of the churches built at the site, the Basilica of St. Pius X, can accommodate 25,000 people and was dedicated by the future Pope John XXIII when he was the Papal Nuncio to France. Close to 5 million pilgrims from all over the world visit Lourdes (population of about 15,000) every year to pray and to drink the miraculous water, believing that they obtain from the Lord healing of the body and of the spirit.

Later years

Disliking the attention she was attracting, Bernadette went to the hospice school run by the Sisters of Charity of Nevers where she had learned to read and write. Although she considered joining the Carmelites, her health precluded her entering any of the strict contemplative orders. On 29 July 1866, with 42 other candidates, she took the religious habit of a postulant and joined the Sisters of Charity at their motherhouse at Nevers. Her Mistress of Novices was Sister Marie Therese Vauzou.[14] The Mother Superior at the time gave her the name Marie-Bernarde[10] in honor of her godmother who was named "Bernarde". As Patricia A. McEachern observes, "Bernadette was devoted to Saint Bernard, her patron saint; she copied long texts related to him in notebooks and on bits of paper. The experience of becoming 'Sister Marie-Bernard' marked a turning point for Bernadette as she realized more than ever that the great grace she received from the Queen of Heaven brought with it great responsibilities."[15]

Soubirous spent the rest of her brief life at the motherhouse, working as an assistant in the infirmary[14] and later as a sacristan, creating beautiful embroidery for altar cloths and vestments. Her contemporaries admired her humility and spirit of sacrifice. One day, asked about the apparitions, she replied:[16]

The Virgin used me as a broom to remove the dust. When the work is done, the broom is put behind the door again.

Soubirous had followed the development of Lourdes as a pilgrimage shrine while she still lived at Lourdes, but was not present for the consecration of the Basilica of the Immaculate Conception there in 1876.

Unfortunately, Soubirous' childhood bout of "cholera left...[Bernadette] with severe, chronic asthma, and eventually she contracted tuberculosis of the lungs and bones."[15] For several months prior to her death, she was unable to take an active part in convent life. She eventually died of her long-term illness at the age of 35 on 16 April 1879 (the Wednesday after Easter),[14] while praying the holy rosary. On her deathbed, as she suffered from severe pain and in keeping with the Virgin Mary's admonition of "Penance, Penance, Penance," Bernadette proclaimed that "all this is good for Heaven!" Her final words were, "Holy Mary, Mother of God, pray for me, a poor sinner, a poor sinner". Soubirous' body was laid to rest in the Saint Gildard Convent.


Soubirous was declared blessed on 14 June 1925[10] by Pope Pius XI. She was canonized by Pius XI on 8 December 1933.[1]

In the spring of 2015, the town of Lourdes lobbied for Soubirous' remains to be returned to Lourdes, a move opposed by the city of Nevers.[17]


Bishop Gauthey of Nevers and the Church exhumed the body of Soubirous on 22 September 1909, in the presence of representatives appointed by the postulators of the cause, two doctors and a sister of the community. They claimed that although the crucifix in her hand and her rosary had both oxidized, her body appeared incorrupt – preserved from decomposition. This was cited as one of the miracles to support her canonization. They washed and reclothed her body before burial in a new double casket.

The Church exhumed the corpse a second time on 3 April 1919. A doctor who examined the body noted, "The body is practically mummified, covered with patches of mildew and quite a notable layer of salts, which appear to be calcium salts. ... The skin has disappeared in some places, but it is still present on most parts of the body."

In 1925, the church exhumed the body for a third time. They took relics, which were sent to Rome. A precise imprint of the face was molded so that the firm of Pierre Imans in Paris could make a wax mask based on the imprints and on some genuine photos to be placed on her body. This was common practice for relics in France as it was feared that the blackish tinge to the face and the sunken eyes and nose would be viewed as corruption by the public. Imprints of the hands were also taken for the presentation of the body and the making of wax casts. The remains were then placed in a gold and crystal reliquary in the Chapel of Saint Bernadette at the motherhouse in Nevers.

Three years later in 1928, Doctor Comte published a report on the exhumation of Soubirous in the second issue of the Bulletin de I'Association medicale de Notre-Dame de Lourdes.

"I would have liked to open the left side of the thorax to take the ribs as relics and then remove the heart which I am certain must have survived. However, as the trunk was slightly supported on the left arm, it would have been rather difficult to try and get at the heart without doing too much noticeable damage. As the Mother Superior had expressed a desire for the Saint's heart to be kept together with the whole body, and as Monsignor the Bishop did not insist, I gave up the idea of opening the left-hand side of the thorax and contented myself with removing the two right ribs which were more accessible. ... What struck me during this examination, of course, was the state of perfect preservation of the skeleton, the fibrous tissues of the muscles (still supple and firm), of the ligaments, and of the skin, and above all the totally unexpected state of the liver after 46 years. One would have thought that this organ, which is basically soft and inclined to crumble, would have decomposed very rapidly or would have hardened to a chalky consistency. Yet, when it was cut it was soft and almost normal in consistency. I pointed this out to those present, remarking that this did not seem to be a natural phenomenon."[18]

In media

  • In 1909 the French short movie Bernadette Soubirous et les Apparitions de Lourdes, directed by Honoré Le Sablais,[19][20] is the first attempt to tell with the new cinematographic art the story of Bernadette, according to RAI 3 documentary Lourdes. La storia.[21]
  • In 1924 the French film Le miracle de Lourdes directed by Bernard Simon with Pierrette Lugand in the role of Soubirous.
  • In 1926 the French film La vie merveilleuse de Bernadette directed by Georges Pallu and starring Alexandra as Soubirous.
  • In 1935 the Portuguese Georges Pallu directed La Vierge du rocher ("The Virgin of the Rock") with Micheline Masson in the role of Bernadette.[22]
  • Soubirous' life was given a fictionalized treatment in Franz Werfel's novel, The Song of Bernadette, which was later adapted by Henry King into a 1943 film of the same name, starring Jennifer Jones as Bernadette and the uncredited Linda Darnell as the Immaculate Conception. Jones won the Best Actress Oscar for this portrayal.[23]
  • On 13 October 1958, the Westinghouse Desilu Playhouse presented Song of Bernadette on the CBS television network starring Italian-born film and television actress Pier Angeli as Bernadette Soubirous. The cast also featured Marian Seldes and Norman Alden. The program, hosted by Desi Arnaz, was adapted by Ludi Claire from a story by Margaret Gray Blanton. It was directed by both Ralph Alswang and Claudio Guzmán.
  • In 1960, Andy Williams released his album The Village of St. Bernadette, which featured the 1959 song "The Village of St. Bernadette". It was one of Williams' few Top 10 singles he garnered throughout his career.
  • In 1961 Daniéle Ajoret portrayed Bernadette in Bernadette of Lourdes (French title: Il suffit d'aimer or Love is Enough) of Robert Darène.[24][25]
  • In 1961 the German TV movie Bernadette Soubirous directed by Hans Quest and starring Kornelia Boje.[26]
  • Cristina Galbó portrayed Aquella joven de blanco (A Little Maiden in White), Spain, 1965, directed by León Klimovsky.[27]
  • In 1967 a French TV movie L'affaire Lourdes directed by Marcel Bluwal and starring Marie-Hélène Breillat as Bernadette.
  • In 1981 Andrea del Boca portrayed Bernadette in a homonymous Argentine television mini-series directed by her father Nicolás del Boca[28] (4 episodes of 1 hour each).[29]
  • In 1987, Jennifer Warnes recorded "Song of Bernadette", co-written with Leonard Cohen, for her album of Cohen compositions Famous Blue Raincoat. The first verse refers to the "child called Bernadette" who "saw the Queen of Heaven once". The song has been covered by other well-known artists, including Anne Murray and Bette Midler.
  • Bernadette in 1988 and La Passion de Bernadette (The Passion of Bernadette) in 1989 by Jean Delannoy, starring Sydney Penny in the lead role.[30]
  • In 1990 Fernando Uribe and Steven Hahn directed a short animated film, Bernadette: La Princesa de Lourdes, produced by John Williams and Jorge Gonzalez, available in English since 1991 with the title Bernadette – The Princess of Lourdes.[31]
  • Angèle Osinsky portrayed Saint Bernadette in the Italian TV movie Lourdes, 2000, by Lodovico Gasparini.
  • In 2002, the musical Vision by Jonathan Smith and Dominic Hartley, depicting the life of Bernadette, debuted in Liverpool. It has been performed in the UK, France, and Nigeria.[32]
  • In 2007 the Indian film Our Lady of Lourdes directed by V.R. Gopinath and starring Ajna Noiseux.[33][34]
  • In 2009 Bernadette, an opera in three acts by Trevor Jones. First performance 2016 in Gloucestershire, England.[35]
  • In 2011 the French short movie Grotta profunda, les humeurs du gouffre directed by Pauline Curnier-Jardin and starring Simon Fravega.[36]
  • In 2011 the French film Je m'appelle Bernadette directed by Jean Sagols and starring Katia Cuq (Katia Miran).
  • In 2013 the French TV movie Une femme nommée Marie, directed by Robert Hossein and Dominique Thiel, starring Manon Le Moal.[37]
  • In 2013 Bernadette Kaviyam, a book published by Geetham Publications, Chennai. Bernadetts life explained with poetry by Poet C.P.Sivarasan, Mangalakuntu.
  • In 2015 "Le Coup de Grâce", an original song about St. Bernadette, was published and released on YouTube by American songwriter Orv Pibbs.[38]

See also

Notes and references

  1. Ruggles, Robin (1999). Apparition shrines. Places of pilgrimage and prayer. Boston: Pauline Books & Media. p. 68. ISBN 0-81984799-2. ISBN 978-081984799-7.
  2. Media, Franciscan (16 April 2016). "Saint Bernadette Soubirous". Retrieved 24 October 2019.
  3. "UPI Almanac for Monday, Jan, 7, 2019". United Press International. 7 January 2019. Archived from the original on 21 September 2019. Retrieved 21 September 2019. Marie-Bernarde Soubirous, who became St. Bernadette and whose visions led to the foundation of the shrine at Lourdes, France, in 1844
  4. ""Saint Bernadette Soubirous", Lives of Saints, John J. Crawley & Co., Inc". Retrieved 24 October 2019.
  5. Taylor 42.
  6. Taylor 59–60.
  7. Taylor 62–63.
  8. Taylor 68–69.
  9. Taylor 84.
  10. "Biography of Bernadette Soubirous". Biography Online.
  11. Taylor 88–90.
  12. "Miraculous cures in Lourdes".
  13. von Huben, Ellyn (11 February 2015). "10 Things to Know About Our Lady of Lourdes and St Bernadette". Word on Fire. Retrieved 8 December 2018.
  14. "Religious life".
  15. McEachern, Patricia (2005). A Holy Life": The Writings of St. Bernadette. San Francisco: Ignatius Press.
  16. Fr. Paolo O. Pirlo, SHMI (1997). "Our Lady of Lourdes". My First Book of Saints. Sons of Holy Mary Immaculate – Quality Catholic Publications. pp. 49–50. ISBN 971-91595-4-5.
  17. Henri Neuendorf (4 May 2015). "Battle over Remains of St. Bernadette of Lourdes – artnet News". artnet News.
  18. "The Marvelous Preservation of St. Bernadette". National Catholic Register. Retrieved 24 October 2019.
  19. Ruiz, Christophe (8 October 2008). "Cinéma: Un festival "Lourdes au cinéma"". La Semaine des Pyrénées (in French). Retrieved 3 July 2013.
  20. (in French) See occurrences on Google.
  21. (in Italian) RAI 3 – Lourdes. La storia.
  22. Credits at IMDb.
  23. The Song of Bernadette on IMDb.
  24. Theatrical poster.
  25. Christophe Ruiz. "Cinéma: Un festival "Lourdes au cinéma"".
  26. Bernadette Soubirous on IMDb.
  27. Aquella joven de blanco on IMDb.
  28. "Los especiales de ATC" (in Spanish). 1981. Archived from the original on 12 November 2013. Retrieved 27 August 2013.CS1 maint: BOT: original-url status unknown (link)
  29. "Forever Andrea Television". Archived from the original on 16 April 2013. Retrieved 27 August 2013.
  30. Theatrical poster.
  31. VHS tape and DVD Release Archived 29 October 2013 at the Wayback Machine.
  32. Broadcast Productions (7 January 2016). "Home".
  33. Our Lady of Lourdes on IMDb.
  34. DVD poster Archived 3 October 2015 at the Wayback Machine.
  35. Official website.
  36. Grotta profunda, les humeurs du gouffre on IMDb.
  37. Une femme nommée Marie on IMDb.
  38. "Le Coup de Grâce" on YouTube.


  • Taylor, Thérèse (2003). Bernadette of Lourdes. Burns and Oates. ISBN 0-86012-337-5.
  • Sadler, Anna T. The Wonders of Lourdes, (1875)
  • Clarke, SJ, Richard. Lourdes: Its Inhabitants, Its Pilgrims, and Its Miracles, (1888)
  • Keyes, Frances Parkinson. Bernadette of Lourdes (1955)
  • Laurentin, Rene. Visage de Bernadette, Lourdes (1978), (French)
  • Bernadette of Lourdes, St. Gildard, Nevers, France, (1926)
  • Annales de Notre Dame de Lourdes (Missionaries of the Immaculate Conception), Lourdes 1871 (French)
  • The Wonders of Massabielle at Lourdes (Rev. S. Pruvost), 1925
  • Notre Dame de Lourdes (Henri Lasserre), Paris 1870 (French)
  • Bernadette (Henri Lasserre), Paris 1879 (year of Bernadette's death), (French)
  • Our Lady of Lourdes (Henri Lasserre), June 1906 (English)
  • The Miracle Joint at Lourdes] From Essays by Woolsey Teller, Copyright 1945 by The Truth Seeker Company, Inc. Critique of the Lourdes story.[1]
  • Our Lady of Lourdes (Henri Lasserre), 1875 (English)
  • La Sainte Vierge a Lourdes, 1877 (French)
  • Das Lied von Bernadette (Franz Werfel), 1953 (German)
  • The Happening at Lourdes (Alan Neame), 1967
  • Lourdes (Ruth Harris), 1999
  • After Bernadette (Don Sharkey), 1945
  • And I Shall Be Healed (Edeltraud Fulda), 1960
  • Saint Bernadette (Margaret Trouncer), 1964
  • A Queen's Command (Anna Kuhn), 1947
  • Bernadette (Marcelle Auclair), 1958
  • A Holy Life: St. Bernadette of Lourdes (Patricia McEachern), 2005
  • The Story of Bernadette (Rev. J. Lane), 1997
  • The Wonder of Lourdes (John Oxenham), 1926
  • Lourdes (Émile Zola), 1895 (German)
  • Bernadette Speaks: A Life of Saint Bernadette Soubirous in Her Own Words, René Laurentin, Pauline Books and Media, 2000.
  • St. Bernadette (Leonard Von Matt / Francis Trochu), 1957
  • Bernadette of Lourdes (J.H. Gregory), 1914 (1st U.S. book)
  • Lourdes (Émile Zola), 2000 (English)
  • The Miracle of Bernadette (Margaret Gray Blanton), 1958
  • My Witness, Bernadette (J.B. Estrade), 1951
  • St. Bernadette Soubirous: 1844–1879, by Abbe Francois Trochu, TAN Books and Publishers, Inc., 1957.
  • 'We Saw Her (B.G. Sandhurst), 1953
  • Werfel, Franz. The Song of Bernadette, 1942

Magazines and articles

  • L'Illustration Journal Universal: Story covering Bernadette and apparitions from time of apparitions (23 October 1858)
  • The London Illustrated News: The Election of Pope Pius XI (11 February 1922)
  • L'Opinion Publique: The Funeral of Pope Pius IX (14 March 1878)
  • The Illustrated London News: The Conclave & Election of the Pope (9 March 1878)
  • The Graphic: With the Lourdes Pilgrims (7 October 1876)
  • Harpers Weekly: French Pilgrims – Romish Superstitions (16 November 1872)
  • The Graphic: A Trip to the Pyrenees (12 October 1872)
  • Harpers Weekly: The Last French Miracle (20 November 1858) – Recounts actual happenings at the time of apparitions
  • St. Paul Dispatch: Throne of St. Peter Made Vacant by the Death of Pope Leo XIII, (21 July 1903)
  • St. Paul Dispatch: Cardinal Sarto (St. Pope Pius X) of Venice Called to Throne of St. Peter, (5 August 1903)
  • The Minneapolis Journal: Pope Pius X is Reported Dead; Relapse Caused by Grief Over War (19 August 1914)

Media related to Bernadette Soubirous at Wikimedia Commons

  1. "The Miracle Joint At Lourdes". Retrieved 24 October 2019.
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