Marie Bernarde Soubirous
Type of Spiritual Experience
Bernadette (Marie Bernarde Soubirous) (Gascon name: Bernadeta Sobiróus; 7 January 1844 – 16 April 1879) was a miller's daughter born in Lourdes, France. Soubirous is best known for her participation in the Marian apparitions of "a small young lady" who asked for a chapel to be built at a cave-grotto in Massabielle where apparitions are said to have occurred between 11 February and 16 July 1858.
Despite initial skepticism from the Catholic Church, Soubirous's claims were eventually declared "worthy of belief" after a canonical investigation, and the Marian apparition is now known as Our Lady of Lourdes. The Marian shrine at Nevers (Bourgogne, France) went on to become a major pilgrimage site, attracting over five million Christian pilgrims of all denominations each year.
A description of the experience
On 11 February 1858, Bernadette, then aged 14, was out gathering firewood with her sister Marie and a friend near the grotto of Massabielle (Tuta de Massavielha) when she had her first vision.
As she recounted later, while the other girls crossed the little stream in front of the grotto and walked on, Bernadette stayed behind, looking for a place to cross where she wouldn't get her stockings wet. She finally sat down in the grotto to take her shoes off in order to cross the water and was lowering her first 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, 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.
On 14 February, after Sunday Mass, Bernadette, with her sister Marie and some other girls, returned to the grotto. Bernadette knelt down immediately, saying she saw aquero 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. Bernadette fell into a state of shock and the girl who had thrown the rock thought she had killed her. On her next visit, 18 February, she said that "the vision" asked her to return to the grotto every day for a fortnight.
This period of almost daily visions came to be known as la Quinzaine sacrée, "holy fortnight." Initially, her parents, especially her mother, were embarrassed and tried to forbid her to go. .... The girl herself remained stubbornly calm and consistent during her interrogations, never changing her story or her attitude, and never claiming knowledge beyond what she said the vision told her. 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. Bernadette 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.
In the 150 years since Bernadette dug up the spring, 67 cures have been verified by the Lourdes Medical Bureau as "inexplicable", but only 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 also 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 herself said that it was faith and prayer that cured the sick.
The source of the experienceOrdinary person
Concepts, symbols and science items
Science ItemsPlacebo effect
Activities and commonsteps
OverloadsVisiting holy wells and springs
SuppressionsBeing a child
Believing in the spiritual world