Bernadette’s mother allowed her to go with her younger sister Maria and a friend out to the fields to gather dry wood. The favorite spot for this was a field in front of the grotto. Due to her frail health, Bernadette stayed behind.
The girls crossed the stream, but Bernadette did not dare to enter the water because it was too cold.
The girls insisted that she try, and when she started to take off her shoes, a very loud noise, like strong winds, made her raise her head and look around. “What is this ?” she said. The leaves from the trees did not move. The loud noise of the wind started again and was strongest around the grotto. At the rear of the grotto a marvelous apparition stood out in front of her. At this same moment the Church bells started to ring to announce the Angelus.
The first apparition
A light brilliant as the sun, but sweet and gentle, like everything that comes from heaven, a beautiful lady was seen by Bernadette. She was dressed with a brilliant white dress, of unknown texture and tied to it was a blue ribbon; a long white veil that fell to her feet covered her body. Her bare feet of a virginal cleanliness seemed to lean on the wild rose bush. Two gold color brilliant roses covered the top of the Blessed Virgin Mary’s feet. Her hands were clasped together in front of her chest in a fervent, prayerful position. She held a long white and gold rosary with a beautiful golden cross between her fingers.
Everything in her radiated happiness, majesty, innocence, goodness, sweetness and peace. Her forehead was smooth and serene; her eyes where blue, full of love; and her lips appeared soft and meek. Our Lady seemed to be greeting Bernadette tenderly while she bent toward her.
Bernadette took her rosary from her pocket (since she always carried it with her), made the sign of the cross as if to protect herself, and her hand became paralyzed. At this moment the Blessed Virgin took the cross of the rosary, made the sign of the cross, and asked Bernadette to do the same. Her paralyzed arm became free at that moment. Our Lady started to go through the beads of the rosary between her fingers and Bernadette started to pray her rosary. After she finished, Our Lady made a sign with her finger so that Bernadette may come closer. With her hand extended she leaned gently with a smile as if she was departing from her. The vision ended !
Bernadette asked the other girls if they saw something, and they responded they had not. She told them her experience and asked them to keep silence, but Bernadette’s sister told her mother. Her mother did not believe and ordered Bernadette to stop thinking such daydreams and prohibited her from going to the grotto again.
That same evening while praying the family rosary, Bernadette broke out in tears, repeating her favorite invocation : “ Oh, Mary, conceived without sin, pray for us who have recourse to thee.”
On February 14th, the girls insisted on receiving permission to return to the grotto. Everyone thought that what happened to Bernadette was from the devil, and she was told to return to the grotto and pour holy water. This way, the devil will flee and all will be at peace.
When arriving at the Grotto, Bernadette asked the people to kneel and pray the holy rosary. The Blessed Mother appeared again. Bernadette’s face was transfigured. She sprinkled holy water and said: “ If you come from God, come near us.” The holy water touched the Blessed Mother’s feet and Mary came closer to Bernadette with a gentle smile . She took the holy rosary and made the sign of the cross. Both started to pray.
By the afternoon the whole town started to comment about the wonderful things occurring at the grotto in Lourdes, but along with the commentaries came mockery, insults, and disdain.
Bernadette’s parents started to believe her because she had never lied and was characterized by her obedience. Also, they were convinced by how naturally she retold the events and their minute details.
On February 18th, a lady and a religious wanted to accompany Bernadette to the grotto. They went first to Mass with her at 5:30 am and from there to the grotto. Bernadette walked so fast as if a greater force was pushing her. She kneeled and started to pray the rosary. Then she screamed with joy to see Our Lady at the end of the grotto. She asked her if she may stay with her two companions and the Blessed Mother agreed. They also kneeled, started to pray the rosary, and lit the blessed candle.
Bernadette handed a paper to Our Blessed Mother and asked her to write down what she desired to communicate. The Virgin said : “ What I have to communicate is not necessary to write down, just grant me the gift of coming here during 15 consecutive days.” Bernadette promised Our Lady to do so and Our Lady responded: “ I also promise to make you happy, no in this world, but in the next.”
The fifteen miraculous days
Rumors of the apparitions expanded rapidly and great multitudes of people visited the grotto.
February 19th: Bernadette arrived at the grotto accompanied by her parents and many people. From this day on she went to all the apparitions with a lighted candle.
February 20th : about 500 people went with Bernadette.
February 21st: hundreds and thousands of people filled the grotto area. At one point it seemed as if the apparition was moving towards the back, as if burring itself in the rock. So as not to lose Mary from her sight, Bernadette approached closer on her knees. She observed that Our Blessed Mother become saddenned. She asked her : “What is wrong ? What can I do ?”
The Blessed Mother responded: “Pray for sinners.”
Bernadette was an object of ridicule, persecutions, and offenses. The civil authorities also became involved. The commissioner even picked her up from her house to examine her, threatening to take her to jail if she continued going to the grotto. One of the main doctors of Lourdes decided to study her case and observe and examine her. The doctor’s examination concluded that Bernadette had no indication of hallucination, hysteria, or escape from reality. He said : “here is a extraordinary event, totally unknown to science and medicine.”
Nonetheless, the persecutions did not cease and the police continued treating her unjustly. The parish pastor eagerly defended her. In all this Bernadette stood firm, with humility, never taking a defensive position and never attacking anyone.
February 22nd: The Blessed Mother did not appear. All the people made fun of Bernadette. She cried thinking perhaps she had committed an offense and that was the reason why Our Blessed Mother did not appear. But she had firm hope of seeing Mary again.
One of the most surprising things for the people was to see a simple, humble, uneducated shepherd girl, to greet the Blessed Mother with so much grace and dignity after the apparitions.
At one time she was asked: “Tell me, who taught you to be so gracious at your greetings?” She responded: “No one, I don’t know how I greet, I just try to do the same as the vision, she also greets me this way when she departs.”
February 23rd: It’s the first time the Blessed Virgin orders something concrete. Before 10 million people Our Blessed Mother gave Bernadette a secret that only she can keep and not give to anyone. She also taught her a prayer to repeat, but not to let others know it.
The Blessed Mother said: “Now, my daughter, go and tell the priest to erect in this place a Sanctuary, and people should come here in procession.”
Bernadette went immediately to the church to give the message to the Pastor. The priest asked her the name of the lady and Bernadette responded that she did not know it.
After listening to her, the pastor said: “Can you understand that your testimony alone is not enough for me. Tell the lady to let herself be known; if it is the Virgin, may she manifest it through a great miracle. Did you not tell me that she appears on a wild rose bush ? Well then, tell the lady for me that if she wants a sanctuary, may the rose bush blossom.”
February 24th: The people wanted to know what happened with the Pastor’s petition and if the Blessed Mother would do this miracle of the rose bush. Bernadette as usual arrived at the grotto and kneeled without paying attention to the curiosity of the people around her. Bernadette told Mary what the priest requested. Our Blessed Mother only smiled without saying a word. She then asked her to pray for sinners and exclaimed three times: “Penance, Penance, Penance!” She asked Bernadette to repeat these words and she did so as she kneeled towards the back of the grotto. Mary revealed a personal secret there and then disappeared.
Because of her humility Bernadette did not relate all the details, but witnesses recount that they also saw her kiss the ground at different times. The Blessed Mother said to her: “Pray for sinners . . . you will kiss the ground for the conversion of sinners.” As the vision moved back, Bernadette would follow it kneeling and kissing the ground. Bernadette turned to the people and said with signs: “You also kiss the ground.”
Since then Bernadette received the mission to do penance for sinners. One day the Virgin asked her to go up and down the grotto on her knees. The Virgin’s face was very sad. “The Virgin has ordered this for me and for others,” Bernadette said.
February 25th: Mary said: “My daughter, I want to entrust the last secret only to you; just as the last two, do not reveal them to any person in this world.”
After a moment of silence the Virgin said: “And now go and drink and wash your feet at the fountain, and eat the grass there.”
Bernadette looked around her, and saw no fountain. She thought the Virgin was sending her to the stream nearby and ran to it.
The Blessed Mother stopped her and said: “Don’t go there, go to the fountain that is here.” She pointed to the grotto.
Bernadette went up and stopped near the rock. She looked for the fountain with no success, and so as trying to obey, she looked at Mary. Having been given a new sign from Mary, Bernadette inclined down and started digging into the dirt with her hands, successfully digging a hole. All of a sudden it started to become humid and coming from unknown depth, through the rocks, water started to appear and rapidly fill the hole with as much water to fill a glass.
Mixed with swampy dirt, Bernadette put it on her lips three times, with no intention of drinking it. Overcoming her repugnance to the dirty water, she drank it and wet her face. The people started to laugh and made fun of her, saying she was mad. But in God’s mysterious designs, Bernadette with her fragile hands just unknowingly opened the spring of healings and great miracles that have moved humanity.
The miraculous water of Lourdes has been examined by prominent scientists: it is virgin water, very pure, natural water, lacking thermal properties. Also, it has the particularity that no bacteria live in this water (Symbol of the Immaculate Conception, in which there never was in her a stain of original or personal sin).
February 26th: The miraculous waters produced the first miracle. The good pastor of Lourdes had asked for a small sign, but the Blessed Virgin gave the entire population and him a very large one.
The first miracle of healing
In Lourdes lived a poor working man, a stone cutter named Bourriette who had his left eye mutilated by a mine explosion 20 years ago. He was a very honest and Christian man. He sent his daughter to the new fountain for water and started to pray. Even though the water was dirty he rubbed his eye with it. He then started to scream with joy.
The darkness disappeared: nothing but a small cloud was left which also disappeared as he continued washing his eye with the water. Doctors had said that he would never recover his sight. Upon examining him again, no choice was left but to call it a miracle.
The most amazing thing was that the miracle left the scars and the profound lesions of the wound, but his sight was recovered.
One day, at the end of an apparition, Bernadette turned to her aunt and said: “would you like to give a candle and allow me to leave it here at the grotto?” She went towards the grotto and left the lighted candle, sustained by a rock. At this moment, the candle was the only one; today millions of candles burn constantly before the image of Our Lady. The lighted candle is a beautiful symbol: the white and virgin wax always represents humanity- Christ became human through Mary, and united to the Divinity is the light of the world.
Like the wax of the candle is consumed, this sacred humanity is consumed before God in adoration, prayers, supplications, and thanksgiving. The light of the candle, shining and radiant, symbolizes the Divinity of the Son of Mary. The lighted candle also represents the Christian person who illuminated by faith should be consumed before God as a victim o f penance and love.
March 2nd: Bernadette goes again to see the pastor of Lourdes, reminding him of Mary’s request to build a sanctuary on the sight of the apparitions. The pastor said it was a work for the Bishop who is already aware of the petition and the one responsible to fulfill the celestial desire of the vision.
March 4th: On the last day, as was her usual habit, Bernadette went to Holy Mass before going to the grotto. At the end of the apparition she felt deep sadness, the sadness of separation. “Will I see the Virgin again?”
The Virgin, always generous, did not allow the day to end without a manifestation of her goodness: a great miracle, a maternal miracle, the crowning of the fifteen apparitions.
The miracle: a two-year old child named Justino who was already agonizing. Since birth he had high fever that little by little was deteriorating his life. On the day of the miracle, his parents thought he was dead. The mother in desperation took the child and ran to the fountain. The child did not have any vital signs. The mother immersed the child in the cold water for 15 minutes. After she returned to the house, she noticed the child was breathing normally. The following day Justino woke up with a healthy complexion, his eyes full of life, he asked for food, and his legs were strengthened. This event moved the whole region and soon afterwards all of France and Europe. Three well known doctors certified the miracle, naming it of first degree.
After this the governor of Tarbes, the city to which Lourdes belonged, united all the mayors of the area to give precise instructions on how to immediately prohibit the people from visiting the grotto. All was in vain because more and more pilgrims from all over went to the grotto every day.
Bernadette continued going to the grotto, even despite the persecutions and mockery. She would go pray the rosary with the pilgrims, but the gentle vision did not appear. She resigned herself to not seeing the Virgin again.
March 25th: Feast of the Annunciation, Bernadette had a strong urge to go to the grotto. So she joyfully obeyed this inner call in her heart and immediately went to the grotto.
Since it was a solemnity, the pilgrims hoped the Blessed Mother would appear when Bernadette arrived. Bernadette was amazed by the number of people at the Grotto. In the story of the apparitions, this day of March 25th, is a day of glory. Bernadette asked Our Lady again: “In your kindness, can you please tell me who you are and what is your name ?” The vision was brighter then ever, always smiling, being her smile the only response. Bernadette insisted: “Can you please tell me who you are? I beg you, my Lady.”
Then the Lady’s gaze left Bernadette, she separated her hands, and slipped in her arm the rosary she held on her fingers, raising at the same time her hands and her radiant head. Her hands united again in front of her chest and more brilliant than the light directed her gaze to heaven and said:
“I AM THE IMMACULATE CONCEPTION.” She disappeared, leaving Bernadette with this image and name.
Bernadette heard those words for the first time. While she headed to the rectory to tell the pastor (he had ordered her to ask the name of the vision), she repeated along the way “Immaculate Conception,” mysterious and difficult words for an illiterate child.
Upon hearing the events from Bernadette, the pastor was astonished. How can a girl without any religious instruction know about a dogma only proclaimed by the Church four years ago? In 1854, Pope Pio IX had defined the dogma of the Immaculate Conception.
The priest proved that Bernadette was right; it was indeed the Blessed Virgin Mary, the sovereign Mother of God, who appeared at the grotto.
April 5th: Monday of Easter. Bernadette returned to the grotto, surrounded by a multitude of people praying with her. As usual she kneeled, and in her left hand the lighted candle that she always took with her and placed it on the ground.
Absorbed in contemplation of the Queen of Heaven, more so now that she was assured of the identity of the Blessed Virgin Mary, Bernadette raised her hands and as she brought them down again she did not realize that she was touching the flame of the candle. So, the flame penetrated her fingers from side to side according to the gusts of wind.
People started to scream: “She is getting burned.” But she remained motionless. A doctor near Bernadette confirmed with his watch that for more than 15 minutes her hand was on the flame without moving whatsoever. Everyone screamed “ miracle!” The doctor confirmed that Bernadette’s hand was unharmed.
After the apparition ended one of the spectators approached Bernadette’s hand with the same flame of the lighted candle and she exclaimed: “Oh, do you want to burn me?”
The last apparition
July 16th - Our Lady of Mt. Carmel. Bernadette again felt urged to visit the grotto which was fenced, guarded, and prohibited. She was accompanied by her aunt and some neighbors and crossed through the grassland adjacent to the grotto. They knelt as close as possible to the grotto without actually arriving there. Bernadette received the last visit from the Blessed Mother and said: “she never appeared so glorious.”
Bernadette accomplished her mission with great love and courage among all the sufferings endured and obstacles by the enemy in her path. Her confessor said repeatedly: “The greatest proof of the apparitions is Bernadette herself, her life.”
Summary of the Messages of the Virgin Mary of Lourdes
The messages the Blessed Virgin Mary gave at Lourdes, France in 1858 are summarized as follows:
1- It is an appreciation from heaven of the definition of the dogma of the Immaculate Conception, declared four years prior (in 1854). At the same time, She presents herself as Mother and model of purity for the world in need of this virtue.
2- It is an exaltation to the virtues of poverty and humility accepted in a Christian way by having chosen Bernadette as an instrument of her messages.
3- An important message in Lourdes is the Cross. The Blessed Mother repeats that the most important thing is to be happy in the other life, even though it is necessary to accept the Cross to achieve happiness.
4- The importance of prayer, the rosary, penance, and humility (kissing the ground as a sign); a message of infinite mercy for sinners and for the care of the sick.
Important points for reflection about the visible signs in the first apparition which include great spiritual teachings:
1- Surrounded by light: this is a symbol of the light of faith which we receive at Baptism. Faith is the light of life with which we should shine before the world. We should transmit the brilliance of faith by our sanctity of life.
2- The light was tranquil and profound: in our Christian faith we find repose for our souls.
3- Of incomparable beauty, there is nothing like it here on earth : work unceasingly to acquire the true beauty of soul so that it is pleasing for God to contemplate.
4 - White dress, pure and delicate, never has anyone been able to imitate : our soul should be dressed in purity and be delicate before God; sin stains our white dress.
5- Bare feet, on top of which is a brilliant rose : bare feet preach to us about the evangelical poverty of the Gospels which is a beautiful and sublime virtue that to those who practice it Jesus has promised himself the Kingdom of Heaven. The luminous rose is a call to be the fragrance of Christ to all, the divine fragrance of the Gospels.
6- Her hands always together, with the Holy Rosary in fervent prayer, praying always without ceasing : prayer is our constant nourishment, the breath of our soul, all the virtues are born in the soul that prays.
Our Lady of Lourdes, pray for us!
The apparitions of Our Lady of Lourdes and the Church
January 18th, 1862: the Bishop signed the pastoral letter approving the apparitions, its supernatural character, and the authentic life of the visionary.
1874: Pope Pius IX granted the sanctuary the title of Basilica.
1876: solemnly crowned the statue of the Virgin.
León XIII: approved the office of mass for Lourdes.
Pio X: named Lourdes: “Throne of power and mercy of Mary, where marvelous apparitions of Mary took place.”
1907: this same Pope extended the celebration of the Feast Day of Lourdes to the universal Church.
Pio XI: affirmed: “Lourdes is the place where the Blessed Virgin appeared several times to the blessed Bernadette who exhorted all men to penance.” He elevated St. Bernadette Soubirous to the altar on December 8th, 1933.
Pio XII: wrote the encyclical “The pilgrimage to Lourdes,” the most complete document on Lourdes.
Juan XXIII: in the closing of the centenary of the apparitions of Lourdes, he recalled the following : “The Church, through the voice of the Popes, does not cease in recommending to Catholics to pay attention to the messages of Lourdes.”
Finally, John Paul II is the first Pope to go on a pilgrimage to Lourdes in 1983, with the motive of the 125 anniversary of the apparitions. He celebrated Holy Mass on August 15th, affirming twice: “We come in pilgrimage to Lourdes, where Mary said to Bernadette: I’m the Immaculate Conception. Here she spoke to a simple girl of Lourdes, prayed with her the holy rosary, gave her several messages.” The Pope concluded: “The Blessed Virgin comes to save sinners.”
Last year on August 14th, the Holy Father returned to Lourdes to honor Mary on the 150th anniversary of the proclamation of her Immaculate Conception.
Throughout the Holy Father’s two-day pilgrimage, he was absorbed in prayer as he visited the Sacred Grotto where Our Lady appeared, prayed with pilgrims, and celebrated Mass on the Feast of the Assumption. Speaking from the balcony of the Accueill Notre Dame Center on the eve of the Assumption, the pope referred to Our Lady’s apparitions to Bernadette as a “dialogue between Heaven and earth which has continued and which is still ongoing.”