- Our Lady of Lourdes
Our Lady of Lourdes Location Lourdes, France Date 11 February — 16 July 1858 Witness Saint Bernadette Soubirous Type Marian apparition Holy See approval 1862, during the pontificate of Pope Pius IX Shrine Sanctuary of Our Lady of Lourdes, Lourdes, France
Our Lady of Lourdes is the name used to refer to the Marian apparition said to have appeared before various individuals on separate occasions around Lourdes, France. The apparitions of Our Lady of Lourdes began on 11 February 1858, when Saint Bernadette Soubirous, a 14-year-old peasant girl from Lourdes, told her mother, after being asked, that she had seen a "lady" in the cave of Massabielle, about a mile from the town, while gathering firewood with her sister and a friend. Similar appearances of the "lady" were reported on seventeen further occasions that year.
Bernadette Soubirous was canonized as a saint, and most Catholics and some Protestants believe her apparitions to have been of the Blessed Virgin Mary. In 1862, Pope Pius IX authorized the local bishop to permit the veneration of the Blessed Virgin Mary in Lourdes.
On 11 February 1858, Bernadette Soubirous went with her sisters Toinette and Jeanne Abadie to collect some firewood and bones in order to buy some bread. After taking off her shoes and stockings to wade through the water near the Grotto of Massabielle, she said she heard the sound of two gusts of wind (coups de vent) but the trees and bushes nearby did not move. She said she saw a light in the grotto and a girl, as small as she was, dressed all in white, apart from the blue belt fastened around her waist and the golden yellow roses, one on each foot, the colour of her rosary. Bernadette tried to keep this a secret, but Toinette told her mother. After parental cross-examination, she and her sister received corporal punishment for their story.
Three days later, Bernadette returned to the Grotto. She had brought holy water as a test that the apparition was not of evil provenance; however, she said the vision only inclined her head gratefully when the water was cast.
Bernadette's companions are said to have become afraid when they saw her in ecstasy. She remained ecstatic even as they returned to the village. On 18 February, she spoke of being told by the Lady to return to the Grotto over a period of two weeks. She quoted the apparition: I promise to make you happy, not in this world, but in the next. 
After the news spread,and her parents took interest. Bernadette was ordered by her parents to never go there again. She went anyway, and on 24 February, Bernadette related that the apparition asked for prayer and penitence for the conversion of sinners. The next day, she said the apparition asked her to dig in the ground and drink from the spring she found there. This made her disheveled and some of her supporters were dismayed, but this act revealed the stream that soon became a focal point for pilgrimages.
Although it was muddy at first, the stream became increasingly clean. As word spread, this water was given to medical patients of all kinds, and many reports of miraculous cures followed. Seven of these cures were confirmed as lacking any medical explanations by Professor Verges in 1860. The first person with a “certified miracle” was a woman whose right hand had been deformed as a consequence of an accident. Several miracles turned out to be short-term improvement or even hoaxes, and Church and government officials became increasingly concerned. The government fenced off the Grotto and issued stiff penalties for anybody trying to get near the off-limits area. In the process, Lourdes became a national issue in France, resulting in the intervention of emperor Napoleon III with an order to reopen the grotto on 4 October 1858. The Church had decided to stay away from the controversy altogether.
Bernadette, knowing the local area well, managed to visit the barricaded grotto under cover of darkness. There, on 25 March, she said she was told: "I am the Immaculate Conception" ("que soy era immaculada concepciou"). On Easter Sunday, 7 April, her examining doctor stated that Bernadette, in ecstasy, was observed to have held her hands over a lit candle without sustaining harm. On 16 July, Bernadette went for the last time to the Grotto. I have never seen her so beautiful before, she reported.
The Church, faced with nationwide questions, decided to institute an investigative commission on 17 November 1858. On 18 January 1860, the local bishop finally declared that: The Virgin Mary did appear indeed to Bernadette Soubirous. These events established the Marian veneration in Lourdes, which together with Fátima, is one of the most frequented Marian shrines in the world, and to which between 4 and 6 million pilgrims travel annually.
The veracity of the apparitions of Lourdes is not an article of faith for Catholics. Nevertheless, all recent Popes visited the Marian shine. Benedict XV, Pius XI, and John XXIII went there as bishops, Pius XII as papal delegate. Working with Le Pelerinage de Lourdes he also issued, an encyclical on the hundredth anniversary of the apparitions in 1958. John Paul II visited Lourdes three times and Benedict XVI made a visit to Lourdes on 15 September 2008, to commemorate the 150th anniversary of the apparitions of 1858.
To the Catholic faithful, the many reports of apparitions of the Mother of God over the centuries, not only in Lourdes, but in many other locations, are a unique religious phenomenon, giving testimony of the power of God and the mediatrix role of the Mother of the Son of God. The Church differentiates between corporal apparitions and imaginative ones. While over 500 apparitions are reported throughout the centuries, the Church has recognized very few: Guadalupe, Our Lady of Laus, Our Lady of the Miraculous Medal, La Salette, Pontmain, Fatima, Beauraing, Banneux, Our Lady of Akita, and Lourdes.
Ecclesiastical approval usually occurs through the local bishop. In special cases, such as in Lourdes, approval occurred in consultation with the congregation of Faith and the Pope, who at the time was Blessed Pius IX. The ecclesiastical appropriation of the veneration of the Blessed Virgin Mary (Catholic) Mother of God at a particular place such as Lourdes does not imply a recognition of the supernatural origin of the apparition. It implies only that the veneration is not contrary to Catholic belief and that a supernatural explanation is reasonable.
Position of the Catholic Church
- Approval of Lourdes
On 18 January 1862, Bishop Laurence, the Bishop of Tarbes, gave the solemn declaration: "We are inspired by the Commission comprising wise, holy, learned and experienced priests who questioned the child, studied the facts, examined everything and weighed all the evidence. We have also called on science, and we remain convinced that the Apparitions are supernatural and divine, and that by consequence, what Bernadette saw was the Most Blessed Virgin. Our convictions are based on the testimony of Bernadette, but above all on the things that have happened, things which can be nothing other than divine intervention".
- Nature of approval
Because the apparitions are private, and not public revelation, Catholics are not required to believe them. They do not add any additional material to the truths of the Catholic Church as expressed in public revelation. In Roman Catholic belief, God chooses whom He wants cured, and whom He does not, and by what means. Bernadette said, "One must have faith and pray; the water will have no virtue without faith."
- Holy Mass of "Our Lady of Lourdes"
The Catholic Church celebrates a mass in honor of "Our Lady of Lourdes" (optional memorial) in many countries on February 11 of each year — the anniversary of the first apparition. There had long been a tradition of interpreting the Song of Songs as an allegory of God's love for the Church, so up until the liturgical reforms following Vatican II, a passage from this Old Testament book was used during the mass for its reference to the "beloved" appearing in a cleft of a rock and its parallel with what Catholics have described as the "Mother of the Church" being seen in the cleft of a rock in Lourdes.
Popes and Lourdes
In the past 150 years, popes have taken great interest in Marian apparitions such as Fatima and Lourdes. Pope Pius IX approved the veneration in Lourdes and welcomed and supported the building of the Cathedral in 1870 to which he donated several gifts. He approved the veneration and promoted Marian piety in Lourdes with the granting of special indulgences and the formation of local Lourdes associations. Pope Leo XIII crowned Our Lady of La Salette and issued an apostolic letter Parte Humanae Generi in commemoration of the consecration of the new Cathedral in Lourdes in 1879. Pope Benedict XV, when archbishop of Bologna, organized a diocesan pilgrimage to Lourdes, asking for the veneration of the Immaculate Virgin there. In 1907, Pope Pius X introduced the feast of the apparition of the Immaculate Virgin of Lourdes. In the same year he issued his encyclical Pascendi Dominici Gregis, in which he specifically repeated the permission to venerate the virgin in Lourdes.
During the pontificate of Pope Pius XI reported apparitions occurred in Our Lady of Beauraing and Our Lady of Banneux. In 1937, Pius XI nominated Eugenio Pacelli as his Papal Delegate to personally visit and venerate in Lourdes. Pius XI actively furthered the venerations in Lourdes by beatifying Bernadette Soubirous on 6 June 1925. He canonized her on the Feast of the Immaculate Conception on 8 December 1933 and determined her Feast Day to be 18 February. Bernadette, who suffered from asthma and bone cancer, had lived on the borderline of social acceptance within the Church during her life-time. 18 February is the day the Virgin Mary reportedly told Bernadette that she did not promise to make me happy in this world, but in the next.
Pope Pius XII, commemorating the hundredth anniversary of the Immaculate conception dogma, announced a Marian year, the first one on Church history. In his encyclical Fulgens Corona, he described the events in Lourdes as follows:
- It seems that the Blessed Virgin Mary herself wished to confirm by some special sign the definition, which the Vicar of her Divine Son on earth had pronounced amidst the applause of the whole Church. For indeed four years had not yet elapsed when, in a French town at the foot of the Pyrenees, the Virgin Mother, youthful and benign in appearance, clothed in a shining white garment, covered with a white mantle and girded with a hanging blue cord, showed herself to a simple and innocent girl at the grotto of Massabielle. And to this same girl, earnestly inquiring the name of her with whose vision she was favored, with eyes raised to heaven and sweetly smiling, she replied: "I am the Immaculate Conception." 
Le Pelerinage de Lourdes, the only encyclical written on Lourdes, was issued on the centenary of the apparitions at Lourdes. The encyclical represents one of the strongest pronouncements of the papal magisterium on Marian apparitions in the history of the Catholic Church. The Pope presents Mary as the model of alternative life-style. The school of Mary teaches everybody selflessness and charity.
- In the school of Mary one can learn to live, not only to give Christ to the world, but also to await with faith the hour of Jesus, and to remain with Mary at the foot of the cross. Wherever providence has placed a person, there is always more to be done for God's cause. Priests should with supernatural confidence, show the narrow road which leads to life. Consecrated and Religious fight under Mary's banner against inordinate lust for freedom, riches, and pleasures. In response to the Immaculate, they will fight with the weapons of prayer and penance and by triumphs of charity. Go to her, you who are crushed by material misery, defenseless against the hardships of life and the indifference of men. Go to her, you who are assailed by sorrows and moral trials. Go to her, beloved invalids and infirm, you who are sincerely welcomed and honoured at Lourdes as the suffering members of our Lord. Go to her and receive peace of heart, strength for your daily duties, joy for the sacrifice you offer. 
One of the churches built at the site, the Basilica of St. Pius X can accommodate 25,000 people. At the request of Pius XII, it was consecrated on 25 March 1958, by the Patriarch of Venezia, cardinal Angelo Roncalli, the future Pope John XXIII. Giovanni Battista Montini, the future Pope Paul VI, had visited Lourdes as archbishop of Milan. He became the first pope to visit a 19th century Marian apparition site, when he went to Fatima at the fiftieth anniversary of the first apparition on 17 May 1967. Pope John Paul II undertook three pilgrimages to Lourdes, the last one shortly before his death. Pope Benedict XVI visited Lourdes commemorating the 150th anniversary of the apparitions in September 2008.
The location of the spring was described to Bernadette Soubirous by an apparition of Our Lady of Lourdes on 25 February 1858. Since that time many thousands of pilgrims to Lourdes have followed the instruction of Our Lady of Lourdes to "drink at the spring and wash in it".
Although never formally encouraged by the Church, Lourdes water has become a focus of devotion to the Virgin Mary at Lourdes. Since the apparitions, many people have claimed to have been cured by drinking or bathing in it, and the Lourdes authorities provide it free of charge to any who ask for it.
An analysis of the water was commissioned by Mayor Anselme Lacadé of Lourdes in 1858. It was conducted by a professor in Toulouse, who determined that the water was potable and that it contained the following: oxygen, nitrogen, carbonic acid, carbonates of lime and magnesia, a trace of carbonate of iron, an alkaline carbonate or silicate, chlorides of potassium and sodium, traces of sulphates of potassium and soda, traces of ammonia, and traces of iodine. Essentially, the water is quite pure and inert. Lacadé had hoped that Lourdes water might have special mineral properties which would allow him to develop Lourdes into a spa town, to compete with neighbouring Cauterets and Bagnères-de-Bigorre.
Miracles are important events in the Christian Bible and are thus part of divine revelation for the faithful Christians. Yet the advent of rationalism and the social sciences renewed the search for natural explanations of miracles in general and the events in Lourdes in particular. Historical, psychological, natural analogies and other empirical explanations have been forwarded, all of which are welcomed by the Catholic Church, provided they are generally open-ended and unbiased. Analogies are most common in Marian apparitions, they indicate that the person involved used popular images and common language. They do not by themselves support arguments for or against the apparition itself.
Thus, Bernadette described the apparition as uo petito damizelo ("a tiny maiden") of about twelve years old. Bernadette insisted that the apparition was no taller than herself. At 1.40 m tall, Bernadette was diminutive even by the standards of other poorly nourished children.
Bernadette described that the apparition was dressed in a flowing white robe, with a blue sash around her waist. This was the uniform of a religious group called the Children of Mary, which, on account of her poverty, Bernadette was not permitted to join (although she was admitted after the apparitions). Her Aunt Bernarde was a long-time member.
The statue that currently stands in the niche within the grotto of Massabielle (illustrated above) was created by the Lyonnais sculptor Joseph-Hugues Fabisch in 1864. Although it has become an iconographic symbol of Our Lady of Lourdes, it depicts a figure which is not only older and taller than Bernadette's description, but also more in keeping with orthodox and traditional representations of the Virgin Mary. On seeing the statue, Bernadette was profoundly disappointed with this representation of her vision.
Many Marian apparitions, although they may occur in different ages and cultures, share similarities. Bernadette's visions took place against a cultural backdrop of apparitions and other supernatural events that bear some resemblance to Bernadette's experiences. It is likely that Bernadette would have known of, and may even have been influenced by, such events, which were woven into the fabric of her society.
For example, in nearby Lestelle-Bétharram, only a few kilometres from Lourdes, some shepherds guarding their flocks in the mountains observed a vision of a ray of light which guided them to the discovery of a statue of the Virgin Mary. Two attempts were made to remove the statue to a more prominent position; each time it disappeared and returned to its original location, at which a small chapel was built for it.
More importantly, in the early sixteenth century, a twelve-year-old shepherdess called Anglèze de Sagazan received a vision of the Virgin Mary near the spring at Garaison (part of the commune of Monléon-Magnoac), somewhat further away. Anglèze's story is strikingly similar to that of Bernadette: she was a pious but illiterate and poorly educated girl, extremely impoverished, who spoke only in the local language, Gascon Occitan, but successfully convinced authorities that her vision was genuine and persuaded them to obey the instructions of her apparitions. Like Bernadette, she was the only one who could see the apparition (others could apparently hear it); however, the apparition at Garaison's supernatural powers tended toward the miraculous provision of food, rather than healing the sick.
Mid-nineteenth century commentators noted the parallels between the events at Massabielle and Garaison, and interestingly, interpreted the similarities as proof of the divine nature of Bernadette's claims. At the time of Bernadette, Garaison was a noted center of pilgrimage and Marian devotion.
There are also several similarities between the apparition at La Salette, near Grenoble, and Lourdes. La Salette is many hundreds of kilometres from Lourdes, and the events at La Salette predate those in Lourdes by 11 years. However, the lady of La Salette was large and maternal, not petite and girlish, and had a darker, more threatening series of messages. It is not certain if Bernadette was aware of the events at La Salette.
Contemporary Catholic interpreters had great difficulties explaining Bernadette's claim on the Immaculate Conception, of which she knew nothing. Ecclesiastical authorities tried unsuccessfully to ridicule her statement to that effect as not credible.
Similarity to other visions
When comparing the various visions of Jesus and Mary Saint Bernadette's vision in Lourdes France is somewhat similar to the case of Saint Juan Diego's vision in 1531 in Mexico. Both saints reported visions in which a miraculous lady on a hill asked them to request that the local priests build a chapel at that site of the vision. Both visions had a reference to roses and led to very large churches being built at the sites. Like Our Lady of Lourdes in France, Our Lady of Guadalupe is a major Catholic symbol in Mexico. And like the Sanctuary of Our Lady of Lourdes in France, the Basilica of Our Lady of Guadalupe complex is one of the largest and most visited Catholic churches in the Americas.
The Sanctuary of Our Lady of Lourdes or the Domain (as it is most commonly known) is an area of ground surrounding the shrine (Grotto) to Our Lady of Lourdes in the town of Lourdes, France. This ground is owned and administrated by the Church, and has several functions, including devotional activities, offices, and accommodation for sick pilgrims and their helpers. The Domain includes the Grotto itself, the nearby taps which dispense the Lourdes water, and the offices of the Lourdes Medical Bureau, as well as several churches and basilicas. It comprises an area of 51 hectares, and includes 22 separate places of worship . There are six official languages of the Sanctuary: French, English, Italian, Spanish, Dutch and German.
The Lourdes Medical Bureau
To ensure claims of cures were examined properly and to protect the town from fraudulent claims of miracles, the Lourdes Medical Bureau (Bureau Medical) was established at the request of Pope Pius X. It is completely under medical and not ecclesiastical supervision. Approximately 7000 people have sought to have their case confirmed as a miracle, of which only 68 have been declared a scientifically inexplicable miracle by both the Bureau and the Catholic Church.
The officially recognized miracle cures in Lourdes are among the least controversial in the Catholic world, because Lourdes from the very beginning was subject to intense medical investigation from skeptical doctors around the world. All medical doctors with the appropriate specialization in the area of the cure have unlimited access to the files and documents of the Lourdes Medical Bureau (Bureau Medical), which also contains all approved and disapproved miracles. Most officially recognized cures in Lourdes were openly discussed and reported on in the media at the time. Nevertheless, there were a few instances where medically ascertained incomprehension turned out not to be miracles, because the illness reappeared in later years. In the vast number of cases however, the judgement of the medical and ecclesiastical authorities was upheld as beyond medical explanation in later on critical investigations.
The pilgrimage site is visited by millions of Catholics each year, and Lourdes has become one of the greatest pilgrimage sites of the world. Various unusual occurrences are reported to take place, not only subsequent to bathing in or drinking the water of the Lourdes Spring, but also during the daily Eucharistic procession. Miraculous healings have been claimed, and a number of these have been documented by the Lourdes Medical Commission. Large numbers of sick pilgrims travel to Lourdes each year in the hope of physical healing or spiritual renewal.
In popular culture
- In 1943, the events became the basis of the film The Song of Bernadette. Jennifer Jones played the title role while Linda Darnell portrayed the Virgin Mary. The film won several Academy Awards, including an Academy Award for Best Actress for Jones. At the first Golden Globes ceremony in 1944, Jones received the award for Best Actress and the film won Best Picture.
- In 1959, singer Andy Williams recorded a song entitled "The Village of St. Bernadette".
- ^ Catholic Online: Apparitions of Our Lady of Lourdes First Apparition
- ^ L Laurentin, Lourdes, Marienlexikon, Eos Verlag, Regenburg, 1988, 161
- ^ Harris, Ruth. Lourdes, Allen Lane, London, 1999, p 4
- ^ Harris 4
- ^ Laurentin 161
- ^ Harris 7
- ^ a b c Lauretin 162
- ^ Lautetin 162
- ^ Stöger, Erscheinungen, Marienlexikon 395
- ^ Stöger, 398
- ^ Lourdes France: The encounters with the Blessed Virgin Mary
- ^ "Song of Songs", 2:14, retrieved 29 May 2007
- ^ "Mary, Mother of Christ, Mother of the Church", Catechism of the Catholic Church 963, retrieved 29 May 2007.Vatican.va
- ^ Josef Schmidlin, Papstgeschichte, München 1934, 317
- ^ Bäumer Leo XIII, Marienlexikon, 97
- ^ Bäumer, Pius X Marienlexikon, 246
- ^ Hahn Baier, Bernadette Soubirous, Marienlexikon, 217
- ^ Hahn Baier 217
- ^ Catholic Pilgrims: Apparitions at Lourdes
- ^ Fulgens Corona, 3
- ^ Le Pelerinage de Lourdes 57
- ^ Le Pelerinage de Lourdes, 40 ff
- ^ Bäumer Paul VI, 128
- ^ a b Ruth Harris, Lourdes: Body and Spirit in the Secular Age, Penguin Books, 1999, p. 312.
- ^ Richard Clarke, 2008 Lourdes, Its Inhabitants, Its Pilgrims, And Its Miracles ISBN 1408685418 page 38
- ^ Lourdes 4
- ^ Stöger, Erscheinungen in Marienlexikon, 395 ff
- ^ Ruth Harris, Lourdes: Body and Spirit in the Secular Age, Penguin Books, 1999, p. 72.
- ^ Ruth Harris, Lourdes: Body and Spirit in the Secular Age, Penguin Books, 1999, p. 43.
- ^ Visentin, M.C. (2000). "María Bernarda Soubirous (Bernardita)". In Leonardi, C.; Riccardi, A.; Zarri, G. (in Spanish). Diccionario de los Santos. Spain: San Pablo. pp. 1586–1596. ISBN 8428522596.
- ^ 14th century fresco from the Visoki Dečani monastery
- ^ Ruth Harris, Lourdes: Body and Spirit in the Secular Age, Penguin Books, 1999, p. 39.
- ^ Ruth Harris, Lourdes: Body and Spirit in the Secular Age, Penguin Books, 1999, p. 41.
- ^ Ruth Harris, Lourdes: Body and Spirit in the Secular Age, Penguin Books, 1999, p. 60.
- ^ Where Scientists are looking for God Article filed 1/16/2002 in the Telegraph, accessed October 29, 2006
- ^ Müller, 767
- ^ Müller 768
- The Glories of Lourdes
- The Wonders of Lourdes
- Our Lady of Lourdes
- Cures and miracles - An overview by the official website of the shrine. This site also offers containers of Lourdes Spring water straight from the source.
- Pilgrimage of His Holiness John Paul II to Lourdes on the Occasion of the 150th Anniversary of the Promulgation of the Dogma of the Immaculate Conception.
- Catholic Association UK This site has some interesting background to Lourdes, the apparitions and the history.
- A different light A doctor's visit to Lourdes
- The miracles of Lourdes A medical student's explanation of Lourdes analysis
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