The Apparition of Mary Immaculate at Lourdes (France) to St. Bernadette.
A faithful narrative of the Apparitions of the Blessed Virgin Mary, at the rocks of Massabielle, near Lourdes, in the year 1858.
By F.C. Husenbeth (English Catholic Priest), D.D., V.G., and Provost of Northampton.
To the Right Reverend Francis Kerril Amherst, D.D., Lord Bishop of Northampton, Assistant at the Pontifical Throne: Under whose kind approbation the following pages have been written, they are now dedicated by his Lordship’s respectful servant. -F.C. Husenbeth
Permissu Superiorum, 1870.
“Arise my love, my beautiful one, and come. My dove in the cleft of the rock, in the hollow places of the wall show me thy face, let thy voice sound in my ears: for thy
voice is sweet, and thy face comely.”
—Canticle of Canticles, ii. 13, 14.
Bernadette Soubirous goes with two other girls to the Rocks of Massabiblle - The first apparition in the niche of the rock - her mother’s disbelief and prohibition.
ON Thursday, the 11th of February, 1858, began that wonderful series of Apparitions of the Blessed Virgin Mary at Lourdes, the truth of which is established by solid evidence, beyond the possibility of doubt. On that day, three poor little girls went out from the town of Lourdes, at eleven o’clock, to gather sticks for firing. Lourdes is a town in France, in the Department of the Hautes-Pyrenees, with five thousand inhabitants. These children were Bernadette and Mary Soubirous, who were sisters, of the ages of 14 and 11, and Jane Abadie about 15, who lived near them. Bernadette was a weak delicate child, small for her age. She had been put out to nurse in a neighbouring village, named Bartres, and had remained there till within a fortnight of this time, usually employed in keeping sheep. Though not always ill, she suffered from asthma sometimes severely, and was never strong. Her parents were very poor, her father was a miller, but was often without work. His poverty had made him glad of an offer from those who had taken care of her from her infancy, to keep her with them, without any pay, as they were extremely fond of the child. However, she was never sent to school, she could not read, nor even speak French, but knew only the common dialect of the poor people. She had received no religious instruction, and all the prayers she knew were those of the Rosary, the Our Father, Hail Mary, Belief, and Glory be to the Father, &c. But she was innocent, humble, and beloved by everyone who saw her: always fond of saying her Rosary on her knees while keeping sheep, obedient, affectionate, and having the greatest horror of lies, and of all sin. She did not appear to be more than eleven or twelve years old; but she was in reality fourteen. It was time for her to be prepared for her first Communion; and it was for that important duty that her parents had just taken her home to Lourdes.
A fortnight after she came home, and on the 11th of February, 1858, it being the Thursday before Quinquagesima Sunday, her sister Mary and Jane Abadie were sent to pick up a few sticks, as they had no fuel even to cook their dinner. Bernadette’s mother was unwilling to let her go with them, because she had a cough. But she begged hard to go, and at the entreaty of the two other girls the mother consented. Bernadette wore on her head the usual covering of the poor people in the South of France, a handkerchief tied in a knot on one side. But lest she should increase her cold, her mother told her to put on her capulet over it, which is a very becoming article of dress, serving both as a hood over the head and a mantle over the shoulders, reaching nearly all down the back. It is made of stout cloth, either red or white. Bernadette’s was white. Her dress was an old patched frock of coarse black stuff, and she had wooden shoes, like the other two girls, but on account of her delicate health her mother made her wear stockings, which neither of the others had.
The three girls then set off together, and went down a long strip of meadow land, till they came just opposite the rocks of Massabielle. Her companions were a little on before Bernadette; they had picked up a few sticks, but she had got none. Between them and the rocks was a mill stream, which happened to be almost dry at the time, owing to the mill being under repairs, so that they were tempted to pass over it, as they could see plenty of firewood on the other side lying about the rocks. These rocks are called Massabielle, which means old rocks, and are about a mile west of the town of Lourdes. In front of these rocks is a cave or grotto, about thirteen feet high, and about three times as broad. It was always perfectly dry inside, except that in rainy weather there was a little moisture-as you entered on the right hand, from the rain driven by the west winds, but the top and left side were always quite dry. There were two openings above this cave, the principal one was of oval shape, and high enough for a person to stand upright in it. It was from six to eight feet above the ground. From these openings the rocks rose to an enormous height, covered partly with box and ivy, fern, brambles, and moss. Mary and Jane shook off their wooden shoes, held them in their hands, and walked barefoot through the shallow water of the stream; but complained bitterly of the coldness of the water, when they put on their shoes again on the other side: for it was early in February, and the water from the snowy mountains was icy-cold. Bernadette was still on the other side. She had stockings on, and was afraid to venture across, when she heard the others complain of the coldness of the water. She called out to them to throw some big stones into the middle of the stream, so that she could step over dry. But Jane answered: “Do as we did, pull off your stockings and shoes.” Bernadette at last made up her mind to cross over, and began to pull off her stockings. It was now about twelve o’clock; and as she was pulling off one stocking, leaning against a piece of rock, she heard a high wind getting up in the meadow, but when she looked back she saw nothing; there was no wind, the poplar trees on the banks of the river Gave did not move, the air was perfectly still. She thought she had been mistaken, but knew not what to make of it. She went on pulling off her stockings, and in a moment she heard a loud rush of wind again, which beat against the hollow in the rock. She looked up towards the grotto, and saw a wild rose bush, which hung down at the sides of it, swinging about. She tried to cry out, but could not; her voice seemed stifled in her throat: she trembled all over, and sunk down upon her knees.
In the hollow niche above the large cave, in front of which Mary and jane were busy picking up sticks, there then appeared all at once to Bernadette a bright light, in the midst of which stood a Lady of incomparable beauty. The brightness round about her did not pain or dazzle the eyes like that of the sun; but seemed on the contrary to invite the sight to repose in it with inexpressible delight. The Lady was of middle stature, appearing to be about twenty years of age. Her beauty was heavenly, not to be compared to anything here below. Her eyes were blue, and she had a look of sweetness which seemed to melt the heart of the beholder. She wore a robe of the purest white, with a white veil upon her head, which fell down her back in ample folds as low as her robe. She had a blue girdle tied loosely round her waist, and falling in two bands almost as far down as her robe. Her feet were uncovered, and a golden coloured rose appeared upon each foot. She stood upon the edge of the niche, or hollow in the rock, and her feet seemed just to touch the branches of the wild rose bush. She wore no rings, nor bracelets, nor jewels, nor crown; but she had her hands joined, and from them hung a rosary, the beads of which were white like crystal, and the wires which held them together were like gold. Bernadette, quite overcome with astonishment, rubbed her eyes, looked up again, and, as she herself described her feelings, she knew not what the vision was, but she seemed to see and not to see at the same time. The beautiful Lady most graciously smiled to encourage her, but said nothing. Bernadette took out her rosary, and tried to make the sign of the cross, but could not. Her hand fell down powerless, as if paralysed. Then the Lady took up the golden cross of her own rosary, and made the sign of the cross with it in a most grave and graceful manner, making a sign to the child to do the same, which she immediately did, and ever after made it in the same way, to the edification of all who saw her. The Lady dropped her heads, but never moved her lips, while the little girl devoutly recited her rosary, still on her knees. Her two companions noticed her saying her beads, and her sister said to the other: “Look at Bernadette saying her prayers,” to which Jane replied: “O what a saint! Why doesn’t she keep her prayers to say them in the church?" Upon which Mary said: “Let us leave her alone: she can do nothing but say her prayers.” When Bernadette had finished her rosary, the Lady smiled most graciously, and made a sign to her to come near, but she was afraid. The vision then disappeared, and Bernadette saw nothing but the hollow in the rock, looking as it did before, and her companions, after finishing their work, running about in the cave to warm their feet.
Bernadette now finished pulling off her stockings, and without any fear of the cold water, walked barefooted through it, to join her companions. When she came up to them, she said, “What storytellers you are! You said the water was cold, and I found it quite warm.” To which they replied: “O yes, warm indeed!—the river Gave warm in winter!" “Yes,” she answered: “I tell you find it as soft and warm as the water we wash things with." Her sister stooped down to feel Bernadette's feet, and found them quite warm. “Didn't you see anything?” she said to them; and they observed that while she spoke she appeared much affected and agitated. “No,” they said: “did you see anything?” Whether Bernadette was afraid of profanation, by telling what her soul was so full of, or whether she wished to enjoy it in silence, or felt timid, she obeyed the instinct which prompts humble souls to conceal the favours of Heaven, and she merely answered: “If you have seen nothing, then I have nothing to say to you.”
As they were going home, however, Mary and Jane teazed Bernadette to tell them what she had seen. She at last complied with their wishes, but not till they had 'promised to keep it secret. The two girls, after hearing her account of the vision, fully believed it, but it made them very much afraid, and they said: “Perhaps it is something come to do us harm: don't let us go there again, Bernadette.” When these children got home, they soon broke their promise to keep the secret. Mary told her mother all about it, who said: “All this is childish nonsense.” “What does my sister tell me then?” said Mary; and Bernadette began to give her account. Their mother only shrugged up her shoulders, and said: “You are mistaken: it was nothing at all. You thought you saw something, but you saw nothing. These are mere fancies and children’s tales. Bernadette persisted in her account, but her mother said: “Well, any how don’t go there again, I forbid you to do so." This was heartbreaking to Bernadette; for ever since the Apparition had vanished, she had had the greatest longing to see it again. However she was quite resigned to her mother‘s will, and said nothing. When she came to say her night prayers, she could not pronounce the Words, “Mary, conceived without sin,” but stopped and sobbed out loud. She passed a night of disturbed sleep, and the next day could eat nothing. She felt a strong desire to see the Lady again: her two companions were divided between fear and curiosity. Meantime the mother related the account to her neighbours, and it soon got spread about.
The second apparition - different opinions upon it - disbelief of Bernadette's parents. The third apparition – promise required of Bernadette, and promise made to her.
THE heavenly vision which Bernadette had seen at her first visit to the Grotto was constantly in her thoughts, and she longed to see it again. When she was asked if the Lady was like any of the ladies she saw either in the town, or in the church, or if she was as beautiful as some celebrated ladies in the neighbourhood, she would shake her head, and say with a sweet smile: “None of those can give any idea of her. It is impossible to describe her beauty.” Three days after her first visit to the Grotto of Massabielle, on Quinquagesima Sunday, the 14th of February, as she came home from Mass, Bernadette entreated her sister Mary, Jane, Abadie, and two or three other young girls, to prevail on her mother to let her go with them to the Grotto. The girls said that perhaps it was some evil spirit. Bernadette said she could not believe that, for she never had seen a face so wonderfully good. The others answered that whatever it was, it would be best to sprinkle it with holy water; for if it was the devil, that would drive him away. “You must say to it,” they said: “If you are from God, come forward: but if you come from the devil, begone!” Her mother objected for some time for different reasons, but at last gave her consent, upon their all promising to be very steady and cautious, and to make haste back in time for Vespers. The little party first went into the church, and said a few prayers. One of them had brought a half pint bottle, and they got it filled with holy water.
At first, when they came to the Grotto, nothing appeared. “Let us pray,” said Bernadette, “and say the rosary.” So they all knelt down, and each began the rosary by herself. All on a sudden the countenance of Bernadette appeared quite transfigured, and her look was almost divine; for the wonderful Apparition stood before her in the niche of the rock, in the same dress as before. “Look!” said Bernadette: “There she is!” The other girls saw nothing but the rock and the wild rose bush. Yet the face of Bernadette left no room to doubt that she saw the Lady. Then remembering her promise, Bernadette went up and sprinkled the holy water as high up as she could towards the Lady in the niche, repeating the first part of the words which she had agreed to say: “If you are from God, come forward!” The Lady bent forward, and came almost to the edge of the rock, smiling at the precautions of Bernadette; and at the holy name of God, her countenance seemed brighter than ever. Bernadette repeated the same words; but she could not say the rest, in presence of a Being so beautiful, so glorious, and so full of celestial goodness; her heart failed her, and those words were banished for ever from her thoughts. She asked her companions again if they did not see the Lady, and said: “But there she is, looking at us—she is smiling; now she is turning her head: look at her feet and her toes; her girdle keeps moving about; see, she has the rosary twisted round her arm. O how beautiful she is! She has a small face looking like wax. Now she is taking up her rosary, and making the sign of the cross.” Bernadette then became silent, she knelt down, with her hands joined together and went on saying her beads with her countenance pale, her lips livid, and her eyes lifted up and fixed: she was completely in an ecstasy. Her companions thought she was going to die: they pinched her, and tried to arouse her, but she was insensible to everything, and her countenance beamed with a heavenly expression. The Lady seemed to listen to her as she said her beads, and kept dropping those of her own rosary, till the child had finished, and then vanished. Bernadette came to herself, and appeared as usual.
As they went back to Lourdes, she was quite overjoyed; but her companions had a vague feeling of terror. “We are afraid, Bernadette;” they said; “don't let us come here any more. Perhaps what you saw is come to do us some harm.” They were faithful to their promise to be back in time for Vespers. It was a beautiful evening, and many people were out enjoying it, The accounts given by the little girls soon spread among the people; but most of them paid no attention to what seemed to them childish tales. Even Bernadette’s parents, though well convinced that she would not tell falsehoods, considered the Apparition as only an illusion. “She is but a child:” they said: “she thought she saw: but she saw nothing.”
Her mother felt alarmed, lest her extraordinary behaviour should bring the police upon them. During the early part of the week, several people came to question Bernadette. Her answers were always exact and the same; and it was evident that she was perfectly sincere. Still it was considered that the assertion of a little ignorant girl could not be sufficient to establish the truth of so extraordinary an event. Some thought it might be a soul in Purgatory wanting Masses to be said for its repose: others that it might be some person lately deceased in the odour of sanctity, and now appearing in glory.
Two ladies of Lourdes had begun to feel a great interest in the vision seen by Bernadette. One was a young lady named Antoinette Peyret, and the other a Mrs. Millet. They thought it must be some poor soul in Purgatory begging for Masses and prayers. They went to see Bernadette, and wished her to ask the Lady who she was, and what she desired. “Let her explain this to you,” they added, “or better still, as you might not understand her, ask her to write it down for you.” Bernadette, who felt a strong interior attraction to go to the Grotto again, obtained a fresh permission of her parents to visit it. On Thursday, February 18th, she heard Mass at half-past five in the morning, with those two ladies, and set out with them at daybreak to the Grotto. The mill which had been under repairs, being by this time finished, the stream which supplied it was let flow freely again, so that they could not cross over it to get to the Grotto, but were obliged to go up a hill which led to the forest of Lourdes, and then to make their way down a steep, rugged and precipitous path to the Grotto. The difficulty of the road quite alarmed the two ladies: but Bernadette was so eager to get to the Grotto, that she quickly mounted the hill, while the ladies followed her with great difficulty. With the same activity she made her way quickly down the rocks, with as firm a step as if she was walking on smooth and level ground, and her asthma seemed for the time to have left her. The ladies endeavoured in vain to keep up with her, and she arrived at the Grotto some time before them.
She knelt down, and began to say her rosary, with her eyes fixed on the wild rose bush. All at once she called out aloud. The well known light shone in the niche, and she heard for the first time a voice calling her. The wonderful Apparition leaned forward towards her, with her countenance beaming with eternal brightness; and with her hand she made a sign to her to come nearer. Just then, the two ladies came up. They had brought with them pen, paper and ink, for the Lady to write down for Bernadette what she desired. They saw the countenance of the child changed; but she heard and saw them. “There she is,” she exclaimed. “She is making a sign to me to come to her.” “Ask her,” they said, “if she is displeased at our being here: if so, we will go away.” Bernadette looked up at the Lady, heard her answer, and came back to her companions to tell them that they might remain. They both knelt down by the side of the little girl, and lighted a blessed wax candle, which they had brought with them. This was, no doubt, the first time that a light had burned before these wild and rugged rocks, which were from that time to be illuminated by the devotion of the faithful for ages to come.
The two ladies again spoke to Bernadette. “Go up to her," they said, “as she calls you, and make signs to you to come. Ask her who she is, and why she comes here;—whether she is a soul from Purgatory begging prayers and Masses to be said for her. Ask her to write upon this paper what she wants. We are ready to do whatever she wishes, and what is necessary for her to be at rest.” The child took the paper, pen and ink, which the ladies handed to her, and went towards the Apparition, who looked at her with an encouraging look, as she saw her coming forward. And yet at every step the little girl made, the Apparition made a step backwards, till she got quite far back into the niche, and Bernadette lost sight of her for a moment. But she looked up through an opening in the large cave, which communicated with the niche, and there saw the Lady above her, but in reality much nearer to her than before, and quite radiant with heavenly brightness. Her two companions came forward likewise, in hopes of hearing what might be said. But Bernadette, without turning round, as if obeying the Apparition, made a sign to them with her hand not to come near. They felt very confused, and retired to some little distance.
Then the little girl said to the Apparition: “Pray Ma’am, if you have any thing to tell me, would you have the goodness to write down who you are, and what you wish?” The Lady smiled at the child’s innocent request, and answered in these words: “What I have to say to you, I need not write down. Only do me the favour to come here for the next fifteen days.” “I promise you that I will," said Bernadette.” The Lady smiled again, and showed great satisfaction, and perfect confidence in this poor peasant girl, only fourteen years old. It was as if she had applied to her the words of her divine Son: Suffer the little children to come to me, and forbid them not: for of such is the kingdom of God. (St. Mark x. 14.) And she then was pleased to make a solemn promise to this favoured child, in these words: “And I promise to make you happy, not in this world, but in the next.”
Bernadette, without losing sight of the Apparition, returned to the two ladies; and she noticed that the Lady who appeared to her, followed her with her eyes, and also looked for some time very benevolently upon Antoinette Peyret, who was not married, and belonged to the congregation who were called Children of Mary. She told the two ladies what had passed. “She is looking at you now,” she said to Antoinette, who was quite overpowered on hearing this, and still lives upon the recollection of it. “Ask her,” they said, “If she would take it amiss for us to come with you every day of the fifteen days.” Bernadette asked the Apparition. “They may come with you,” the Lady replied, “they and others too. I wish to see many come.” As she said these words she disappeared; and Bernadette made the remark that the light always appeared first at the beginning of each vision, and then the Lady; but at the end, the Lady disappeared first, and then the light ceased.
Increasing crowds at the Grotto - general character of the apparitions: the fourth, fifth, and sixth – Bernadette is taken to the police office - confounds the magistrates by her answers - her father insists upon her release, and obtains it.
When she returned home, Bernadette told her parents the promise she had made to the mysterious Lady, to go every day for fifteen days to the Grotto, and the two ladies also told them all that had passed. That year, February 18th, fell on a Thursday, which being market day at Lourdes, helped the extraordinary account to spread; and the people from all the places around carried it home with them. The next morning there were a hundred people already waiting at the Grotto, when Bernadette arrived: the day after, there were four or five hundred, and on Sunday there were several thousands assembled. Nothing else was talked of anywhere, in the streets, in the taverns, in family circles, in public assemblies, among the poor and the rich, the clergy and the laity; and of course there were all sorts of opinions about those wonderful events. Many questioned the little girl, but no one could shake her testimony. Her answers were always plain, straightforward, and natural, and she was never caught in any contradiction.
A leading physician in Lourdes, named Dozous, a lawyer named Dufo, and several other lawyers and doctors, determined to watch the poor girl closely all through her visits to the Grotto for the fifteen days. The clergy were naturally most interested in these facts; but they maintained a prudent reserve, and resolved not to go near the Grotto. The Bishop of the diocese, which is that of Tarbes, quite approved of this prudent reserve of his clergy, and even forbid them to take any part in these events. The parish priest of Lourdes, whose name was Peyramale, observed the same prudent conduct, and never went to the Grotto; though he had some intelligent laymen, upon whom he could fully depend, who went thither every time that Bernadette went, and kept him informed of everything, day by day, and hour by hour.
The last account given by Bernadette made her mother think differently, and convinced her that she ought not any longer to oppose her in fulfilling the promise she had made. So the next morning, Friday, she went with her, and witnessed the singular beauty of her daughter’s countenance, and the extraordinary delight with which she kept her eyes fixed upon the niche. Many women of Lourdes were assembled before the rock, and also observed the favoured child. The number of people kept increasing every morning. Many secured places below the rock long before sunrise; as before that time, the little girl used to come every morning, accompanied by her mother, or one of her aunts. She always knelt down, holding a wax candle in one hand, and her rosary in the other, and while she said it, looking steadfastly at the oval .niche up in the rock. All at once she was seen to be a little agitated, she turned pale, and her eyes remained fixed. She always began by making most graceful salutations before the Apparition; then she made the sign of the cross in a manner so noble, respectful and devout, that those who saw her said it was only in heaven that the sign of the cross was made like that. She then clasped her hands together, and said her beads. The crowd of people contemplated with astonishment her striking loveliness. She did not look at all like herself. Her face was white, and shining with glory; her looks seemed eagerly to penetrate the hollow of the rock. Now and then two tears would fall from her eyes upon her cheeks. The crowd could look at nothing but her: but they kept exclaiming; “She sees!” She did see, but her eyes were fixed only on the Lady, who appeared just the same as she did the first time, with her white dress and veil, her blue girdle or sash, with the yellow roses on her bare feet, and with a look of unspeakable tenderness. She bowed her head and smiled, then made the sign of the cross with the golden crucifix hanging from her rosary, and with her hands clasped together, appeared to tell the beads. She spoke to the little girl in the common talk of the country people, and the child answered her in a loud voice. But no one ever saw the movements, or heard the words of those wonderful conversations. At length, the Lady disappeared, and the light faded away after her. Bernadette coming to herself after her delightful ecstasy, lost in one moment her supernatural beauty, resumed her usual look, and common ways, saw the crowd collected round about her, and went back to her home, to be all day long an object of general curiosity. This was the usual routine of those Apparitions, in which the Lady did not speak.
On the third day of the fifteen, which was Sunday, the 21st of February, an immense multitude amounting to thousands of people had assembled before sunrise, in front of the Grotto, all round about it, on the banks of the river Gave, and in the meadow facing the Grotto. Bernadette came as usual, wearing her white hooded mantle, and followed by one of her relations, either her mother, or her sister. She came along without the least embarrassment through the crowd, who respectfully made way for her; and without taking any notice of the attention which everyone showed her, but just as if she was performing the simplest thing in the world, she came and knelt down to pray before the niche, which was festooned by the wild rose tree which hung about it.
In a few moments her forehead was lighted up and became radiant. She grew slightly pale, her mouth was half opened with eager admiration, and seemed aspiring to heaven. Her eyes fixed and full of joy, contemplated a Beauty whom no one else beheld, but whom everyone felt was present. Everyone who has seen Bernadette in her state of ecstasy, speaks of it as a thing quite without any parallel on earth. What was very remarkable, was that although her attention seemed wholly absorbed in contemplating the Apparition, she was in some degree conscious of what passed around her. Thus it happened at one time that her wax candle went out and she immediately held it to the person nearest her to light it again. Someone tried to touch the wild rose bush with a stick, but she eagerly made a sign to him to leave off, looking quite alarmed. She said afterwards that she was afraid the person would hurt the Lady.
The Dr. Dozous, who had said he was determined to watch her closely, was by her side at this time. He took hold of her arm and felt her pulse, but she took no notice. Her pulse was perfectly calm and regular as in her usual state. So the learned doctor was obliged to conclude that there was no excitement in her from deranged health. At that moment, Bernadette moved a few paces on her knees into the large opening or Grotto in the rock. The Apparition had changed its place, and Bernadette could only see her now through the opening from the lower cave which led up to the niche. The Lady seemed for a moment to cast her looks all round the earth, then she looked down with great sadness upon Bernadette who was kneeling below. “What is the matter with you?”—“What must I do?” said the child, in a faltering voice. “Pray for sinners,” was the reply. The heart of the poor little shepherdess suffered agonies when she saw grief thus affect the glorious serenity of that countenance. An indescribable sorrow came over the child‘s features, and two tears came from her eyes still fixed on the Apparition, but they remained on her cheeks. But a ray of joy at last came to brighten her countenance; and at that moment the Lady disappeared. The child recovered her usual features, and was nothing more than an humble shepherdess, a little peasant-girl, no way different from other children of her age. The crowd pressed round her, anxious, breathless, and full of emotion.
All that morning, between Mass and Vespers, nothing was talked of but these wonderful events; and all those who had seen Bernadette in her ecstasies, could have no doubt of their supernatural-character. But those who had not seen them, thought further proofs necessary. Perhaps it was purposely intended by Divine Providence that such multitudes should be assembled, that the facts might he attested by innumerable witnesses. When Bernadette came out of the church after Vespers she attracted as usual the notice of every one. The people crowded about her and kept asking her questions. The poor child, bewildered at all this, answered quite innocently, and tried to make her way home. Just at that time a policeman came up, and tapped her on the shoulder to arrest her. “What do you want with me?” she said. “I have orders,” said the man, “to take you to the Police office. Come along with me.” Murmurs and threats ran through the crowd at this. Many of them had seen her transfigured that very morning, and she was sacred in their eyes: the people were quite indignant, and just going to interfere, when a priest happened to come out of the church, who made a sign to them to desist, and let the law take its course. It was the first Sunday of Lent, and the words of the Gradual and Tract were singularly applicable: God hath given his angels charge over thee, to keep thee in all thy ways, &c. The people in great excitement had followed on to the Police office, which was not far off. The police magistrate was a man named Jacomet, who ridiculed the idea of these Apparitions; and made sure that he should triumph over poor little Bernadette. He put on at first a mild and insinuating look and manner, and said to her: “It appears that you see a beautiful lady in the Grotto of Massabielle, my good little girl, come, tell me all about it." Just then, the door opened softly, and a Mr. Estrade came in, who was a collector of indirect taxes. He was as much opposed to the Apparitions as Jacomet, and thought there was some trickery in the child. He sat some way off, and made a sign to the other to go on with his examination.
When Jacomet questioned her, she looked at him with her sweet innocent countenance, and related in her own country language the extraordinary events which had happened during the last few days. He listened to her with great attention, pretending all the while to look very kindly and favourably, and sometimes taking notes, which she observed, but to which she paid no attention. When she had finished, he pretended to take a pious and enthusiastic interest in these wonderful events, and asked her many short questions, in quick succession, so as to give her no time to consider. But Bernadette answered all his questions without the least difficulty, or hesitation. Having thus tried in vain to fatigue and disconcert the poor child, Jacomet put on a stern look, and changed his tone. “You tell lies,” said he, “you are deceiving everybody, and if you don’t own the truth, I will send you to prison.” Poor Bernadette was stupified at this; but contrary to the man’s expectation, she remained perfectly calm. “Sir,” she said, “you may send me to prison, but I cannot say anything but what I have said: it is the truth.” “We shall see about that,” he replied: and he began again to put to her a number of artful questions, in hopes of making her contradict herself. But he was mistaken; she never contradicted herself at all; and so after trying her over and over again in vain, he said to her at last, “Very well, I am going to write out the charge against you, and I will read it to you.”
He wrote out very quickly two or three pages, from his notes. He inserted various details of little importance, on purpose to entrap her, if possible; but it was all in vain. He would say every now and then: “That is right, isn’t it?” But Bernadette answered humbly, but very firmly: “No, I never said that, but I said so and so.” Jacomet kept saying such things as these: “But you did say that—I wrote it down at the time—You said this in these words to several people in the town, &c.—” Bernadette calmly replied: “No, I never said so, and I could not, for it is not the truth.” Mr. Estrade observed with more and more astonishment the modest and invincible self-possession of this little girl. She was naturally very timid, and confused before strangers; but in all that concerned the Apparitions, she showed very unusual strength of mind and determined affirmation.
Jacomet returned to his threats. “ If,” said he, “You keep going to the Grotto, I will put you into prison, and you shall not go out of this room now until you promise me not to go there anymore.”
“I promised the Apparition to go there,” said the child, “and when the time comes, I feel impelled by something which comes over me, and calls me.” The examination was now nearly over, and it had lasted a full hour. The crowd waited very impatiently outside for the child to come out; and those in the room could hear confused cries, complaints and noises outside, which seemed to grow louder and more threatening. On a sudden, there was still greater agitation among the crowd, as if someone had come who was eagerly expected. Presently there were loud and repeated knocks at the door; but the magistrate seemed to take no notice of them. The knocks became more violent, and someone at the door tried to break it open. Jacomet got up and went to open it himself. “No admittance here,” said he in a great passion, “what do you want?” “I want my daughter,” replied the man, who was Mr. Sobirous, the miller, making his way in to the very room where Bernadette was. He had taken off his cap, and Jacomet saw that he was some what afraid. So he tapped him gently on the shoulder, and bade him take care, as his daughter was going the way to be sent to prison; adding that he would not send her there this time, but only on condition of her father's forbidding her to go any more to the Grotto. The poor man was in reality frightened, and promised that both himself and his wife would forbid the girl, and that she certainly would not go, as she had always been an obedient child.
When Bernadette and her father came out, the crowd testified their satisfaction very loudly. The little girl then went home, and the crowd dispersed. The magistrate and the tax collector told each other what impression this examination had made upon them. “What unshaken firmness in her answers!” said Mr. Estrade, in perfect astonishment. “What invincible obstinacy in her false story!” replied Jacomet, stupified at being outwitted and defeated. “What an accent of truth!” continued the collector, “nothing in her words or attitude ever showed any contradiction. It is evident that she believes that she has seen what she describes.” “What supple intelligence,” replied the magistrate, “she did not commit herself inspite of all my endeavours. She has her story at her fingers’ ends.” The one supposed Bernadette to be clever in her falsehood; the other judged her to be sincere in her delusion. “She is clever,” said the first. “She is sincere,” said the second.
Bernadette is forbidden to go to the grotto, sent to school and very ill-treated - at noon she feels impelled to go to the grotto; but sees no apparition that day - her parents in the evening give her full liberty to go - the next morning she sees the apparition the seventh time - it tells her a secret for herself, and gives her a message to the priests - she is very roughly treated by the parish priest, who refuses to believe her.
BERNADETTE’S father had promised not to allow her to go any more to the Grotto. “You see,” he said to her, “that all these gentlemen are against us; and that if you go again to the Grotto, Mr. Jacomet, who is all-powerful, will send you and all of us to prison. So don’t go there anymore.” “Father,” she said, “when I go there, it is not entirely of my own accord. At certain times there is something within me which calls and draws me irresistibly thither.” “Well, at any rate,” replied her father, “I strictly forbid you to go any more. You surely will not disobey me now for the first time in your life.” The poor child answered; “I will do all I can to refrain from going, and to resist the attraction which calls me thither.”
The next morning, February 22nd, at the usual early hour, the crowd was waiting for her, but she did not come. Her parents had sent her at sunrise to school, and not knowing how to disobey, she had gone to school, but with a heart bursting with grief. The nuns, who taught in the school had never seen Bernadette in ecstasy, and did not believe the Apparitions. They therefore, as well as her parents, forbid her to go, telling her that there was no reality in these visions, that her brain was disordered, or that she told lies. This was really most cruel and unjust; for nothing in the dear child's character, or conduct could justify accusing her of telling lies. But one of the nuns went even so far as to say to her: “You are a wicked child, you are keeping up a disgraceful carnival there, in the holy time of Lent.” All this harsh treatment deserves severe censure. These nuns might have prudently withheld their belief; but they had no right to browbeat and cruelly reprove a poor child, whose very countenance and whole behaviour showed the most artless simplicity, innocence, and even holiness.
Almighty God, however, was pleased that Bernadette should pass through these trials, and others also from certain people who reproached her, and from some of the school children who made game of her. Her little heart was agitated, on the one hand from the fear of disobeying her father and the nuns, and on the other by the dread of breaking her promise to the Apparition. But God, who comforteth the humble, did not leave her long in this state of suffering. About noon, the children went home to dinner, and Bernadette walked sorrowfully homewards. The church bell just then rang for the Angelus. At that moment, she felt an irresistible power, forcing her towards the Grotto, and she could not help walking, and even running thither. The humble little creature, ill-treated and abandoned as she was by men, already felt the glow of hope and joy, as she drew near to the Grotto. Still, a little before she got there, that mysterious power which had carried her on seemed to grow less, and she felt a fatigue quite unusual to her, for it was exactly at that place that all the other days an invisible power seemed at once to attract, and support her.
Although most of that multitude of people, who had waited for Bernadette all the morning in vain, had gone away, there was still a considerable number in front of the rocks. Some had come out of curiosity, others to pray; and many who had seen Bernadette going that way, made haste and arrived there at the same time with her. The little girl knelt down humbly, as usual, and began to say her rosary, with her eyes fixed on the opening in the rock, where the Apparition had already six times condescended to appear to her. The people kept anxiously expecting to see her countenance become transfigured, and a long time passed in this manner. She prayed fervently, but saw nothing. The mysterious Being seemed to forsake her, like the people on earth; and this was the bitterest trial of all, as it seemed to give her up to her enemies and calumniators. The crowd of people were disappointed, and to all their questions, she only answered with her eyes red with weeping; “The Lady has not appeared: I have seen nothing.” Her enemies might have considered that if she had been an impostor, she could as easily have pretended to see the Apparition then, as before. “The other days,” said the poor child, “I saw her as plainly as I see you, and we talked together; but today, she is not there, and why, I do not know.” Nevertheless feeling sure of herself, and certain of the past, she had not the least doubt; but she was very sad, and when she came home, she shed tears and prayed. And yet she never lost a secret hope, and certain rays of joy kept alive her faith in the divine Apparition. Little could she foresee the new application so soon to be made of the words read in the Gospel on that very day, the Feast of St. Peter‘s Chair at Antioch: Upon this rock I will build my church: little did she think that the very next day, she should have to announce and demand the building of a temple on that very rock of Massabielle.
“Where have you been?” said her father to her when she came home. She candidly related all that had taken place. “And you think,” said her parents, “that some power took you there, in spite of yourself?” “Yes,” said Bernadette. “It must be true,” they said to themselves, “for this child has never told a lie.” Her father remained a long time in deep thought; but at length he said to her: “Well, as it is so, and as some superior power has carried you on, I will not forbid you any longer to go to the Grotto, and I leave you quite free.” What pure and bright joy at once came over the countenance of the dear child! Neither of her parents had said a word about the Apparition not being seen that day. Perhaps they attributed the cause to their own opposition to a superhuman command, through fear of the official authorities.
Mr. Jacomet summoned all three before him, and repeated his threats of imprisonment. 3ut Bernadette told him again that she had promised to go to the Grotto every day for a fortnight. “I go there,” she said, “to pray by myself, I invite no one; and if so many people come after me and before me, it is not my fault. It is because they say it is the Blessed Virgin, but I don’t know who it is.” This man was completely baffled by the poor, innocent child. “Really,” said he, stamping with rage, “this is a very stupid affair.” And he let them go home, and went off to confer with the Crown prosecutor.
The next morning, Tuesday, February 23rd, a crowd of people had assembled in front of the Grotto, before sunrise. Bernadette came quite humbly and simply as usual, but with some signs of sadness, because she was afraid she should not see the Apparition any more. She knelt down with one hand resting upon a wax candle lighted, and with her beads in the other. Scarcely had she began, when to her great joy the glorious Vision appeared, and looking down upon her with inexpressible sweetness and tenderness, called her by her name, “Bernadette!” “Here I am,” answered the happy child.” “I have a secret to tell you,” said the Lady, “which is for you alone, and concerns you alone. Will you promise me never to tell it to anyone in this world?”
“I do promise you,” said Bernadette. What she then told the child is not granted to us to know: but after that, the Apparition went on thus: “And now, my child, go and tell the priests that I wish to have a chapel built here in my honour.” After saying these words she vanished, and Bernadette‘s countenance resumed its usual appearance. The people crowded about her, and every one tried to get near enough to hear her. “What did she say to you?” they eagerly enquired. “She told me two things, one for myself alone, the other for the priests, and I am going at once to tell it to them,” she answered. And she was surprised, as she had been before, that everyone did not hear and see the Lady, as she had done. “She speaks loud enough to be heard,” she said; “and for my part, I speak out as loud as I do at other times.” But though her lips were seen to move, when she was in a state of ecstasy, no one could ever hear a word that she said.
When Bernadette came back to the town, the people in crowds were anxious to see what she would do. She went at once to the house of the parish priest, Mr. Peyramale, just as she was, in her white capulet, or hooded mantle of coarse cloth, and her poor black frock, full of patches. He was unwilling to believe, upon the mere word of a child, that these extraordinary Apparitions had taken place in the Grotto, and if they had, he doubted if they were divine. So he received poor Bernadette with great harshness and distrust. He only just knew her by sight, from having had her pointed out to him a day or two before in the street: when she presented herself to him he said to her in a stern tone of voice: “Are you not Bernadette, the daughter of the miller Soubirous?” “Yes, I am, Rev. Sir,” replied the humble messenger. “Well, Bernadette, what do you want? What are you come here for?” he said, with a look that would have frightened a soul less sure of herself than she was. “Rev. Sir, I am sent by the ‘Lady,’ who appears to me in the Grotto at Massabielle.” “O yes,” said the priest, interrupting her, “you profess to have visions, and you set all the people running about here and there with your tales. What is all this? What has happened to you these few last days? What are these extraordinary things which you declare, but of which we have no proof?” Bernadette was hurt, and perhaps surprised at the severe and unfeeling manner in which Mr. Peyramale received her, as he had the character of being so good and fatherly towards his parishioners. With her heart full, but with firm and peaceful conviction of the truth, she related in plain and simple words all that had happened.
As she spoke, the priest could not help admiring the astonishing truthfulness of character which she showed, and perceiving the innocent nature of this privileged soul. But he still looked at her with a severe countenance, and said: “And you don’t know the name of this Lady?” “No,” she replied, “she has never told me who she was.” To which he answered: “Those who believe you, imagine that she is the Blessed Virgin Mary. But,” he added in a serious and threatening tone, “do you know that if you falsely pretend to see her in that Grotto, you go the way never to see her in heaven? Here, you say that you alone see her. If you tell lies in this world, others will see her above, and you for your falsehoods, will be forever far away from her, -for ever in hell.” “I do not know, Rev. Sir,” replied the child, “if it is the Blessed Virgin, but I see the vision as plainly as I see you, and she speaks to me as plainly as you do. And I am come now to tell you from her, that she wishes a chapel to be built in her honour, at the rocks of Massabielle, where she appears to me.”
The priest could not help smiling at this artless message. But he made her repeat the very words of the Lady; and Bernadette said: “After telling me a secret for myself alone, and which I cannot reveal, she added these words:— And now go and tell the priests that I wish to have a chapel built to me here.” The priest was silent for a moment, and thought to himself: “After all, it is possible!” - “But,” thought be, looking at Bernadette, “what guarantee have I for this child, and what proof is there that she is not the victim of some delusion?” Then he said to her: “If the Lady you tell me about is really the Queen of heaven, I shall be happy to do all in my power towards building her a chapel: but your word is no security. I am not obliged to believe you. I don’t know who this Lady is; and before I can set about complying with her request, I want to know what right she has to make it. Ask her then to give me some proof of her power. You tell me that there is a wild rose bush under the feet of the Apparition, which grows out of the rocks. We are now in the month of February. Tell her from me, to make that rose bush blossom, if she wishes for the chapel.” And so he dismissed the little girl.
Now all this severity cannot be commended. The priest had certainly a right to suspend his judgment, but he had no right to treat that dear innocent child harshly, and give her pain. He ought to have seen, and he must have seen, that no part of her words or conduct justified him in accusing or even suspecting her of telling lies. How much better would the venerable Peter of Blois have judged of that humble and artless child: “I do not discredit,” said he, “childlike and simple ways; for simplicity is ever allied to truth.” And he went a great deal too far in presuming to dictate a proof to be given before he would believe. It was like the perverse generation of the jews asking a sign from heaven; and it deserved the answer which they received: a sign shall not be given them. Nay, it reminds us but too strongly of the insulting jews before our crucified Redeemer: let him come down from the cross, and we will believe in him. Who are we, to dare to prescribe the terms on which we, forsooth, shall condescend to believe?
Such conduct was only calculated to give a triumph to the persecutors of the poor child, and furnish the scoffers with profane jests; as it did Jacomet, and his party of infidels, who said when they heard of it: “The Apparition is called upon to produce her passport.” “The priest has let out the air of this great balloon with the thorn of a wild rose tree! A capital expedient!” Of course every one waited with impatience to see what would happen the next day.
The eighth apparition - Bernadette's report of it to the parish priest - people crowd to see and hear her – she and her parents refuse all offers of money. The ninth apparition—the miraculous fountain—cures by the use of water from it.
THE reader will remember that Mr. Estrade, a collector of taxes, had been present when Bernadette was arrested and examined by Mr. Jacomet; and that he was much struck at the time by the sincerity of the little girl, though he still attributed her account to a sort of imagination. Altogether he was inclined, like Jacomet, to disbelieve the affair entirely. On the next day after Bernadette had been to the parish priest, Mr. Estrade determined to go to the Grotto when the girl should come there; and accordingly he arrived early in the morning of Wednesday, February 24th. What follows is taken from his own account of what he witnessed. He came, as he owns, fully prepared to laugh and ridicule. He succeeded in pushing his way through the crowd to one of the first places, so that he was close to Bernadette when she arrived. He noticed her mild and innocent looks. She knelt down quite naturally, without being at all confused, took no notice of the crowd all about her, but took out her beads, and began her prayers. Very soon her countenance was lighted up with some unknown brightness; and she kept her eyes, filled with joy and happiness, upon the niche in the rock. Mr. Estrade looked up there too, but saw nothing but the bare branches of the rose bush. And yet, when he beheld the transfiguration of that child, all his prejudices and objections at once passed away, and he felt certain that some mysterious Being was there. Bernadette was no longer like herself. Her posture, her gestures, the way she made the sign of the cross, all had a certain dignity and grandeur about them more than human. He held his breath to try to hear the conversation between the Apparition and the child. Bernadette listened almost with adoration, mixed with unbounded joy and delight. Sometimes, however, a shade of sadness passed over her countenance, but the prevailing expression was that of great joy.
At one time, Bernadette moved forward on her knees from the spot where she was praying, and so went on to the farthest end of the Grotto, a distance of about fifteen yards. While she was thus going up this rather steep ascent, on her knees, those between whom she passed heard her distinctly say: “Penance! penance! penance!” A few minutes after this, she rose up and went back to the town through the crowd of people; and then she was only a poor child almost in rags, who seemed to have had no more to do there than any of the crowd that followed her.
“Well,” said Mr. Peyramale to Bernadette when she came to him, “have you seen her again to-day, and what did she say to you?” “I did see the vision,” replied the child, and I said to her: “The parish priest asks you to give some proofs, such as making the rose bush under your feet come into blossom; because my word is not enough for the priests, and they are not willing to depend upon me.” She smiled, but said nothing. She then told me to pray for sinners, and ordered me to climb up to the farthest end of the Grotto. She called out, “Penance! Penance! Penance!” which I repeated as I went up on my knees to the end of the Grotto. There she told me another secret for myself only; and then she disappeared.
“And what did you find at the end of the Grotto?” “I looked, after she was gone, -for while she is there I can look at nothing but herself, -and I saw nothing but the rock, and a few blades of grass which grew among the dust.” The priest remained in deep thought, and said to himself, “Let us wait and see.”
The unbelievers and scoffers were a good deal staggered at the firm belief produced in Mr. Estrade and many others by what they had seen that day at the Grotto; and they thought they had gained some triumph by the rose bush not having blossomed, as the priest had required. They little understood that the Almighty, when He intends to establish something that lasts forever, is not likely to amuse the world with frivolous signs which last only for a day; but will at once fix His work upon a foundation to endure eternally.
When Bernadette was seen in the streets, a crowd always collected about her; every one wanted to hear her tell about the Apparitions. They called her into their houses, to ask her coversations, and among them Mr. Dufo, one of the most eminent lawyers in the place. They did not resist the secret power which He who is the living Truth gave to her words. She answered all these questions with perfect candour and readiness. A great many came at all hours of the day to her house to see her, and listen to her. In one corner of the room, a small altar, ornamented with flowers, medals and pious pictures, and supporting a statue of the Blessed Virgin, showed some little display of finery, and gave proof of the piety of the humble family. But all the rest of the room was wretchedly furnished: a small poor bed, a few broken chairs, and a rickety table made up all the furniture of that room, where people crowded to learn the splendid secrets of heaven. Many were so moved at their poverty, that they could not refrain from offering some little alms to these poor people: but the child and her parents always refused to accept anything, and this so firmly, that it was impossible to oppose their determination.
One evening, when the people were all gone, except a neighbour, or some relative sitting with the good people before the fire, a stranger came in, and questioned Bernadette very particularly, wishing her to tell him everything, and seeming to take an extraordinary interest in her account. He observed how highly favoured she was by heaven, but said he felt grieved to see her in so much poverty. “I am rich,” he said, “allow me to help you,” at the same time laying down a purse on the table which he partly opened, to show that it was full of gold. Bernadette was highly displeased, and said to him sharply: “I will have nothing Sir, take that back again,” pushing the purse back towards him. “It is not for you, my child, he said, but for your parents, who are in want, and you surely would not hinder me from relieving them.” Her parents both answered at once: “Neither Bernadette, nor ourselves will take anything.” “You are poor,” he said again, “I have intruded upon you, and I feel much for you. It must be pride that makes you refuse.” “No Sir,” they said, “it is not: but we will take nothing, positively nothing. So please to take back your money.” Who this man was, and whence he came, no one knew: it is most likely that he was employed by some enemy to tempt these poor people. But whoever employed him, must have been satisfied that snares and temptations were as little likely to succeed against this extraordinary child, as artful questions and threats of violence. Bernadette and her parents, poor, sometimes even wanting bread, and yet firmly refusing to derive any profit from the credulity of the people, was certainly a thing quite inconceivable.
The next day was Thursday, February 25th, and Bernadette went to the Grotto at her usual early hour. It is worthy of note that the Church in the Office of that day sung these remarkable words; Thou art the God that doest wonders. Thou hast made thy power known among the nations. . . . . The waters saw thee, O God, the waters saw thee; and they were afraid, and the depths were troubled. (Ps. lxxvi. 15-17.) The reader will soon see how wonderfully these words applied to the events of this day. An innumerable multitude of people had come to the Grotto before Bernadette. A little child shall lead them, said the prophet; (Isaias xi. 6.) and this poor little child attracted all these thousands to attend her at the Grotto. A thrilling sensation passed through them as she appeared, and all with one impulse, believers and unbelievers, took off their hats as she approached. Many knelt down at the same time that she did. In a moment the divine Apparition was seen by Bernadette, who suddenly fell into a state of rapturous ecstasy. The Lady stood, as usual, in the niche, or hollow place in the rock, with her feet upon the wild rose bush. “My child,” said she to Bernadette, “I am going to confide a last secret to you, for yourself, and concerning yourself alone, which you must never tell to anyone in the world, any more than the two others.” After a short interval of silence, the Lady spoke to her again thus: “And now go and drink, and wash at the fountain, and eat some of the plant that grows beside it.” Bernadette looked about for a fountain, but there was none, and there never had been any in that place. The child, without losing sight of the Apparition, was going down naturally to the river Gave, the waters of which were rushing a few paces below, over stones and broken rocks. But the Lady made a sign to stop her: “Don’t go there,” she said: “I did not tell you to drink at the Gave; go to the fountain, it is here.” And stretching forth her delicate and powerful hand, she pointed out to the child that same corner of the Grotto, perfectly dry and dusty, to which she had climbed upon her knees the day before. Bernadette could see nothing like a spring of water there; but she at once obeyed, and went up on her knees to the place. Still she could see no appearance of any water: but close to the rock there grew here and there small tufts of a kind of saxifrage, which the French call La Dorine. Whether from a fresh sign from the Apparition, or an inward movement of her own soul, Bernadette, with that simple faith which is so pleasing to God, stooped down, and scraping the earth with her little hands, began to scoop out a hole in the ground. The innumerable spectators could not tell what to make of the child’s extraordinary movements. But all at once there appeared a little moisture in the hollow which she had scraped out, and water began to come mysteriously, drop by drop, under her hands, and to fill up the hollow which she had formed in the ground, which was about the size of a common drinking glass. This water, mixing with the earth, which she had scraped up, was at first nothing but mud. She tried three times to drink it, but each time spit it out, without being able to swallow it. Still she wished above all things to obey the radiant Apparition before her, and the fourth time she made a strong effort, and overcame her repugnance. She drank, she washed herself, and eat a little bit of the wild plant that grew at the foot of the rock. Presently the water over flowed the opening in the ground, and began to run in a slender stream, no broader than a straw, towards the people who were in front of the Grotto. It was so narrow, that for sometime, that is, all that day, the dry earth sucked it all up, and its course could only be perceived by the moist track along the ground, which growing longer by degrees, went on very slowly towards the river Gave. When Bernadette had thus fulfilled all the orders she had received, the Apparition gave her a look of satisfaction, and the next moment disappeared.
The crowd of people were greatly excited by this prodigy. As soon as Bernadette had recovered her usual appearance, they hastened into the cave in the rock. Everyone wanted to see the hollow place, where the water sprang up, and to dip a handkerchief in it, and carry a drop of it to their lips. It soon became a liquid mass of mud: but the spring grew more and more abundant, and on the following day, it gushed forth out of the ground in a spring, which kept growing stronger and stronger. At the same time, however, its passage through the earth caused the water to be still muddy. It was only at the end of several days, that after increasing in some degree from hour to hour, it ceased at length to increase in bulk, and became quite clear. It then flowed out in a very considerable stream, about as large as a little child’s arm.
Bernadette was respectfully saluted wherever she passed; and the poor child made haste home to escape the honours paid her on all sides. All this glory was to her a real pain and mortification. It was Thursday, which, as before observed, was market day at Lourdes, so that the news of these fresh wonderful events at the Grotto was spread by the evening through all the country round about. The number of visitors was greatly increased. A great many came over night to sleep at Lourdes, that they might go early in the morning to the Rocks of Massabielle: others travelled all night, and by daybreak, from five to six thousand people were assembled in front of the Grotto, and all about the rocks. When the poor little humble child came to say her prayers in the midst of all this agitated crowd of people, they called out: “Here comes the saint!” Many even tried to touch her garments, considering everything holy that belonged to this privileged being.
She, however, who is the mother of the little and humble, would not have that innocent heart exposed to the danger of yielding to any temptation of vain glory, amidst all the singular favours she received. It was good for her to feel her own nothingness, and how incapable she was, of herself, to call down the divine Apparition. She prayed a long time without showing any signs of ecstasy; and when she at length rose to go away, she answered sorrowfully to those who questioned her, that the Vision had not appeared to her. It would seem as if the wonderful Fountain was that day to bear witness by itself alone. It was February 26th, and Friday in the first week of Lent, on which, in the diocese of Tarbes and many others, was celebrated the Feast of the Spear and Nails which pierced our Blessed Redeemer; and these appropriate words occurred in the Office: In that day there shall be a fountain open to the house of David, and to the inhabitants of Jerusalem, for the washing of the sinner, and of the unclean. (Zach. xiii—1.) It was remarkable also that on that day, the Gospel was of the probatical pond at Jerusalem, where so many were healed of their infirmities. Few perhaps thought of these coincidences; but many felt confident that this miraculous Fountain would be the instrument of many wonderful cures. The following one is well attested, and is chosen to be related, as having been the first, and one of those juridically proved, and declared miraculous by competent ecclesiastical authority.
A poor quarry-man, named Louis Bourriette, well known to everyone in that neighbourhood, had met with a terrible accident twenty-four years before, while at work in a quarry with his brother Joseph. A frightful explosion took place, which killed his brother by his side, and dreadfully wounded Louis in the face, almost crushing his right eye. He suffered great agonies of pain for a long time; and though by degrees his health was partly restored, his right eye never recovered entirely, but latterly had even grown worse, so that the sight of that eye was almost entirely lost. When he shut his other eye, he could not tell a man from a tree. This poor man heard very soon of the Fountain, and told his daughter to fetch him some of the water; “for,” said he, “if it is the Blessed Virgin, she has only to will it, and I shall be cured.” His daughter brought him a little of the water, but told him it was quite muddy. “Never mind,” said the man, and he began to pray. Then with that water he washed his bad eye, which he believed he had lost forever. Almost immediately he cried out aloud, and trembled all over. For already a miracle had been wrought for him, and he began to see light all round him. Still everything seemed as yet covered with a thin mist, or vapour, so that he could not see things perfectly. He kept on praying and washing his right eye with the water, and by degrees the mist cleared away, and he saw with that eye quite distinctly. The next day, or the day after that, he met Dr. Dozous in the public square of Lourdes, who had always attended him from the time of his accident. He ran up to him, saying: “I am Cured.” “Impossible,” said the doctor. “You have received an injury which makes your malady absolutely incurable. What I have done for you was only to relieve your pains, but could not restore your sight.” “It is not you that have cured me,” replied the man with deep emotion, “it is the Blessed Virgin at the Grotto.” The wise doctor shrugged up his shoulders, and said: “That Bernadette has certain inexplicable ecstasies, is certain; for that I have verified with indefatigable attention. But that the water which has sprung out of the rock from some unknown cause should suddenly cure maladies which are incurable, is a thing impossible.” As he said this, he took out his pocket book, and wrote a few words in pencil. Then he covered Bourriette’s left eye with his hand, and held the writing up to the right eye, with which he knew he could not see at all. “If you can read this, I will believe you,” said the doctor, with an air of triumph, who was very proud of his great knowledge and profound experience in medicine. The people, who were walking in the square, had gathered round them. Bourriette looked at the paper with the eye that had but a little before been sightless, and read at once, without the slightest hesitation, these words: “Bourriette has an incurable disease of the eye, called amaurosis, and he will never be cured of it.” If a thunderbolt had fallen at the feet of the learned doctor, it could not have stupified him more than the voice of Bourriette thus quietly reading, without any difficulty, that small writing in pencil. Dr. Dozous was a conscientious man, and he owned at once, and declared without hesitation, that this sudden cure of a malady, otherwise incurable, was the work of a superior power. “I cannot deny,” said he, “that it is a miracle, a true miracle, whether I and my medical brethren like it or not. I am quite overcome by it; but we must submit to a fact so evident, and so far beyond the power of poor human science.” The happy man Bourriette, out of himself with joy, eagerly told all about his cure to everyone who enquired of him. Towards evening a great many workmen belonging to the company of quarry-men, of which Bourriette was one, went to the Rocks, and made a path for visitors up the rugged ascent to the Grotto. They placed a wooden gutter before the spring which was already very strong, and under this they dug a small oval place, about half a yard deep, to receive the water, of about the size and shape of a child‘s cradle.
The enthusiasm of the people kept increasing, and multitudes were constantly coming to the miraculous Fountain. When it grew dark, the Grotto was lighted up with innumerable tapers, which were brought by poor and rich, children, women, and men; and they were seen burning all night long. As soon as this illumination began, the multitude of people sung all together the Litany of the Blessed Virgin, interrupting the silence of night by praising and invoking that Mother most admirable, who is the Mystical Rose, and the Cause of our joy.
Fourteenth apparition - Bernadette carries a second message to the Parish Priest - He informs the Bishop of all that has occurred - Fifteenth apparition - Sixteenth - Seventeenth on March 25th.
IN the course of that day Bernadette had been summoned again, and examined by the Crown prosecutor, the Procureur Imperial, but neither he nor the judges who sat with him could make her contradict herself, any more than Jacomet could. The Mayor of Lourdes, Mr. Lacadé, refused to forbid people to go to the Grotto, though urged to do so by the opponents of the Apparition; alleging that it belonged to the Bishop to decide the religious part of the question, and to the Prefect to judge of what concerned the administration of justice. As the Apparition, when the Fountain appeared, had not repeated the order to Bernadette to go and desire the priest to build a chapel, and had not been seen the next day at all, she had not been again to the house where the priests lived. The clergy continued to keep away from the Grotto. “Let us wait,” they said: “in human affairs it is enough to be prudent once; but in the things of God, we must be so seventy times.” Meanwhile all went on quite orderly at the Grotto. The soldiers of the garrison obtained leave to go to the Rocks with the rest; and were very useful in preventing too much crowding, keeping paths open, hindering people from going too near to the dangerous banks of the river, and in other ways.
Bernadette made her visits as usual every morning to the Grotto; was favoured with the sight and exquisite enjoyment of the Apparition each time; and was each time told to drink and wash at the fountain, and eat a little of the plant. The Fountain kept flowing more and more abundantly, and miraculous cures were also multiplied. The Apparition was seen by her for the fourteenth time on Tuesday, the 2nd of March, and on that day, Bernadette again called on Mr. Peyramale in obedience to the Apparition, and spoke thus to him: “She wishes to have a chapel built, and processions made to the Grotto.” The priest required no farther proofs. “I believe you,” he said to Bernadette; “but what you require in the name of the Apparition does not depend upon me, but upon the Bishop, whom I have duly informed of all that has taken place. I will go to him, and inform him of this fresh request. It is his place alone to act in the matter.”
The Bishop of Tarbes at that time was the Rt. Revd. Bertrand Severus Laurence. He died in the month of May last, at Rome, where he was attending the Ecumenical Council of the Vatican. He had presided over the diocese twelve years, when these wonderful events took place. No man was less liable to be led away by illusions of the imagination, or to give a hasty decision through unreflecting enthusiasm. He was very slow to pronounce in serious affairs, and knew how to wait with extreme patience, and prudence. Mr. Peyramale laid before the Bishop the extraordinary occurrences of the last three weeks, and his animated account must have struck his Lordship, though it did not produce immediate conviction in his mind. The Bishop formed as yet no judgment, and gave no decision; though he took care to deny nothing, but kept himself in that even temper of doubt, which is the best disposition to proceed with in the search after truth. He naturally thought of instituting an official inquiry, and public opinion, anxious for a decision, urged him to it. But he considered that the time had not yet come for him to exercise his episcopal authority, and that it behoved him to proceed with prudent slowness. Accordingly he still forbade his clergy to go to the Grotto; but at the same time, he took every means, in concert with the parish priest of Lourdes, to procure information every day, from witnesses of credibility who were beyond all suspicion, and of known capacity, as to all that passed at the Rocks of Massabielle; and he resolved to remain, for some months at least, in close observation. He seemed determined to adhere to the counsel of the inspired writer: In all thy works let the true word go before thee, and steady counsel before every action. (Ecclus. xxxvii. 20.)
The Prefect of the Department, whose name was Massy, did not believe in the Apparitions, but he had always been on perfectly good terms with the Bishop. But from the information he had received from Jacomet, he resolved to put a stop at once to what he called this new superstition. The Bishop took time to consider well these wonderful events; but the Prefect preferred acting at once. He began by having the Grotto secretly watched, both by day and night; and on Wednesday, the 3rd of March, soldiers and police were stationed at all the approaches to the Rocks. But in spite of all these measures, all the roads were covered with visitors hastening to the spot, on foot, on horseback, and in carriages of every description. The hotels in Lourdes could not hold the multitudes that kept arriving. People passed the whole night before the illuminated Grotto, that they might the next morning secure places near Bernadette. She came as usual on Wednesday, and the Apparition was seen by her for the fifteenth time, but it only gave her the same order to drink and wash. Thursday, the 4th of March, was the last day of the fortnight, during which she had promised to come every day.
At daybreak there was a prodigious number of people assembled about the Grotto, greater than ever. There were more than 20,000 persons spread over the banks of the river Gave, and their number kept increasing by fresh arrivals on all sides. Mr. Jacomet and the Crown prosecutor were seen also standing on a little eminence. All on a sudden the people called out on all sides: “Here comes the saint! Here comes the saint!” Everyone felt a thrill of emotion, everyone looked up, every eye was fixed upon the same point, and every head was uncovered from the same instinctive feeling. Bernadette, accompanied by her mother, had just appeared in the pathway, which the quarry-men had made a few days before, and was coming quietly down to this ocean of human beings. But she took no notice of the immense multitude: her thoughts were wholly fixed on seeing that incomparable Beauty once more. In the midst of innumerable cries of “There is the saint!” and all the marks of respect and veneration from the people, she was so perfectly humble, that she was not in the least moved. The police formed an escort, and cleared a passage for her through the crowd, with the fervour and sympathy of religious believers. Every voice was soon hushed, and the silence was so perfect, that no one, if he had shut his eyes, could have believed that an immense crowd of people were present.
When Bernadette knelt and bowed down, all the people with one impulse went down on their knees. Almost immediately the heavenly rays of the ecstasy lighted up the features of the child, which were completely transfigured. The Apparition had told her, as on the preceding days, to go and drink and wash at the Fountain, and eat a little of the same plant, as before. She then told her again to go to the priests, and tell them that she wished to have a chapel built, and processions made to the place. Bernadette had asked the Apparition to tell her name. But the bright and beautiful Lady had made no answer. The time was not yet come.
The fortnight was now ended, during which the child had engaged to go, and had gone every day to the Grotto. There had been all the time a continuation of fine weather, such as had not been known for many years. But on the 5th of March the weather changed, and there was deep snow. On this account the crowds at the Grotto were not so great, but still many came, and miraculous cures continued to take place. Bernadette went several times thither after the fortnight was over, but only like other people, without feeling that inward voice which had before called her irresistibly. She heard this voice again, however, on the 25th of March, in the morning, and she immediately took the road to the Rocks of Massabielle. When she was seen going that way, people said one to another: “Bernadette is going to the Grotto!” In an instant, crowds of people rushed out of their houses from all quarters, and got there at the same time with the child.
It was the day when the Angel Gabriel had come to announce to the Blessed Virgin the incarnation of the Son of God. Among the crowd who followed Bernadette to the Grotto, were many of those who had already been miraculously cured, Louis Bourriette, and upwards of twenty others; and it was very remarkable that in the Office of that day, the Church recited these appropriate words: “Then shall the eyes of the blind be opened - then shall the lame man leap as the hart: . . . for waters are broken out in the desert, and streams in the wilderness. (Isaias xxxv. 6.)
No sooner had Bernadette fallen upon her knees, than the Lady appeared to her. In a perfect ecstasy, the child had forgotten the earth in presence of that spotless Beauty. “O my Lady,” she exclaimed, “will you have the goodness to tell me who you are, and what is your name?” The Apparition smiled, but made no answer. But the child persevered, and repeated her petition in the same words. The Apparition seemed to shine even more brilliantly, but still did not answer. Bernadette repeated her entreaties, and for the third time pronounced the same words: “O my Lady, will you have the goodness to tell me who you are, and what is your name?” The Apparition still remained silent; but the little girl again spoke: “O my Lady, I beg of you, will you have the goodness to tell me who you are, and what is your name?” The Lady had her hands joined; but at this last entreaty of the child, she disjoined them, and hung her beautiful rosary upon her right arm. Then she lowered her arms, joined her hands again very fervently, and looking up to heaven pronounced these words:
“I AM THE IMMACULATE CONCEPTION.”
She immediately disappeared, and Bernadette found herself, like the multitude around her, kneeling in front of a desert rock. Perhaps she recollected that on that very day an Angel was sent to a Virgin; “and the Virgin’s name was MARY.” It was the first time that Bernadette had ever heard the words, Immaculate Conception; and she did not at all know what they meant. So, as she went back to Lourdes, she did all she could to remember them. She said afterwards “I repeated them to myself all the way along, that I might not forget them, and up to the very house of the priest, where I was going, I kept saying, Immaculate Conception, at every step, because I wanted to tell the priest the words of the Vision, that the chapel might be built.”
Eighteenth apparition - Bernadette's hands miraculously preserved from burning - offerings in the grotto - shrewd answers of Bernadette - her humility and simplicity - fresh opposition and persecution attempted against her - the parish priest resolutely protects her - the grotto despoiled - indignation of the people.
THE Minister of public worship, Mr. Rouland, had received a report of the proceedings at the Grotto from Massy, the Prefect; and in his reply, advised him to proceed very cautiously, and to confine himself to preventing Bernadette from going to the Grotto; but also to take his measures in concert with the clergy, and particularly to treat on the subject with the Bishop, and tell him that the Minister was of opinion that the state of things should not be allowed to go on, as it could only serve as a pretext for fresh attacks on the clergy and religion. Accordingly the Prefect requested the Bishop to forbid Bernadette to go any more to the Grotto. But his Lordship, while he did not yield to the enthusiasm of the people, who urged him to pronounce formally in favour of the miracle, was equally firm in resisting the Minister and the Prefect, who would have had him condemn without examining.
On Easter Monday, April 5th, the very day on which the Prefect had gone to have an audience of the Bishop, the Holy Mother of God again called Bernadette by an interior attraction to the Grotto; and she went thither, soon followed by an immense crowd of people. On that day a most extraordinary fact took place: Bernadette had brought with her a very large wax candle, which someone had given her, and had set it on the ground, supporting it near the top between her hands, partly joined. As soon as the Blessed Virgin appeared to her, she, in her state of ecstasy, raised her hands to the top of the candle, so that the flame was burning within her hands, while she remained motionless, and wholly absorbed in the contemplation of the glorious vision. The people all about her were amazed and stupified to see the flame flickering about inside her hands, while she was utterly insensible to it. Hundreds of spectators were witnesses of this. Dr. Dozous took out his watch at the beginning of this astonishing sight, and found that it lasted a little more than a quarter of an hour.
When Bernadette came to herself, they examined her hands, but nothing had happened to them, they were just as usual. Some one, however wishing to make sure, took the lighted candle, and put it to her hand without her perceiving it; but she drew her hand away directly, and called out, “O Sir, you are burning me.” There were ten thousand persons present when this took place. Many workmen of Lourdes, after finishing their day's labour, went to work in the evening at widening and levelling the road to the Grotto, which had been begun sometime before by the quarry-men. When people asked them who was to pay them, they answered, “The Blessed Virgin.” Before they went home, they went to the Grotto, and said their prayers together. The people had before burned tapers at the Grotto, and now they placed before it natural and artificial flowers in pots and garlands, and small statues of the Blessed Virgin; and the workmen made a little railing to protect these pious offerings from any accidental injury. Many, who had received particular favours through the intercession of our Blessed Lady of Lourdes, brought little gold crosses and chains, and people threw money freely into the Grotto towards building the chapel, which the Blessed Virgin had desired. Several hundreds of pounds were thus lying about in the Grotto, without any protection by day, or night; and no one was found all over the country to attempt to steal a farthing, or the least thing offered in the Grotto.
Bernadette was constantly visited and interrogated by persons of all classes; but no one after seeing and hearing her, could say that she told lies. This little child always inspired respect; and though she had no particular cleverness in common things, she was above herself, and had an answer ready for every objection, whenever she had to bear witness to the Apparition. Mr. Resseguier, a counsellor and ex-deputy, came to see her, with several ladies of his family. He made her relate every particular; and when she told him that the Apparition spoke in the way that the country people talked, he said: “My child, you are not telling the truth: God and the Blessed Virgin do not understand your miserable language.” “If they don’t know it Sir,” she answered, “how should we know it? And if they don’t understand it, who could make us understand it?” She also was quite ready with smart replies. A person who refused to believe her, asked her one day: “How could the Blessed Virgin tell you to eat that plant? She must have taken you at that rate for an animal.” To which she sharply answered with an arch smile: “Do you take yourself then to be one when you eat salad?” She answered also at times with great originality. The same Mr. Resseguier, alluding to the beauty of the Apparition, asked her thus: “Was she as beautiful as the ladies you see here?” Bernadette looked at the young ladies and others all round, and then said with a look of complete disdain: “O her beauty was quite another thing from all that!” Now all that were the finest ladies in Pau. She readily disconcerted those who tried to puzzle her with subtle questions. “What would you do,” said one person to her, “if the parish priest positively forbade you to go to the Grotto?” “I should obey him.” “But if at the same time you received an order from the Apparition to go there, what would you do between the two commands?” The child answered without a moment’s hesitation: “I should go and ask the priest’s permission.”
Nothing then, nor at any time after, made any change in her graceful simplicity. She never spoke of the Apparition, unless when asked about it. She looked upon herself as the last and lowest in the nuns’ school; and it was a hard matter to teach her to read and write. In recreation time she mixed with her companions, and was as fond of play as any of them. Sometimes if a visitor asked to see that privileged creature, that beloved child of the Blessed Virgin, “There she is,” one of the nuns would say, pointing out among a lot of children one little girl, mean looking and miserably clad, playing with the rest at “hide and seek,” “prison bars,” “skipping rope,” or other innocent games of children with perfect enjoyment. But what she liked best of all, was to make one, perhaps the thirtieth or fortieth of a circle of children, singing as they ran round, holding hands.
Not only at Lourdes did miraculous cures take place, but invalids who could not come to the Grotto procured some of the water, and found their maladies suddenly disappear. Meanwhile every expedient was tried to entrap Bernadette; but that little shepherdess, only fourteen years old, so ignorant that she could not even read, nor speak French, baffled by her simplicity the most able and astute persons. A very rich family offered to adopt her, and proposed to give her parents a fortune of five thousand pounds, with permission to live with their child; but those good people never felt any temptation to accept these offers, and wished to remain in poverty.
When the Prefect heard that the Blessed Virgin had appeared again, and told her name to Bernadette, he sent to her house two physicians, who tried in vain for three weeks to find in her any symptoms of mental hallucination, or derangement. However, as she persisted always in the same account, they grounded upon that their report to the Prefect, that she might be subject to hallucination, that is, to make mistakes, and imagine that she saw, and heard what she did not. This appeared to the Prefect sufficient to justify him in his determination to have Bernadette brought to Tarbes, to be for a time lodged in the hospital there, and no doubt transferred later on to a mad house. The Minister of Public Worship had informed the Prefect that it would be perfectly legal to consider the Grotto as an oratory, and strip it of the offerings of believers which had accumulated within it.
The Mayor of Lourdes, Mr. Lacadé, and the Crown Prosecutor, Mr. Detour, went to the parish priest, Rev. Mr. Peyramale, to inform him of the order received from the Prefect to arrest Bernadette. The priest could not contain his indignation at a proceeding so cruel and wicked. “This child is innocent,” he said; “and the proof is, that with all your questioning and trying her, you have never been able to get up the smallest pretence for any such measure.” He went on to say that such a proceeding would be a most odious persecution; that though the Bishop and his Clergy were taking time for yet greater light to be thrown upon these events, they already knew quite enough to decide upon the sincerity of the child, and the soundness of her intellectual faculties; and the Prefect had no right to have Bernadette arrested, and he added: “Go and tell Mr. Massy that his policemen will find me on the threshold of the door of this poor family, and that they will have to knock me down first, step over my body, and trample upon me, before they shall touch a single hair of that little child's head.” “Still,” . . . “No, there is no still in the case. You may examine, and make inquiries, and this every one invites you to do. But if, instead of that, you are determined to persecute and strike the innocent, I would have you know, that before you shall touch the last, or the least of my flock, you will have to begin with me.” The Crown Prosecutor and the Mayor were silent for a few moments: then they talked about proceeding against the Grotto. “As to the Grotto,” replied the priest. “if the Prefect chooses to strip it of the innumerable offerings of the faithful, let him do it. But the believers, though sorrowful and indignant, know how to respect authority. It is said that a troop of cavalry are kept mounted at Tarbes ready to gallop into Lourdes, at the word of the Prefect. Let them dismount. I will answer for my people being quiet without the soldiers; but if they come, I will not answer for them.”
After this energetic protest of the parish priest, the Mayor signified to the Prefect that he should refuse to obey his orders, whatever might be the consequence; and that if he thought proper, he might himself give the order to the police to arrest her. Meanwhile Mr. Jacomet was preparing to despoil the Grotto, by order of Mr. Massy, the Prefect. The whole population were filled with consternation at this order, which they considered would be a monstrous sacrilege. The priests strove in vain to restrain the people; their minds were ardent, and their hearts indignant. The offerings of all kinds at the Grotto could not be carried off by men’s hands; so Mr. Jacomet went to the house where they let post horses, to ask for a cart and horses. “I don't let my horses for such purposes,” replied the Postmaster. “But,” said Jacomet, “you can’t refuse your horses to any one ready to pay for them.” “My horses are to let out for posting, and not for this business. I will have nothing to do with it. You may prosecute me, if you please, but I refuse to let you have my horses.” Jacomet tried in other places; but at all the hotels, all the places where horses were kept for hire, and at the houses of private individuals, he everywhere met with the same refusal. The very poorest people refused, although he kept offering higher pay, and even as much as twenty-five shillings, though the distance was less than a mile. At last he found a young woman at a blacksmith‘s, who lent him a cart for that sum. The people were very indignant at this, especially as the owners were not poor. An immense crowd followed Jacomet with his policemen driving the cart.
When they came near the Grotto, as there was no road up to it, the cart was obliged to remain some way off. Jacomet got over the railing before the Grotto, and went into it. He was a good deal agitated, but the people remained perfectly silent. He began by securing the money which lay about, to the amount of some hundreds of pounds. Then putting out the wax candles, and gathering up the rosaries, crosses, carpets, and many other offerings in the Grotto, he handed them to the policemen, to carry to the cart; and as this stood some way off, it took a good deal of time. So Jacomet called a little boy who was nearest to him, and told him to take one of the pictures to the cart. But when the child held out his hands for the picture, another little boy called out to him: “O you wretch, what are you going to do? Almighty God would punish you if you did that.” The child drew back, quite frightened, and no fresh call could make him come on again. When Jacomet took up the first bunch of flowers, he was going to throw it into the river, but the murmurs of the people stopped him, and so the garlands and flowers were all carried off in the cart with the other offerings. Just after, a small statue of the Blessed Virgin broke in his hands; and this again produced a fearful sensation among the people.
When he had stripped the Grotto, he wanted to remove the railing before it; but for this he must have a hatchet. All the men working at the mill hard by, refused to lend him one; but another man, who worked a little way from them, was afraid to refuse, and let him have his hatchet. With this Jacomet soon demolished the railing, which was very slightly put together. The people could refrain no longer, when they saw him cutting down the rails, and they gave loud expression to their indignation. A little more, and they would have pitched him into the river, which ran close by, and was very deep. He turned round, looking very pale and terrified, and pretended to feel sad, and unwilling to do what he did. He told the people that he felt great regret to be obliged to do so, but that he was compelled to obey the orders of the Prefect. Several in the crowd called out: “Let us keep quiet, no violence; let us leave all in the hands of God.”
The cart was driven to the Mayor’s office without opposition; the various articles were all deposited there, and the money placed in the Mayor’s hands. In the evening, as a protest against this spoliation, an innumerable multitude of people repaired to the Grotto, which was on a sudden lighted up, and filled with flowers; only to prevent the candles from being seized by the police, the people held their Candles in their hands, and took them home with them. The next day, the young woman who had lent the cart to Jacomet, fell down from a granary, and broke one of her ribs; and the man who had lent him the hatchet, had both his feet crushed by a heavy plank falling upon them. These two accidents happening the very day after, to the two persons who had aided in the spoliation of the Grotto, could not fail to produce a powerful sensation among the people.
People still flock to the grotto - Bernadette makes her first communion - she is subjected to fresh trials - the Grotto boarded up, and all access to it forbidden - some persons of distinction with many others still visit it - the nineteenth and last apparition - the emperor orders free access to the grotto - the barriers removed - the Bishop appoints a commission of enquiry.
THE Prefect felt obliged to desist from his project of arresting Bernadette. The numerous cures which took place, either at the Grotto, or at a distance, attracted an immense number of pilgrims and infirm persons to Lourdes. The Grotto, it is true, was stripped of all its ornaments, and no longer looked like an oratory; but the devotion to it was the same, and people flocked from all parts to the scene of so many miracles. Contrary, however, to the expectation of the unbelievers and persecutors, there was never the least disorderly conduct, or breach of the peace in all the crowds that came there, though they were composed of people of all classes. One night, however, when it was dark, someone unknown took away the pipes from the miraculous Spring, and made the water run and be lost under great heaps of stones, earth and sand. When daylight revealed this sacrilege, there was a deep feeling of indignation among the people, and they went about the roads and streets in great excitement. Yet the police and magistrates could not even then detect any violence, or breach of the peace, though it was strongly suspected that they had themselves been the instigators of the deed, in hopes of provoking the people to some acts of violence. The Mayor, however, gave orders for the pipes to be restored, and the ground cleared from all obstructions, being anxious to keep himself personally from any blame.
In the midst of all these proceedings, Bernadette was subjected to fresh trials and experiments, which proved as vain as those attempted before them. She was prepared for her First Communion, and made it on Corpus Christi, which fell on the 3rd of June. Then she had the happiness to receive the divine Son of that glorious Mother, whom her eyes had been privileged to see, and her ears to hear; and no one can conceive the exquisite joy and delight she must have then experienced. Although she wished to be retired, and to hide herself from the world, people still kept coming to visit her. But she was always the same simple and innocent child; and her candour, truthfulness and holiness charmed all who came near her. One day, a lady after conversing with her, wanted her to change beads with her, and take her rosary made of valuable stones. “Keep your own, Ma’am,” she replied, “this is mine, and I have no wish to change it. It is poor, like me, and suits my poverty.” A priest tried to get her to accept a piece of money. She refused, and he tried again, but met with a fresh refusal. Still he would not give way: “Take it,” he said, “it is not for yourself, but for the poor, and you will have the pleasure of giving it.” “Reverend Sir,” she said, “do you give it for my intention, and that will be better than if I gave it myself.” Bernadette knew how to serve God, and fulfil her mission without parting with her noble poverty: and yet she and her family sometimes wanted bread.
The salary of the Prefect was increased to £1000 a-year, and Jacomet received a handsome present. Mr. Rouland, the Minister of Public Worship, testified his great satisfaction at the conduct of the Prefect, and urged him to take energetic measures; for that the Grotto and the miracles must be put down at any cost. The work of God went on nevertheless steadily and powerfully; but these miserable men were blind, and could not see it. They affected to deny that there was any spring at the Grotto; saying it was a mere dripping of water from the rock, or a pool, or anything but a fountain. But that fountain kept increasing prodigiously, so that it poured out now more than thirty thousand gallons of water every day.
The Prefect knew not how to proceed; but at last he hit upon a new expedient. As the rocks and land about them belonged to the town of Lourdes, the Mayor had the right of forbidding any one to go thither. So the Prefect sent an order to the Mayor, who issued his prohibition in consequence, on the 8th of June, forbidding any one to get water from the fountain of the Grotto, and even to go at all upon the town lands of Massabielle; also ordering a barrier to be put up before the Grotto, to prevent all access to it, and posts to be set up bearing these words: It is forbidden to trespass on these lands. The barriers and posts were erected, and policemen and guards placed to watch, day and night, with orders to proceed against anyone who should go and kneel any where about the Grotto. Still the people would come, and did come, in spite of the barriers and the guards, to pray before the Grotto: some even swam over the river Gave to pray there, and drink at the Fountain. Sometimes the zeal of the police, and the courage of Mr. Jacomet himself, were put to severe trials. For several persons of distinction came and trespassed on the enclosure. This proved a serious difficulty. One day they arrested very unceremoniously a man with a powerful expression of countenance, who came up to the post with the evident intention of going to the Grotto. “You can’t pass here,” they said. “You shall see that I can pass,” replied the stranger sharply, as he walked on without the least concern to the town land, on his way to the place of the Apparition. “Your name, Sir? I shall take you before a magistrate.” “My name is Louis Veuillot,” replied the stranger. While the name of this celebrated writer caused much debate, a lady had also made her way through the boundaries, and gone to kneel before the planks which boarded up the entrance to the Grotto. She had not escaped the notice of those who were set to watch. The superintendent of police left Mr. Veuillot, and hastened to the lady who was on her knees. “Madam,” said he, “it is not allowed to pray here: you will have to appear before the Justice of Peace; what is your name?” “That I will tell you, very willingly,” said the lady: “I am the wife of Admiral Bruat, and governess of his Highness, the Prince Imperial.” Jacomet had more respect for authority than any one: so he said not another word.
On the 16th of July, the feast of our Lady of Mount Carmel, Bernadette once more heard within her that voice, which had been silent for some months, and which called her no longer to the Rocks of Massabielle, which were then boarded up and guarded, but to the right bank of the river Gave, and to those meadows, where crowds of people collected and prayed, secure from the vexatious prosecutions of the police. It was eight o’clock in the evening, and she was accompanied by her aunt and two other persons. Scarcely had her child knelt down, and begun to say her rosary, when the most holy Mother of Jesus Christ appeared to her. She lost sight of the river, and only saw before her the blessed rock, which she seemed to be as near as before, and the Immaculate Virgin who smiled sweetly upon her, as if to ratify the past and throw light upon the future. But not a word escaped from her sacred lips. While the child was in a state of ecstasy, a woman came up with a lighted taper, but its light was dimmed by the lustre of Bernadette‘s countenance, and her aunt could bear to look at her only for a moment. This lasted a quarter of an hour; after which the Blessed Virgin bowed to Bernadette, as if to take a last adieu, and immediately disappeared. This was the nineteenth and last time of her appearing; and the child always expressed the greatest happiness when she spoke of it.
Many persons of distinction, bishops, statesmen, and eminent authors were then in the neighbourhood, and had all studied these extraordinary events, and both seen and conversed with Bernadette. One highly venerated Bishop could not control his feelings, when he heard the account from her own lips, told in a manner so open, artless, and evidently truthful; and as he looked upon that young child, on whose face the ineffable Virgin Mother of God had fixed her eyes, the prelate could not resist the impulse of his heart, and, prince of the Church as he was, he knelt down before the majesty of that humble peasant, and said to her with deep emotion: “Pray for me, bless me, me and my flock.” “Get up, my lord,” said the parish priest of Lourdes, taking his hand, “it is your place to bless this child.” But Bernadette was beforehand with him, and covered with confusion, in her humility she bowed her head before the Bishop, who gave her his blessing, but not without shedding tears.
While Jacomet and his guards persisted in watching day and night at the Grotto, two eminent persons, Monseigneur de Salinis, Archbishop of Auch, and Mr. de Resseguier, who has been mentioned before, went to the Emperor Napoleon, who just then was staying at Biarritz, not 100 miles from Lourdes. At the same time, the Emperor received petitions from various quarters beseeching him, in the name of the most sacred rights of Religion, to annul the arbitrary and violent measures of the Prefect, to leave people at liberty to pray at the Grotto, and the sick and afflicted to go thither for relief. When the Emperor had been made acquainted with the absurd violence of the Minister, the Prefect and their agents, his eyes flashed with indignation, his countenance showed great anger, and he rang his bell violently. “Take this,” he said, “to the Telegraph office.” It was a short message to the Prefect of Tarbes, commanding him to withdraw immediately the order he had given to forbid people to go to the Grotto at Lourdes, and to leave everyone at perfect liberty to go thither. To the Prefect Massy, this telegram was indeed what science declares the electric current to be, a flash of lightning. At first he could not believe in its reality: then he hoped the Emperor might revoke his decision. So he kept the message secret for a few days, and did not obey it. He wrote to the Emperor, and engaged Mr. Rowland, the Minister, to appeal to His Majesty against his decree. Napoleon III was as little moved by the representations of the Minister, as by the supplications of the Prefect. His decision was founded upon clear evidence, and was irrevocable. When he found that the Prefect had deferred the execution of his orders, he sent a second message, in such terms as allowed of no observation, nor delay. The Prefect at first contented himself with ordering Jacomet and his agents not to prosecute any more people, and to withdraw the police and guards from the Grotto. A visit paid him at the end of September by another Minister, Mr. Fould, probably hastened his final measures. For on the 3rd of October, Massy became perfectly submissive, and the next day he sent an order to the Mayor to revoke his former decree by public notice, and to require Jacomet to remove the posts and barriers. The Mayor at once issued a proclamation, and had a notice posted up on the walls of the town. That the former decree of the 8th of June was withdrawn. Jacomet and the police went to the Grotto to remove the posts and barriers. He made a speech to the immense crowd assembled there, endeavouring to make it appear that he had put up these things against his will, in obedience to superior orders, but that the quiet behaviour of the people, and their respect for authority, had induced him to speak in their favour, that they might have free access to the Grotto again, and that the Prefect had given his consent. His speech was received in cold silence: it was not likely that any one would believe him. So the barriers and posts were speedily removed; and innumerable people flocked to the Grotto, to return thanks, to drink at the Fountain, and to sing canticles of joy, and repeat again and again: Virgin most powerful, Pray for us!
The Prefect was removed to the prefectship of Grenoble; and Mr. Jacomet was appointed Commissary of Police in another Department. The Crown Prosecutor, Mr. Detour, was also soon after called to other functions.
The clergy had long kept away from the Grotto, and the commands of the Bishop were strictly observed. The people anxiously waited for his Lordship to protest against the violent proceedings which have been recorded; but still he kept silent, and his extraordinary silence had been taken advantage of by the Prefect, who wanted to make it appear that he was acting in concert with ecclesiastical authority. At first, people could understand that the clergy did well to act with extreme prudence; but after so many proofs of the truth of the Apparitions, after the Fountain had sprung out and continued to flow, and after so many wonderful cures, they could not understand this excessive reserve on the part of the Bishop. The clergy were accused either of indifference, or hostility; and the Bishop of weakness, and timidity. But the more he kept aloof from the movement, the more did that supernatural work exhibit its power by triumphing by itself, without any outward aid, over everything that in this world is called power.
At length the whole force of events, the testimony of so many grave and judicious men, and the spectacle of their perfect conviction after full examination, forcibly struck the mind of the Bishop of Tarbes; and on the 28th of July, 1858, he appointed a Commission to enquire into the authenticity and nature of these remarkable occurrences, and make their report to him. The Commission was composed of nine members of his Cathedral Chapter, the Superiors of both Seminaries, the Superior of the Missionaries, the Parish Priest of Lourdes, the Professors of Theology and Philosophy in his Seminary. The Professor of Chemistry was also to be often called in; and the Commission were strongly recommended to consult frequently men skilled in medicine, natural history, chemistry, and geology.
The Bishop defers the meeting of the commission - they meet at length, and examine Bernadette, the grotto, and the wonderful cures, going from place to place for several months - the Bishop lets three years pass, and then orders a second enquiry - names and cases of persons cured - the Bishop at length issues his pastoral on the truth of the apparitions - authorizes devotion to our B. Lady of Lourdes, and exhorts the faithful to contribute to the building of the church on the rock - the grounds levelled and planted - Bernadette's occasional visits to the grotto.
ALTHOUGH the Bishop had appointed this Commission in July, he judged it prudent to wait some time for the minds of men to grow calm, before it began its duties. Accordingly the members of it did not meet till November 17th, when they assembled at Lourdes. They began by examining Bernadette. She appeared before them with great modesty, but at the same time with perfect confidence. She was quite calm and collected before that numerous assembly and in presence of so many respectable eccelesiastics whom she had never seen. She related everything that had occurred with the grave certainty of a witness perfectly confident of telling the truth, and with the humble sincerity of a child. She answered every question clearly, and left nothing unexplained to those who interrogated her.
The Commissioners visited the Rocks of Massabielle. They saw with their own eyes the prodigious flow of the divine Fountain, and proved by the unanimous testimony of the inhabitants all around, that there never had been any spring there, till it gushed out miraculously in sight of the multitude, under the hands of Bernadette, when in a state of ecstasy. At Lourdes, and in other places, they instituted a rigid enquiry into the extraordinary cures effected through the water from the Fountain; examining with minute attention all the details of the various maladies; and having technical and scientific questions put to the persons cured, which theologians would perhaps have never thought of, and they subjected all to the judgment of the two eminent physicians who were attached to the Commission. For several months the Commission continued to go from place to place, pursuing its enquiries; during which it established the truth of a great number of miracles. The miraculous cures indeed amounted to several hundreds; it was impossible to examine them all. The Bishop’s Commission, however, subjected thirty to his strict investigation, which they considered perfectly proved.
With so many striking facts, so carefully and publicly verified, the Bishop could not fail to be convinced, and he was so perfectly. Nevertheless his extreme prudence and slowness to pronounce his solemn verdict upon this great and important question, led him to require yet another sanction to these miraculous cures; and he let three years pass without doing anything further. After this period he instituted a fresh enquiry; but the cures before established as supernatural, continued the same. No one retracted his former testimony; no one disputed any one of the facts. It will be edifying to give short accounts here of a few of the wonderful cures which have been well attested.
1.—Louis Bourriette, already mentioned above in Chapter V., who recovered the sight of his right
eye by the use of the water from the Fountain, very early, and even before it had become clear.
2.—The little son of Croisine Ducouts-Bouhohorts, of Lourdes, two years old, recovered by being plunged into the Spring when at the point of death.
3.—Henry Busquet, of Nay, about 14, cured of a large tumour on his neck.
4.—Mrs. Magdalen Rizan, aged 58, of Nay, cured of an obstinate dyspepsy and an accumulation of complaints.
5.—Mary Domengé of Bordéras, near Nay, about eighty years of age, cured of paralysis of the left side, which had afflicted her for three years.
6.—John Mary Tambouré, of St. Just, near Mariac, aged five, cured of an injury to the spinal marrow, declared by the faculty to be incurable.
7.—Miss Moreau de Sazenay, of Tartas, aged about 17, cured of a grievous disease of her eyes, which had resisted every remedy.
8.—Mrs. Benoite Cazeau, of Lourdes, cured of a lingering fever which had lasted three years, accompanied with severe pain.
9.—Catherine Latapie-Chouat, of Loubajac, instantaneously cured of a severe contraction of her right hand, and great weakness in the wrist and arm, which rendered her unable to work for her living.
10.—Blaisette Soupenne Cazenave, of Lourdes, aged about 50, cured of a frightful disease of the eyes.
11.—A person cured of a cancer at Metz, whose cure was proclaimed by the Bishop of Tarbes, when he blessed the statue in the Grotto, April 4, 1864.
12.—Miss Broca, of Borderes, near Tarbes, having been ill for some years, almost in capable of bearing any food, and threatened with consumption.
13.—Julius Lacassagne, about 12 years old, son of an officer of cavalry, at Bordeaux, who had a disease in his throat, which almost prevented him from swallowing any food, was cured at once by drinking a little of the water at the Grotto.
14.—Frances Pailhes, a young girl of Maquens, near Carcassonne, was cured of a rheumatic affection of the coating of the heart.
15.—John Mar Fosses, of Trebons, an inn-keeper at Arzacq, cured of an excruciating neuralgia, so violent, that it affected his reason, extended to his neck, and all along the spinal marrow, and his breast.
16.—John Pucheou, of Gouze, 15 years old, who for two years had been reduced to such a state of weakness, that he had lost his speech, and the use of his limbs.
17.—Peter Barrere, of Lourdes, 7 years of age, recovered the sight of his right eye, which he had entirely lost for twelve months.
18.—The Rev. Father Herman, a Carmelite friar, who had been once a Jew, was cured of a very serious disease of the eyes, called glaucoma.
19.—Magdalen Latapie, of Julos, was cured at once in January, 1869, of consumption in its second stage, at the age of eighteen.
20.—Helen Borde, of Simacourbe, was cured instantaneously, August 15th, 1869, by drinking the water at the Grotto, of a grievous disease in the intestines, which had baffled several physicians for a long time.
21.—A little son of Mary Labareille, of Aressy, had a tumour upon his eye, as large as a hazel nut. It so affected the sight of both eyes, that the child was threatened with total blindness. It entirely disappeared after the mother had bathed the child‘s eye at the Grotto.
22.—Sister Mary St. Paul, formerly Clotilde de la Riviere, of the Convent of Children of the Blessed Virgin at Rennes, was cured at once, on the 14th of October, 1869, of a deep consumption in its last stage, after swallowing with great difficulty a teaspoonful of the water.
23.—Mrs. Mary Lassabe, of Mont-Faucon, was immediately cured at the Grotto of a disease in her throat and tongue, which almost prevented her from eating, and even speaking.
24.—Miss J. E., a pupil of the Sisters of St. Joseph, at Toulouse, was cured, after nine days’ devotion to our B. Lady of Lourdes, of a grievous disease in her eyes, which ended in a total loss of sight, on the 28th of November, 1869.
25.—Mr. Peter Hanquet, at Liege, had suffered for ten years from a complication of maladies, and could get no rest, night or day. He was cured instantaneously and perfectly, at his own house, November 27th, 1869, by the use of water from the Grotto, accompanied with fervent prayers to our B. Lady of Lourdes.
26.—Mr. Henry Lasserre was cured of a serious disease in his eyes, the sight of which was almost gone, and expected to fail entirely, the moment he had applied the water to his eyes, on 10th of October, 1862; and in gratitude for this wonderful cure he wrote the book, entitled Notre Dame de Lourdes, from which the present little abridged account is principally taken.
These are but a few cases selected out of several hundreds. The Commission appointed by the Bishop of Tarbes investigated a certain number only. But wonderful as they are, it is only by ecclesiastical authority that any one of them could be pronounced miraculous. They are given here as well authenticated cures only; some of them have been declared miraculous in the Bishop‘s Pastoral; and of the rest each one is at liberty to form his own opinion, according to the weight of testimony by which they are supported.
At length, upon this superabundant accumulation of proofs collected and presented to the Bishop in the official Report of the Commission which he had appointed, his Lordship issued a magnificent Pastoral, in which he pronounced his authoritative judgment on the Apparition at the Grotto of Lourdes. The Pastoral is very long, but deeply interesting. The Bishop relates the history of the Apparitions, which, as he declares, he himself heard from the mouth of Bernadette, in presence of his Commission, at its second sitting. After observing that the Church in its wisdom is always slow in pronouncing judgment upon supernatural events, the Bishop declares that these events have been the object of his solicitude for four years; that he has followed the affair through its different aspects; that he has received information from his Commission, composed of pious, enlightened and experienced priests, who have questioned the child, studied the facts, and well weighed and sifted the whole affair. He declares that the authority of science has also been called in, and that he is fully convinced that the Apparition was supernatural and divine, and was in reality the Blessed Virgin. He gives the strongest reasons for believing the evidence of Bernadette to be incontestible, and that she was not under any hallucination, so as to be deceived herself. He speaks of the marvelous facts which confirm her evidence, the multitudes that were present, when she saw the Apparition again and again; the innumerable pilgrimages to the Grotto, the many extraordinary cures which had followed from the use of the water from the Fountain, which cures are the work of God.
The Bishop relates the wish of the Blessed Virgin expressed to Bernadette, that a chapel should be built in her honour, and congratulates his diocese, and Lourdes especially, on the distinguished favour thus shown to them. Finally, after summing up the weighty reasons for his pronouncing judgment, and desirous to comply with the long expressed wishes of his Chapter, as well as of the clergy and laity of his diocese, and having invoked the light of the Holy Ghost, and the assistance of the ever blessed Virgin, the Bishop pronounces his solemn judgment that MARY, the IMMACULATE MOTHER OF GOD, did really appear to Bernadette Soubirous in the Grotto of Massabielle, at the same time submitting his judgment to that of the Sovereign Pontiff. He authorizes in his diocese the veneration of the B. Virgin of the Grotto of Lourdes. He announces his proposal to build a sanctuary on the land of the Grotto, which had by this time become the property of the Bishop of Tarbes, and invites the cooperation of the faithful to that immense undertaking.
This Pastoral was dated January 18th, 1862, almost four years after the first Apparition to Bernadette. Of course it gave the greatest joy and satisfaction to all the faithful. The Bishop had purchased for the bishopric, the rocks, the Grotto, and the land around it. The works were begun in October, 1862. The approach to the Grotto was completely changed. The great slope in front of it, which had been so steep and rugged, was levelled, covered with turf, and planted with shrubs and flowers. The Grotto was enclosed with an elegant iron railing, and from the top of the cave hung a gold lamp, while numerous tapers burned there night and day. The miraculous Fountain poured its waters incessantly through three large spouts into a marble basin, and a small building adjoining it had a larger basin, into which the water was conveyed for people to bathe in it. In front of the fountain appeared in French the words of the Blessed Virgin to Bernadette:
“GO AND DRINK AND WASH IN THAT FOUNTAIN.”
The mill stream, which before had joined the river Gave a little beyond the Grotto, had been turned into the river some way higher up; and the river itself had been walled up on the side next the Grotto, to allow of a wide path, or road being made, which formed a fine promenade in front of the Grotto, planted with elm trees and poplars. The offerings of the faithful towards the building of the church already exceeded eighty thousand pounds. The parish priest, Mr. Peyramale, was ever mindful of the Blessed Virgin’s message to him, through Bernadette; and he now devoted his life to raising a magnificent monument to her glory. The architect one day submitted to him his plan for a beautiful little church to be built above the Grotto, when he was standing before it with a number of priests and laymen. He looked at it, coloured up, tore it in pieces, and threw them into the river. He told the architect that he should be ashamed of offering a mere little village church to our Blessed Lady, but that it must be a temple of marble, as large as the rocks could hold, and as magnificent as the architect could conceive; telling him at the same time to go to work again, and let him have a masterpiece. “But Sir,” said the people on all sides, “it would take millions to realise what you talk of.” He replied: “She who made the Fountain spring out of this barren rock, will be well able to make the hearts of the faithful generous.”
From time to time, when there are the fewest people at the rocks of Massabielle, a poor girl, poorly clad, and no way to be distinguished from the common people, would come and kneel very humbly before the place of the Apparition, and drink at the Fountain; and unless some one knew her and pointed her out to others, no one could have had any idea that she was Bernadette. She had retired into silence and obscurity. She went every day to school to the Sisters of Charity, where she was the most unaffected, and wished to be unnoticed and unknown. This child of very ordinary intelligence, and without any remarkable qualities, produced immense edification by her humility and simplicity, aided by that mysterious influence which was communicated to her from above. She never spoke of the favours she had received, nor ever mentioned the Apparition, unless she was asked about it; and then she told all in the simplest manner, always the same, and never added the least word of comment, or reflection.
Grand procession to bless a statue for the niche - illness of Bernadette, and of the parish priest - the church on the rocks begun - pilgrimages and cures continual - account of the parents and sister of Bernadette, and of herself - she makes her religious profession at Nevers - her subsequent holy life and character.
THOUGH the Grotto and all about it was now the property of the Bishop, no formal possession had yet been taken of it by the ecclesiastical authorities by any public ceremonial. But a good occasion of doing so now presented itself. Two noble and pious sisters of the Diocese of Lyons, the Misses de Lacour had a statue of the purest marble executed of life-size, by an eminent sculptor named Fabish, of which they made an offering to the Grotto, to be placed in the very niche where our Blessed Lady had so often appeared to Bernadette. It represented the Immaculate Mother exactly as she appeared to the poor child, after the sculptor had learnt from her every particular, even to the most minute details of the Apparition; her long flowing veil, her girdle falling in two long strips one over the other, and the rose on each foot. The benediction and erection of this exquisite statue took place on the 4th of April, 1864. The day was magnificent, the sky without a cloud. The town of Lourdes was all strewed with flowers and green leaves, and everywhere appeared banners, garlands, and triumphal arches. The bells rang out joyously; and a procession was formed to walk from the church at Lourdes to the Grotto, such as never had been seen in the memory of man. The troops went first, with all the glitter and splendour of military display. After them came the various Confraternities, and religious Societies of Lourdes, the regular Orders of men and women, the Brothers of instruction and Christian schools, a prodigious multitude of pilgrims, men, women, children and old people; fifty or sixty thousand persons formed in two interminable files made their way along the road to the Rocks, which was everywhere strewed with flowers, green boughs and evergreens. At intervals, loud choirs of human voices and musical instruments performed canticles and uttered enthusiastic acclamations. Then advanced slowly and solemnly, attended by four hundred of his priests, his grand vicars, and the canons and dignitaries of his cathedral, the high and eminent prelate the Right Reverend Bertrand Severus Laurence, Bishop of Tarbes, wearing his jewelled mitre, and habited in his pontifical vestments, carrying in his left hand a golden crosier, and with his right continually bestowing his blessing upon the people.
The assembled multitudes showed an emotion quite indescribable, that sort of intoxication of joy which Christians alone can feel, when assembled for the glory of God. The day of solemn triumph was come at last, after so many trials, and so much opposition; and it seemed to make amends for the long disgraceful persecution which had preceded it. But in the midst of all this glorious demonstration, where was poor Bernadette, who had given occasion to it all; and where was the parish priest, who had also had so large a share in producing it? Neither of them was there; as if it would seem that some joys are too great for this world, and are reserved for heaven. The priest was lying on a bed of sickness, which it was feared would prove fatal, but from which he happily recovered; and at the same time Bernadette was taken ill, and was removed to the hospital, to be nursed among other poor people. Perhaps this affliction was sent purposely to secure her from any temptations to vain glory, on a day where she would have been honoured, and her name proclaimed by so many thousands, and glorified by the ardent eulogies of the Christian preacher. She saw nothing of the marvellous procession, but was truly happy in perfect submission to the holy will of God. An eloquent discourse was preached by a priest from Paris, named Alix, and he also spoke a few words of joy and exhortation, when the Bishop blessed the statue, which represents our Blessed Lady with her hands joined and her eyes lifted up to heaven, as when she pronounced those memorable words: “I AM THE IMMACULATE CONCEPTION.” At first these words were inscribed below the niche, under the feet of the statue; but by a much better arrangement, they now appear over its head in a semicircle, in bright letters, suspended by invisible wires, so as to look as if they hung in the air.
The chapel, or church, which the Blessed Virgin had signified through Bernadette that she wished to have built in her honour, was next begun. It stands parallel to the river Gave, facing the East, with the altar end to the West, and is so contrived that the high altar stands immediately over the niche of the Apparition. It rises from a huge pile of building, which rests upon the Rock, and forms a crypt under the body of the church. This crypt was solemnly blessed by the Bishop, and Mass first offered there on the 21st of May, 1866. On this occasion, also, there was a magnificent procession of the Bishop and four hundred priests, and more than fifty thousand people. The crypt, or lower church, is finished, and has five altars, where Mass is constantly celebrated. The great church stands upon the crypt, a double flight of about sixty steps leads up to it. At the west end is a tower, to be surmounted by a lofty spire; and the exterior of the church is finished by this time, September, 1870, up to the base of the spire. The length of the church inside is about one hundred and forty five feet, the width sixty-six. The appearance of the church is very grand and imposing, rising, as it does, above the solid rock, which of itself is about forty feet high. The tower and spire together will be two hundred and twenty feet, and the total height from the river to the top of the spire will be more than three hundred feet. The cost is estimated at £400,000.
The pilgrimages to this favoured spot are beyond all example in the history of the world; as the railways of modern times have made them so much more practicable. Thus a railway has been made to pass through Lourdes on its way to Pan; and it brings incessantly a stream of countless visitors, who come from all foreign countries, as well as from the surrounding districts. Even as late as June last, there came often in one day as many as three thousand. Immense processions are constantly arriving, with crosses, banners, statues, garlands, and votive offerings, and singing holy canticles in honour of God, and his Blessed Mother. Nor is the hand of the Almighty wearied with bestowing graces and favours at the place where his holy Mother appeared so often, as well as by means of the waters of that miraculous Fountain, which sprung up at her voice, and which are constantly sent from Lourdes in all directions, and to distant lands. The writer of these lines had the happiness to see and converse very lately with a nun who had been instantaneously cured by drinking a little of the precious water, in the month of May last. There is an altar erected immediately under the niche where our Blessed Lady appeared, where Mass is constantly celebrated; there being an awning stretched over tall poles, as a protection from the weather.
“They said in their heart,” says the Psalmist, “the whole kindred of them together: Let us abolish all the festival days of God from the land.” (Ps. lxiii. 8.) So the unbelievers and scoffers at the Apparition of Lourdes thought to abolish, and did their utmost to abolish all devotion to the sacred Grotto. They tried to dry up the Spring; but that handful of muddy water grew clearer and clearer, and flowed more copiously and rapidly, till it poured forth its immense volume of water at the rate of more than thirty thousand gallons a day, which it has done ever since. They stripped the Grotto, removed its treasures, and forbid all access to it; but the Emperor of the French no sooner heard of these atrocities, than he instantly commanded them to be repaired; and the very men who had despoiled, were compelled to restore; to break down their own barricade, and proclaim perfect freedom for all to approach. They tempted and persecuted the dear, innocent child Bernadette; but were never able to detect her in the least contradiction, or fault, nor permitted to touch a hair of her head; so visibly was she protected by that powerful Queen, who had so often appeared to her, and smiled upon her. Physical science, chemistry, philosophy, were all exhausted, in vain attempts to defeat and discredit these glorious Apparitions; and they came forth triumphant from every test, and either converted or confounded every antagonist: for there is no wisdom, there is no prudence, there is no counsel against the Lord. (Prov. xxi. 30.)
God has done his work, in spite of every puny effort of man to obstruct it. The pilgrimage to the Grotto of Massabielle is a great and stupendous event of the age in which we live. Human wisdom tried to stifle it in its birth; but divine wisdom and power and mercy have signally triumphed. And now does our Blessed Lady of Lourdes reign supreme: her empire extends every day over the confidence of the people, by fresh miracles, and innumerable graces. At the smiling sanctuary of her Grotto does she console and heal, and purify and attract thousands to her holy love. They feel that there the bright Queen of heaven condescended to appear, to lavish the treasures and reveal the charms of her glorious and IMMACULATE CONCEPTION.
But the reader will be anxious to hear of Bernadette. And first of her humble parents. Her mother died on the very feast of the Immaculate Conception, December 8th, 1866. Her father still remains a poor miller, living by the labour of his hands. The writer has heard of him from those who have seen and conversed with him within a few weeks. Of the two girls who were with Bernadette, when she first went to the Grotto, Mary, her own sister, is married to a virtuous man, a miller, who works with her father. The other, Jane Abbadie, is in service at Bordeaux. Bernadette lived at home for two years after the wonderful favours she received, going every day to school at the convent. There she was continually visited by persons of all ranks and conditions; all anxious to see a being so highly privileged, and to hear the narrative of events from her own mouth. She was always ready to see every one, and to answer any questions. She never showed the least impatience, when beset with visitors, nor the least vanity on account of the favours she had received. When in a manner obliged to speak of them, she always did so with great humility and simplicity, and without any emotion or affectation. Indeed her way of relating these wonderful events was so brief and unanimated, that a person once said to her: “How can you speak so quietly of such things? At any rate no one can say that you invented them.” After two years, she was placed by the Bishop in the Convent of the Hospice at Lourdes; but still the utmost facility was afforded for anyone to see and converse with her. Thither people came continually in great numbers, priests, peasants, gentlemen, ladies, soldiers, rich and poor; and all went away delighted and edified.
But Bernadette became anxious to withdraw from so much fatigue and publicity. Her health, too, which had never been strong, had become more weak and delicate. She desired more and more to devote herself to God in a decidedly religious life, and she was accordingly sent to Nevers, where she went in July, 1866. The Mother Superior of the Convent which she entered, which was that of the Sisters of Charity and Christian Instruction, wrote thus of her, April 8th of the year following: “This dear novice is extremely interesting, but her health is exceedingly weak. She has not yet made her profession, and God only knows the secret of what is to happen to her in future, as she is often hindered in her intentions by violent attacks of a disease of the heart.” She had the happiness, however, to make her profession on the 30th October, 1867, being then about 23 years of age. One of the Sisters wrote of her in these terms: “She continues to be a very charming child, pious as an Angel, gentle as a lamb, and simple as a dove. May our good God be pleased to preserve her to us! It does one so much good even to see her!” And this humble, sweet child was the instrument in the hands of that God, who chooses the weak things of the world, that he may confound the strong, of producing the wonderful, the astounding events connected with the Grotto of the Apparition! The office in the convent assigned to Bernadette, who has now taken the name in religion of Sister Mary Bernard, is that of infirmarian; she attends, as far as her own weak health will permit, the sick nuns in the Convent. She is often ill herself, and suffers dreadfully; but she bears all with sweet and even joyful patience. Several times she was thought to be dead; but she always said with a smile, “I shall not die yet.” Perhaps one of the three secrets entrusted to her by the divine Apparition related to the time of her death: but of this, of course, we can know nothing. She is now 26 years of age, but her features, though much altered by sickness, have still the character and grace of childhood. There is an indescribable charm about her, which at once raises the soul of the beholder to the realms above. In her presence you feel moved by the purest religious feelings, and you leave her as if embalmed by her peaceful innocence. You feel that the Blessed Virgin loves her. And yet there is nothing extraordinary about her, to lead any one to suppose that she had filled so wonderful a part between earth and heaven. Her simplicity of manners has not been in the least affected by the unprecedented movement which has taken place around her. And now that she has fulfilled her mission, she has retired into the shade of a religious life, seeking in humility to be lost and unknown in the crowd of her companion Sisters. It is painful to her, when any one wishes to see her, and anything happens to call her forth again. She dreads all display, and flies from all human glory. Either buried in her cell, or wholly taken up with the care of the sick, she shuts her ears to the tumults of the world, and turns away her heart and thoughts to cultivate sweet recollection in the quiet of her solitude, or in the consoling works of charity.
She has never visited Lourdes since she left it in 1866. Some hopes are entertained that when the magnificent church upon the Rocks is finished, she may be present at its consecration; but this is but a feeble expectation. She has accomplished her great work: henceforth her retirement may not be intruded upon, nor the best part which she has chosen be taken from her.