5 fascinating facts about the apparitions of Our Lady of Lourdes

Francesca Pollio   By Francesca Pollio for CNA


Our Lady of Lourdes grotto, Lourdes, France. / Elise Harris/CNA

Denver Newsroom, Feb 11, 2022 / 03:00 am (CNA).

On Feb. 11, the Catholic Church celebrates the feast of Our Lady of Lourdes. In Lourdes, France, in 1858, thirteen-year-old Bernadette Soubirous was collecting pieces of wood as part of her daily chores when she noticed a startling wind and rustling sound. The noise came from a nearby grotto. When Bernadette looked toward it, she saw it filled with a golden light, and a beautiful lady.

It was at this grotto that the Blessed Mother appeared to Bernadette 18 times and where millions of Catholic pilgrims visit the healing waters at the Sanctuary of Our Lady of Lourdes.

Records have been kept from the exchanges between Bernadette and our Blessed Mother. Here are five of the most fascinating facts about the apparitions that took place at the grotto:

1. The Paralyzation

When Bernadette first saw the beautiful lady in the grotto during the first apparition, on Feb. 11, 1858, it is said that she immediately smiled at Bernadette and signaled to her to come closer, in the same way a mother motions to her child. Bernadette took out her rosary and knelt before the Lady, who also had a rosary on her right arm. When Bernadette tried to begin saying the rosary by making the sign of the cross, her arm was paralyzed. It was only after the Lady made the sign of the cross herself that Bernadette was able to do the same. The Lady remained silent as Bernadette prayed the rosary, but the beads of her rosary passed between her fingers.

2. The Secret Prayer

During the fifth apparition, which took place on Feb. 20, 1858, the Lady taught Bernadette a prayer, which she recited everyday for the rest of her life. However, she never revealed the prayer to anyone, but she did say she was told to always bring a blessed candle with her. This is why candles perpetually burn at the Shrine of Our Lady of Lourdes.

3. The Lady shares her Name

At the sixteenth apparition, on March 25, 1858, the feast of the Annunciation, the Lady revealed her identity to Bernadette, calling herself the “Immaculate Conception.”

4. The Burn of Fire

Bernadette never forgot to bring a lighted candle to the grotto since she was told to do so by the Lady. During the seventeenth apparition, on April 7, 1858, Bernadette unconsciously placed one of her hands over the burning flame. Witnesses saw the flame burning through her fingers, and yet she was able to pray for fifteen minutes with the flame burning her hand. As she emerged from her prayer, she was unscathed and didn’t even notice cries of horror from the people in the crowd. Dr. Dozous, a well-known physician from Lourdes, took another lit candle, and without warning, placed the flame to her hand. Bernadette immediately cried out in pain.

5. The Miracle of Bernadette’s Body

After the apparitions ended, Bernadette went on to become a Sister of Charity. She died at age 34, on April 16, 1879. She was buried on the convent grounds in Nevers, France. Thirty years later, on Sept. 22, 1909, her body was exhumed and found completely intact. A second exhumation took place on April 3, 1919. The body was found in the exact same state as it had been ten years earlier. Bernadette was canonized a saint on Dec. 8, 1933 by Pope Pius XI.

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  1. The fact of a missed opportunity:

    The Church misses a very important pro-life witness regarding Lourdes. By identifying herself as the Immaculate Conception, Our Lady was announcing to the world, just four decades before the bloody twentieth century, that God’s plan for each life in this world clearly begins at our conception. Of course, we can’t expect many of our anti-wisdom prelates to have picked up on this. They’ve only had 164 years to think about it.

    Been to Lourdes twice. Was honored to have carried the statue at the nine P.M. procession. Naturally, being somewhat expert in electrical matters, I inspected the wiring on the lighting system to make sure all the connections were in good condition when we returned it to the holding room. It was clear that everyone treats it with TLC.

  2. Francesca presents an endearing essay on an endearing saint. What I beg to add is a revelatory reality of Bernadette’s death. Written by an ethnic German Franz Werfel, published 1941 following Nazi Germany’s annexation of Czechoslovakia’s Sudetenland and the pretext of absorption and dissolution of the Czech State.
    Werfel gives account in his biography of Bernadette’s illness, a bone cancer in her leg that caused serious pain throughout her short life at the convent she gave her life to in Christ for love of Christ. She kept it hidden through the years, Werfel’s account makes note of accusations [unknowing of her terminal illness] of laziness.
    Bernadette’s suffering and death, silent while unwittingly accused. Bernadette’s witness to her love for Christ is the reflexion in us of the depth of that love for us, the key to transformation of a world at present suffocating in it’s own self absorption. An heroic love of divine goodness manifest in a young woman, that reveals our true humanness, the means for transformation of a chaotic, disordered, violent world.

    • A note on Franz Werfel, Born in Prague of German Jewish parentage. Werfel was a novelist and a humanist. He wrote on the Turkish genocide of Armenians and was denounced by the Nazis. He escaped with his wife to France. When Germany invaded France he fled with his wife to Lourdes [in Vichy France granted semi autonomy by the Germans] where they were given refuge by the shrines religious orders. After his arrival in the US he fulfilled a promise in thankfulness to write the story of Bernadette Soubirous and Our Blessed Mother.

  3. As with Edward Baker, above (and so many others), part of my family also visited Lourdes on a private healing pilgrimage, once in May 1999, and then Nevers where we viewed Bernadette’s crypt, blindingly ablaze in a shaft of the afternoon sun. Said a nun in residence, later, “oh yes, Bernadette was really showing off today!”

    Due to our circumstances and the deserted condition of the Nevers grounds during our visit, we were volunteered a private tour by this nun. My wife, Kristi, was in remission and doing very well, but was a long-time cancer victim; and in August 2001 passed into the company of Bernadette and her other favorite saints (and about whom, my first book: “KRISTI: So Thin is the Veil,” Crossroads, 2006).

    During the tour we were escorted even into the upstairs and intact infirmary where Bernadette spent her last days and hours. And, in the yard, we were shown a life-size statue of Mary, placed in celebrating of the much-needed discovery of well water on the property: “Our Lady of the Waters.”

    Bernadette remarked that she found this informal and inviting statue to be truer to reality than the more familiar statue positioned in the Grotto at Lourdes. Here’s a link and photo: https://jasonbermender.wordpress.com/2017/02/11/bernadettes-our-lady-of-the-waters/

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