Lourdes:  geology of the grotto of Massabielle, apparitions of Our Lady, St Bernadette (Bernadette Soubirous)

Geology of the Massabielle grotto

St. Bernadette (Bernadette Soubirous)
Apparitions   1   2   3   4   5   6   7   8   9   10   11   12   13   14   15   16   17   18
The statue by sculptor Joseph Fabisch
The height of the Apparition

The name Massabielle
The name “Massabielle” comes from the local Bigorre dialect and is the equivalent of the French Massavieille, meaning “ancient rock”.
The Massabielle grotto is in Lourdes, at the base of a rock face about 27 metres high, in front of which flows the river Gave. The grotto, complex in shape, is – schematically – 9m.50 deep, 9m.85 wide, and 3m.80 high.

The geology of Massabielle is similar to that of the rest of the Pyrenees, the result of the pressure exerted by the Hispano-African plate on the Euro-Asiatic plate. The direction of the ancient rock follows the longitudinal folding lines of the Pyrenees, which began forming during the Lower Cretaceous era (145 - 65 million years ago). The process of compression of the Iberian peninsula on the Euro-Asiatic plate reached it culmination in the Eocene period (55,8 - 33,9) and ended in the Oligocene age (33,9 - 23). This major process brought about an upthrust of marine sedimentary strata formed during the preceding orogenesis, and also of vast expanses of porphyry formed from intrusive magma from the asthenosphere (at a depth of 100 - 250 km).
The intrusion of magma which penetrated the strata disrupted by such enormous pressure extended several kilometres into the earth’s crust. The slow fractional crystallisation of magma produced masses of porphyry (plutons), which in their turn were involved in the tectonic corrugation which contributed to the formation of the Pyrenees. Together with this immense tectonic action there was also a modelling action by the glaciers, which had influence up to an altitude of 400 m (Lourdes stands at an altitude of 420 m) and by torrential streams which gouged deep valleys.
In the western Pyrenees, together with porphyry are found strata of calcareous sedimentation, while in the eastern Pyrenees gneiss is prevalent.
The Massabielle crag, at the foot of the Pyrenees towards the western side of the range, shows sedimentary rock with almost vertical parts (rock which included magma) and a body of fine dark porphyry which together make up the grotto. In the porphyry blocks of the grotto can be seen small fragments of sedimentary rock. The grotto, and also the ogival cavity where the Immaculate Virgin appeared, was formed by the presence of gas in the viscous magma. The entire mountain behind the Massabielle rock face is named Mont des Espélugues, the Mountain of Caves, because it contains numerous cavities.
The glaciers and the river Gave, flowing there for many millions of years, eventually brought the grotto to light.

The grotto in Bernadette’s time


The grotto had been almost forgotten and was filled with sediment left by the river Gave when it overflowed and then returned to its normal level. Bernadette was not aware of the existence of the grotto.

Occasionally a herdsman would take his pigs as far as the area near the grotto and would take refuge in the grotto if overtaken by a sudden storm. Local fishermen did the same. But to call the grotto “the pigs’ den” because of these occasional events as some people suggested at the time of the apparitions – is straining the truth and is nothing more than a sarcastic wish to disturb the delicate image of solitude and austerity which the grotto immediately confers on whoever draws near. It has therefore kept the name “Massabielle Grotto”.
The floor of the grotto consists of silt from the river and is  suitable terrain for grasses and bushes.
At the back on the left there was a damp area which concealed a spring, which Bernadette found when she dug in the ground at the spot indicated by the Immaculate Conception. Soon afterwards the slope up to the grotto, up which Bernadette climbed many time on her knees, was rebuilt as a rudimentary flight of steps, as can be seen from the photographs (1858). This rudimentary flight of steps was later removed (1863).
Grains of dust containing seeds, blown there by the wind, had caused small plants and mosses to grow on the rock face. The oval opening where the Immaculate Virgin appeared gave – and still gives – access to a tunnel which scope up into the mountain and contains other caves. Access to the tunnel was partly barred by a huge block of granite, but it was possible to find a way round it.   

Bernadette Soubirous: “God hath chosen the weak things of the world to confound the things which are mighty” (1Cor 1,27)


Living Conditions
Bernadette was the eldest of the nine children of Louise Castérot (1825 - 1871) and François  Soubirous (1807 - 1871). They were married on 9th January 1843 and Bernadette was born on 7th January 1844. only four of the Soubirous’ nine children survived. The economic situation of the Soubirous family was flourishing for the first nine years, when François worked as a miller at the Boly mill. But then the mill became less profitable compared with the new steam-driven mills which gave better results at a lower cost. In 1850 François had the misfortune to be pierced in the left eye by a splinter of stone as he rough-hewed a millstone which had worn smooth, suffering irreparable damage. The family, now in severe economic difficulties, had to leave the mill and went to live in rented accommodation at Laborde. François Soubirous became  a manual worker and began to suffer from depression, which he would attempt to relieve through drinking. Things improved when an inheritance of 900 franks enabled them to rent the Sarrabeyrouse mill, but the customers were few and were slow in paying, and the Soubirous family found themselves once more in economic straits. They were complete to move to a room sublet by one Soubius. The Soubirous then found rent-free accommodation in le cachot, that is “the dungeon”, once Lourdes prison: a small, dark, dank place measuring only 3,72 x 4,40 metres. Every time the fire was lit the room would fill up with smoke for some time, and this gave Bernadette asthma attacks. And to complete the picture, the window of the “dungeon” overlooked a nearby manure heap. The Soubirous’ situation became even worse in 1857 when François  was arrested and imprisoned for stealing two sacks of flour from the Dozou mill. Eight days later the magistrate Clément Louis Ribes had him released because the accusation turned out to be false. However,  François  found it difficult to find work after this.


Physical and Intellectual Aspects
Bernadette suffered from pains in the spleen and stomach from the age of six, making it impossible for her to eat maize porridge like the rest of the family; she was able to digest only fine white bread, and elementary medical theory also held that she should be given a little sweetened wine. In 1855 cholera struck Lourdes and there were thirty deaths; Bernadette survived, but was given to severe asthma attacks which slowed her development. At the age of fourteen she was barely 1 metre 32/33 cm tall, the height of a child of ten or eleven. She eventually grew to be 1 metre 42.
Bernadette had very little memory probably owing to anaemia, caused by iron deficiency, but she was not lacking in intelligence; on the contrary, she was quick to understand any situation and adapt her behaviour to it.

Bernadette was gentle and thoughtful but at the same time lively and resolute. Her gentle modest air and her bright intelligent eyes were noticed by all who saw her. The sorrows which had beset her family and the illness she herself had suffered, had schooled her and made her a responsible young girl, well able to evaluate words. She was not solitary by nature, but sough the company of her girl-friends, although she was well able to withstand the solitude of the mountain pastures.

Religious background
Bernadette’s religious culture was founded on the faith she had received from her family, her first catechist, and the earliest teachings she received were in her local dialect, still alive in some places then. But the
catechism taught by the various dioceses was in French, resulting in the spread of the French language and the happy out come of eradicating illiteracy. In the mountainous area there was little enthusiasm for this linguistic change, for the majority of the inhabitants did not grasp what an opportunity this was. And the Lourdes dialect was not linguistically poor; on the contrary, it was richly expressive. But the dioceses actively promoted the spread of French as a way of reinforcing national unity. Many editions of the Roman Catholic missal  had the translation in French beside the Latin text, making it possible to say Mass in French; but Latin remained the language of the Church. By the end of the nineteenth century the French language had supplanted the various dialects of the mountain regions, but Latin remained the language of the liturgy until the Second Vatican Council.
The Soubirous family encouraged Bernadette to learn French because she was required to learn by heart the catechism in French in order to make her first Communion. Smaller children than she had already done so, and this was painful for her. Marie Langues of Bartrès was entrusted with the task; she had been Bernadette’s wet-nurse since she had lost her own child and Bernadette’s mother’s milk had dried up owing to an accident. The Soubirous paid her five francs a month for this; no mean sum. Bernadette was to work as a shepherdess in Bartrès on the estate of Madame Langues, on condition that she attended catechism lessons, at the same time learning French from a priest; her former nurse knew French and could help her in this. Bernadette left for Bartrès in September 1857. Marie Langues wanted to do everything herself because she did not want to take Bernadette away from her work looking after the sheep flock. The lessons therefore took place in the evening when both she and Bernadette were tired. Learning both catechism and French without having clear the difference was a teaching disaster; it meant learning the catechism by rote without understanding any of it, and to make matters worse the self-styled ‘teacher’ was unable to make any connection between what she was teaching in the new language and what Bernadette already knew in her own dialect. Marie Langues based everything on memory, but Bernadette’s memory was not of the best.  She was her most successful in Bartrès at learning prayers in French for saying the Rosary – Pater Noster, Ave Maria, and Gloria Patri, which Bernadette understood well, as she was familiar with the prayers of the Rosary in Latin; she had been accustomed to recite this at home in the evening with her family. Before coming to Bartrès in 1856 she had bought a ‘very cheap’ rosary at Bétharram; this was the rosary she would use at the grotto. She was thus able to recite the Rosary both in French and in Latin.
But otherwise, the results were not good, and her self-styled teacher used to shout at her, “You’ll never learn anything!”, throwing the copy of the catechism at her. Consequently Bernadette decided to leave such an impossible situation and departed from Bartrès on foot on 17th January 1858, walking the four kilometres to Lourdes. Three days later she returned to Bartrès to say that she would be going to school at the convent of the Sisters of Charity in Nevers, joining the free class for poor children, and that she had enrolled to make her first Communion. The nuns would teach her the French necessary for learning her catechism, and she would no longer be illiterate; furthermore, she would learn to sew and embroider. The sisters soon found that teaching Bernadette her catechism in French was no easy task. The nuns’ chaplain was Father Pomian, who became Bernadette’s confessor. He was also responsible for teaching the catechism, and when questioning Bernadette on the Trinity some time before March 4th, he noted that she made no reply. But then in March, April, and May, Bernadette was able to overcome her difficulties, partly owing to her no longer being so seriously undernourished and partly because of seeing the apparition of the Immaculate Conception, and she made her first Communion in the chapel of the nuns’ convent on June 3rd 1858.


References concerning the apparitions
Jean Baptiste Estrade, “Le apparizioni di Lourdes”, ed. Paoline, 1978, eleventh edition.

René Laurentin, Bernadette vi parla”, ed. Paoline, 1979.

The first apparition
Bernadette wrote, in her own hand and a number of times, an account of the apparition. The first account written by her was given to Father Gondrand on May 28th 1861, the second and most complete account was written early in 1864, and on August 22nd 1864 she wrote one for Rev. Bonin. On November 20th 1865 she wrote an account for a friend of Madame Ida Ribettes: on the back of the same sheet of paper Bernadette wrote a new account a few days later. On May 12th 1866 she wrote in her diary, filling in the gaps in her latest account.  

One day (the Thursday before Shrove Tuesday, 11th February 1858),I went to the banks of the river Gave with two other girls to collect kindling and I heard a noise. I looked towards the meadows and saw that the trees were not moving, so I looked up at the grotto. (1)
In one of the openings in the rock I saw a bush swaying as if moved by a strong wind almost at the same time a golden light appeared in the cave
(2); and soon afterwards a Lady, young and beautiful, especially beautiful, like no-one I had ever seen, came to stand in the oval opening of the cave, above the bush.   
She was wearing a white robe with a blue sash. She had a golden rose on each foot, the same colour as her rosary beads.
The material of her robe and her veil were like nothing that can be seen on earth
She was surrounded by a light like the sun, but gentle on the eye.
She at once looked at me and smiled, and beckoned me to come forward, just as if she had been my mother. I was no longer afraid, but I didn’t seem to know where I was. I rubbed my eyes, closed them, and opened them again: the Lady was still there, she was still smiling at me as if to reassure me that i wasn’t imagining it all. Without realising what I was doing, I took my rosary beads out of my pocket and knelt down. The lady gave a nod of approval and took in her hand the rosary beads she was carrying on her right arm. When I wanted to begin saying the Rosary and tried to raise my hand to my forehead to make the sign of the cross, my arm was as if paralysed and I was unable to move it until the Lady had made the sign. The lady left me to say my prayers alone; I could see that she was passing her rosary beads in her fingers but she did not speak; only at the end of every ten did she join me in saying: Gloria Patri, et Filio, et Spiritui Sancto.
(6) when the Rosary was finished, the lady went back into the rock and the golden light disappeared with her”. (7)
“This light came before her and remained a little after she had left”.
Jean Baptiste Estrade, who lived in Lourdes and was a tax collector, refers the following words which he heard Bernadette say many times:
“She looks young, about sixteen or seventeen years old. She is dressed in white with a long blue sash. She wears a veil on her head, white like her robe, which just shows her hair and is quite long, reaching below her sash. Her feet are bare but covered by the hem of her robe, except for the tip of each foot, where there is a golden rose. She carries a rosary of white beads joined by a gleaming gold chain, like the golden roses on her feet”.
(9) The Lady had blue eyes. (10) Monsignor Bourret, bishop of Rodex, received important information from Bernadette, on the first day of Septemberr  1877, which according to the bishop was even more striking than all she had said so far::“could see a brilliant light ... But it was a light like no light on earth, not even the sun. I saw a marvellous face, but like no face on earth. She was a body but not a body. I heard a beautiful musical voice and I looked without realising what I was seeing. I was happy and comfortable there, and when it ended my vision was dimmed, like it is when you go indoors after staring at the sun”.“I could see a brilliant light ... But it was a light like no light on earth, not even the sun. I saw a marvellous face, but like no face on earth. She was a body but not a body. I heard a beautiful musical voice and I looked without realising what I was seeing. I was happy and comfortable there, and when it ended my vision was dimmed, like it is when you go indoors after staring at the sun”. (11)
The apparition lasted little longer than the time required to recite the Rosary.
Bernadette was inspired by the Holy Spirit to a contemplation of the mysteries: we know nothing of this inner action. Bernadette never spoke of it, but it is not in doubt.

1) Letter written by  Bernadette to P. Gondrand, 28 May 1861. This is the first written account.
Estrade speaks of a cloud the colour of gold inLe apparizioni di Lourdes” by Jean Baptiste Estrade, with notes by Giulio Giacometti. ed. Paoline, 1978,  pag 82.
 Letter written by Bernadette to P. Gondrand, 28 May 1861.
Interview with Father Cros 30 January 1979. Quoted in René Laurentin, “Bernadette vi parla”, ed. Paoline, 1979, pag 457.
5) From the conversation of Marie De Cornulier Luciniére on 10 May 1859. In René Laurentin, op. cit., pag 151.
6) This prayer in Latin is quoted by Estrade (pag 79-81). The author formally affirms that he personally heard the entire narrative on a number of occasions, directly from Bernadette. This is a valuable testimony because it tells us that Bernadette, at the grotto, recited the Rosary in Latin, as she normally did in the evening at home with her family, and the Virgin would then say the Gloria Patri in Latin. To this we may add the personal testimony of Estrade (op. cit. pag 225). He told the priest that one day the procession and the chapel would both be made: “We shall walk towards the chapel at Massabielle, singing: Sancta Maria and I shall be happy to respond: Ora pro nobis”.
7) Estrade says the cloud of gold, op. cit., pag. 82.
8) Interview with Monsignor Laurence on 7 December 1960, quoted in “Bernadette vi parla” , pag 192.

9) Estrade, op. cit., pag. 83.
From the complete collection of six accounts of Bernadette by René Laurentin, quoted by Giulio Giacometti, in “Le apparizioni di Lourdes” by Jean Baptiste Estrade,  pag  27-36; especially pag 33.
René Laurentin, op. cit., pag. 414.

The wild rose:
The bush was a wild rose bush, probably a dog rose, which grew at the base of the grotto, reaching as far as the lower edge of the oval opening  or niche; its long shoots hung downwards. There was not enough soil at the base of the niche to support any type of wild rose with long roots. It was winter, so the leaves would all have fallen. The dog rose has many and sharp thorns, but it was soon cut into small pieces and removed by visiting pilgrims wanting a relic. The moss: In her interview with Father Dominique Mariote on 12 August 1859, Bernadette was asked: “Where did the Virgin place her feet? In the air or on the ground?” She replied: “On the moss, Father”. “And where did you see her?” Answer:  “In the place where there is a rose bush and some brambles”. The soil carried by the wind and deposited at the foot of the niche was covered with moss. In 1959/60 the moss and soil were carried away by visiting pilgrims, leaving the rock bare. In 1863 a small image of Our Lady was positioned within the niche, together with a container for flowers; to this end, some soil was brought to the niche to make the ground level.

The second apparition
Bernadette’s girl friends wanted to know all about her vision and would not let the subject drop, resulting in some anxiety in the Soubirous household on Friday and Saturday. Bernadette was able to return to the grotto on Sunday 14 February, late in the morning, followed by a small group of her girl friends fascinated by the strangeness and mystery. To ensure that they were not being duped by the devil, they had taken the precaution of first going to the church and filling a small bottle with holy water from the stoup. Bernadette walked ahead of the girls, who lost sight of her. When they caught up with her she was kneeling in front of the grotto reciting the Rosary. While reciting the second decade, Bernadette said: “Here is the light ... here! She has a rosary on her right arm. She’s looking at you.” Her friends told her to throw holy water at the apparition. Bernadette obeyed: “If you come from God, stay; if not ...”. Bernadette stopped here as a stone fell from above, thrown by one of her young friends Jeanne Baloume, vexed because the others had not waited for her.
The apparition smiled at the holy water, and showed her approval by inclining her head. Bernadette threw all the holy water and the young Lady whom Bernadette, not yet realising her identity, called Aqueró (“That lady” in Lourdes dialect), smiled again and gave further approving nods.
The girls, on seeing Bernadette in ecstasy, were at first alarmed, never having seen her thus. One girl ran to the nearby Savy mill to ask for help, and met the two Barrau sisters, out walking. They went to the grotto and tried to lift Bernadette who was kneeling  with hands clasped. They then called the miller Antoine Nicolau who was strong enough to raise her to her feet. The group then led Bernadette towards the mill, and at the entrance to the mill she came out of her ecstasy: it had lasted no more than a quarter of an hour.
Everyone was anxious and they persuaded her to lie down on a bed.  The news began to spread through the village and people came to the mill; Bernadette began to be scolded harshly. One person approached her with a stick, but did not use it. everyone tried to dissuade Bernadette, even a nun, Sister Anastasie, who glared at her furiously and said, “You silly girl! If you go back to the grotto again, you’ll be locked up!”.

Sources for all the apparizioni
René Laurentin, op. cit.
J.B.Estrade, op. cit.. 

Critical notes by
Giulio Giacometti, in “Le apparizioni di Lourdes” by J.B.Estrade.

The third apparition
On Thursday 18 February, early in the morning (probably at 5,45), Bernadette went to the grotto in the company of two women, Joanne Marie Milhet, and Antoinette Peyret of the Daughters of Mary; they had received permission from the Soubirous family to take Bernadette to the grotto. They thought – especially Antoinette – that the deceased and much lamented president of the Daughters of Mary, Elise Latapie, who had died on 2 October 1857, would appear.
Soon Bernadette moved away from the other women and once at the grotto she knelt to recite the Rosary. When they arrived they knelt to pray by her side. During the second decade, Bernadette said: “There she is!”. Antoinette Peyret, having finished the Rosary, took pen and ink from her bag and gave them to Bernadette so that, as they had agreed, she could ask the apparition her name and her wishes, and write them down. Bernadette moved towards the niche, but stopped the two women – who would have followed her – because when they stood up Aqueró had drawn back inside the cave. She then reappeared. Bernadette held out the pen and ink to her and asked: “Please, would you be so kind as to write down your name and your wishes?”. Aqueró gave a broad smile, but the paper remained blank. Bernadette returned to the two ladies, Madame Milhet and Mademoiselle Peyret, who were very upset at being stopped by  Bernadette, but they had realised that the figure was not Elise Latapie. Madame Milhet was the more mortified of the two: “Ask your lady if she objects to my presence”. “Ask her if we can come now”, added Antoinette. Bernadette turned back towards the niche but Aqueró had gone into the grotto, so she changed direction. Now Aqueró was so close that Bernadette could have touched her. Aqueró said to her: “I do not need to write down what I have to say to you”. Then she added: “Will you be so kind as to return in fifteen days’ time?”. Bernadette promised that she would. Then Aqueró said: “I do not promise you happiness in this world, but in the next
(1). She also told Bernadette that the other two women were welcome. Then the apparition returned to the niche and disappeared. All this took about twenty minutes. 

1) The Apparition does not promise to give her fleeting happiness in this world, made of vanity and the desire for power, honour and riches. She does not tell Bernadette that she will not know joy, for joy goes hand-in-hand with love, and this the Apparition already bestows on her. The Apparition does not lead Bernadette to despise the reality of this world, but to live in it not according to the spirit of the world but according to the Spirit of Christ. Neither does the Apparition encourage Bernadette to despise human love, but to experience it purified and elevated by Christ’s charity. The Apparition clearly shows Bernadette the way of the cross.

The fourth  apparition
Bernadette spent the night at the house of Madame Milhet who hoped to exert her influence over the girl. Early in the morning of Friday 19 February, Bernadette and Madame Milhet called first for Bernadette’s  mother and then for her aunt Bernarde, who was also her godmother and an influential advisor of the Soubirous family; she had divined Madame Milhet’s intentions and she disapproved of them. There were other women with Bernadette and one of them gave her a candle from the Daughters of Mary, a candle which she was to carry with her until 3 March.
The apparition began at the third Ave Maria of the Rosary. The women were astonished by the beauty which clothed Bernadette in her state of ecstasy. The apparition lasted a little over fifteen minutes. During the vision Bernadette heard a confused noise of threatening voices coming from the river Gave; one voice rose above the others, crying “Save yourself! Save yourself!”. Aqueró turned a commanding gaze towards the Gave and the voices faded
This whole story makes sense. The angry voices trying to frighten Bernadette, telling her that if she continued going to the grotto it would be her undoing, were in complete accord with certain voices she had already heard from her friends and family. The voice crying “Save yourself! Save yourself!”, was from the devil, for it invited Bernadette to save herself from the trouble which would fall on her if she insisted on continuing her visits to the grotto. Just one look from the Virgin puts all these voices to flight: Bernadette need have no fear of them.
Soon Bernadette was to be embroiled in the astute plotting first of the chief of police,
Dominique Jacomet and subsequently of the Lourdes magistrate Vital Dutour. Their trick questions and intimidation, as well as false expressions of benevolence purporting to save Bernadette from trouble, came to nothing in the end.

1) René Laurentin (in Estrade, op. cit., note Giulio Giacometti, pag. 116) asserts that Estrade’s narrative is merely literary padding for that day’s ecstasy, making use of false apparitions which a number of girls claimed to have seen after Bernadette. But this is difficult to accept when considering Estrade’s formal declaration that “This was narrated directly by the seer to my sister and to me”. Estrade also says that other people heard this detail from Bernadette (pag. 279). He is to be believed, since it is highly unlikely that a person would like under oath merely to add literary padding to his account.

The fifth apparition
On 20 February, about six o’clock, Bernadette came to Massabielle with Madame Milhet, her mother Louise Castérot, and some other women; altogether there were about thirty people. Bernadette knelt and began to recite the Rosary. At about 6,15, she went into a state of ecstasy and the Lady appeared in the niche. Bernadette’s ecstasy lasted about a quarter of an hour.
That same day aunt Bernarde collected Bernadette from Madame Milhet’s house and took her back to the “dungeon”. Aunt Bernarde thus made it clear that she, and no-one else, was Bernadette’s godmother.

The sixth apparition and Bernadette’s questioning by chief of police Dominique Jacomet

The 21 February was a Sunday and over a hundred people assembled at the grotto. Everything occurred just as it had the previous day.
When Bernadette returned to the village she was informed that the parish priest, Father Bertrand Pène, wished to see her. Father Pène was surprised by her simplicity and her inability to simulate, but he had no belief in the apparition she described. 
After Vespers Bernadette was taken to the home of the chief of police, Dominique Jacomet, where Father Pène and J. B. Estrade also lived, to be questioned. The chief of police tried to establish that the apparitions were nothing but hallucinations which made use of known shapes such as the statue of the Madonna in the parish church, or some of the more attractive ladies of Lourdes. But he was convinced by Bernadette’s coherence. Jacomet then tried to establish that the girl was being manipulated by someone else, such as Madame Milhet. He used all his skills to try to catch Bernadette in a contradiction, skilfully altering what she had said. He even resorted to open threats, telling her that she would be put in prison if she did not end her visits to the grotto. Then he tried persuasion, telling her he only wished to save her from the trouble she had got herself into. His report attempted to discredit Bernadette by affirming that she was ignorant of her age and could not tell him whether she was thirteen or fourteen. But Estrade, who was present, insists that Bernadette firmly replied that she was fourteen. It is unthinkable that Bernadette did not know how old she was: the nuns would certainly have asked her, and her mother would not have left her in ignorance about her date of birth.

The following day Bernadette, pressured both by the chief of police and by her family against visiting the grotto decided to go to school, but when she came near the building she perceived a barrier which prevented her from going any nearer. She therefore went to the grotto, followed by two gendarmes. She began to recite the Rosary, but the Lady did not appear. It was a great blow to Bernadette, who wondered “How have I failed the Lady?”.
That evening Bernadette went to confession with Father Bertrand Pomian, who on the 13 February had heard in her confession what had happened at the grotto. Father Pomian had spoken of it to the parish priest, Father Dominique Peyramale, whose reply had been: “Let us wait”. Father Pomian, faced with Bernadette’s torment and dismay, for she felt guilty at her fear about being forbidden to go to the grotto, reassured her: “No-one has the right to forbid you this”.

The seventh apparition
On Tuesday 23 February, Bernadette went to the grotto with her mother and her aunt Bernarde. There were about a hundred people there, including Jean Baptiste Estrade, Jean Dufo, a member of the lawyers’ association and a town councillor, Dr Pier Romain Dozous, Joseph Louis La Fitte, retired military overseer, Captain Duplessis of the Dragoons, and the mayor of Lourdes. Bernadette knelt with her rosary in her hands and raised her arms to make the sign of the cross, but then she at once let her arms fall by her side again; then she raised them once more and made the sign of the cross. Bernadette explained that Aqueró had appeared and had told her she must not take the initiative and make the sign of the cross first.
She was asked what the Apparition had said. She replied that the Lady had asked her something for herself alone; it was probably a short prayer of blessing to say every day. It must be remembered that Bernadette did not yet know who the Lady was, because the Lady had not told her; but she must have had some intuition of her identity. When being questioned, Bernadette never gave any of her own thoughts about the Apparition. However, it seems she said to one of her friends
(1): “I know only my own little prayer (ndr. Meaning, in addition to the Ave Maria, Pater Noster, and Gloria Patri). It is just right for my lowliness. It would not teach you anything”.
During her state of ecstasy Dr Dozous checked her breathing and heart rate and her pulse: everything was quite normal. The flame of the lighted candle she held touched her fingers, but left no burn. The state of ecstasy lasted about an hour, and there were evident signs that a conversation was taking place between the Apparition and Bernadette: at times she smiled, at others she looked sad. Estrade wrote: “After her first transports of joy at the Lady’s arrival, the seer took up the stance of one who is listening. Her gestures, her expression, all reproduced the stages of a conversation. At time smiling, at others serious, Bernadette nodded agreement or seemed to ask a question. When the Lady spoke, she bubbled with joy; when she made her supplications, Bernadette became humble and moved to tears. At time it could be seen that the conversation had stopped; and then Bernadette continued to tell her beads, her eyes fixed on the niche.”.

1) René Laurentin, op. cit., pag. 554.

The eighth apparition
On Thursday 24 February, early in the morning as usual, there were between two and three hundred people at the grotto. Bernadette knelt in prayer before the niche; after the first ten prayers of the Rosary, Aqueró appeared. Then the apparition descended “sliding” to the ground, inside the grotto. Bernadette’s state of ecstasy that day took the form of changing colour in her face: she would become pale and tearful, then joyful once more: “her eyes still wet with tears, she would break into a wide sweet smile”, said Jacquette Pène, Father Pène’s sister. Bernadette had gone into the grotto walking on her knees and fell forward with her face on the ground. Her aunt Lucile, the youngest of her mother’s sisters, was so overcome on witnessing this that she almost fainted. Bernadette turned to her aunt and said: “Don’t be afraid!” then she turned back to look into the grotto, but the apparition had disappeared. On the way home Bernadette said to her, “Aunt Lucile, you mustn’t come with me again”. Bernadette explained that Aqueró had come into the grotto and had invited her and all those present to make penance for all those who do not wish to repent of their sins: “Make penance, and pray for sinners”. This explained Bernadette’s sorrow and tears as she shared Aqueró’s sorrow and love for sinners. Then Aqueró had asked her to cross the sloping floor made by the deposits of the river in the grotto on her knees and kissing the ground in repentance for sinners. Aqueró had first asked her “if this upset her”. “Oh, no!” replied Bernadette joyfully and with all her heart.

The ninth apparition and Bernadette’s examination by the imperial magistrate Vital Dutour


On Thursday 25 February there were three or four hundred people present at the grotto: some had arrived there  at two in the morning. Bernadette arrived at about 5,30. She at once knelt and began to recite the Rosary. Aqueró appeared in the niche, and Bernadette began her penitential path, on her knees, kissing from time to time the ground at the foot of the niche under the arched opening of the grotto. She was heard to whisper: “Penance... penance... penance”. She looked inside the grotto and then turned back and was about to go to the river, but then turned back and went right into the grotto, to the back. Here she found a patch of damp ground; she looked towards the niche and then began to dig with her hands. A small quantity of muddy water emerged. She repeated this action three times, and the fourth time, when the water had become less muddy, she drank some and then washed her face, smearing it with mud. Then she gathered a few leaves of a herb growing in the grotto and ate them. She dried her face on her apron, and at this her aunt Bernarde came forward, cleaned her face with a handkerchief and then slapped her, for she disapproved of Bernadette’s actions, believing they brought her discredit. Bernadette went back to praying at her usual spot in front of the niche. She began to make the sign of the cross, but then paused; then she completed it and the apparition dissolved and Bernadette moved away from the grotto. On the way home, her aunt pressed her with questions, as did Pauline Cazauc and others. Then she had to answer the questions of Father Pène and Jean Baptiste Estrade on what had occurred. Bernadette explained.
Pauline Cazauc asked her: “Why did you stop while making the sign of the cross at the end of the Rosary?”. Bernadette replied: “Aqueró hadn’t finished ... I couldn’t finish until she did”.
To Father Pène she said, “Aqueró told me to go and drink from the mountain and wash there. I couldn’t see a mountain, so I thought I would go and drink from the Gave. But she pointed to the rock. I went to look and found some muddy water, very little, I was barely able to fill the palm of my hand. It was so dirty that I had to throw it away the first three times, but the fourth time I was able to drink it”. “And what about the herb you ate?” asked the priest. Bernadette replied: “She told me: You will eat the herb that grows there”. Father Pène exclaimed: “But only animals eat grass!”. Bernadette could find no reply. On December 7 1860 she had an answer; when responding to a committee who objected that “The idea of eating grass does not seem worthy of the holy Virgin”. The reply was: “We enjoy eating salad”. Father Pène went on: “And why were you so agitated today?”. “Yesterday Aqueró told me to kiss the ground as penance for sinners”. “Do you realise that these actions make people think you are mentally unbalanced?”. “For sinners...”.
Father Bertrand Pomian, faced with Bernadette’s behaviour at the grotto, began to distance himself from her.
At six o’clock in the evening Bernadette was brought before the imperial magistrate Vital Dutour. The magistrate questioned her and altered her replies to make her appear a visionary. Here is an example:
What does this vision resemble?”.
But what could it most nearly be compared to?”.
To the Holy Virgin in the Church, for her face and clothes ... but surrounded by light, and alive”.

“Her age?”.
“How tall?”.
“Her hand indicate a stature shorter than her own”.

It must be noted that Bernadette never made the comparison with the image of the Madonna in the parish church.
And she most certainly did not compare her own height with that of the apparition, claiming moreover to be the taller of the two. When questioned by chief of police Dominique Jacomet she had said that the apparition seemed to be about sixteen or seventeen years old, and if we wish to take this affirmation as an indication of stature and not merely of youth, it must be remembered that after the age of sixteen a woman is unlikely to grow more than three centimetres, so her height at sixteen is the same height as her adult self.

The Jesuit Father Leonard Cros, who questioned Bernadette on 12 January 1879 while holding a transcription of magistrate Vital Dufour’s interrogation, together with the notes made by the sculptor of the statue, Joseph Fabisch, noted, through the writing of Sister Adelaide Dous, this: “Aqueró was small rather than tall (ndr. Not nearly as tall as the sculptor made her: 1,88m), but our sister does not recall ever having made comparison between the stature of the vision and her own, nor with the statue in church. The Holy  Virgin seemed very young”. The question of Aquerò’s height thus remained vague.

When the imperial magistrate read out what he had written, Bernadette reacted by saying that he had changed everything. This was a defeat for Vital Dutour. He wrote to the chief magistrate in Pau, Pierre Claude Falconnet, saying that he could not forbid her to visit the grotto because “her actions cannot be considered criminal”. Nevertheless, in his report dated the 1st of March he wrote defamatory words about the Soubirous family to his superior: “Bernadette comes from a poor family. Her father was arrested in1857, accused of theft (ndr. the magistrate omits to mention that he was released because he had not committed the theft). The mother’s morality is no less doubtful. It is well-known that she is a habitual drunkard (ndr. This is an accusation so false as to render one speechless!). the entire situation of these low people, their language, and above all their conduct and their reputation, are more than enough to destroy innocence and inspire not only doubt but contempt; in short, they are very wretched intermediaries for She who is considered the most pure of creatures”.
These words were destined to condemn Vital Dutour, for the apparitions continued, attracting great crowds of people, so that Pierre Claude Falconnet charged him with incompetence.

The case of Jean de Bonnefon  


The papers of Falconnet and Dutour are well known and contain no copy of a letter purportedly written by Falconnet to Dutour on Monday 28 December 1857 and made public in 1906 by a fiercely anti-clerical radical, Jean de Bonnefon (1867-1928) in his pamphlet “Lourdes et ses tenanciers (Lourdes and its managers)” where in the name of science he proposed that the sanctuary be closed. Bonnefon, when questioned about the letter, did not say which archive it came from; nor did he say who had given it to him. The note says that Falconnet had issued a severe warning to Dutour about disorderly situations in Lourdes, because “he had learned that certain manifestations simulating a supernatural character and pretending to be miraculous, were planned for the end of the year. I beg you to be vigilant and ensure that a close watch is kept over these events. I need to know the details, in order to decide under which clause of the Penal  Code they may be prosecuted. I fear that you can count but little on the local or religious administration for support  (...) The religious motive conceals a political motive”.
What immediately strikes any reader, even the least well-informed in the field of investigation, is that there should have been some indication of a concrete lead to follow, not merely a general, vague idea.
 A man like Falconnet would never have risked his reputation on an unfounded rumour. A man in authority like Falconnet would have required specific, well-founded accusations on which to act. Moreover, since the letter is dated 45 days before the first apparition, Dutour would have had time and opportunity to instruct his informers to intercept the plot which was being prepared. The note states that the local administration was not prepared to collaborate, but on the contrary it did collaborate trying to stop the flow of people visiting the grotto. In such a situation Vital Dutour could not go anywhere, and the note suggests that the scheme was planned elsewhere and brought to Lourdes. But the entire matter stems directly from Lourdes, from one young girl and one only. Falconnet asked Dutour to keep him informed so that he could work out some criminal charges, but after questioning Bernadette, after chief of police Jacomet had also done so, it was Dutour himself who summed up the legal situation, writing to Falconnet that he had not found any element that would condemn Bernadette.  In the letters which Falconnet wrote to Dutour accusing him of incompetence, the phrase “I warned you in good time ...” simply does not appear. Reading the correspondence between Falconnet and Dutour refutes Jean de Bonnefon’s note; it was evidently falsified by Jean de Bonnefon himself. He was certainly capable of doing so. The advance information in Paperblog, (25 March 2009), concerning a lecture to be held by Edouard Bouvé on 31 March 2009 at Aurillac Cedex states: “Son besoin invincible de critiquer, de railler, de diffamer, a quelque chose de demoniaque. En meme temps, cet homme bourré de talent est plein de paradoxes”. (His need to criticise, to scoff, to defame, has something of the diabolical about it.  This man is full of talent and at the same time full of contradictions).
The journalist Vittorio Messori writing in Corriere della Sera newspaper on 13 August 2003, in his haste to deal with the matter, made the mistake of identifying 28 December 1857 as a Sunday and not as a Monday, consequently arguing that letters are not written in an office of the public administration on a Sunday. He was reproved for this mistake, but it does not make the least difference to the historic studies carried out, including those by non-Roman Catholic historians, who conclude that the letter was a forgery. Messori made amends for his mistake in “Ipotesi su Maria” ed. Ares 2005, chapter 1. This book deals very thoroughly with the Jean Bonnefon matter, quoting the reasonings of the historians, to the extent that the case must be considered closed: the Falconnet-Dutour note, made public by Jean de Bonnefon in 1906, is a forgery. A new book by Messori concerning Lourdes was published in October 2012: "Bernardette non ci ha ingannati" (“Bernadette did not deceive us”), ed. Mondadori.

The tenth apparition
Aunt Bernarde, after her niece’s questioning by magistrate Vital Dutour, became very combative and incited Bernadette to go to the grotto; on 26 February Bernadette therefore went to Massabielle where she found about five hundred people waiting for her. She carried out her acts of penance and gestured to the people present to do the same: Aqueró however did not appear. Bernadette was dismayed, and aunt Bernarde hustled her away.
The non-apparition was doubtless caused by Aunt Bernarde’s attempts to be the centre of attention.
The following day, Saturday 27 February, Bernadette went to the grotto about seven in the morning and the Lady appeared. Antoine Clarens, headmaster of Lourdes high school, was present for the first time. Bernadette went into a state of ecstasy, turning pale and smiling towards the niche. Then she became sad, and the headmaster’s heart ached for her. Then he watched Bernadette move forward on her knees, kissing the ground as she went; when she reached the end of the grotto she returned to the spot where the spring had appeared. Bernadette touched her lips with the muddy water and then ate a sprig of the herb which grew there.

The eleventh apparition
On Sunday, 28 February, Bernadette went to the grotto about six in the morning accompanied by her aunt Lucille. There were over a thousand people there. Captain Renault of the gendarmes of Tarbes was there; he had arrived in Lourdes a few days earlier, to watch events.
Bernadette saw the niche light up and Aqueró arrive. Bernadette, dressed in her Sunday best, recited the Rosary and perform her usual penance, moving forward on her knees, kissing the ground. This went on for some considerable time.  Then Bernadette went to Mass in the parish Church. As she emerged, the country policeman Latapie stopped her, grasping her by the arm. Bernadette, quite unafraid, said to him with a smile: “Hold me tight or I shall run away”. Latapie took her to the house of the imperial magistrate Vital Dutour. Also present were chief of police Dominique Jacomet magistrate Louis Clément Ribes.
Kindly policeman Latapie, who was present during Bernadette’s questioning, has left an account.
The magistrate said to her: “You again, you good-for-nothing?”. “Yes, sir, I’m here again”. “We shall put you in prison. What is it you do in the grotto? Someone is pushing you to do this. We’ll put you in prison”. Bernadette replied: “I am ready: put me in prison, and make sure it’s a strong one and well locked, otherwise I shall escape”. “You must give up going to the grotto”. “I will not give it up!”. a person must be a saint or divinely inspired to have the sang-froid of this little girl  ... Then the nun from the institution, the big one (the Mother Superior came to get everyone out of difficulty) said sobbing bitterly: “I beg you, gentlemen, leave the little one in peace; don’t torment her to death. So then the magistrate said to the chief of police, “what do you want to do with her? Let’s release her; we can’t do anything against her “. As she left she said to me: “I want to go; Thursday is the last day””.

The twelfth apparition
On Monday 1st March, for the first time Bernadette’s father accompanied her to the grotto. There were one thousand five hundred people there. The parish priest of Lourdes, Father Dominique Peyramale, under pressure because of what had happened and acting on the bishop’s orders, had forbidden any priest under his jurisdiction to go to the grotto, but one young priest, Antoine Dézizat, who had not yet been assigned to any diocese, went to the grotto together with a group of people from Omex, where he lodged with Father Glère. He was the first priest to fitness these events. He wrote, “Her smile was indescribable ... Only Bernadette could see the Apparition, but all present could feel her presence. I thought I was in the ante-chamber of Paradise”.
Then Bernadette began to perform her penance and Father Dézizat, rather surprised, left.
In the presence of the apparition Bernadette happened to hold up her rosary towards the niche. A woman shouted: “The Holy Virgin wants to bless her rosary!” At this, all those present held up their rosaries. Father Pène heard that Bernadette had blessed the rosaries of the people present (and must presumably have been in touch with chief of police Jacomet and must have told him of the incident) and he asked Bernadette for an explanation. “So, you bless rosaries now?”. “I don’t wear a stole”, was – in synthesis – Bernadette’s response.
The fact was that a sick woman, Pauline Sans, had asked Bernadette to pray for her at the grotto using her rosary. Pauline‘s intention was that Bernadette should thus represent her in prayer, so that it was clear that the prayers were for her. Bernadette put Pauline’s rosary in her pocket together with her own and went to the grotto; she then pulled Pauline’s rosary from her pocket quite by chance when she returned form performing her penance. She began to pray, but the Apparition showed her disapproval and told Bernadette to use her own rosary. This can easily be explained considering that Pauline in giving her rosary to Bernadette was trying to put psychological pressure on her, whereas she should simply have asked Bernadette to remember her in her prayers.   

The thirteenth apparition
At about seven in the morning on Tuesday 2 March Bernadette arrived at the grotto. 1650 people were there, waiting for her. Bernadette recited the Rosary as usual, then she went into the grotto where Aqueró  had come to stand.
Probably she communicated a first secret to Bernadette, to be followed by two other secrets in the next two apparitions.  
Aqueró told her to go and tell the priests that a procession should be made to the grotto and that a chapel should be built there.
Bernadette repeated these requests to Father Pomian, who kept his distance. Then Bernadette, accompanied by her aunts Bernarde and Basile went to Father Peyramale to refer Aqueró’s request to him.
It was a stormy meeting.
Are you the one who goes to the grotto?”.
Yes, Father”.
And you say that you see the Holy Virgin?”.
I have never said that she is the Holy Virgin”.
Then who is this Lady?”.
I don’t know”.
So you don’t know, you little liar! And yet the newspaper writes, and all those people who follow you say,  that she is the Holy Virgin”.
Father, Aqueró asks that we make a procession to the grotto”.
You liar! How do you expert me to order a procession? It’s Monsignore who decides about processions ... Get away with you! A lady! A procession! It’s a scandal! And they say you’ve eaten grass like the animals do
Aunt Bernarde felt faint and left. Aunt Basile remained.
Now Father Pomian arrived, and was told resentfully: “Look at this little one. She’s the one who goes to the grotto every day. And now she’s come here to tell us her lies”.
Father Pomian turned to Bernadette more calmly:
Have you been telling lies, Bernadette?”.
No, Father. I have only repeated what Aqueró told me to say
”.Once outside the priest’s house, Aunt Basile scolded Bernadette for putting her in such a position. Bernadette, however, remembered that she had not said that Aqueró wanted a chapel built, and therefore she needed to go back to the priest. Aunt Basile categorically refused to go with her again, and it was Dominiquette Cazenave who at seven in the evening went with Bernadette to see the priest.
Father, Aqueró  said to me: “Go and tell the priests to build a chapel here.
The priest exploded with rage and Bernadette was frightened and tried to reduce here request to the bare minimum.
Just a very simple chapel ... just a small one would be enough”.
The priest calmed down, but became icy.
You still don’t know her name?”.
No, Father”.
Well then, you’d better ask her”.

1) The three secrets concern only Bernadette personally and have nothing to do with the world or with France or with the Church, as Bernadette formally stated (René Laurentin op. cit. pag 554). Obviously, there has been much speculation as to their content. It has been said that they concerned her systematic refusal to accept money, details concerning her vocation, and her sufferings. But all this is mere conjecture and not even particularly plausible. Perhaps we should rather think that they were moral considerations concerning certain people for whom Bernadette was to pray. This would explain the secrecy, and the reason for which she had to keep the words to herself.

Writing in “Der Schwarze Briel” on 4 November 1998 the journalist Mittelberg referred to a prophetic letter sent by Bernadette to Pope Leo XIII in 1879. The letter, five pages long, was apparently discovered by a Frenchman, Antoine La Grande, in 1998 in a metal cupboard in an underground archive at the Vatican.  I refer to it here because the information is still to be found in a number of websites, and by inertia is likely to remain there for some time to come.
The letter is an obvious forgery, written about the year 2000, with the intention of striking a blow against science, seen as a source of destruction, and of painting an optimistic picture of the years immediately after  2000. The letter is vitiated by millennialism.
There are prophecies concerning the spread of electricity, the invention of the gramophone, the electric light bulb, and the telegraph, which are all post eventum, and are subjects outside the scope of prophecy. Paris became La Ville Lumière in 1876 when it introduced street lighting using electric arc lights. The telegraph began to be used in the first half of the nineteenth century. The gramophone was already in use in 1870. The  electric light bulb was invented in 1875.
Other prophecies included:
the coming of Hitler;
the Second World War;
the conquest of space.
Another prophecy recounts that around the year 2000 there will be a clash with Islam, and that a most powerful bomb will be dropped on Persia, and Islam will be overcome. Evil scientists whose works damage humankind will also be overcome. A Golden Age will follow: “The twenty-first century shall be called ‘Humanity’s Second Golden Age.’ “ None of this has happened.  
This forgery was obviously concocted in about 2000. in no way can it be dated to 1879 because it bears no date. Antoine La Grande did not say where in the archive he found the letter, as he had the absolute duty to do, but here we are looking at a forgery by an unknown author
Everything written by Bernadette is preserved in the archive at Nevers, and here there is no trace of such a letter.
After the year 1878 Bernadette wrote only three letters, all of which are documented. No-one has ever mentioned a letter to Pope Leo XIII.
The letter that Bernadette wrote to Pope Pius IX, dated 17 December 1876, was suggested by the bishop of Nevers to please the pontiff. The style of this letter is entirely conventional and contains nothing prophetic. A prediction of the 1870 Franco-Prussian war was once attributed to Bernadette but was immediately refuted by all historians.

The fourteenth apparition
On Wednesday 3 March, Bernadette reached the grotto at about seven in the morning, accompanied by Aunt Bernarde. She found three thousand people waiting for her.
Bernadette knelt and began to recite the Rosary, but Aqueró did not appear. Bernadette was immediately taken to the nearby Savy mill. Once the crowds had left she went back to the grotto: about a hundred people had remained behind. Aqueró appeared and told her that some of the people who had now left had spent the night in the grotto and had profaned it. They were not worthy to be present.
The people of Lourdes immediately identified the guilty party: “It’s all the fault of Laborde, the hotelier; he did something filthy in the grotto”.
That evening Bernadette went back to see Father Peyramale, telling him that Aqueró had repeated her request for a chapel to be built.
Father, the Lady still asks for a chapel”.
Did you ask her her name?”.
Yes, but all she does is smile”.
She’s teasing you gently ... If she tells you her name, and makes the rose bush bloom, we’ll build her a chapel, and it won’t be a small one! We’ll build a good big one!”.

The fifteenth apparition
On Thursday 4 March, the crowd at the grotto numbered about 7500 people. Bernadette arrived at 7,10 and was besieged by the crowd. A man asked her to pray for his daughter who had serious problems with her sight. Bernadette replied, “Take her to wash at the fountain”. The girl went to wash her face and began to see. A woman with a child who was unable to walk nor speak said to her, “Take this candle and offer it to the Virgin for my child”. She replied, “Madame, I will pray for your child. You take the candle and put it in the grotto or in the church”. There were many people asking her for help. Bernadette knelt, lighted her candle, and began to recite the Rosary, gesturing to the crowd that they should do the same. At the third Ave Maria of the second decade a smile appeared on Bernadette’s face; she was transfigured by joy. Aqueró had appeared in the niche. At the end of the Rosary Bernadette began to make the sign of the cross, but stopped; a few seconds later she did so. Aqueró then came down into the grotto. Bernadette once again asked her name, but she only smiled. From time to time Bernadette would look sad. When asked why, she replied: “I am sad when Aqueró  is sad, and I smile when she smiles”. The  Apparition lasted about forty-five minutes, longer than all the preceding ones. And all this time, there was intense communication. On what subject, besides those which Bernadette had already mentioned, which were not many in number? Undoubtedly we must assume it was to do with the catechism. Aqueró communicated by means of the intellectual light of the Holy Spirit the truths of the catechism. And from this derived a current of love and gratitude from Bernadette towards her celestial Catechist, who prayed with her and obtained grace for her. Catechism, for Bernadette, meant knowledge of revealed truth, and the fruit she desired was her first Communion.
She was asked why she had stopped making the sign of the cross. She replied that she had stopped because Aqueró had not started it.
When she returned home she was besieged by a crowd of people wanting to see her and touch her; people asked her to touch rosaries and medallions. She replied that she was not a priest, and said, “Once I have touched them what more will they have?”. But people insisted and there were faces there that she recognised. In the end, she gave in and chose to take the various objects in her hands and touch them with her rosary beads, pointing this out: “I will make them touch the rosary which I took to the grotto”. But this gave the impression that Bernadette’s rosary beads had been blessed by the Madonna, and people began to beg her to exchange it for much more valuable rosaries.  Bernadette refused every time; it was exhausting. Bernadette realised that it was wise not to concede anything.
Early in the afternoon Bernadette went to see Father Peyramale.
What did the Lady have to say?”.
I asked her her name. She just smiled. I asked her to make the rose bush bloom. She smiled again. But she still wants her chapell”..
Have you got the money to build this chapel?”.
No, Father”.
Well neither have I. Tell the Lady to give it to you. Did she tell you to come back?”.
No, Father”.
Did she say she wouldn’t come again?”.
She didn’t say that”.

The sixteenth apparition
Bernadette felt the need to go to the grotto before going to sleep on the eve of 25 March, the Feast of the Annunciation. Unable to sleep, at four in the morning she got out of bed and told her family that she was going to the grotto. She arrived there at five o’clock and unexpectedly found about a hundred people there; they had sensed that the Madonna would appear for the Feast of the Annunciation. Among those present was chief of police Jacomet, fulfilling his duty to keep watch over everything.
The Lady was already there and smiled at Bernadette, holding out her arms. Bernadette apologised for the lateness of the hour, but the Apparition made her realise, with her smile, that there was no need for an apology. Bernadette began to recite the Rosary and at the end she asked Aquerò to tell her who she was. Aqueró smiled, humbly bowing her head.
Bernadette, encouraged by Aqueró’s increasingly bright smile, repeated her question twice more, but received only a smile in reply. When she asked for the fourth time Aqueró passed her rosary to her right arm, then joined her hands together at her breast. Then she stretched her arms slightly downwards and then, once more joining her hands at her breast, she looked up to the heavens and said, “Que soy era Immaculada Councepciou”. Bernadette overflowed with joy. Her ecstasy lasted about an hour.
When Bernadette heard the words of revelation she placed the candle she was holding among the other candles there and vowed to remember these words which she had never heard before and which she did not understand. She was at once overwhelmed with questions. Bernadette pronounced the words with difficulty, for she had never heard them before and did not under stand their meaning. Then she went straight to Father Peyramale’s house to refer what she had heard. Bernadette told him, her voice vibrant: “Que soy era Immaculada Councepciou”.
Father Peyramale was astonished. He tried to cling to his authority, but this was different from what had gone before.
A Lady can’t have this name”, he said, seeking support in theology. But it didn’t occur to him that the most true name was that given by the angel of the Annunciation: “Full of grace”, that is, Immaculate.  
You’re mistaken! Do you know what it means?”.
Bernadette shook her head.
Then how can you say it, if you don’t understand it?”.
I kept repeating it to myself all the way here”.
The priest began to sob, but made a huge effort to stop.
She still wants her chapel” , said Bernadette very softly.
Go home! I’ll speak to you another day”. The kind-hearted giant had collapsed; all he could do was try to salvage his priestly authority and entrust the whole situation to the bishop of Tarbes, without doing anything which might prejudice his judgement.
Bernadette went to her confessor, Father Pomian, and recounted everything. He too opted for prudence, saying that he would speak to the parish priest.

Did the Apparition come down into the grotto when she revealed her identity, or was she in the niche? Those who say that the Virgin spoke to Bernadette only when she came down into the grotto say yes. But this clashes with the fact that when the Apparition, in her niche, recited the Gloria Patri, Bernadette could hear her perfectly. This generalisation also clashes head-on with the fact that the sculptor Joseph Fabisch asked Bernadette a number of questions about the moment in which the Virgin said, “Io am the Immaculate Conception”. He even made a model out of cardboard and showed it to Bernadette, placing it in the niche. He also asked Bernadette to repeat the exact gestures the Virgin had made in pronouncing the words. This is a fact which cannot be eliminated. And there is also the testimony of Estrade, who with his sister listened to Bernadette’s report that same afternoon of 25 March (op. cit., pag  261); this too is undeniable. Estrade says that the Virgin pronounced the words “Que soy era Immaculada Councepciou” standing in the niche: “The Lady was standing, above the rose bush, and she appeared as she does in the miraculous medallion (ndr. Without the rays, however). At the third request, she looked solemn and seemed to humble herself. She then joined her hands and brought them to the upper part of her breast ...”. Estrade explicitly states that the Virgin was in the “rustic niche” (op. cit., pag 258 - 259).

As concerns how long her ecstasies lasted, it is essential to speak of approximate lengths, since there was no-one present with a watch, timing them. And moreover, only Bernadette herself could state exactly when they began and ended.

A visit from the doctors
On Saturday 27 March Bernadette received a visit from three doctors sent by the Prefect of the Hautes-Pyrenées to carry out a physical and psychological examination. The Prefect’s question was, “Does this girl suffer from mental illness? Does she require treatment?”. One of them, Dr Balencie, worked at the nuns’ hospital, which the nuns themselves ran, independently of the Prefect. The other two were Dr Lacrampe and Dr Peyrus. The Prefect’s intention (that same Prefect who, deferring to orders received from Paris, would subsequently have a fence erected around the grotto) was to obtain a certificate which would necessitate Bernadette’s removal to the clinic in Tarbes. The three doctors questioned Bernadette, examined her replies, and attempted to come to a shared verdict, but it took them four days to reach agreement and formulate  a judgement which would satisfy the Prefect without going against their medical knowledge. Their verdict was abstruse and contradictory: “The illness which we feel we may attribute (ndr. No specific illness is mentioned) to Bernadette does not constitute a danger to her health”. Thus the internment the Prefect had hoped for did not come about, and the only out come was a vague insinuation, devoid of any proof, that Bernadette was over-sensitive and this might have led her to have a hallucination triggered by a source of light. The only illness they were able to diagnose was asthma. The mayor of Lourdes had advised against this initiative, deeming it useless. The imperial magistrate Dutour pointed out that the measure would do nothing to stem the stream of pilgrims to the grotto.  Father Peyramale joined in the chorus: “Bernadette is not the sick girl you say she is. She does not come under the law that you invoke (Ndr. The law passed on 4 May 1858 authorising the ruling authority to place any mentally sick person in custody). She causes no disturbance, no public damage. She is weak; and she is poor; but remember that she is not alone: He who has the care of her soul is with her! ... Will you kindly inform the Prefect that his gendarmes will not touch so much as one hair of this young girl’s head except over my dead body!”  
The clergy’s support for Bernadette was decisive, and on July 28 1858 the bishop of Tarbes, Monsignor Bertrand-Sévére Mascarau Laurence set up a commission to enquire into the events at Massabielle.

The seventeenth apparition
Bernadette, inspired to do so, went to the grotto on 7 April, Wednesday “in albis”, at five in the morning. About a thousand people were there including Dr Dozous and Madame Foch, the influential wife of the secretary general of the Prefecture of Tarbes.
At the second decade of the Rosary the apparition began. When the Rosary came to an end, the lighted candle which Bernadette held, slipped lower and the flame began to lick her fingers; this continued for about ten minutes.  Dr Dozous was greatly shocked, because he could see no burn marks on Bernadette’s hand. Later, he tried to hold a candle to Bernadette’s fingers; she pulled her hand back, crying, “You are burning me!”. Dr Dozous, an agnostic, became a believer from that time on. His conversion was a sensation.
After the episode with the candle which according to witnesses had happened a number of times, Bernadette went into the grotto because the Immaculate Virgin had come down from her niche into the grotto.  Their conversation was a combination of sorrow and joy. The Madonna repeated that she wanted a chapel built. The apparition lasted about an hour.

The eighteenth apparition
Bernadette, obeying the orders from the bishop of Tarbes, referred to her by Father Pomian, had not gone to the grotto for three months. The grotto had been surrounded by a high fence made of wooden boards, on the orders of the government in Paris and of the minister for religious movements, Rouland. When Bernadette had heard about the fence, she had said: “Those who caused the barrier to be built, will have it removed”. On 4 May the Prefect had ensured the removal of the little image of the Madonna which had been placed at the back of the grotto, the flowers and the candles, because he defined it “an illegal cult”.
The 3 June is an important date because Bernadette made her first Communion.
On 15 June a fence was erected, and was then demolished by the same people who had built it. it was rebuilt on 28 June and demolished during the night of 4 to 5 July. On 7 July the Prefect of the Hautes-Pyrenées ordered the mayor of Lourdes to publish an order decreeing the closure of the grotto. The fence was rebuilt on 10 July, but it did not last long because a girl named Cyprine Gesta, condemned by the court of Lourdes for going to the grotto, was acquitted on appeal by the court in Pau, on 15 July. It was not a crime to go to the grotto.
On Friday 16 July, the Feast of Our Lady of Mount Carmel, Bernadette felt herself asked to go to the grotto, which could no longer be reached because of the fence around it. She went there around eight in the evening, with her Aunt Lucille and two other women, and kneeling on the opposite bank of the river Gave she began to recite the Rosary. No sooner had she begun the Rosary than she went into ecstasy. She found herself in front of the niche as thug she were close to the grotto: “I saw neither the fence nor the Gave. I seemed to be in the grotto, no further away than at the other times”.
This was the last apparition Bernadette was to see.

The apparitions were approved by the bishop of Tarbes, Monsignor Laurence, on 18 January 1862.

The statue by the sculptor Joseph Fabisch

The Misses Lacour of Lyon, during a pilgrimage to the Grotto in July 1863, had seen the modest image of the Madonna surrounded by a container for flowers, in the niche. The two ladies decided to commission the sculptor Joseph Fabisch to carve a marble statue of the Virgin at the moment in which she said, “I am the Immaculate Conception”. For this, they were prepared to pay 7000 gold francs. Joseph Fabisch was a professor at the Fine Arts school in Lyon, and a member of the Academy of Science, Letters, and Arts of the same city. He had already shown his talent in the creation of a statue of the Madonna of La Salette and the Virgin at the Basilica of Fourvière.
On 17 September 1863 the sculptor went to Lourdes to ask Bernadette a list of twenty questions, necessary because his contract required him to portray the Virgin “as nearly as possible” as she had appeared.
The questions concerned the apparent age of the Apparition, her cloche, the roses at her feet, and the expression on her face when she uttered the words which identified her. The sculptor asked Bernadette to mime the Virgin at that moment.
On Sunday 20 September the sculptor went to the grotto with Bernadette and placed a cardboard shape in the niche in order to under stand the position of the Apparition, and the height to which her head reached. Bernadette watched and answered yes and no.
That same day the sculptor showed Bernadette a clay sketch and noted her observations. When the sculptor left Bernadette he was greatly optimistic about the future statue which he could already imagine.
He then made, in November 1863, a clay model,  sending a photograph of it to Father Peyramale asking him to show it to Bernadette and note her observations; the priest did so and sent her replies in writing to the sculptor. Comparing the sketch, which is kept in Nevers, and the statue, it must be said that the sculptor took note of all Bernadette’s observations; yet despite this, to carve from Carrara marble a statue with a sense of life about it, was not easy. But Fabisch knew his art well.
The Virgin had raised her eyes to Heaven but not her face, but no-one would have noticed her eyes in the white marble of her face, so the sculptor gave the head a slight upward movement. He also added a little movement by turning the left foot; in the preliminary sketch this was more noticeable but after listening to Bernadette it was less accentuated. The Apparition’s hands were joined but in order to give them some liveliness the sculptor also portrayed them with some curving of the fingers.  Concerning the height of the Madonna, Fabisch felt free to interpret this keeping in mind the effect the statue would have in the spacious open square which had now been built. The finished statue was therefore 1m 88 cm tall.
When the statue was shown to Bernadette, before being placed in the niche, she first said: “Yes, that is as I saw her”, but then immediately afterwards, “No, she wasn’t like that”.
Both the declarations are correct in part. Her first statement accepted that this was the best that a human hand could do; her second noted the difference between the real Apparition and her image translated into marble.
The sculptor expected only a ‘Yes’  and was upset, but on thinking it over he understood Bernadette’s position.
The sculptor Fabisch has often been accused of academicism, but in this instance academicism does not enter into it. Fabisch wanted to represent as best he could the original as Bernadette had described it, but at the same time he had to give some life to the marble, the life which the apparition obviously had within herself.
The hand of a man could do very little more than this, and it has to be said that the statue of Our Lady of Lourdes is the sculptor Joseph Fabisch’s masterpiece

The question  of Aqueró’s height
When the sculptor Fabisch placed the cardboard shape in the niche, a layer of earth had been placed there to form a base for the flower vase and the statuette of the Madonna.

The earth and moss previously placed there had been taken away by visiting pilgrims, as had the rose bush.  Fortunately there is a photograph showing the rock with a layer of earth and dark moss on it. Furthermore, two blocks of stone at the left of the niche determine a height which allows a comparison of the present-day statue with the statue with the earth and moss. At present, the space between the two stones had been filled, but the line showing he separation of the two blocks can be clearly seen. This makes it possible to determine that between the head of the Virgin, the position of which is known for certain (Bernadette answered a question from Father Leonard Cros - February 1879 – written down by Mother Adelaide: Concerning the Virgin’s height, Bernadette showed the size of the statue in the grotto and the height reached by Our Lady. The Holy Virgin must therefore have been about as tall as the statue in the niche seems to be”. Note that the only valid piece of information is the position of the top of the statue. The justification for this was obviously an initiative on the part of Mother Adelaide, tempered however by the words about and seems), and the moss where her feet rested there is a distance of about 1m 65/66 cm. We may thus deduce that the Apparition was 1m 65/66 cm tall.

The levels calculated are shown in the following photographs.

Scale 1:20

The blue line shows the level of the Virgin’s head, as indicated by Bernadette.
The yellow line shows the level of the mass of porphyry at the Virgin’s back.
The red line shows the level of the fissuring between the two rocks of the niche. In placing the statue, the two rocks have been reduced on their inner side and cemented.
The green line shows, approximately, where Aqueró’s feet rested, on the moss. The reference point is the lower level of the porphyry mass, as can be seen in the second illustration, it more or less matches the base of the statuette in the third illustration. The green line could be lowered by one millimetre, since the soil carried by the wind into the corner of the vertical wall has raised it.
The vertical orange line indicates Aqueró’s height, 1.65-1.66 m.