the grotto of Massabielle, apparitions of Our Lady, St Bernadette
of the Massabielle grotto
Bernadette (Bernadette Soubirous)
2 3 4 5
8 9 10
The statue by sculptor Joseph Fabisch
The height of the Apparition
The name “Massabielle” comes from the local Bigorre
dialect and is the equivalent of the French Massavieille, meaning “ancient
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
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
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
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
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”
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
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
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.
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.
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
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
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
ed. Paoline, 1978, eleventh edition.
René Laurentin, “Bernadette
vi parla”, ed. Paoline, 1979.
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.
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
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”.
“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
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”.
The apparition lasted little longer than the time required to recite
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.
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
in “Le apparizioni di Lourdes” by Jean
Baptiste Estrade, with notes by Giulio Giacometti. ed. Paoline, 1978,
Letter written by Bernadette to P. Gondrand, 28 May
Interview with Father Cros 30 January 1979. Quoted in
René Laurentin, “Bernadette vi parla”, ed. Paoline, 1979, pag
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
7) Estrade says the cloud of gold, op. cit.,
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
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.
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
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.
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.
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,
Jacomet and subsequently of the
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
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.
apparition and Bernadette’s questioning by chief of police Dominique
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
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
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
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.
apparition and Bernadette’s examination by the imperial magistrate Vital
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.
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
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
“To the Holy Virgin in the Church, for
her face and clothes ... but surrounded by light, and alive”.
“Her hand indicate a stature shorter than
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”.
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
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
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
was published in October 2012: "Bernardette
non ci ha ingannati" (“Bernadette did not deceive us”), ed.
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
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
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
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
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?”.
you say that you see the Holy Virgin?”.
“I have never said that she is the Holy
“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
Now Father Pomian arrived, and was told
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
“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
“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?”.
“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
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.
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
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
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
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
“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
“Well neither have
Tell the Lady to give it to you. Did she tell you to come back?”.
“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
Father Peyramale was astonished. He tried
to cling to his authority, but this was different from what had gone
“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
Bernadette shook her head.
“Then how can you say it, if you don’t
“I kept repeating it to myself all the
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
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
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
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
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
The apparitions were approved by the bishop
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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.