THE BODY OF SAINT BERNADETTE OF LOURDES

THE BODY OF SAINT BERNADETTE OF LOURDES
Andre Ravier, S.J.

Based on documents in the archives of the convent of Saint-Gildard, of the diocese and the city of Nevers.

Very fine wax masks were laid over the face and hands of St. Bernadette’s body in 1925 to disguise the sunken eyes and nose and the blackish tinge to the face and hands. During the first exhumation (1909) the face had been “a dull white” and the hands “perfectly preserved” but the nose was already “dilated and shrunken”. The eyes were not noted as having yet sunk. She died on April 16, 1879. Her body has not been embalmed or specially treated in any way.

On April 16, 1879, Bernadette—or Sister Marie-Bernard, as she was known within her order—died in the Sainte Croix (Holy Cross) Infirmary of the Convent of Saint-Gildard. She was thirty-five.

Born into a humble family which little by little fell into extreme poverty, Bernadette had always been a frail child. Quite young, she had already suffered from digestive trouble, then after having just escaped being a victim of the cholera epidemic of 1855, she experienced painful attacks of asthma, and her ill health almost caused her to be cut off for ever from the religious life. When asked by Monsignor Forcade to take Bernadette, Louise Ferrand, the Mother Superior of the Sisters of Nevers, replied: “Monsignor, she will be a pillar of the infirmary”. Continue reading

Saint Bernadette Soubirous

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Saint Bernadette Soubirous

Virgin
(1844-1879)

Saint Bernadette Soubirous was born at Lourdes, in the Pyrenees mountains, in 1844. This young girl, fragile of health, born of a very poor but pious family, at fourteen years of age witnessed eighteen apparitions of Our Blessed Lady at Lourdes, from February 11, 1858 to July 16th of the same year. She was instructed to make known the healing powers which the Blessed Virgin, by Her presence, would give to the miraculous spring of Lourdes. A worker who had lost an eye in an explosion recovered his sight when he washed his face in this water; a dying child was plunged into the small basin which had formed around the spring, and the next day began to walk. The police attempted to stop the crowds from going to the Grotto for the foretold apparitions, but were unable to do so. On March 25th, the Beautiful Lady identified Herself in response to Bernadette’s request: I am the Immaculate Conception.

Bernadette was accused of having hallucinations, of spells of mental illness, of lying, but her great simplicity eventually made evident her innocence and entire sanity. Through the benevolent understanding and collaboration of the bishop of nearby Tarbes, Bishop Laurence, who later authorized the cult of Our Lady of Lourdes, a chapel and then a beautiful basilica were raised above the grotto of the apparitions, on the banks of the Gave River, now a world-famous pilgrimage site.

In 1866 Saint Bernadette joined the Sisters of Charity at Nevers, taking her perpetual vows in 1878. She died in 1879 at the age of 36, after long and painful sufferings which she bore very willingly, even with joy. When one of the Mothers said to her: We will pray that God may relieve your pain, she answered, No! Don’t pray for relief for me, only for patience. The last words she wrote in her little spiritual notebook were: The more I am crucified, the more I rejoice. She was beatified by Pope Pius XI in 1925, canonized by him in 1933.

Lives of the Saints for Every Day of the Year, edited by Rev. Hugo Hoever, S.O. Cist., Ph.D. (Catholic Book Publishing Co.: New York, 1951-1955).