On the morning of February 11th, 1858, Bernadette Soubirous, her sister, and a neighbor ventured out into the mountainous landscape of Lourdes to gather firewood. Two powerful gusts of wind interrupted Bernadette as she shed her shoes and stockings to cross the River Gave de Pau. Noting the unusual stillness of the trees, Bernadette looked around the Massabielle Grotto across the bank for answers.
In the Grotto’s high, rounded alcove stood a Lady about Bernadette’s age draped in white and blue, soft yellow roses adorning her feet. Light poured out of the hollowed rock behind her, and she held a rosary. Bernadette tried to make the Sign of the Cross, prepared to ward off the vision, but the Lady simply smiled and invited her to pray the Rosary. The girl obliged and was determined to keep this apparition – and the ones which followed – a secret.
But word of Bernadette’s strange behavior and a miraculous apparition swept through Lourdes and beyond. Against her parents’ wishes and under town scrutiny, Bernadette faithfully fulfilled the Blessed Mother’s request that she return to the Grotto for the following weeks. The young girl relayed Mary’s words, her call for prayer and penance, and her promise to a joy-filled Bernadette: “I do not promise you happiness in this life, but in the next.”
Believers and skeptics alike watched, unnerved at Bernadette’s ecstatic behavior. On February 25th the young girl elicited shock and dismay as she began to dig in the cold, wet ground of the Massabielle. Amazement quickly flooded the dumbfounded crowd as a small spring of muddy water bubbled up through the dirt.
These waters, which still run to this day, sparked international attention with claims of miraculous healings. The Grotto was forcibly closed to pilgrims, then reopened by Emperor Napoleon III in battles over the site’s legitimacy. Was this truly Our Lady, and were these truly healing waters? Or were these visions and healings an elaborate hoax? The best way to find out was to ask directly. On March 25th, after being prompted for her name by Bernadette several times, Our Lady finally replied, “I am the Immaculate Conception”.
Bernadette relayed this answer in confusion. She had no formal religious education. But the day’s theologians would have had this name fresh in their minds, as the Marian dogma of the Immaculate Conception, Mary’s sinless conception, had been declared four years earlier. This name prompted a Church investigation and, after two years of interviews, visits, and prayer, it was decided that Our Lady really had appeared in Lourdes.
With 69 Church-verified healings, thousands upon thousands of pilgrims pour into the Massabielle each year to pray and be touched by its healing waters. Many bring large candles and leave them at the site as reminders of their intentions and all that the intercession of Our Lady has done for them. The humble town of Lourdes has become an international center for healing, penance, and devotion to Our Lady.
Our Lady is celebrated under many names, from popular apparitions to small-town titles. Each reveal something different about the Blessed Mother to us – and affirms what we already know of her love and intercessory power! Deepen your devotion to Our Lady with Miracles, Mysteries, & Mary, a monthly collection of stories, Church teaching, reflections, and so much more – guaranteed to expand your knowledge of Our Blessed Mother. Sign up today to receive this Marian content, right to your inbox!