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The alleged apparitions of Our Lady of Lourdes began on 11 February 1858, when Bernadette Soubirous, a 14-year old peasant girl from Lourdes admitted, when questioned by her mother, that she had seen a "lady" in the cave of Massabielle, about a mile from the town, while she was gathering firewood with her sister and a friend.[1] Similar appearances of the "lady" took place on seventeen further occasions that year.

Catholics consider Bernadette Soubirous a saint, and many Catholics believe her visions to have been of the Virgin Mary. The first appearance of the "Lady" reported by Bernadette was on 11 February. The others were on February 14, 18-21, 23-25, 27, 28, March 1-4, 25, April 7, and July 16. 

The 1st appearance (11 February)

"The first time I went to the Grotto was Thursday, February 11, 1858. I went to gather firewood with two other little girls (Toinette, her sister, and their school friend Jeanne Abadie). When we got to the mill (of Savy), I asked the other two if they would like to see where the water of the mill joins the Gave. They said 'Yes.' From there we followed the canal. When we arrived there (at the foot of the rock of Massabielle) we found ourselves before a grotto. As they could go no further, my two companions prepared to cross the water lying before their path; so I found myself alone on the other side. They crossed the water; they started to cry. I asked them why and they told me that the water was cold. I begged them to help me throw a few rocks into the water so that I could cross without taking my stockings off. They replied that I could do as they had done. Then I went a bit further to see if I could cross without taking my stockings off, but without success. "I came back towards the grotto and started taking off my stockings. I had hardly taken off the first stocking when I heard a sound like a gust of wind. Then I turned my head towards the meadow. I saw the trees quite still: I went on taking off my stockings. I heard the same sound again. As I raised my head to look at the grotto, I saw a lady dressed in white, wearing a white dress, a blue girdle and a yellow rose on each foot, the same color as the chain of her rosary; the beads of the rosary were white.

"The Lady made a sign for me to approach; but I was seized with fear, and I did not dare, thinking that I was faced with an illusion. I rubbed my eyes, but in vain. I looked again, and I could still see the same Lady. Then I put my hand into my pocket, and took my rosary. I wanted to make the sign of the cross, but in vain; I could not raise my hand to my forehead, it kept on dropping. Then a violent impression took hold of me more strongly, but I did not go.

"The Lady took the rosary that she held in her hands and she made the sign of the cross. Then I commenced not to be afraid. I took my rosary again; I was able to make the sign of the cross; from that moment I felt perfectly undisturbed in mind. I knelt down and said my rosary, seeing this Lady always before my eyes. The Vision slipped the beads of her rosary between her fingers, but she did not move her lips. When I had said my rosary the Lady made a sign for me to approach, but I did not dare. I stayed in the same place. Then, all of a sudden, she disappeared. I started to remove the other stocking to cross the shallow water near the grotto so as to join my companions. And we went away. As we returned, I asked my companions if they had seen anything. 'No,' they replied. 'And what about you? Did you see anything?' 'Oh, no, if you have seen nothing, neither have I.'

"I thought I had been mistaken. But as we went, all the way, they kept asking me what I had seen. I did not want to tell them. Seeing that they kept on asking I decided to tell them, on condition that they would tell nobody. They promised not to tell. They said that I must never go there again, nor would they, thinking that it was someone who would harm us. I said no. As soon as they arrived home they hastened to say that I had seen a Lady dressed in white. That was the first time."

On realising that she alone had seen the apparition, and not her companions, she asked her sister Toinette not to tell anyone what had happened. Toinette, however, was unable to keep silent, and told their mother, Louise Soubirous. Both girls received a beating, and Bernadette was forbidden by her mother from returning to the Grotto again. A few days passed and Bernadette asked for permission to go again with her siblings and the permission was granted.

The 2nd appearance (14 February)

"The second time was the following Sunday. I went back because I felt myself interiorly impelled. My mother had forbidden me to go. After High Mass, the two other girls and myself went to ask my mother again. She did not want to let us go, she said that she was afraid that I should fall in the water; she was afraid that I would not be back for Vespers. I promised that I would. Then she gave me permission to go.

"I went to the Parish Church to get a little bottle of holy water, to throw over the Vision, if I were to see her at the grotto. When we arrived, we all took our rosaries and we knelt down to say them. I had hardly finished the first decade when I saw the same Lady. Then I started to throw holy water in her direction, and at the same time I said that if she came from God she was to stay, but if not, she must go. She started to smile, and bowed; and the more I sprinkled her with holy water, the more she smiled and bowed her head and the more I saw her make signs. Then I was seized with fright and I hurried to sprinkle her with holy water until the bottle was empty. Then I went on saying my rosary. When I had finished it she disappeared and we came back to Vespers. This was the second time."

Troubled by the notion that the apparition might represent an evil spirit, Bernadette used the holy water as a test. A further reassuring sign was the apparition's beautiful bare feet: demonic apparitions (even while in human form) were believed to have cloven hooves or animal paws. 

The 3rd appearance (18 February)

The Apparition did not speak until the third appearance, and therefore its identity was a matter of considerable speculation. Pious villagers Jeanne-Marie Milhet and Antionette Peyret, on hearing Bernadette's description of the apparition, considered it may have been a revenant, a soul returning from purgatory. Although not part of Catholic doctrine, the concept of the revenant was deeply routed in Pyrenean superstition; further, revenants frequently manifested to young children. The previous October, the head of the local chapter of the Children of Mary, a woman named Elisa Latapie, had died. According to tradition, revenants rarely spoke, but communicated their messages in writing, and so Milhet and Peyrey furnished Bernadette with paper, a pen and an inkpot to take with her, in case the apparition should make use of them.

"The third time was the following Thursday. The Lady only spoke to me the third time. I went to the grotto with a few matured people, who advised me to take paper and ink, and to ask her, if she had anything to say to me, to have the goodness to put it on paper. I said these words to the Lady. She smiled and said that it was not necessary for her to write what she had to say to me, but asked if I would do her the favour of coming for a fortnight. I told her that I would. She told me also that she did not promise to make me happy in this world, but in the next."

Although she spoke in Occitan, the regional language which Bernadette (whose French was poor) used, the apparition used remarkably formal language in her request: "Would you have the goodness to come here for fifteen days?" (in Occitan: "Boulet aoue ra gracia de bié aci penden quinze dias?"; in French:"Voulez-vous me faire la grâce de venir ici pendant quinze jours?") This significance of this politeness was not lost on the observers. It would be very unusual for anyone to adopt this formal form of address when speaking to a penniless, working-class peasant girl such as Bernadette. 

The 4th appearance (19 February)

Armed with a lighted candle for protection, Bernadette came to the grotto. This originated the custom of carrying lighted candles to the grotto. Eight people were present including Bernadette's mother and two of her aunts, one of whom, Aunt Bernarde, was her godmother and the most influential member of her mother's family.[8] Bernadette reported that the lady asked her to leave her candle there. She said "It belongs to my aunt, I'll have to ask her; but if she agrees, I will."

The 5th appearance (20 February)

Thirty people were present. Bernadette reported later that the lady had taught her a prayer, which she said every day of her life, but never wrote down or repeated to anyone. By this time, the news was spreading to other towns, and many people assumed that Bernadette's lady was the Virgin Mary, although Bernadette herself seemed content not to try to establish her identity. 

The 6th appearance (21 February)

Over 100 people were present, and Bernadette was afterwards interrogated by Dominique Jacomet, the Police Commissioner. Her father, François Soubirous, eventually assured the commissioner that the affair would cease. 

The 7th appearance (23 February)

About 150 people were present. Jean-Baptiste Estrade (a tax inspector), Duffo (a court official), and the officers from the garrison were present. Bernadette said later that the lady had told her a secret, which was for her alone, and was never revealed to anyone. 

The 8th appearance (24 February)

The message of the "lady" was "Penance! Penance! Penance! Pray to God for sinners. Kiss the ground as an act of penance for sinners!" About 250 people were present. 

The 9th appearance (25 February)

"(The Lady) told me that I should go and drink at the fountain and wash myself. Seeing no fountain I went to drink at the Gave. She said it was not there; she pointed with her finger that I was to go in under the rock. I went, and I found a puddle of water which was more like mud, and the quantity was so small that I could hardly gather a little in the hollow of my hand. Nevertheless I obeyed, and started scratching the ground; after doing that I was able to take some. The water was so dirty that three times I threw it away. The fourth time I was able to drink it. She made me eat grass growing in the same place where I had drunk; once only; I do not know why. Then the Vision disappeared and I went home.". Bernadette was interrogated again. 

The 10th appearance (27 February)

About 800 people were present. 

The 11th appearance (28 February)

Over one thousand people were present. Bernadette was questioned by Judge Ribes afterwards. 

The 12th appearance (1 March)

There were almost fifteen hundred people present. Catherine Latapie reported that she bathed her paralyzed arm in the spring, and instantaneously regained full movement. This was the first of the scientifically unattributable events to take place. 

The 13th appearance (2 March)

The "lady" commanded Bernadette: "Go, tell the priests to come here in procession and to build a chapel here." [Another source says: "Go and tell the priest to build a chapel here and to have people come in procession."] Accompanied by her two aunts, Bernadette went to ask Fr. Peyramale, who called Bernadette a liar and forbade her to go to the grotto, after which she was dismissed. Bernadette was determined, and came again with one of the priest's friends to ask again. After Bernadette was thoroughly questioned before the parish clergy and dismissed, the parish priests could not agree on what course to take. Peyramale decided to go to Tarbes to visit the bishop. The bishop determined that Peyramale should remain away from the grotto. 

The 14th appearance (3 March)

Previously, Father Peyramale had told Bernadette that the requests for the procession and chapel could not be fulfilled unless and until the lady's name was known. On this occasion Bernadette asked for the lady's name, but, according to Bernadette's testimony, the lady merely bowed a little and smiled. 

The 15th appearance (4 March)

Over nine thousand people were present. "The third time I went to see M. le Curé, to tell him that a Lady had ordered me to go and say to the priests that they were to have a chapel built there, he looked at me for a moment, and then he said to me in a rather gruff tone, 'Who is this lady?' I answered that I did not know. Then he commissioned me to ask her name and to come and tell him. The next day when I arrived at the grotto I recited my rosary and then asked her, from M. le Curé what her name was, but all she did was to smile. When I got back I went to M. le Curé to tell him that I discharged his commission, and her only response was her smile; then he said she was laughing at me and that I would do well not to go to her again. But, I could not help going." 

The 16th appearance (25 March)

"I went every day for a fortnight, and each day I asked her who she was–and this petition always made her smile. After the fortnight I asked her three times consecutively. She always smiled. At last I tried for the fourth time. She stopped smiling. With her arms down, she raised her eyes to heaven and then, folding her hands over her breast she said, 'I am the Immaculate Conception.' Then I went back to M. le Curé to tell him that she had said she was the Immaculate Conception, and he asked was I absolutely certain. I said yes, and so as not to forget the words, I had repeated them all the way home." 

The 17th appearance (7 April)

Dr. Pierre Romaine Dozous, the town physician, originally watched the apparitions from a skeptical viewpoint. He believed Bernadette, whom he knew well, was in her right mind aside from the apparitions; he planned to write a medical article discussing the idea that one can have illusions or hallucinations without being insane.

He reported: "Bernadette seemed to be even more absorbed than usual in the Appearance upon which her gaze was riveted. I witnessed, as did also every one else there present, the fact which I am about to narrate. She was on her knees saying with fervent devotion the prayers of her Rosary which she held in her left hand while in her right was a large blessed candle, alight. The child was just beginning to make the usual ascent on her knees when suddenly she stopped and, her right hand joining her left, the flame of the big candle passed between the fingers of the latter. Though fanned by a fairly strong breeze, the flame produced no effect upon the skin which it was touching. Astonished at this strange fact, I forbade anyone there to interfere, and taking my watch in my hand, I studied the phenomenon attentively for a quarter of an hour. At the end of this time Bernadette, still in her ecstasy, advanced to the upper part of the Grotto, separating her hands. The flame thus ceased to touch her left hand. Bernadette finished her prayer and the splendour of the transfiguration left her face. She rose and was about to quit the Grotto when I asked her to show me her left hand. I examined it most carefully, but could not find the least trace of burning anywhere upon it. I then asked the person who was holding the candle to light it again and give it to me. I put it several times in succession under Bernadette's left hand but she drew it away quickly, saying 'You are burning me!'. I record this fact just as I have seen it without attempting to explain it. Many persons who were present at the time can confirm what I have said."

On June 8, 1858, the mayor of Lourdes barricaded the grotto and stationed guards to prevent public access. Visitors were fined for kneeling near the grotto or talking about the grotto.

The 18th appearance (16 July)

This was the last. Because the grotto was barricaded by the local government, Bernadette knelt outside the fence by the riverbank..[14] "I thought I was at the Grotto, at the same distance as I was the other times. All I saw was Our Lady ... She was more beautiful than ever."

A second analysis of the water, which had been commissioned by the mayor of Lourdes and conducted by a professor in Toulouse, determined that the water was potable and that it contained the following: oxygen, nitrogen, carbonic acid, carbonates of lime and magnesia, a trace of carbonate of iron, an alkaline carbonate or silicate, chlorides of potassium and sodium, traces of sulphates of potassium and soda, traces of ammonia, and traces of iodine.

The grotto reopened to the public in October of 1858, by order of Emperor Louis Napoleon III.


Bernadette received no further apparitions after the 18th, and did not feel any desire to visit the Grotto afterwards, but the people kept on visiting. Lourdes has since grown to be the greatest Marian shrine of the Roman Catholic Church. 

Prayer to Our Lady of Lourdes

Blessed, Immaculate Virgin, by your
appearance in the Grotto of Lourdes,
many have been cured
of their infirmities,
both spiritual and physical.

Mother of Mercy, Healer of the Sick,
Comforter of the Afflicted,
you know my needs
and my sufferings.
Look upon me with mercy.
I come, therefore, with confidence
in your maternal intercession.
Obtain for me,
from your Divine Son,
O loving Mother, this special
request... (mention need, here)

Our Lady of Lourdes, pray for me. Amen.

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