The Story of St. Bernadette and Lourdes—Pt 9: After the Apparitions

Site of Lourdes' Apparitions
Pilgrims at the Grotto of Lourdes. The Statue is placed where St. Bernadette beheld the Apparition of the Blessed Virgin. Photo courtesy: Schwarzwälder (

CJS.Org Introductory Remarks:

Here we continue with the ninth part of our account taken from Bernard St John’s out-of-print 1904 book, The Blessed Virgin in the Nineteenth Century: Apparitions, Revelations, Graces.

The account is serialised at this site in ten parts, which you can easily navigate by clicking on this table of contents:

We will also note that we think Bernard St John’s text is a fine book indeed, well-written and clearly well-researched, drawing on sources rare in English.

We would like in fact to republish the book ourselves (with some additional commentary).

For now though, in addition to this series on Lourdes, the interested reader can also find extracts from Bernard St John on Our Lady of the Miraculous Medal, as well as La Salette (in a series starting here) and Our Lady of Pontmain (in a series starting here).

Now we will rejoin Bernard St John’s account, as he begins to tell the story of what happened to Saint Bernadette and Lourdes later on, after the Saint had beheld the last Apparition – RB.

Video from Our YouTube Channel—Article Continues Below

From Bernard St John:

St. Bernadette
St. Bernadette, circa early 1860s

We have seen this devotion in the beginning, struggling under the grip of the law, believed in by the people, but practically disowned by the clergy, who, as we know, acted in the matter according to the advice they had received from their bishop.

The Curé of Lourdes, sceptical at first, and soon afterwards a staunch believer, did not change his line of conduct at once.

He, with the priests under him, continued to keep in the background concerning everything in connection with Massabiello.

This abstention on the part of the clergy was, historically speaking, to be one of the best arguments in favour of the Lourdes phenomena.

Unprotected and unaided, with a fierce light beating upon it from without, and a butt to the anti-clerical press throughout the country, the new devotion was, during the first eight months of its history, proving its right to live.

The period of probation over … the Ecclesiastical Commission appointed by the Bishop of Tarbes began its work at once.

It had at its head Dr. Vergez, of the medical faculty of Montpellier, a man already eminent in his profession.

Like Dr. Dozous in the same matter, Dr. Vergez went to the task as an impartial man of science, and like this same Dr. Dozous, he came from it, a firm believer in the supernatural character of the Lourdes phenomena.

Among the numerous cures, regarded as miraculous in connection with the water of the Grotto, which had taken place in that year, 1858, thirty of the most salient were chosen for consideration.

Of these, Dr. Vergez set aside all that left the slightest ground for explanation by natural laws …

When, a few months later, the result of the labours of the Commission was submitted to the Bishop of Tarbes, that prelate, though perfectly satisfied himself, forebore delivering a doctrinal decision on the subject. He waited, thus allowing three years to pass.

At the end of that time, he appointed a second Commission to enquire into the same facts.

The conclusions arrived at were the same as before.

Face to face with these results … Dr. Vergez delivered himself thus:

In glancing at these cures, taken collectively, one is at once struck by the ease and spontaneity with which they spring from their producing cause.

In them we seem to be in presence of an open violation and complete upsetting of theurapeutic methods, of a declared contradiction of scientific precepts and forecasting …

Such phenomena are beyond the comprehension of the human mind.

How, in short, understand in these cases the simplicity of the means used compared with the greatness of the results obtained, the unity of the remedy applied compared with the diversity of the diseases to which it is applied, and the shortness of time required for the action of the curative agent in question, compared with the length of time required for the application of the treatments of art and science?

How, in short, reconcile the often chronic nature of these diseases with the often instantaneous character of their cure?

Here we have certainly to deal with a contingent force superior to the forces of nature, and consequently extraneous to the water which this force makes use of …

At length, the Bishop of Tarbes spoke. His doctrinal decision came forth: it was published in January, 1862 …

In the first article of this important document we read as follows:

“We judge that the Immaculate Mary, Mother of God, really appeared to Bernadette Soubirous on February 18th, 1858, and on succeeding days to the number of eighteen times in the Grotto of Massabiello, close to the town of Lourdes.”

In the second article we read to the following effect:

“In order to act in conformity with the wish expressed more than once by the Blessed Virgin in the course of the Apparitions, we propose to erect a chapel on the site of the Grotto …

In the meantime, St. Bernadette had been growing up. She was now near nineteen years of age.

The events that had so strongly influenced her life had left her outwardly much as others of her age and class. She remained simple and modest, with a face sweet and winning, and with ailing health as when a child.

It was this, her state of health, that had led the Sisters of Charity of Nevers, with whom she had made her first communion, to offer her a home in their establishment.

Her parents in their poverty lived near. Though this poverty was at times extreme, neither they nor their favoured child could ever be induced to accept the slightest gratuity from any of the countless persons with whom St. Bernadette came constantly in contact.

And this abnegation in the face of exceptionally necessitous circumstances continued unto the end.

We have said that outwardly St. Bernadette was much as others of her age; in reality, she was far from being like others.

Appearing to have but ordinary intelligence in ordinary matters, when called on to speak on the subject of the Apparitions she became a changed being.

Then her manner of expressing herself and her replies were singularly apt and lucid.

Though for eight years almost daily the object of cross-questioning and examination on the part of the outside world, she was never known to contradict herself or show the slightest discrepancy in her statements.

And she was as much mistress of the situation in dealing with consummate theologians as with ordinary persons.

She may even he said to have more than once, by her replies, put a bishop in a corner. It was this, so to speak, dual personality of hers that added considerably to the interest she inspired.

We may remember, by the way, that a similar double personality under similar circumstances had distinguished the two children of La Salette.

Doctors had had their eyes on St. Bernadette from the beginning, and those who had closely studied her, as Doctors Dozous and Vergez had done, had pronounced her mind to be free from the slightest morbid taint.

By the adverse party she had been attacked on the score of hallucination and hypnotism, and was to be so until long after she was in her grave.

But charges under this head had been conclusively rolled back from the onset, and were to be rolled back later on in the name of science by such fore most apologists of the Lourdes cause as Dr. Boissarie and Dr. de Saint Macloud.

If hallucination, as scientifically defined, can be but the remembrance of something perceived by the senses, Bernadette, to use the words of the Bishop of Tarbes in his pastoral letter pronouncing on the authenticity of the Apparitions, “saw what she had never seen before, and listened to that which she had never heard before.”

If hypnotism means a nervous sleep under certain conditions, and the substitution of another’s will in the place of that of the person hypnotised, Bernadette was far from answering to this definition.

Sleep of no kind whatever had part in her experiences at the Grotto.

During each of her ecstasies, while beholders saw a beauty not of earth reflected on her countenance, she remained perfect mistress of her senses and actions, and conscious, moreover, of what was going on around.

No power of “suggestionism” was infusing into her mind that ideal type of beauty that she was gazing on, which, at each of the eighteen Apparitions, was distinct, clearly-cut, and the same, and of which creative genius in the past had given no prototype.

Contradictors should ask whence this vision came, and with it the Lourdes message so full of meaning and big with consequences for the Christian world. Not from a disordered brain.

In taking this wide glance at St. Bernadette from a scientific point of view, we are losing sight of her at about nineteen years of age and having her home with the Sisters of Charity of Nevers.

Up to this time she seems to have shewn no sign of a religious vocation. We are now about to have the first indication of what her ideas were in this direction.

St. Bernadette chooses Nevers

About this time Mgr. Forçade, Bishop of Nevers, went to Lourdes. One of the first things he did there was to call on the Sisters of Nevers, with the object of seeing Bernadette.

His first view of the young girl was as she sat in a kitchen peeling carrots. Later on in the same day, at his own request, he was confronted with her in the parlour.

He then questioned her concerning the Apparitions, and was astonished at the ease and lucidity of her replies.

Afterwards he questioned her as to her future. The conversation under this head began as follows:

“And now, dear child, tell me what you think of doing with yourself.”

“Nothing, Monseigneur” was the reply, after a moment’s hesitation.

“Why, everybody in this world must do some thing.”

“I am with the Sisters,” was the timid rejoinder.

“I know you are, but you cannot remain with them always.”

“Why not, Monseigneur I should like to do so?”

“It is easy to talk like that, but it would be less easy to carry what you say into effect. It is not because you have been received here for a time, out of charity, that you can expect to remain here always.”

St. Bernadette, failing to see what there was to prevent her from remaining indefinitely where she was, the bishop continued: “In order to be admitted into a community of nuns, it is necessary to be a nun, and you are not one.”

“It is true” he added, “the Sisters of Nevers are allowed to have servants when they need them, but you are not even a servant here. You are, in truth, nothing, as you said just now.”

Here St. Bernadette remained thoughtful and silent.

The prelate continued: “You are no longer a child, and perhaps you would like to marry and settle in life.”

“Oh, no, indeed,” was the quick reply.

“Then why do you not become a nun? Have you never thought of doing so?”

“It is impossible!” said St. Bernadette. “You know, Monseigneur, that I am poor and that I shall never have the money necessary for that.”

“That obstacle, dear child, is one that might be easily got over.”

“When,” continued Mgr. Forçade, “we come across a girl without money but having a real vocation, we do not hesitate to receive her without a dower.”

“But,” St. Bernadette ventured to say, “girls thus received are clever and educated, and that makes up for their having no money.

As for me, not only have I no money, but also I am good for nothing.”

“You underrate your abilities,” said the bishop; “I saw with my own eyes this morning that you are good for something.”

“For what, Monseigneur?”

“For scraping carrots!”

St. Bernadette laughed. “That is not difficult,”she said.

“No matter; people are needed who can scrape carrots and who are willing to scrape them.”

After listening to further arguments tending to shew that menial offices are required in convents, she answered:

“Since that is so, Monseigneur, I will think over what you say; but at present my mind is not made up.”

Mgr. Forçade ended by letting St. Bernadette know that, if in the future she should wish to embrace the religious life as a Sister of Chanty of Nevers, she had only to write to him.

St. Bernadette said nothing of the subject of the conversation that had taken place between her and the Bishop; but, at the end of a year, she sought the Superioress of the community, and informed her that she should like to enter the congregation of the Sisters of Charity of Nevers.

Mgr. Forçade was communicated with, and his reply was that the convent of St. Gildard, the mother-house of the congregation, was open to receive Bernadette as a novice.

St. Bernadette fell ill again and again, and was thus unable to enter upon the religious life until three years later.

It was in the summer of 1866 that she left Lourdes for ever, to become a spouse of Christ under the nun’s veil.

The day before her departure she went to take a last look at the Grotto of Massabiello.

She was accompanied thither by two or three of the nuns.

On reaching the spot she fell on the ground and wept. She kissed the ground, murmuring words of tenderness and sorrow.

Those with her, moved by her poignant grief, tried more than once to urge her away.

Each time she begged to be allowed to remain a little longer.

At length, gentle force was used and she was led from the scene.

Obeying, but turning back to take a last look of the rock she was never to see again, she seemed suddenly to put all weakness on one side. She at once became calm and resigned.

On the way home, one of the nuns expostulating with her on her too great sorrow, said:

“You know the Blessed Virgin will hear you wherever you are.”

“Yes,” said St. Bernadette; “but the Grotto was my Heaven.”

The following morning she left Lourdes for the convent of St. Gildard.

End of Part Nine—To Navigate this Series:

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  1. […] Part IX: After the Apparitions […]