The Story of St. Bernadette and Lourdes—Pt 2: The Spring of Miracles is Discovered

St. Bernadette-Lourdes
St. Bernadette before the Grotto of Massabielle at Lourdes

Introductory Remarks

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

This masterful, well-researched account  is serialised at this site in ten parts, which you can easily navigate by clicking on this table of contents:

As we said in the first part, Saint Bernadette’s story is so well known that there would seem little need for the kind of explanatory material we have been adding to our other series on Marian Apparitions (such as this one concerning La Salette).

Moreover, we feel that Bernard St John’s exposition is as remarkably effective and lucid, as it is well-established. The author has clearly drawn on the accounts of people still living at the time he wrote his book. He has also quoted Saint Bernadette’s own account – RB.

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From Bernard St John:

It was on the following morning, in the course of the ninth Apparition, that the miraculous spring was opened up.

Among the various accounts of this episode, we prefer that of M. Estrade as being that of an eye-witness.

This gentleman was near enough to notice what he calls Bernadette’s angelic attitude as she knelt at her usual place communing with the Apparition. The rosary beads were gliding through her ringers.

After a little while she stood up, and seemed for a moment in doubt as to what to do. Now she turned as if to go down towards the Gave.

Then, stopping short, she turned back as if hearing herself called.

She looked straight in the direction of the oval opening in the rock, and seemed to be listening to words coming to her from thence.

Then, with her eyes fixed in the same direction, she seemed, by a movement of her head, to indicate that she understood.

This time, instead of going down towards the Gave, she went up towards the Grotto, keeping to the left.

When near the top of the ascent, she stopped and again seemed in doubt. Then looking as if for guidance in the direction of the spot in the rock whence came to her her oracles, she stooped down and began digging a hole in the ground with her fingers.

Until then all had been dry around. Water came.

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It was very little at first, and muddy as it mixed with the earth. Bernadette drank of it, washed her face with it, and swallowed a bit of grass or herb growing near.

The crowd, accustomed as they were to what was ecstatic and heavenly in Bernadette’s action, were at a loss how to interpret her present movements. Some thought her mad.

With a face besmirched with the muddy water, but, as M. Estrade says, looking happier than ever, and with an exquisite smile about her lips, she went back to her usual place.

When her face had been wiped clean by some bystander, she resumed her former attitude of prayer, and again entered into celestial communication with the being who had just guided her childish hand in opening up a fresh source of mercy to mankind.

When all was over Bernadette was questioned as usual.

The Immaculate Conception

Then came forth the simple explanation, giving to acts that had been taken for madness their true force and character.

“Why,” asked one, “did you make a hole in the ground with your lingers? and why did you drink dirty water?”

Replying simply and straightforwardly as always, she said:

“While I was praying, the Lady told me to go and drink and wash myself at the spring (fontaine). I did not know where the spring was, and as I thought it did not matter (que cela ne faisait rien) I began going towards the Gave.

The Lady called me back and made a sign to me with her finger to go in front of the Grotto to the left.

I did as she told me, but I saw no water. Not knowing where to find any, I began making a hole in the ground with my fingers, and some came.”

“And you ate some grass. Why did you do so?” asked her interlocutor.

“The Lady made me understand that I was to do so,” was the reply.

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It will be seen how exactly what Bernadette said corresponded with what she had done.

A few persons who remained at the Grotto noticed that water continued to trickle from the little hole made by Bernadette, and that though the drops were drunk in by the earth as fast as they came, yet they were forming a line of moisture running towards the Gave.

Later on in the day, other people were there who knew nothing of what had taken place in the morning. They, too, noticed a newly-born spring which, by this time, formed a miniature rill.

By the following morning the rill had increased in volume. People saw it and believed.

Even those who the day before had cried out that Bernadette was mad, were ready to exclaim, “The finger of God is here!”

But no one was near supposing that Bernadette’s little fingers had opened up a modern Bethsaida in which countless numbers were to wash and be healed.

This spring born but of yesterday, and already flowing as if it had been doing the same for centuries, was at once regarded as miraculous in its origin. It retained, for at least twenty years, this reputation among believers in the supernatural character of the Lourdes phenomena.

But when men of science, including Abbé Richard, the well-known hydrologist, had well studied the subject, the conclusion come to was that the spring in question had existed in a latent state at the Grotto of Massabiello previous to the Apparition, and that heaven’s visible action in the matter had been only in the manner of opening it up.

So when the following morning the people found running water where the day before had been dry ground, their faith and religious enthusiasm became intensified.

Bernadette, on arriving on the scene at an early hour, but with already a vast crowd assembled there before her, went straight to the spot where, the previous day, she had dug with her fingers. When there she evinced no surprise at what she saw.

Kneeling down, she drank of, and washed her face in, the water that twenty-four hours before had gently welled forth at her unconscious bidding.

She then went to her usual place, knelt down, took out her rosary and began looking up at the opening in the rock. Her face and attitude soon told that she was in presence of the Apparition.

Presently she was seen to go up on her knees the ascent before her, kissing the ground as she went.

The crowd learnt afterwards that in this she was obeying an order she had just received.

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The voice from the rock had said to her: “You must kiss the ground for sinners.” (Il faut baiser la terre pour les pecheurs.)

She not only obeyed, but shed tears the while.

When at the top of the slope and just beneath the wild rosebush, she prostrated herself again, giving to the act the most perfect expression of humility and self-abasement possible.

Then she rose, and turning to the people made a sign to them with her hand to do as she had done. The multitude obeyed, every knee bending, and the lips of each being brought in contact with the sod.

End of Part Two—To Navigate this Series

(Later parts will feature the miraculous cures, which began to happen from the waters at Lourdes.)

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