The Story of St. Bernadette and Lourdes – Part III: “Tell the Priests that a Chapel Must be Built …”

By Bernard St. John


Lourdes basilica

The “chapel” built at Lourdes. Photo By LeZibou (Own work) [GFDL ( or CC-BY-SA-3.0-2.5-2.0-1.0 ( , via Wikimedia Commons” Introductory Remarks:

Here we continue with the third 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 book 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, St. 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).

As we said in the first part, St. 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).

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 many sources. We hope in fact to republish the book ourselves (with some additional commentary).

In the meantime, 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)

We would also like to point the reader to a very, very fine modern book on Marian Apparitions by Donal Foley. This is a most important volume for us and thus we have reviewed it in great depth here – RB.

From Bernard St. John:


The priest of Lourdes, Peyramale

At the Apparition of the following morning, Bernadette, on her knees, with a countenance illumined and with the crowd around her as usual, listened to the following words: “Go and tell the priests that a chapel must be built here.” (Allez dire aux pretres qu’il faut batir une chapelle ici.)

When the radiant figure in the rock had departed, and the niche had become dark once more to Bernadette, the little girl arose, as it seemed, some what pensive. She was thinking of the task before her, which was no other than that of going to see M. Peyramale, the Curé of Lourdes.

The words, “Go and tell the priests that a chapel must be built here,” rang in her ears.

It here becomes necessary to allude to the action of the Lourdes clergy with respect to the Apparitions. That action had hitherto been one of extreme caution. As yet not a priest had been seen at the Grotto of Massabiello.

Why this abstention? may be asked. It was dictated by the wisdom and caution of the head priest, Abbé Peyramale, who from the first had given the clergy under him orders to observe a strictly neutral attitude concerning the manifestations at the Grotto.

While admitting the possibility of the truth of the Apparitions, personally he was more inclined to doubt than to believe.

In all, his wise policy was to wait, and to prevent the clergy from being in any way mixed up with phenomena that were considerably agitating the people of Lourdes. In this attitude he was supported by his bishop, Mgr. Laurence, occupant of the See of Tarbes.

It is necessary that Abbé Peyramale’s character should not be misunderstood at the outset.

A little over fifty years of age, he was a model parish priest, with a father’s heart for his parishioners, but he was practical-minded and thoroughly on his guard against anything like false mysticism.

We now come to Bernadette’s first interview with him.

She left the Grotto on the morning of the last Apparition intent only on one thought, that of putting into execution the order she had just received.

Personally she was unknown to the head pastor, and trembled at the bare thought of seeing him.

When she made her appearance on his premises for the first time, Abbé Peyramale was in his garden reading his Breviary. He looked up and she advanced timidly towards him.

While she was frail and diminutive, he was tall and massive. As she drew nearer to him he stopped reading and looked at her. He then asked her who she was and what she wanted.

“I am Bernadette Soubirous,” was the reply.

“Oh, it is you, is it?” said the priest, feigning severity. “Strange stories are being told of you, my girl. Follow me.” With this he led the way into the house.

“Now, tell me what it is you want,” he said, when they were in the room in which he generally received his visitors.

Bernadette, a little confused, replied: “The Lady at the Grotto told me to tell the priests that she wished to have a chapel there. That is why I have come.”

“Who is this ‘Lady’ at the Grotto that you talk about?” asked the priest, pretending to be in ignorance.

“She is a beautiful lady,” said Bernadette, “whom I see in the rock of Massabiello.”

“But who is she?” persisted the priest. “Is she a person of Lourdes? Do you know her?”

“No, she is not of Lourdes; nor do I know her” was the reply.

“And you undertake to come on errands of this kind for a person whom you do not know!” exclaimed the Curé.

Monsieur le Curé” said the child timidly, “the person who sends me to you is not like other persons.”

“What do you mean?”

“I mean,” said Bernadette, “that she is beautiful as I think people must be in Heaven.”

The Curé shrugged his shoulders. The movement was to hide something like emotion that he was beginning to feel.

“And you have never asked this person her name?” he continued.

“Oh, yes, I have.” said Bernadette; “and each time she bends her head towards me and smiles, but does not answer.”

“Is she dumb?” asked the priest.

“No, or else she could not talk to me every day as she does; she could not have told me to come to you.”

“Tell me how you first came to make her acquaintance,” said Abbé Peyramale.

Then, in a sweet, persuasive voice, Bernadette described the first Apparition.

When she had finished, the priest said: “Go on and tell me what took place the following days.”

He was then put in possession of the facts which the reader knows, and probably of some others besides.

By this time both were sitting down, the priest looking fixedly at the little figure before him, and weighing what she said.

He fathomed the pure, simple nature he had to deal with, and felt that Bernadette could not lie.

Moreover, he understood that, considering her complete deficiency of all mental culture, it would have been impossible for her to speak as she had just done, and treat of the subjects she had just treated of, unless supernaturally helped.

It will be seen that he was already more than half won to the cause of the Apparitions.

But he was not ready to admit this, so resuming his former brusque manner, and with perhaps some thing of his former suspicion coming back, he said: “And you mean to say that this Lady whom you see has told you to go and tell the priests that she wishes to have a chapel at Massabiello?”

“Yes, Monsieur le Curé.

“Do you not see,” he continued, that this Lady whom you say appears to you is making you a laughing-stock? What would you have said if any one of our Lourdes ladies had sent you on a similar errand? Would you have listened to her?”

Monsieur le Curé” replied Bernadette, “there is a great difference between the Lourdes ladies and the one I see.”

“Indeed there is,” said the priest. “What! a woman without a name, who comes from no one knows where, and takes up her quarters on a rock, appears to you worthy of attention!

My child, I fear but one thing, and that is that you are the victim of an illusion.”

Bernadette looked down and said nothing. There was silence for a few moments, during which the Curé walked briskly about.

Then, coming and standing before Bernadette, he said: “Go and tell the Lady that the Curé of Lourdes is not in the habit of doing business with people whom he does not know, and that the first thing for her to do is to say who she is.

If she has a right to the chapel she asks for she will understand what I mean. If she does not understand it, tell her that she need not trouble herself to send further messages to me.”

Bernadette looked at Abbé Peyramale with purity and serenity in her glance. Then she dropped him a little peasant’s curtsey and went away.

Next: The Story of Saint Bernadette and Lourdes – Part IV: “I Wish People to Come Here in Procession.”

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