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

By Bernard St. John



Old photo of Lourdes grotto with statue of Our Lady and pilgrims. Introductory Remarks:

Here we continue with the fourth 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 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:

M. Estrade was at the Grotto the following morning, Sunday, February 28th, and so great was the affluence that he had to take his place on the ledge of a rock. When Bernadette arrived, upwards of two thousand persons were already there.

At this Apparition, which was the twelfth, there was no sign for the outside world, no message for the Christian people at large. Those eager for a sign of the supernatural had to content themselves with what they saw on Bernadette’s face.

Meanwhile, the child, kneeling and looking up, reflected in her person a beauty and serenity not of earth.

M. Estrade looking down from his position had a full view of the marvelous scene, and he describes it in his book. He saw rough men and cultured men a prey to strong emotion. He saw a man of letters who had long forgotten how to pray trying to pray.

And it was the sight of the little peasant girl in their midst kneeling and seeming, for the moment, an angel in human form, that was thus drawing all near to God.

Later on that same Sunday, a band of Lourdes quarrymen dug a miniature channel down the slope for the spring – which Bernadette had opened up on the previous Thursday.

They also dug a hole at the bottom for the water to run into, and it was in this rudimentary piscina, three or four feet in length, that some of the earliest of the Lourdes cures were effected.

Saint Bernadette in early 1860s.

The following day a priest, the first that had been seen there, was among the throng at the Grotto during the Apparition.

He was a stranger to Lourdes, and had to leave almost at once, but what he saw that morning was to him a vision of Heaven, as he said at the end of his life.

The following day, Tuesday, March 2nd, Bernadette, in the course of the fourteenth Apparition, was the recipient of a message which she felt obliged to transmit to the Curé of Lourdes.

It was to the following effect: – “I wish people to come here in procession.” (Je veux qu’ on vienne ici en procession.)

Accordingly, that same day, she went to Abbé Peyramale accompanied by one of her aunts.

“Well, what have you fresh to tell me?” asked the priest, when the three were together in the reception room. “Has the ‘Lady’ spoken ? “

“Yes, Monsieur le Curé” said Bernadette “she has told me to tell you again that she wishes to have a chapel at Massabiello.

Besides that she said: I wish people to come here in procession.”

The man of God put on a sterner look. “Your story,” he said, “but needed this to make it complete.

Either you are telling me lies, or the “Lady” you talk of is but the parody of Her whom she pretends to be.”

After continuing in a manner calculated to frighten all tendency to imposture out of Bernadette, had there been any in her, Abbé Peyramale continued:

“It is time for me to get out of the imbroglio in which you and this ‘Lady’ of yours are trying to entangle me.

Tell the Lady from me that with the Curé of Lourdes people must speak plainly. What are her credentials for the honours she asks?

I am going to suggest a way by which she might gain credence for her message.

You say that she appears at the Grotto with a wild rosebush beneath her feet.

Ask her from me to make this rosebush put forth blossoms one of these days in presence of the assembled crowd.

When you come and tell me that this has been done then I will believe. Moreover, I will go myself to Massabiello with you.”

The aunt and niece smiled at the idea of the thorn then leafless blossoming in March, and as the Curé had nothing more to say to them, they curtsied respectfully and left.

We are on Thursday, March 4th, the day of the last of the fifteen visits requested of Bernadette by the Apparition.

An immense crowd was expected, and measures had been taken to preserve order.

M. Jacomet, the Police Commissary, and others with him, were no nearer believing in the reality of the Apparitions than they had been; but they were in presence of an already wide-spread popular movement which could not be put down by a single arbitrary act.

The Lourdes population in general were in favour of the manifestations at the Grotto, and the townspeople who flocked there were at least equalled in numbers by those who came from surrounding parts, and even from a distance.

This being so, opposing authorities for the moment could not show their teeth: they could only show their insignia of office in the name of law and order. This they did.

As the fourth day of March dawned, the roads leading from Pau and Bagneres were dark with people pouring into Lourdes.

In the town all was astir; people were about and busy; soldiers lined the way through which Bernadette had to pass.

It had even been thought necessary to bring from a distance brigades of mounted policemen in order to strengthen the local police force.

When little Bernadette left her poor home in the early grey of the morning, two gendarmes, with flashing swords, walked before her, thus clearing a way for her through the crowd.

Although all eyes were upon her, she walked simply and unconcernedly, as if going to her parish church. On drawing near the Grotto she saw a little blind girl, about her own age, sitting down and weeping.

She was seen to go up to her and kiss her. Probably she was the only one present that morning that did not notice the sight presented by the rock and vale of Massabiello.

The meadow-land facing the rock and on the other side of the Gave was dark with spectators. So was the rock itself.

Clusters of human beings were on the trees by the river’s brink to the extent of making the branches sway. Even hillocks at a little distance were for the moment peopled by human groups.

This is saying nothing of the dense mass of people in front of the Grotto and surrounding the spot where Bernadette was in the habit of kneeling.

A vast murmur of human voices, resembling the roar of the ocean at a distance, rose from the multitude. It ceased as the voyante came in sight.

When the child had knelt down at her usual place, heads were uncovered, religious silence prevailed, and all present went on their knees.

From the change in her attitude and from the joy depicted on her countenance, it was easy for spectators to see when, for her, the niche in the rock had become illumined.

There was a vague hope in the crowd that the Apparition would at length give forth some elucidating message would, in fact, tell who the celestial visitant at the Grotto for the previous fortnight had been.

For though no one doubted that this visitant was the Virgin whom Christian generations have called blessed, yet no specific word to this effect had been uttered.

The people saw the expression of Bernadette’s face change to one of sorrow, and they saw that she was shedding tears; they feared that she was listening to farewell words.

Afterwards, they saw this expression give place to one of joy; but there was no message for them that day no words for the Christian world at large.

At the end of an hour’s ecstatic contemplation, Bernadette rose from her knees.

When questioned, she said that the Apparition had smiled as usual on leaving her, but had not said that she would not come again.

There was something like a vague feeling of disappointment in the crowd.

Many had believed that on this, the last of the fifteen days specified by the Apparition, there would have been some explanatory words; some had even dared to hope that the wild rosebush would blossom, according to the request of the Curé of Lourdes.

There was a prevailing impression, however, as the crowd dispersed, that this was not the last of the Apparitions, and that something more explicit remained to be said.

During the following days, people flocked to Massabiello as already a devotional site, and the Grotto began to wear the aspect of a chapel.

Meanwhile, enemies of the supernatural were not resting on their oars. Voice and pen were being employed in decrying the Lourdes phenomena …

Next: The Story of Saint Bernadette and Lourdes – Part V: The Miracles of Cures and Healing Begin …

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