Visions of a ‘lady’

St Bernadette was born in Lourdes on January 7, 1844 to impoverished parents. She was the first of nine children and suffered from severe asthma as a toddler and for the rest of her life.

On February 11, 1858, when she was 14, Bernadette went with her younger sister and a friend to collect firewood when a beautiful “lady” appeared to her above a rose bush in a grotto called Massabielle. The lady was dressed in blue and white and made the sign of the cross with a rosary. Bernadette fell to her knees and prayed, but her companions said they couldn’t see the lady.

On February 18, Bernadette said the vision asked her to return to the grotto every day for a fortnight. With each visit, Bernadette saw the lady. The vision told her to drink the water from the spring, to wash in it and eat the herbs that grew there as an act of penance. The following day the grotto’s muddy water was clean.

On March 2, Bernadette told her family that the lady had asked her to build a chapel and form a procession. The 16th vision occurred on March 25, when, after Bernadette asked the lady her name on several occasions, the vision finally replied: “I am the Immaculate Conception.”

By 1862, following vigorous interviews, the authorities decided that Bernadette was speaking the truth. Later a church was built on the site of the apparitions. The Sanctuary of Our Lady of Lourdes is now one of the most famous Catholic pilgrimage sites.

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