Thursday, 25 February 2010

Anniversary of the 9th Apparition - THE SPRING

Thursday 25th of February

Following the impressive gestures of the day before a further fifty people joined the crowd that came to the grotto for many reasons - curiosity, prayer and cautious interest. The number at the grotto on this day was about three hundred. This vision would mark a turning point - though the crowds witnessing the events would not realise the significance of what they were seeing. In fact they would laugh and jeer at Bernadette who continued to follow the Lady's commands undaunted. In her own words:

"(The Lady) told me that I should go and drink at the fountain and wash myself. Seeing no fountain I went to drink at the Gave (the river just a few metres from the grotto). She said it was not there; she pointed with her finger that I was to go in under the rock. I went, and I found a puddle of water which was more like mud, and the quantity was so small that I could hardly gather a little in the hollow of my hand. Nevertheless I obeyed, and started scratching the ground; after doing that I was able to take some. The water was so dirty that three times I threw it away. The fourth time I was able to drink it. She also made me eat the bitter herbs that were found near the spring, and then the vision left and went away."

In front of the crowd that was laughing, gasping and jeering Bernadette retreated from the grotto with her usual dignity. When she overheard the crowd asking "Do you think that she is mad doing things like that?" she replied; "It is for sinners."

Though no one yet knew it, the spring Bernadette had dug was in fact the same one that would become known, in a matter of weeks, as the miraculous spring of Massabielle. It has an entirely separate source to the Gave river which flows just metres from it. When examined by scientists it was found to have no special factors compared with other waters and yet incredible things happen to those who come to bathe in it.

People laughed at the grotto that day but now 30000 gallons of water flow from the spring EACH DAY. It is taken all over the world and remains a symbol of faith and hope. Video of the spring can be seen/ heard at the post VIRTUAL LOURDES

(This is the half way point in the apparitions -18 in total. The next apparition occurs on the 27th of February)

Wednesday, 24 February 2010

Anniversary of the 8th apparition

The crowds had continued to swell and now there was about 250 people surrounding the little grotto and the little visionary. For the first time Bernadette would carry a message to the crowd -one of serious gravity. The message of the "lady" was "Penance! Penance! Penance! Pray to God for sinners. Kiss the ground as an act of penance for sinners!". Bernadette was the first to obey this command - kissing the ground reverently and then raising herself back to a kneeling position. People were impressed with her immense humility and the dignity of the little peasant girl. People described how her whole physique changed when she encountered the Lady. It was almost as though her beauty was reflected in Bernadette's face. I think just looking at Bernadette's eyes a residue of that beauty could be seen for the rest of her life. They seemed to be looking beyond this world. While the events of this day may have moved and impressed the crowd as Bernadette cried out Penance! Penance! Penance! at the close of the vision - kneeling at these words; tomorrow's vision would bring Bernadette ridicule and least until something utterly extraordinary happened.

Tuesday, 23 February 2010

Anniversary of the 7th Apparition

The crowds had now reached 150 people and after a day away from the grotto with no apparition, following her first meeting with Jacomet, Bernadette found herself called to Massabielle again. She continued in the same reverent manner as before - speaking with Aquiro in such deep ecstasy that she could barely be heard- though her lips could be seen moving. She kept her eyes fixed on the niche in ardent prayer. On this day the Lady would reveal a secret for Bernadette alone and she would never share it. The next few messages would be very public and the Lady would address the crowds- even though they could not hear or see her- so perhaps this secret was something Bernadette needed to hear before the explosion of activity and miracles that would create the sanctuary of Lourdes.

Sunday, 21 February 2010

Anniversary of the 6th Apparition

It is lovely that the days match up to the dates this year!

Sunday 21st of February
At the sixth apparition the crowds leapt in number and when the lady appeared early in the morning on this Sunday Bernadette was surrounded by one hundred people. She would later say that when the lady was present she was barely aware of those surrounding her - such was her focus. On this day the crowds were deeply impressed by Bernadette's reverence and ecstasy.

As Bernadette speaks and prays with Aquiro- the lady looks out over the crowd and tells Bernadette 'pray for all sinners.' Bernadette later said that the only time when the lady looked sad was when she talked of sinners- this would be with increasing frequency in the coming visions.

The fact that interest in these visions was growing meant the authorities in Lourdes could no longer avoid confronting what was happening down at the grotto. After this vision the Police Commissioner, Jacomet, had Bernadette summoned in order to question her. This would be the first of many such sessions in which Bernadette would be intimidated and interrogated. In spite of ill health and exhaustion Bernadette would always hold herself with dignity and respond with incredible precision. She never flinched or shied away when summoned but went willingly and politely wherever she was taken. Jacomet was concerned for the reputation of Lourdes and wanted Bernadette to tell what she saw. Bernadette would only speak of "AQUƉRO" ("that thing" in local dialect) and when he tried to muddle her about what she saw she calmly corrected him on the details that would remain unchanged, even on the smallest point, in the thousands of verbal and written accounts she would be forced to give until the time of her death.

Bernadette's father Francois came to collect her on this particular day and, afraid of the consequences of these visions and the trouble they were causing for his family, he was persuaded to assure the commissioner that he would not allow his little daughter to continue to go to the grotto of Massabielle. Francois and his family were at a low ebb and he was burdened by their fall in postion. He was a hard worker and a talented miller and he did not want to cause his children anymore pain. However, he loved his Bernadette more than he loved his reputation and when he saw how broken she was by his request that she should not return to the grotto he relented and let her go. Bernadette had never lied to him and much as it caused him hurt he found himself unable to deny her truth and sincerity.

Saturday, 20 February 2010

Anniversary of the 5th Apparition

5th Apparition
Saturday 20th of February
At the fifth apparition Our Lady spoke with Bernadette and taught her a prayer that was just for her. She would say this prayer every day of her life, but never wrote it down or repeated it to anyone. For the rest of her life people would constantly attempt to make Bernadette divulge this prayer and the secrets Our Lady had told her. Bernadette never gave in but with her immense strength of character and her own brand of feisty Pyreneen wit she would rebuke them for trying in a firm but gentle manner. One frequent response was 'men are powerful on earth but the Holy Virgin is powerful in Heaven'. Whatever was said it was noted by the crowds at the end of this vision Bernadette was overcome with a great sadness.

Word had now begun to spread amongst surrounding villages and this day saw the biggest crowd yet - about thirty people.

Friday, 19 February 2010

4th apparition- the origin of the candles

Friday 19th. February was another short and silent Apparition (about thirty minutes) in which Bernadette and Our Lady continued to pray the Rosary together. The woman with the blue sash and the yellow rose between each foot would only join in with the Our Father and the Glory Be the rest of the time she would follow along on the beads with Bernadette's eyes fixed on her. Sometimes she would smile.
This time Bernadette went to the grotto with six women, one of whom was her Aunt. This was the beginning of the weeks of 1858 in which Bernadette would see Aquiro with the greatest frequency. She never claimed that the person she saw was the Virgin Mary and corrected those who did make any such statement. Bernadette was always very precise about the details of what happened at the grotto of Massabielle.

She came to the Grotto with a lighted blessed candle. This is origin of carrying candles and lighting them in front of the Grotto. I love the the fact that no matter the time of year or the time of day since the lighting of this first candle on the 19th of February the candles of faith have continued to burn at this little grotto. Whenever a doubt flickers across my mind I think of the candles burning beneath and close to the rock where Our Lady stood and I know that there is great faith in the world.

Thursday, 18 February 2010

Third Apparition and Feastday of St Bernadette

It is now the 18th here and this means two things:

1. It is the 152nd anniversary of the third apparition of Our Lady to Bernadette at the grotto. It was also the first apparition at which Our Lady spoke

2. It is Bernadette's official feast day (although interestingly there is disagreement over this because many outside of France celebrate it on the 16th of April- the date of her death) At Lourdes both are recognised - good enough for me! So it will be on my little blog.

1. The third apparition would be the one which would set thecourse of Bernadette's life. Having prayed the Rosary together the two young women were now ready to converse. Mary would make a request of this simple teenage girl from a small village. Bernadette, with a humility and acceptance would accept the Lady's promises with love and trust and return to the grotto knowing that happiness would not be hers in this life if she did - that was the level of her faith in the next life. The account that follows is in Bernadette's own words:

"The third time was the following Thursday. The Lady only spoke to me the third time. I went to the grotto with a few matured people, who advised me to take paper and ink, and to ask her, if she had anything to say to me, to have the goodness to put it on paper. I said these words to the Lady. She smiled and said that it was not necessary for her to write what she had to say to me, but asked if I would do her the favour of coming for a fortnight. I told her that I would. She told me also that she did not promise to make me happy in this world, but in the next."

2. A brief celebration of Bernadette's beautiful but often difficult life - it was made beautiful simply by her choices and by her simplicity. Even now, many years after Bernadette's death I have found the places she touched to have a silent, mysterious serenity to them. Yet they are so unremarkable to look at that you could easily pass them by without even noticing. Simplicity.

The BolyMill - TheBoly Mill was where Bernadette had spent most of her childhood with the exception of a couple of brief periods when she stayed with her Aunt at Bartres. The Mill had come to her father through marriage but a combination of the Industrial Revolution and the fact that the Soubirousfamily were so generous that they often allowed customers to take what they produced on trust meant they lost the mill.
The Cachot
This former prison cell was where theSoubirous' were forced to retreat to after the loss of their Mill. The six Soubirous' lived and prayed in this one small room and it was this ceiling Bernadette slept beneath during the visits. It was also a place of love where, long before the visions the parents and children could be heard reciting the Rosary together.

The Grotto
The grotto - where it all happened and where you can feel it still.

Bernadette saw Our Lady eighteen times in 1858

The Hospice
After the visions Bernadette, suffering a great deal as always with severe asthma which left her unable to breathe, added to by the exhaustion caused by constant harassment from people now filling Lourdes, was taken to the Hospice of the Sisters of Nevers. She was admitted, by her own request, as a destitute- Bernadette wished to remain poor. Even though she remained in Lourdes at this point, being separated from her family saddened her. Bernadette was also subjected to constant visits and scrutiny from visitors to the hospice. She would often weep before being sent out to retell her visions to yet more curious inquisitors. Yet she was always gentle and polite towards them never revealing her pain and frustration.
However, there were some joys here for Bernadette and in the Hospice chapel (left) she finally made her first communion - a moment of true happiness for her. It had been something she longed for.

Bernadette left for Nevers aged 22, she would never see her parents again and it would be
thirteen years before any of her siblings saw her. She knew she could never return to Lourdes and the grotto where she had seen a little of Heaven. She brought with her very little (her bag and umbrella can be seen to the left). Here she would live and suffer as a nun. Her NoviceMistress would cause her much unhappiness and she would gradually find her body deteriorating around her lively, joyful soul.

Death but NOT the end
Bernadette died on April 16th 1879 and was buried in the small chapel of St Joseph- she would not stay in this place however (which can be seen to the left) Having been exhumed three times and found to be intact Bernadette waspermanently placed in the main convent chapel in 1925 where she can be seen today (see below) On this day when she was told she would not be happy in this life there seems to be much evidence that she is now exulting in the next with the same young woman she met at that Grotto in Lourdes.

St Bernadette, you promised you would forget no one; on this, one of your feastdays, please pray for us!
for video of Bernadette's body see:

Monday, 15 February 2010

The Second Apparition

WOOPS! Forgot to post on the second apparition 14th of February

Okay so I meant to post on each of the Lourdes apparitions and seem to have fallen at the second of eighteen hurdles - clearly am a bit rubbish. Anyway should have posted this on Saturday but didn't get time.

The second time Bernadette went back to the grotto was with two friends. Her confessor had advised her to take holy water and she did as she had been instructed by him. Ever obedient, Bernadette had done as her mother told her and steered clear of the grotto even though it caused her great sadness. However, on this Sunday her mother relented and, provided she stayed with her friends, the sickly Bernadette, over whom her mother fretted was allowed to return there.

This was the second silent apparition. Bernadette later wrote her own clear account of it. Bernadette was forced to recount her vision hundreds, even thousands of times and not even the smallest detail ever changed or altered - impressive considering that at the time of the visions she had been struggling to remember the catechism which would mean she could make her first holy communion. The veil to the left is the one that Bernadette wore during the apparitions These were worn by most peasant girls in the basque region in order to keep them warm in the cold Pyreneen winters. Little did anyone know the events of the winter of 1858 would change the quiet town of Lourdes (and the world) forever. Below is Bernadette's account of the apparition whichoccurred on 14th of February (next apparition is the 18th)

"The second time was the following Sunday. I went back because I felt myself interiorly impelled. My mother had forbidden me to go. After High Mass, the two other girls and myself went to ask my mother again. She did not want to let us go, she said that she was afraid that I should fall in the water; she was afraid that I would not be back for Vespers. I promised that I would. Then she gave me permission to go.

I went to the Parish Church to get a little bottle of holy water, to throw over the Vision, if I were to see her at the grotto. When we arrived, we all took our rosaries and we knelt down to say them. I had hardly finished the first decade when I saw the same Lady. Then I started to throw holy water in her direction, and at the same time I said that if she came from God she was to stay, but if not, she must go. She started to smile, and bowed; and the more I sprinkled her with holy water, the more she smiled and bowed her head and the more I saw her make signs. Then I was seized with fright and I hurried to sprinkle her with holy water until the bottle was empty. Then I went on saying my rosary. When I had finished it she disappeared and we came back to Vespers. This was the second time."

Thursday, 11 February 2010

Feastday of Our Lady of Lourdes

God our Father among all creatures You have formed Mary, the perfect creature, the "Immaculate Conception." In Lourdes she proclaimed this name and Bernadette repeated it. The Immaculate Conception; this is a cry of hope: evil, sin, and death are no longer victors.
Mary, precursory sign, dawn of salvation! Mary, you, the innocence and refuge of sinners, we pray to you.

Ave Maria, gratia plena!

Lord Jesus, You gave us Mary as our Mother. She shared Your Passion and Resurrection. In Lourdes she showed herself to Bernadette, saddened by our sins but radiant with Your light. Through her, we entrust to You our joys and our sorrows, our own, those of the sick, and those of all people.
Mary, our sister and our mother, our confidant, and our help, we pray to you ...

Ave Maria, gratia plena!

Holy Spirit, you are the Spirit of love and unity. In Lourdes, through Bernadette, Mary asked for a Chapel, and for people to come in procession. Inspire the Church which Christ is building on Peter's faith: that it may be one. Guide the pilgrimage of the Church: that it may be faithful and daring!
Mary, you are filled with the Holy Spirit, you are the spouse and the servant. You are the model for Christians, and the maternal face of the Church. We pray to you ...

Ave Maria, gratia plena!

For the many graces received, for all the conversions, all the forgiveness, all the healings, for the vocations and promises which you have witnessed or engendered, for the love of serving others, which you have let us experience, Our Lady of Lourdes we thank you!

Benedicta tu in mulieribus!

With all our brothers and sisters of the human race, with all people in need of peace and justice, with young people in search of a way, you who appeared so young to little Bernadette, with all those who are in mourning, who are ill, handicapped, or facing a setback, with those who may have a reason for despair: Our Lady of Lourdes We pray to you!

Ora pro nobis!

Because you are the smile of God, the reflection of the light of Christ, the dwelling place of the Holy Spirit, because you chose Bernadette in her misery, because you are the star of the morning, the gate of Heaven, and the first resurrected creature we praise you, we acclaim you and with you we sing the wonders of God,


Wednesday, 10 February 2010

Looking to the 11th

We all know that tomorrow is the 11th of February and that means its the feast of Our Lady of Lourdes. I first went to Lourdes in 2004 and find that with each year my personal relationship with it changes and grows. Looking back, I honestly think that without Lourdes in my life I would have been rather different. I am not even sure how this is the case but I really believe that it is. I have experienced no physical healing at Lourdes, there are no physical manifestations of my experiences there. However, like millions and millions of others I have been touched by the great power of love that exists there.

On the 11th of February a girl went to collect firewood and in that simple action begins the story which is not always joyful, especially for Bernadette who made great sacrifices in her life. Yet it remains a story of triumph, a grotto, a symbol of hope that stood through two world wars and draws more pilgrims to it now, in this secularised Europe than it ever has before. One can only begin to consider the awe Bernadette must have felt when all of this begun. Two years ago I was able to be at the grotto on the 11th and I was able to look up at the space where 'Aquiro' first appeared. That was a privilege enough for me and at the time I might not have fully realised why, yet because of that privilege I have been able to open a dialogue about Lourdes on this blog and people have emailed me and messaged me from as far afield as Africa. Thank you to all of you who have read along and given me a chance to talk about a beauty which language does no justice to. Lourdes belongs to all of us and the grotto is open to our faith and to our hearts. It is a gift.

For pictures of the 11th of Feb 2008 (150th anniversary) click here
For a post on the first apparition click here
For a sermon from Lourdes on Our Lady (2008) click here

Post Script
Last year I was very privileged in taking some petitions to the grotto for people and I was just wondering- if people reflect back- whether they feel any of those prayers were answered. Not that I am asking people to share publicly or I think that Lourdes is some kind of gumball machine where you put in a prayer and get a prize. I was just thinking it might be a nice time to consider those petitions again.

There are so many ways in which prayers can be answered- our ways are not His ways -and Lourdes is as much about the miracles you can't see, those of the soul, as those you can.

I wish you all a blessed feastday tomorrow and remember your intentions in my own prayers.

Our Lady of Lourdes - pray for us!


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