By Tom Quiner
She put Lourdes on the map.
Bernadette Soubirous died 134 years ago today, which the Catholic Church celebrates as a feast day. You may know her better as St. Bernadette.
Her life and death rocks the faith of atheists to this very day.
A woman appeared to the 14 year old Bernadette in Lourdes, France. The year was 1858. No one else could see the apparition.
The woman told her to keep returning. Some of the towns folks thought the girl was nuts. Her mom wanted her to stop visiting the spot. The police chief threatened to arrest her for lying.
But Bernadette returned.
Crowds started to form with each visit. At one visit, Bernadette appeared to be in a trance. She got down on her knees and began to eat grass, smear mud all over her face, and even stuff some in her mouth, surely a confirmation that the girl was off her rocker.
The vision had told her to do it as an act of penance.
The next day, clear water flowed in that spot. In a century and a half since, 67 people have claimed miraculous healings from the waters in this spring, healings that were scrutinized and vetted eliminating any scientific explanation, leaving only the miraculous.
The lady told Bernadette to tell the priests to build a chapel at the spot, which eventually happened.
Bernadette’s supporters believed that Mary, the Blessed Mother of God, was the lady appearing to this lowly teen aged French girl. But Bernadette, demurred, saying the lady had never identified herself.
A local priest pressed Bernadette to ask the lady who she was. Bernadette asked, but the lady just smiled. Finally, after repeated attempts, the lady said, “I am the Immaculate Conception,” an acknowledgement that it was, in fact, Mary. The “Immaculate Conception” was a term Bernadette would not have known, but it was a new dogma of the Church which stated that Mary was conceived without the taint of original sin.
Bernadette died at the age of 1879 at the age of thirty-five and was declared a saint in 1925.
Her body has been exhumed three times, which revealed that it is not decomposing as a body normally would. She joins a line of “incorruptibles,” saints whose bodies do no decompose after they die. Some of these “incorruptibles” have skins that have oil seep out that smells of roses.
A doctor examined Bernadette’s body 49 years after her death and described the scene:
“What struck me during this examination, of course, was the state of perfect preservation of the skeleton, the fibrous tissues of the muscles (still supple and firm), of the ligaments, and of the skin, and above all the totally unexpected state of the liver after 46 years. One would have thought that this organ, which is basically soft and inclined to crumble, would have decomposed very rapidly or would have hardened to a chalky consistency. Yet, when it was cut it was soft and almost normal in consistency. I pointed this out to those present, remarking that this did not seem to be a natural phenomenon.”
Modern man is left to ponder the inexplicable of apparitions, miraculous healings, and a body that won’t crumble to dust.
We honor you, St. Bernadette of Lourdes, on this your feast day.