Our Lady of Lourdes

160th Anniversary of the Marian Apparitions

At the foot of the Pyrenees mountains in southwestern France is Lourdes, one of the most popular pilgrimage destinations in the world. It is the site of a series of Marian apparitions that reportedly occurred in 1858, one hundred sixty years ago this month. The first report came on February 11, 1858, when fourteen-year-old Bernadette Soubirous told her mother that a “lady” spoke to her in the cave of Massabielle, a short distance from the town, while she was gathering firewood with her sister and a friend. Similar apparitions of the alleged "Lady" were reported on seventeen more occasions that year, culminating on July 16.

Although Bernadette’s accounts provoked skepticism, her visions of “the Lady” attracted large crowds. The Lady, Bernadette explained, had instructed her to have a chapel built on the spot of the visions. There, the people were to come to wash in and drink of the water of the spring that had welled up from the very spot where Bernadette had been instructed to dig.

Few visions have undergone the scrutiny that these appearances were subject to. Lourdes became one of the most popular Marian shrines in the world, attracting millions of visitors. Miracles were reported at the shrine and in the waters of the spring. After much investigation, Church authorities confirmed the authenticity of the apparitions in 1862. Pope Pius IX authorized Bishop Bertrand-Sévère Laurence, Bishop of Tarbes, France, to permit the veneration of the Blessed Virgin Mary in Lourdes.

During her life, Bernadette was hounded by the public as well as by civic officials. On July 29, 1866, she joined the Sisters of Charity and spent the rest of her life there working as an infirmary assistant and later a sacristan. She suffered in poor health for some time and was eventually diagnosed with tuberculosis. She died on April 16, 1879, at the age of 35. Bernadette Soubirous was canonized by Pope Pius XI in 1933.