Sunday, 6 February 2011

Saint Bernadette

NAME Saint Bernadette (born Maria-Bernada Soubirous - Bernadette being the sobriquet by which she was universally known so we call her Bernadette too).


BIRTH b1844 Lourdes, France

FAMILY BACKGROUND Bernadette was the daughter of François Soubirous (1807–1871), a poor miller with no regular employment, and his wife Louise (née Castérot) (1825–1866), a laundress. She was the eldest of five children who survived infancy. Hard times had fallen on rural France and the family lived in extreme poverty, relying on their love and support for one another and their religious devotion.

CHILDHOOD All the family members sought what employment they could. Bernadette did farm work, notably sheep herding, for a family friend in nearby Bartres, and also waited tables in her Aunt Bernarde's tavern. She returned to Lourdes in January 1858 having just turned 14 to attend a free school and a month later Bernadette saw her first vision of Our Lady.

EDUCATION After Bernadette returned to Lourdes in January 1858, she attended the free school run by the Sisters of Charity and Christian Instruction so she could finish learning the Catechism in order to receive her first Holy Communion.

CAREER RECORD 1856-58 Put into service doing farm work and waiting tables
1858 Saw visions of Mary, after which Bernadette left her home town and joined the Sisters of Notre Dome of Nevers. There, she did light work and leaned to read and write
1866 Bernadette joined the mother house at Nevers. She spent the rest of her brief life there, working as an assistant in the infirmary and later as a sacristan, creating beautiful embroidery for altar cloths and vestments. She was kept as a novice for ten years by the ill-natured mother superior.

CHARACTER Sensitive, pleasant, rather backward and slow, humble, self effacing.

MONEY AND FAME Bernadette entered a convent in order to get on with her life and get away from the trying publicity and over enthusiastic attentions of insensitive Lourdes pilgrims.

INTERESTS FOOD AND DRINK As a child, Bernadette lived on mashed corn, the staple

PHILOSOPHY & THEOLOGY One cold February day in 1858 a poor 14-year-old peasant girl from Lourdes, France, called Bernadette was collecting twigs for firewood together with her sister, Marie and friend, Jeanne Abadie when she saw a vision of a lady near a small cave on the bank of a river. This lady looked like, according to Bernadette, a statue of the Blessed Virgin Mary, the mother of Jesus. To make sure the vision was not a manifestation of the devil, Bernadette threw holy water at her. The lady inclined her head gracefully until the bottle was empty. Despite the temptation to run away the young peasant girl fell to her knees transfixed. Despite no one else seeing the vision, soon crowds gathered at the place of her “acquero” as Bernadette referred to it.
The peasant girl started seeing more visions. During the ninth vision the gathered crowd witnessed Bernadette dig into the earth and uncover a trickle of water that proved to be a spring. An old stone mason with a blind eye bathed it in the spring’s water and his eyesight was restored. A large crowd of people gathered at Lourdes on the day of Bernadette’s eighteenth vision but still she was the only one to see the lady. This time she asked the young woman who she is; the answer in Provencal was “Que soy era Immaculada Councepciou”, (“I am the Immaculate Conception”.) The young peasant girl did not understand this but reported it to her parish priest. Despite the church authorities scepticism regarding Bernadette’s claims of a miracle, sick people from all over France began making their way to Lourdes.

SCANDAL Bernadette was beaten by her mother when she told her of her visions. Also the church authorities were sceptical of Bernadette's claims of a miracle.

MILITARY RECORD As a nun at Nevers, Bernadette helped nurse wounded casualties of the Franco-Prussian war.

HEALTH AND PHYSICAL FITNESS Bernadette was frail and asthmatic after a near-fatal attack of cholera in infancy and after joining the Sisters of Nevers she was often bedridden. She used snuff to help relieve the symptoms for which she was roundly criticised by another sister who told her St Vincent de Paul nearly wasn't canonised because of his snuff use. "Well" said Bernadette to her critic, "doesn't that mean that because you don't take snuff you will be canonised."
During a severe asthma attack, she asked for water from the Lourdes spring, and her symptoms subsided, never to return. However, Bernadette did not seek healing in this way when she later contracted tuberculous of the bone in the right knee.
At the ninth visitation the lady told Bernadette to drink from the spring that flowed under the rock. A crowd gathered and they witnessed Bernadette dig in the earth and drink from a muddy patch. In the next few days, a spring began to flow from the muddy patch first dug by Bernadette. An old stone mason with a blind eye bathed it in the spring's water and as others also followed her example it was soon reported to have healing properties. In the years that followed, Bernadette followed the development of Lourdes as a pilgrimage shrine, but was not present for the consecration of the Basilica of the Immaculate Conception there in 1876.

HOMES By the time Bernadette received her visions, her family's financial and social status had declined to the point where they lived in a one-room basement, in the old Lourdes prison. They had previously been evicted from two mills and were housed there for free by her mother's cousin, Andre Sajoux.
By 1860 her father was set up in a new mill by the local bishop.

DEATH Bernadette died at her convent of tuberculous. On 16 April 1879 the terminally ill Bernadette was heard to mumble “Holy Mary, Mother of God, pray for me, poor sinner, poor sinner.” A few seconds later she died. Her body was buried and exhumed three separate times in the next 45 years in attempts to verify the incorruptibility of her corpse and therefore her sainthood. Her body is today remarkably intact and is on display at the chapel of the Convent of St Gildard at Nevers.

APPEARANCES IN MEDIA 1. (a) The Village of St Bernadette won the 1959 Ivor Novello Award for Best Song Musically and Lyrically. Anne Shelton got to #27 in the UK chart with her version whilst Andy Williams peaked at #7 in the USA with the same song.
(b) Song of Bernadette is a song first recorded by Jennifer Warnes from her 1986 album Famous Blue Raincoat Warnes also co-wrote it with Leonard Cohen and Bill Elliott. The song was later covered by Bette Midler.

2. Bernadette's life was given a fictionalised treatment in Franz Werfel's 1942 novel, The Song of Bernadette. It was extremely popular, spending more than a year on the New York Times Best Seller list and 13 weeks in first place.

3. Werfel's novel was adapted into a 1943 film, also titled The Song of Bernadette. Jennifer Jones won the Best Actress Oscar for her portrayal of the French saint.

ACHIEVEMENTS 1. Saint Bernadette was canonised in 1933 by the Catholic Church and her feat day is celebrated on 16 April.
2. Lourdes is now a major center where Catholic pilgrims from around the globe reaffirm their beliefs. Close to 5 million pilgrims visit the town every year. Within France, only Paris has more hotels than Lourdes.

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