Lourdes
French watering resort famous for miracle cures. In 1858
the Virgin Mary reportedly appeared in a grotto to the peasant
girl Bernadette Soubirous (1844–1879), later canonized as St.
Bernadette in 1933. A marble tablet at Lourdes records the apparition

Dates of the Eighteen apparitions and words of the Blessed Virgin in
the year of grace 1858. In the hollow of the rock where her statue is
now seen the Blessed Virgin appeared to Bernadette Soubirous Eighteen
times the 11th and the 14th of February; Each day, with two exceptions,
from February 18th till March 25th, April 7th, July 16th.
The Blessed Virgin said to the child on February 18th, ‘‘Will you do
me the favour of coming here daily for a fortnight I do not promise
to make you happy In this world, but in the next; I want many people
to come. The Virgin said to her during the fortnight ‘‘You will pray
for sinners; you will kiss the earth for sinners. Penitence! penitence!
penitence! Go, and tell the priests to cause a chapel to be built; I want
people to come thither in procession. Go and drink of the fountain and
wash yourself in it. Go and eat of the grass which is there.’’ On March
25th The Virgin said ‘‘I Am the Immaculate Conception.’’
Bernadette alone saw the apparition, and there was no coinciding
objective event that would make it veridical. There was,
however, a later incident of a supernormal character in the life
of Bernadette, for which evidence is available in the testimony
of Dr. Dozous. His advocacy is largely responsible for the credence
bestowed on Bernadette and the fame of Lourdes. His
testimony was quoted in Dr. Boissarie’s book Lourdes, which
gives a summary of the miraculous cures, published in the Annales
des Lourdes from 1868 until 1891. While praying in ecstasy,
the girl held her interlaced fingers over the flame of a lighted
taper. The point of the flame came out between the fingers
without causing her any harm.
In the story of the apparition, there was no promise of miraculous
cures. Bernadette was an invalid child subject to fits,
and nobody would have paid attention to her visions but for the
grotto in the rocks to which she was conducted by the white
angel, and the water of which made her feel lighter and stronger.
The quarryman Bourriette was the first to conceive the idea
that the water of the spring in the grotto uncovered by Bernadette’s
bare hands might benefit his eyes, which had been injured
by an explosion. He was healed, and the rumor soon
spread that the Virgin Mary was effecting miraculous cures.
Due to the newly acquired and unwanted fame, Bernadette
moved in with the Sisters of Charity in order to keep away from
the growing crowds that came to the site and in 1866, she
joined the order. She received only relative peace; many peoLou
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ple came to interview her and the nuns envied her. Their attitude
only changed at the end of her life when it was discovered
that tuberculosis, from which she would die, entered her bone
and caused intense pain. Bernadette believed the pain was to
be her suffering.
Following her death on April 16, 1879, Bernadette’s body
did not decompose. It has remained on display at the convent
at Nevers. In 1933, the Roman Catholic Church canonized her.
A. T. Myers and F. W. H. Myers wrote an analysis of
Lourdes from a psychic research perspective, which appeared
in the Proceedings of the SPR in 1893. They concluded
‘‘Many forms of psycho-therapeutics produce, by obscure
but natural agencies, for which at present we have no better
terms than suggestion and self-suggestion, effects to which no
definite limit can yet be assigned. Thus far Lourdes offers the
best list of cures; but this superiority is not more than can be
explained by the greater number of patients treated there than
elsewhere, and their greater confidence in the treatment.
There is no real evidence, either that the apparition of the Virgin
was itself more than a subjective hallucination, or that it has
any more than a merely subjective connection with the cures.’’
The Roman Catholic Church was also cautious in assessing
claimed cures at Lourdes, and a Medical Bureau was established
and reorganized after World War II in 1947. It claimed
cures must meet strict criteria.
In the first place, the sick are expected to bring with them
a diagnosis from their own doctors and are given an examination
upon arrival in Lourdes. If a cure is claimed, the patient
must return to Lourdes a year later for examination, and if the
cure appears permanent and inexplicable by normal explanations,
the case is then put to a higher medical tribunal in Paris.
Even then, it is submitted to members of an ecclesiastical tribunal
before being pronounced miraculous, or, in some cases, a
genuine cure but still non-miraculous.
In the past decades since the Roman Catholic Church granted
its favorable opinion of Lourdes, the shrine has been a
source of political contention. The Church was disestablished
in France in 1905 and the following year the shrine property
was nationalized by the government. Pilgrimages to the shrine
continued, but only in 1940 was it returned fully to church control.
In the meantime, the reported healings have been the subject
of constant debate. In the twentieth century, the shrine has
been the subject of many books, most recounting the story of
Bernadette and the miraculous occurrences that began with the
apparitions and the first healings. Others focus more on the
healings and have attempted to place the shrine into the larger
context of spiritual and paranormal healings worldwide.
Lourdes is now one of the most famous pilgrim sites, and the
whole area is well organized for great annual pilgrimages. In
1876 a huge basilica was constructed above the rock, and in the
cave where Bernadette had her vision a marble statue of the
Virgin was placed. The grotto is festooned with crutches from
disabled pilgrims who did not need assistance after their visits.
Of course not all pilgrims who visit the shrine come in expectation
of a cure. Thousands come as an act of piety. (See also
Fatima; Garabandal; Guadalupe Apparitions; healing, psychic;
healing by faith; and Medjugorje)
Sources
Delaney, John J. A Woman Clothed with the Sun Eight Great
Appearances of Our Lady in Modern Times. Garden City, N.Y.
Hanover House, 1959.
Estrade, J. B. The Appearances of the Blessed Virgin Mary at the
Grotto of Lourdes Personal Souvenirs of an Eyewitness. London Art
& Book Co., 1912.
Keselman, Thomas A. Miracles and Prophecies in NineteenthCentury
France. New Brunswick, N.J. Rutgers University Press,
1983.
Marchand, A. The Facts of Lourdes and the Medical Bureau.
London Burns Oates & Wasbourne, 1924.
Markham, Patrick. Lourdes A Modern Pilgrimage. Garden
City, N.Y. Image Books, 1982.
Myer, A. T., and F. W. H. Myers. ‘‘Mind-Cure, Faith-Cure,
and the Miracles of Lourdes.’’ Proceedings of the Society for Psychic
Research 9, no. 24 (1893).
Neame, Alan. The Happening at Lourdes. London Hodder &
Stoughton, 1968.
Trochu, Francis. Saint Bernadette Soubirous, 1844–1879. London
Longmans, 1957.
West, Donald J. Eleven Lourdes Miracles. New York Helix
Press, 1957.