THURSDAY, FEBRUARY 11: In spite of advances of modern medicine, today’s Feast of Our Lady of Lourdes reminds us that millions of Christians around the world still look to Lourdes, after more than 150 years: those faithful believe that miraculous healing waters can be found in Lourdes, at a site where a young French girl first reported an apparition of the Virgin Mary on this day in 1858. Bernadette Soubirous was only 14 when she witnessed a series of apparitions, but she has since been canonized by the church—and millions of pilgrims flock to this site every year.
2021 NEWS: Though the sanctuary shut down for months in 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic, it has since reopened, with limits regarding social distancing and the number of people allowed on the grounds. Find out more at the sanctuary’s official website.
AN APPARITION: GUSTS OF WIND AND THE ‘IMMACULATE CONCEPTION’
On February 11, 1858, Bernadette Soubirous had gone to collect firewood with her sister, Toinette, and neighbor, Jeanne Abadie. Taking off her shoes to wade in water near the Grotto of Massabielle, Soubirous reported hearing the sound of two gusts of wind, in nothing around her moved except a wild rose in the grotto. At that time, Soubirous looked into the grotto. The 14-year-old reported seeing, in the grotto, a lady who wore a white dress and a blue sash, with a yellow rose on each foot. The lady asked Soubirous to pray the rosary with her.
Did you know? As Bernadette Soubirous reported the “lady” to have yellow roses on each foot, it remains common practice that pilgrims imitate this with Marian statues.
Despite punishment from her parents over her reports, Soubirous returned to the grotto and witnessed the apparition again. After multiple encounters, the apparition instructed Bernadette to ask local clergy that a chapel be built at the grotto. After clergy demanded to know the apparition’s name, Bernadette was told: “I am the Immaculate Conception.” What Bernadette did not know is that, just three years earlier, Pople Pius IX had proclaimed the dogma of the Immaculate Conception. As the impoverished daughter of a family little involved in the church, it was a most surprising event when Bernadette began telling her family and local religious figures that she had seen the “Immaculate Conception”—an official term that experts say she had no way of knowing.
LOURDES: PRAYERS, HEALING AND MIRACLES
Tradition has it that the apparition itself told Bernadette to dig in the ground to locate the spring, and from the very beginning, medical patients who drank this water reported miraculous cures. Today’s site of Our Lady of Lourdes is quite a complex operation: The site consists of more than 20 acres, 22 places of worship, a grotto and a sanctuary. The church officially recognizes 70 miracles, though upward of 7,000 pilgrims have claimed miracles from the Lourdes waters.
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Pope Pius X knew that “miraculous” cures from Lourdes would be under intense investigation, and as such, he quickly requested the establishment of the Lourdes Medical Bureau. From its earliest days of receiving pilgrims, the grotto at Lourdes has housed an on-site Bureau Medical that welcomes any scientist in search of proof of the approved miracles. The Lourdes Medical Bureau continues to leave its records open to any medical doctor who specializes in the area of any cure.
Note: For pilgrims who can’t travel to France, many churches offer a Novena to Our Lady of Lourdes during February.