THE situation of Lourdes is very remarkable, standing as it does at the entrance of all the lovely and picturesque valleys and gorges that lie amid the wild and magnificent mountains of the Pyrenean chain. The great railway that joins the Atlantic to the Mediterranean crosses its territory, and three railways from Bayonne, Bordeaux, and Toulouse deposit at its station tourists and travellers coming from the West, the North, and the East, all those, in fine, who seek in the Pyrenees either the beautiful and the picturesque, or the salubrious springs and life-giving air of the mountains. To these may now be added innumerable bands of pilgrims who seek the grotto and sanctuary of Mary Immaculate. Lourdes, with its castle, was always the key to the entrance of the regions of ancient Iberia. The Romans held it from the time of Crassus, lieutenant of Julius Caesar, until driven out by the Visigoths.
In the eighth century, Charlemagne, in his wars with the Saracens, besieged it. After a brave struggle the Saracens were driven out of the town and took refuge in the, in those times, formidable castle. The old chronicles tell us that one day an eagle passing over the castle let drop on the highest tower a large fish. Mira, the Saracen chief, sent it to Charlemagne to show him how useless it would be to try and reduce them by famine. Thereupon Charlemagne commissioned the Bishop of Puy to negotiate with Mira the terms of a capitulation. The Saracen chief, after several days spent in conversing and disputing with the Bishop, became convinced of the truth of Christianity. One day the Bishop said to Mira, "If you will not surrender to Charles the Great, surrender to the most noble Lady that ever was, to the Holy Mother of God, Holy Mary of Puy. I am her servant; do you become her knight."
And Mira answered, "I surrender myself and all who are under me to the Holy Mother of the Lord. I consent to become in her honour a Christian knight; but be it understood that I make this engagement of my own free will. I and my descendants will pay homage to none other than Holy Mary."
The Bishop then took up a handful of hay from the meadow on which they were standing, and said, "Surely you wish to offer something in sign of homage." And Mira and all his companions put wisps of hay on the points of their lances, and surrendered themselves at the feet of Blessed Mary of Puy. The arms of the city prove that there is some truth in the old legend, for they bear three towers; the centre one, higher than the others, is surmounted by an eagle holding in its beak a fish. By the treaty of Bretigny (1360), Lourdes with its castle and territory was ceded to the English, who remained masters of it for nearly 150 years, when they were driven out of all that part of France, and it again reverted to France, and was always considered as one of the most important fortified places in the south. Its name is mixed up with all the wars that troubled these countries during the middle ages.
In modern times its military governors were appointed by the king until the reign of Louis XVI., when the fortifications of the town and the many high towers were dismantled, and Lourdes, unencumbered by its strong walls, rapidly extended itself on every side.
Its castle, that escaped the devastating fury of the Revolution, is now but an addition to the beauty of the landscape, and a remembrance of a past power and glory, with which is linked some of the grandest names in the history of the past. But a greater glory now surrounds, and will for ever encircle with a light at once resplendent, pure, and celestial, the name of Lourdes and its grotto of Massabielle, where Mary Immaculate deigned to appear.
The rocks of Massabielle are situated on the banks of the Gave, to the west of the town, behind but in full view of the castle, and facing the green meadows, where, according to the old chronicles, the Saracen chief and his warriors proclaimed themselves the subjects of our Lady of Puy, and offered her the suzerainty of the town, its castle and territory.
In 1858 there was not in the vicinity of Lourdes a more solitary spot than the rocks of Massabielle. They rise abruptly against the side of a spur of the first chain of the Pyrenees, and were pierced by curiously-shaped rents and excavations, the lower and larger of which, called the grotto, is in shape somewhat like an irregular dome, cut through the centre, about twelve or thirteen feet in height. It is not, as might be imagined, dark and gloomy; the recess is not deep, and the opening being very large, the light freely inundates it in every part. Above the grotto, a little to the right, is another excavation; seen from outside, this opening in the face of the rock has the form of an elongated 0. It is about seven feet in height, and penetrates, sloping downwards, through the rock, and opens into the back part of the grotto.
In this oval niche Bernadette saw the apparition of which we intend giving a brief history.
At about twelve o'clook on the morning of the 11th of February, 1858, three little girls, Bernadette and Marie Soubirous, and Jeanne Abbadie, set out in search of firewood, for their parents were poor and glad to avail themselves of the privilege of gathering wood on the banks of the river. The children wandered on until they reached the extremity of the meadow below the castle. Here Bernadette said to her companions, pointing to a mass of stones and sand, "Let us cross these stones and see where the canal finishes." They scrambled over the stones until they stood opposite the rocks of Massabielle. The grotto was at that time full of sand and broken branches of trees and pieces of wood thrown up by the torrent which in those days washed the base of the rock. The little wood-gleaners saw before them a good harvest, and although the day was cold they determined to cross over to the grotto by the help of some large stones that lay in the bed of the river. Jeanne and Marie took off their shoes and stockings and crossed safely, but not without complaining loudly how cold the water was. Hearing this Bernadette hesitated. She was very delicate, subject to severe fits of asthma, and only just recovering from a cold, for which reason her mother had reluctantly permitted her to go out. All these reasons caused the child to refuse to join her companions. Her sister offered to return and carry her across, but to this Bernadette would not consent. "You are not strong enough," she said, "you would let me fall." But as Jeanne Abbadie was older, and a very strong girl, Bernadette ventured to ask her to carry her to the grotto. But Jeanne refused, making use of some very strong expressions —a sort of swearing unfortunately too common amongst the children of the poor.
"For shame, ' said Bernadette; "if you want to swear, go elsewhere."
"And pray why not here ?" Jeanne replied.
"Because it is very wrong. You would do much better to pray to God than to profane his name."
Jeanne called her a Puritan, but Bernadette's looks silenced her, and ashamed of herself she offered to carry her across, but the young girl answered, in atone of sadness, "No, thank you, as you make use of such bad words, we shall go out no more together; and," she added, "Marie must not be your companion." A few minutes before she had been obliged to reprove her sister, who, following the example of Jeanne, had crossed the river in a very unbecoming manner. "Marie, what are you about?" she said. "Let down your dress better let the hem of it be wet."
In thus rebuking evil, and defending the honour due to the name of God and to modesty, Bernadette unconsciously disclosed the two distinctive characters of her young soul— piety and purity. All evil, however slight in appearance, was repulsive to her, and seemed to cause her intense pain.
Outwardly she appeared to be a timid, delicate child, small for her age—she was just fourteen years old—gentle in her manners, that had in them something so pleasing that they won for her the interest of all who lived with her. She was intelligent, but wholly without education, and had passed her infancy and childhood with some peasants in a neighbouring village, tending their sheep on the verdant slope of the solitary hills around their dwelling. Untaught, except the catechism and her prayers, she had learnt instinctively that great secret of the saints, how to keep herself constantly in the presence of God.
Her foster-parents loved her for her sweetness of disposition and entire truthfulness. She had only left them a short time since to return to her parents, and prepare for her first communion, which she had not yet made. She had obtained her parents' consent to have night prayers in common; she recited them, and would never begin until everyone was present. She loved prayer, especially the "Our Father" and that beautiful prayer of the unlettered— the Rosary. Such was Bernadette. In preventing her two companions from doing wrong she was simply following the good impulses of her heart, but God and the blessed Virgin saw her virtue, and rewarded it by choosing her to interpret to her fellow-creatures words of mercy and pardon.
As Bernadette would not let them carry her across Marie and Jeanne remained on the opposite side of the water, near the grotto, making up their bundles of sticks. At last Bernadette determined to cross over the canal to join them.
Leaning against a large stone she stooped down to take off her shoes and stockings; at that moment she felt a sudden gust of wind, strong and sonorous, sweep past her. The air had been so very calm and still that, quite surprised, the child stood upright and gazed around. All was quiet—not even a tremor in the branches of the poplars that grew on the banks. Again she stooped forward to remove her stockings, and again she felt a loud wind rush rapidly past her and break against the rocks of Massabielle.
Greatly alarmed she started to her feet and looked towards the grotto. At that time a beautiful wild-rose tree grew in the niche, its luxuriant branches, then almost leafless, trailing to the ground. As Bernadette looked towards it the niche became illuminated by a most beautiful splendour, and in the midst of the radiance, under the arch of the niche, her feet resting on the eglantine, the child beheld, with feelings of wonder, delight, and awe impossible to describe, a young and beauteous Lady, who, bending slightly forward and sweetly smiling, seemed to salute her. At first the child stood motionless, then she rubbed her eyes, then shut them for a moment. When she opened them, and saw that the beautiful vision had not vanished, she took out her Rosary, and from a vague sentiment of fear, as if to protect herself, she tried to make the sign of the cross; but her arm fell powerless by her side. At that instant she saw the Lady take the cross of the rosary that hung on her left wrist in her right hand, and with it make a very large and impressive sign of the cross, and looking towards the child, and smiling with a look of ineffable benignity, seemed to say, "Do as I do."
Understanding the gentle invitation Bernadette raised her arm, and found no difficulty in making the holy sign of our redemption. Then the Lady raised and folded her hands as if in prayer, letting the beads of the Rosary pass one by one through her fingers. The child imitated her and recited the Rosary. Calm now and reassured, Bernadette was able to notice the beautiful figure in the niche. She saw that the Lady wore a long robe of dazzling white, which fell in ample folds to her feet without entirely covering them, for on each foot could be seen a gold-coloured rose. A broad blue girdle, the ends simply passed one through the other without a bow, fell down in front below the knees. A white veil covered the back of the head, and falling over the shoulders, but leaving the arms disengaged, descended behind to the bottom of the dress. On one arm a long Rosary was suspended, the beads of which were white as alabaster; the crucifix and chain appeared to be of very brilliant gold.
Ravished with awe and delight, Bernadette, as she prayed, contemplated this lovely apparition, following most attentively every movement of the mysterious being, whose benign and gracious gestures filled her innocent little heart with love and confidence.
Marie Soubirous, happening to look across to her sister at the moment the latter first beheld the vision, saw that she was very pale, that she was kneeling as if praying, and looking with a rapt and fixed gaze towards the upper part of the grotto. She remarked also the double movement of her sister's arm before she made the sign of the cross.
"Do look how devoutly my sister is praying," said she to Jeanne.
"What an idea," said the other, "to come here to pray, as if it were not enough to pray in the church. Let us leave her, she is only fit to say her prayers." And with mocking words on their lips they turned away, and, laughing and shouting, scampered up and down the slopes to warm themselves. What a vivid picture of what daily takes place in the world! The thoughtless, the worldly, the scoffers, neither believe nor heed the many wonderful manifestations of God's love and mercy; they pass on their way in a whirl of pleasure, despising and ridiculing all that is not of the earth, earthy. Nearly an hour did the vision last: it seemed to Bernadette but as a few moments. The Lady, with a gesture of exquisite grace and sweetness, made a sign with her hand, as if to invite the child to cross over the water and to come near; but Bernadette did not dare move. At last the vision extended her arms towards her, bowed gently, as if to bid her adieu, smiled graciously, and in an instant disappeared. The brilliant light also vanished, and Bernadette saw again the niche empty , the bare rock and leafless eglantine, and could hear her companions laughing and talking.
She rose from her knees, finished taking off her shoes and stockings, and, although apprehensive that the shock of the cold water might bring on a fit of asthma, determined to visit the grotto. A cry of surprise escaped her as she entered the water, which rose over her ankles. She called out to her sister, "Why did you say such an untruth Marie? You said the water was very cold. Why, it is quite warm!"
"Warm!" said the children—" warm! The idea of the Gave being warm in winter! What nonsense!"
"Well, I assure you it feels to me as warm as the water we use to wash the dishes in."
"Oh, don't talk such nonsense!" said Marie. "Look at my poor feet, bleeding and swollen."
She stooped down to feel her sister's feet, and, greatly astonished, she exclaimed, "They are really warm." Jeanne felt them also. "How fortunate you are," said she. They then all tried to put on their stockings. Bernadette found no difficulty about hers, but the other two had great trouble putting on theirs, as their feet were so much swollen.
We give all these details, and the dialogues between the children, as they show how far distant from their young minds was the idea of anything supernatural having taken place.
Bernadette, once the vision flown, knew not what to think, and she asked her companions, had they seen anything in the Grotto whilst playing there? "Seen anything?" said they. "No! Did you see anvthing?" Quite troubled to find that she alone had beheld the apparition, she replied, hesitatingly, "Oh, then—no matter." And nothing further was said. All three little girls now ascended the slopes, to return home by the then narrow and difficult path above the rocks of Massabielle. Jeanne being somewhat in advance of the sisters, Bernadette said to Marie, "Promise me not to tell anyone, and I will tell you what I saw in the grotto when you noticed me kneeling opposite, saying my beads." And then she told her sister what she had seen. Marie, half believing, and rather frightened, remarked, "How could you see all that up there? You are a simpleton; I am sure you saw nothing."
"Oh, yes, I did," answered Bernadette; "but do not speak of it; perhaps mother would scold."
The poor child instinctively felt that she would not be believed, and shrank from hearing what to her seemed so heavenly made a jest of.
When they reached home the mother reproved them for staying out so long; then Marie told her what her sister had confided to her, and Madame Soubirous, having obtained from Bernadette a full account of all that had taken place at the grotto, became greatly alarmed, and strictly forbade her children to return to the rocks of Massabielle.
This was a great blow to Bernadette, who was so charmed by the vision that she could think of little else, and desired nothing so much as to see the beautiful Lady again. All day she felt sad at the thought that her mother would never allow her to go again to the grotto; and when she began to say night prayers she burst into tears.
Madame Soubirous was so much troubled that she could not rest all night. Her child spoke with so much candour and simplicity that she could not disbelieve her; but she feared it was an evil spirit that was trying to mislead her.
The next day, to relieve her mind, she confided her anxieties to some of her friends; Marie told several little girls of her acquaintance; so that the vision that had been seen by Bernadette became the subject of conversation in the neighbourhood.
For three days Madame Soubirous kept Bernadette at home. On the fourth day, Sunday, February 14th, after High Mass, several little girls came to poor little Bernadette, who looked very sorrowful, and said, "Shall we all go together to the grotto?"
"Oh, how I wish I could!" she answered; "but my mother will not allow me."
"Perhaps," said they, "she will, if we beg of her very hard; let us try, at least."
And they all gathered round the good mother, who was a truly kind and worthy woman, and they coaxed and entreated until at last she consented. She made them promise to be very good, to say their Rosary, to be cautious not to fall over the rocks where the path was so narrow, and to be sure to be back for vespers.
FULL of joy the little girls surrounded Bernadette: "Let us set out—let us go at once," said they, jumping and clapping their hands. "Gently, gently," said Bernadette; "you must not fancy that we are going there to play tricks. We must be good, and pray God. Have you your rosaries?"
"I have, and I,—and I,—" Two only had to return home to seek theirs, for Bernadette would allow no one to go with her without their beads.
"I do not know what this Lady is," said Bernadette. "Mother says she may be an evil spirit, and I am to take holy water with me." * As the parish church was close by, they all went in to pray a minute, and fill a bottle with holy water. On their way they were joined by several older girls, so that by the time they had passed by the old prison gate they numbered upwards of twenty; they descended the tortuous and steep declivity, saying the rosary, and when they reached the Grotto they all knelt down to finish it. Suddenly Bernadette exclaimed: "She is there—she is there! Do you not see her? See! she is stretching out her arm towards the opening above the eglantine!"
* We copy these Dialogues from the "Annales" of Lourdes, published by the missionaries, who guarantee their exactitude.
The children opened wide their eyes, eagerly looking towards the spot pointed out to them. But they looked in vain. "I cannot see anything," said they. "It is all nonsense," said some, "there is nothing to be seen." "Oh, but she is there," repeated the child, "See, she is smiling!" the elder girls remarked with astonishment a great and beautiful change in Bernadette's appearance. "Oh, see, see!" she continued to say, "she is saluting us!"
Her companions, vexed and disappointed at not being able to see anything, began to murmur.
"You are making fun of us—you are stupid—you are foolish—there is nothing here but ourselves," were their several exclamations. Some one told Bernadette to use the holy water; she took the bottle and sprinkled some, but it did not reach the vision. Rising from her knees she several times dashed the water towards the Lady, saying at the same time: "If you are from God, come!" She then turned to the wondering and half-frightened children, and said, "When I sprinkle the holy water the Lady raises her eyes to Heaven, then comes forward, leans towards me, and smiles."
Quite reassured, she ceased to use the holy water and remained immovable.
"What are you doing? How foolish you are," said her companions.
"Oh, do you then not see," she answered in a voice tremulous with emotion; "she is looking at us—she is smiling—oh, how beautiful! She is turning her head—look at her feet—the roses—see, the blue sash is floating in the wind—she has a rosary wound round her arm. Oh, she is so lovely! Now she is taking the rosary in her hand—she is making the sign of the cross." Then Bernadette became again silent, knelt down, and taking up the crucifix attached to her rosary, made the sign of the cross. For a short time her young companions left her quiet; at last they grew weary, and wished to return to the town. "Come, come away," said they. Two of the elder girls, more observant than the others, remarked how pale and altered Bernadette was; they spoke of it to her sister, and one, a girl of sixteen, alarmed at seeing her to changed, said that, perhaps she might die in that state. Upon hearing this, Marie Soubirous begged some of the children to help her drag her sister away. .For this purpose they seized her by both arms, and tried to raise her from her knees. "I will not go away!" she exclaimed, "I see her still, I must stay!" But in spite of her endeavours, they forced her to rise, and led her away; she still kept her head turned towards the niche, crying out: "You must not do so, look! I see her still! She is following me!"
A woman from the mill now came up, and Bernadette, still struggling and stretching out her arms, and uttering plaintive little cries, was taken into the miller's house. The family immediately noticed the change in the child, and even now those who saw her at that moment speak of the beauty of her countenance. She was smiling, and yet tears like brilliant dew-drops glistened on her eyelids; and this reflection of some invisible brilliant light on her countenance, and even on the tears she shed, was invariably to be seen during the whole fifteen days when she was in presence of the vision. Marie Soubirous had run off to tell her mother, who soon arrived, but her daughter having seen the vision disappear was now in her usual state. The poor woman was alarmed at all she heard. She scolded Bernadette severely, and would have beaten her had she not been prevented. "Unfortunate child," she said, "what will come of all this? You will cause us to be put in prison through making so much disturbance in the place."
By this time many persons had gathered round the young girls who had been to the Grotto, asking questions about what had taken place; and as the bell for Vespers had not yet rung, the people were still in the streets, and the children's narrative of the vision and of Bernadette's strange state spread quickly from one to another, until the whole town for that and several following days was fully occupied in discussing these wonderful events; and, as on Monday,, many from the mountains came into Lourdes. The affair was soon communicated to the neighbouring peasants.
In the meantime, Madame Soubirous kept her daughter confined to the house. On the Wednesday following, a lady who knew her called on her, and entreated her to allow Bernadette to go alone with her to the Grotto, saying that she would quickly discover if any fraud were practised. Madame Soubirous, not wishing to offend this lady, whom she knew to be a most excellent and prudent person, reluctantly gave her consent. Madame Millet, desiring to have with her a witness, invited Mademoiselle Peyret, a very pious and steady young lady, to accompany her and Bernadette the following Sunday to the Grotto.
Mademoiselle Peyret had heard of the vision without believing in it. She remarked that, to avoid giving time for any trick, and also to avoid observation, it would be advisable not to defer their visit until Sunday, but to start the next morning at break of day. This was agreed to, and the next morning, after hearing the five o'clock mass, they set off for the Grotto.
On the way Madame Millet spoke very seriously to the child, threatening her with severe punishment if she attempted to deceive them and play any tricks.
Bernadette said little, but when they drew nigh she rushed on with such astonishing agility, that her companions were not able to keep up with her, the road being so steep and narrow. As they reached the bottom of the declivity the child came running back, calling out joyfully, "She is there! Yes, she is there!" "Listen to me, little girl," said Madame Millet, holding up her hand with a threatening gesture; "if you say you see something, and it is not true—beware! you will be made to repent it!" As soon as they stood opposite the eglantine, the child repeated, "Oh, see! she is there!" pointing to the niche. As we have said before, Mademoiselle Peyret felt very doubtful as to the reality of the apparition, but she thought that in any case it would be well to bring with her a blessed taper. This she had done, and she now proceeded to light it, and placed it in a sheltered position in front of the rose-tree, thus unconsciously inaugurating the illumination that is now daily to be seen within the Grotto. They then all three knelt down and commenced the rosary; when it was finished, the ladies told Bernadette to ask the apparition to write down any request she had to make, as perhaps it might be a soul from Purgatory, and to promise that all she should ask should be done. She placed paper, pen, and ink in Bernadette's hands, and bade her go towards the vision. Bernadette advanced to the foot of the rose-tree, and held up the writing materials. Her companions were following her closely, but, without removing her eyes from the niche, she made a sign to them to keep back. They presently saw her slowly lower her arms, and after a few minutes, during which she seemed to be listening, she returned to them. "What did the lady say ?" they inquired.
"She smiled, and then she said: 'It is not necessary that I should write what I wish to say. Be so good as to come here during fifteen days. I cannot make you happy in this world, but I promise that you shall be happy in the next.”
Mademoiselle Peyret told her to ask the vision whether she objected to their presence. The child obeyed, but as she again drew near to the niche, she called out in a tone of consternation, "Oh, she is gone!" "Never mind," said the ladies; "go close to the eglantine; she will perhaps return." They were right; for Bernadette said a moment after, "She has come back." She soon returned to them, and said that they might stay. They asked why she had made sign to them not to follow her. She answered that the lady had made a sign for them not to advance. "But," added, she, "the lady looked at you, Mademoiselle, and smiled sweetly." They knelt down to pray, and in a short time the vision disappeared.
As they returned towards the town, Madame Millet put many questions to the child, who answered promptly and satisfactorily. It was then settled that all three should return the next morning early, and in private.
This day, the 18th February, was market-day, and they were observed by several persons as they returned. Bernadette was questioned, and she mentioned, amongst other details, that she was to return to the Grotto during fifteen days; the news quickly spread, and the next morning, when, accompanied by her mother, she and the two ladies reached the Grotto, to their great astonishment they found a large crowd anxious to see what would take place.
The child knelt down and began her prayers. Those who were near saw her countenance suddenly change. What took place that day as to Bernadettte's demeanour continued to take place during the fifteen days she made her visit to the Grotto. On reaching that spot she used immediately to kneel down, as if in a church, without looking around her or noticing any one. Suddenly her whole appearance underwent a complete transfiguration. Her arms stretched themselves upwards with a gentle yet rapid movement, as if towards some dearly loved, yet highly reverenced object. She remained kneeling, but the whole attitude—the upraised head and hands, the lips apart and smiling, the movement of the whole body—gave the idea that she was about to sprint upwards. From time to time she slowly bent her body forward in a most graceful manner, as if saluting; indeed, all her gestures expressed the most profound reverence, and whenever she made the sign of the cross, the action was so full of faith, so solemn, and so reverential, that all present felt assured that she was in the presence of a celestial being. When questioned on this point, she said it was thus the lady made the sign of the cross when she saw her the first time. During the ecstasy she was really beautiful; her complexion became pale, as if her weak human nature could scarcely support the sight of the beautiful heavenly vision she was contemplating; and the transparent appearance of her countenance, which seemed to reflect some invisible external radiance, was most wonderful. Some of the country people described this appearance of reflected light on the countenance of Bernadette by this happy comparison: "In our valleys," said they, "it is late before the sun rises, because it is hidden from our view by the Pic and the mountain of Gers; but we know it is there, for we see its brilliant reflection on the flanks of the mountain of Batsurgueres, which are all resplendent with light, whilst we in the valleys are still in the shadow; but although we cannot see the sun itself, we know that it is above the horizon, and behind the masses of rock of the Pic and the Gers. We say Batsurgueres sees the sun.” This comparison, homely as it is, gives some idea of the translucent appearance of the child's face whilst she beheld the vision. The light was brilliant, and so impregnated with supernatural beauty, that everyone who saw it was impressed with the belief that it was not in herself, but that it was the reflection of some luminous centre invisible to all but Bernadette. All those who were present during the eighteen days that Bernadette saw the vision give the same description of her appearance; all speak of the beauty of her countenance at that time. In her usual state, her personal appearance was that of a rather frail and delicate child, with no pretentions to beauty.
We have been careful to follow, in this relation of what took place at the Grotto, the account given in the "Annales" of Lourdes, the testimony of Dr. Dozous, and that of persons who were eyewitnesses of all that took place, and whom we ourselves questioned during our stay at Lourdes.
"AND what did Bernadette see?" How often was this question put by her family, by the curious, and by the authorities. To each one she answered that no words could adequately describe the Vision; but, as well as words could express it, this is what she saw :—
First appeared a soft light just gilding the niche and adjacent parts of the rock, soon it increased in intensity until the grotto was flooded with clear, resplendent, but not dazzling radiance; and in the midst of this splendour; her feet seeming to rest on the wild rose-tree, stood a Lady of incomparable beauty, the expression of whose eyes was at once so gentle, so lovely, and benevolent, that when Bernadette met that heavenly look all fear and doubt were banished from her heart. The face was that of a young girl of fifteen or sixteen, and to the indescribable freshness of youth was added a something so noble and so majestic that the child could find no words to describe it. This marvellous Vision made as great an impression on Bernadette on the last of the eighteen days on which she saw it as on the first; and although she was shown the most beautiful silks and satins, and crystal and mother-of-pearl, and beautiful jewels, she never could find anything which she could compare to the light or the robe or veil of the Lady. The white of the dress, of the veil, of the beads of the rosary, was, she would say, more purely and brilliantly white, quite different and more beautiful. The gold of the Crucifix and of the chain of the rosary was not, she said, like our gold; it was quite different and far more beautiful.
She generally remained an hour in the presence of the Vision, saying the Rosary during part of the time. Those nearest to her knew by the transfiguration of her countenance at what moment the Vision appeared. "She sees! She sees!" they cried out. These words being quickly circulated, every one pressed forward, and then a great silence succeeded to the questioning, talking, and agitation that during the first moments prevailed in the crowd.
Bernadette, as she had promised, returned every day to the grotto. After the fourth day she always held in her hand a lighted taper; one day her aunt lent her the blessed taper she always carried in the processions of the confraternity of the daughters of Mary. She had been some time kneeling in presence of the Vision, when she rose up, and, approaching her aunt, asked if she would give her the blessed wax-taper and allow her to leave it within the grotto; her aunt most willingly gave her consent; Bernadette then went to the extremity of the grotto and placed the taper there. On their way home the aunt inquired why she had placed it in the grotto.
"The Vision asked me," she said, "to leave it burning there when I went away, and as it was yours I was obliged to ask you to allow me to do so."
From that day until this, innumerable lights burn daily in that grotto—now justly considered as the sanctuary of Mary Immaculate.
Another day Bernadette was seen to rise from her knees, and, going down to the bottom of the slope which rose from the cave to the rose-tree, ascend on her knees, kissing the ground from time to time, and then descend in the same manner. The Vision told her to pray and perform these acts of humiliation for sinners, making a sign to the child to draw near on her knees. When Bernadette raised her eyes after kissing the ground, she saw the Lady slowly retreating within the niche; the child followed, and going beyond the limits of the rose-tree, which generally she never passed, entered under the arch of the grotto, and turning towards an opening leading to the niche where the Lady had always hitherto appeared, she saw her so near that if she had stood upright and stretched her hands upwards she felt sure she could have touched her feet. Presently the people saw the child turn towards them, and by the sign she made she seemed to ask them to bow down to the ground; but none moved. She then placed one finger on her lips, and with an imperative gesture, and with an air of great energy and authority, pointed it towards the ground as if she wished to say " you also bow down to the ground and kiss it." Several persons, convinced by her commanding attitude, so different from her naturally timid gentle manner, that she was transmitting to them an order from the Lady—no other, they all now believed than the Blessed Virgin herself—knelt down and kissed the ground; others did not understand and did not obey. Bernadette then returned down the slope on her knees and resumed her place in front of the niche. The minds of the spectators as they left the grotto that day were more than usually agitated. The greater number felt that sensation of profoundly religious awe that is impressed on the soul in presence of some mysterious event in which the presence of God, though veiled, is discerned. They were convinced that our Blessed Lady had received a mission of mercy to transmit to God's people, and had chosen Bernadette to interpret it to them. And now every day when they saw the child ascend and descend on her knees the slope that led up into the grotto, and kiss the ground, they bent down and did the same act of humiliation and penance. One day the child was heard saying, as she moved along on her knees, "Penance! penance! penance!" And now at times during her ecstasy, a shade of sadness veiled her countenance, and large tears fell from her eyes.
She was asked why she ascended and descended on her knees and kissed the ground?
"The Vision commanded me to do so. It is a penance for myself and others," was the answer.
"Why did you touch your lips with your finger, and then point it towards the ground?"
"The Vision wished me to make you understand that you also are to do penance for yourselves and others."
Amongst the spectators of these marvellous scenes was a very eminent medical man, Dr. Dozous, inspector of the district, and medical assistant of the Court of Justice. Like many other men of science who heard what had taken place, he did not believe that the child saw a supernatural being; yet, from all that he heard, and after questioning the child, he felt assured she really believed that she saw that which she described, and that she was labouring under a delusion; he therefore determined to watch the case closely. For that purpose he went down every day to the grotto, and kept quite close to Bernadette. He was soon convinced that she was free from all nervous or mental disease. For several days he frequently felt her pulse, and found it invariably quiet and regular, as was also her breathing; her skin was of a natural heat, and he remarked to his friends, "There is no unhealthy excitement here." Dr. Dozous has written an account of what took place at Lourdes, and from his work some of the following pages are translated. His testimony as an eye-witness is very valuable.
"On Sunday, the 21st February," writes the doctor, "just after I had felt Bernadette's pulse, which, as usual, was perfectly calm, I saw her advance to the highest part of the grotto; a shade of sadness passed like a cloud over her face, which until that moment had worn its habitual expression of perfect beatitude; presently large tears fell from her eyes and rolled down her cheeks. These changes in her physiognomy surprised me, and when she rose from her prayers, and the Vision had disappeared, I asked her what had taken place. She told me that the Lady had turned away her eyes from her, and then looked over the heads of the people, far, far away, with a sorrowful expression; and that when she had again looked at her, she asked her what grieved her. She answered, 'Pray for poor sinners, and for the world so full of agitation,' and then she disappeared.''
All that day, which was Sunday, groups of people might be seen, between the hours of church service, standing here and there, holding converse about Bernadette and the mysterious Vision; the general opinion being that the Lady, was the Blessed Virgin. In the meantime the town authorities, especially Monsieur Jacomet, the Commissary of Police, had become annoyed at this manifestation of public belief in what they chose to name a superstitious delusion.
Coming out from vespers Bernadette was quietly making the best of her way home, when one of the police put his hand on her shoulder, saying:
"In the name of the law!"
"What do you mean ?" said the child.
"I have received orders to arrest you and take you with me."
"To the commissary of police. Follow me."
M. Jacomet had long been renowned for his sharpness and cleverness in unmasking the greatest hypocrites, and for ferretting out the most cunningly-contrived crimes, and he had more than once declared that if he took Bernadette in hand, he would quickly unmask the imposture. Now was his opportunity; he had her alone, a poor, timid, peasant child. The doors were locked as soon as she entered the room, and one only witness was present, a M. Estrade, of whose testimony we shall speak hereafter. M. Jacomet felt sure of success; but although he tried every art, the most insinuating gentleness, the severest cross-examination, the most terrific threats, Bernadette never varied in her narration by a single word or point, and all his astuteness failed before the calm, straightforward truthfulness of the simple, untaught peasant child.
The crowd had followed Bernadette to the police office and remained outside, indignant but quiet; some one had told her father, who hastened to the spot. The doors were locked, but he insisted upon admittance. Mr. Jacomet, well knowing that he had no authority to keep the child, gave her up to her father, but first insisted upon his forbidding his daughter to return to the grotto. The father did so, and the poor child said she would try to obey, but that when she felt a certain power impelling her to go thither she could not resist going.
The next day her parents kept her at home until the usual hour for going to the school kept by the Sisters of Charity, called Sisters of Nevers.
These ladies had not seen Bernadette at the grotto. They had never seen the wonderful transfiguration of her countenance that took place there; they only knew her as an ill-instructed, ordinary child, and having heard from the authorities that by the stories she invented she was causing great disturbance in the town, they reproved her severely and tried to make her give up all further visits to the rocks of Massabielle. The poor child was sad and unhappy all the first part of the morning. When, at noon, she was going home to: dinner she felt herself drawn irresistibly along the road to the grotto, but to her surprise as she drew near it she did not feel the sweet attraction she generally experienced. She, however, took her place, surrounded by a compact body of people, composed of persons who had remained there since early dawn, and of others who, on seeing the child take that road, had followed her. She recited her rosary, but no change appeared on her countenance, and to the great consternation of the crowd she rose from her place with a sad look, saying that she had not seen the Vision. She reached home weeping bitterly. She asked herself whether it was through any fault of hers that the Lady had not appeared. She confessed her disobedience to her father, adding that she could not resist going to the grotto. She explained that when this sudden power took possession of her body, she was no longer mistress of her movements, but felt herself irresistibly carried forwards. Her father knew her to be remarkably truthful; it was the character given of her by her foster-parents, and she had never told an untruth since her return home; the poor father therefore believed his child, and seeing her in so great grief, gave her permission to return to the grotto whenever she wished. Great was the comfort this gave the little girl. The struggle in her mind between the promise she had made to the Lady to go for fifteen days to see her, and the obedience she owed her father, had been very severe and trying to so young a child. Now the trial was over, and several times that day she repeated to herself, "To-morrow I shall see her.”
THE next morning, as soon as the first gleam of light appeared, she rose from her bed, and, having heard the first mass, ran off to the Grotto. Early as it was, a great crowd was already there awaiting her. She took her usual place, and had only just begun the rosary, when the Vision appeared. The Lady looked at the child with the tenderest affection, and, calling her by her name, bade her approach. Promptly and joyfully she obeyed. "I have to tell you something that concerns yourself alone," said the Lady. "Will you promise me never to repeat it to any person?"
"I promise," said Bernadette.
The Lady then confided the secret to the attentive little girl.
"Now, my child," said the Lady, "go and tell the priests that I wish them to erect a chapel here." She then disappeared, leaving the child consoled and very happy; happy to have once more contemplated that beautiful vision, happy to have again been favoured with those looks so expressive of tenderest benignity, happy also to have been entrusted with a secret for herself and a message for the priests. Anxious to fulfil promptly this injunction of the Lady, she hastened on through the crowd that tried to stop and question her, and never stayed her steps or turned aside until she reached the house of the parish priest.
Monsieur Peyramale, who was then, and is still, parish priest of Lourdes, happened to be at home. He had, of course, heard of all that had taken place at the rocks of Massabielle, but not having seen the child there, in the wonderful transfiguration that took place in her appearance, and which it was impossible to contemplate without being obliged to say with one who, until he saw Bernadette in her ecstacy, never believed in the supernatural, "Beyond all doubt, a Divine Being is there," he did not give credence, on the mere word of a child, to the extraordinary manifestations that were said to take place. If the child had really seen an apparition, he gravely doubted, its Divine character. Fearing, therefore, either a deception or a Satanic delusion, he received the little girl very coldly, and asked her in a severe tone, "Are you Bernadette Soubirous? What do you want with me?" Greatly astonished at this reception, Bernadette nevertheless answered the cure, and then, in her usual simple, candid way, proceeded to say that she was charged by the Lady who appeared to her at the rocks of Massabielle to tell the priests that she desired them to build a chapel in that place.
"And," inquired M. Peyramale, "has the lady told you .her name?"
"No, she has not told me who she is."
"Many persons who see you praying at the Grotto fancy that you see the Blessed Virgin; but," continued the priest, "if you tell falsehoods, and pretend that you see our Blessed Lady in that Grotto, you will never see her in Heaven. God detests liars and punishes impostors."
In a modest, but calm and firm voice, the child answered: “ I never said, sir, that the Lady is the Blessed Virgin; but I see the Vision as plainly as I see you, and she speaks to me as plainly as you speak to me, and I am to tell you that she wishes a chapel to be built on the rocks of Massabielle."
The demeanour of the child, so devoid of excitement or affectation, made a great impression on the priest; he felt convinced she sincerely believed all she said, but still feared it was all a delusion, or a deceit of the Evil One. "Before I comply with the request of this Lady, I must know whether she has any right to make it. You say that her feet seem to rest on an eglantine that grows there. This is the 23rd of February; tell her that if she wishes to have a chapel built she must make the eglantine put forth its roses." Saying this, the priest dismissed her.
To those who questioned her, Bernadette told all that M. Peyramale had said, and the message she was to give the Lady. This caused a profound sensation amongst all parties, and each person determined to go next day to the Grotto, and see what would be the effect of the parish priest's requisition, consequently the crowd was immense. Bernadette was received very respectfully, and all knelt down when she did.
As we have before mentioned, Bernadette was accustomed to take her station at the foot of the slope that in those days rose from the Gave to the highest part of the Grotto. She always ascended this slope on her knees, saying her rosary, holding her beads in her left hand, whilst in her right she carried a lighted taper. On this day she remained stationary much longer than usual before the transfiguration of her face indicated to the assistants that she was in the presence of the Vision. At last those near her exclaimed, " She sees, she sees!" The Lady welcomed her most graciously, and Bernadette said to her, "The parish priest, to whom I gave your message, does not believe in my words, and he wishes to have a proof of your power before erecting here a chapel.
If you will make the roses of the eglantine bloom now, he will do what you require."
The Lady only smiled most sweetly. After a while, she bade Bernadette ascend the slope on her knees, and whilst doing so she pronounced three times the word "Penance," which Bernadette repeated after her in so loud a tone that she was heard by all those around her. Then the Lady again told her a secret that concerned herself alone, and immediately disappeared.
Bernadette rose quickly from her knees, and, passing through the crowd, hastened to the Presbytery. This time the priest received her with less severity of manner, and after listening attentively to all she told him, he asked her if she had seen anything unusual in the interior of the Grotto. "Except the Lady," she replied, "I saw nothing."
She left the Presbytery and returned home, where, besides her family, many friends and acquaintances were impatiently expecting her. This day's visit to the Grotto gave rise to numerous disputes between the opponents and believers in the Vision, and many were the accusations and the railleries made against Bernadette; even those who had hitherto supported and defended her were indignant that she had not prevailed on the Lady to make the roses bloom. Jacomet, the Inspector of Police, and his party of freethinkers triumphed. "The parish priest," said they, "has unmasked the impostor." So far was their opinion from being shared by all who had at first scoffed at the idea of any spiritual manifestation, that M. Estrade, Receiver of Indirect Taxes, -whom we have already mentioned as present at the interrogatory of Bernadette by Jacomet, and several other persons, became convinced that Bernadette was really in the presence of a supernatural being. The rumour that the child was to ask the Lady, whom she persisted in saying she saw, to make the eglantine to flower had determined them to be present; they went scoffing, or at least incredulous, and came away believing, to the intense annoyance of Jacomet and his party.
The following day, February 25th, Bernadette went as usual to the Grotto, and took her place in front of the niche; suddenly she rose from her knees, and directed her steps towards the Gave. The crowd, greater than ever, drew back on each side, leaving her a free passage; but she had not reached the river when she hastily retraced her steps, and ascending to the highest part turned to the eastern corner, where she was obliged to stoop, there being so little space under the slope of the rock. She appeared to be looking for something; presently she began scratching the ground with her hands; all who could do so had closely followed her, and now saw that she had made a hole in the soil. Out of this little hollow water was oozing drop by drop; this water mixing with the earth soon formed a tiny muddy pool; she turned towards the niche with a very expressive look, as if questioning some one, then she again stooped down, and scooping up some of this muddy water in her hands, carried it to her mouth as if to drink it, but put down her hands again without touching it with her lips. She repeated this action three times, as if unable to overcome the repugnance she felt to drink it. Again she tried, and this time swallowed some; then, after looking towards the Vision, she took up some more of this thick water and passed it all over her face; she then picked a herb that grew near and eat it.
A long murmur of astonishment ran through the crowd. "What is she doing that for? She is covering her face with mud! What can it mean?" But she quietly resumed her prayers at the place where she had first knelt, and shortly afterwards she rose up to return home.
Dr. Dozous tells us that he had kept very near the child during the whole morning, and had closely watched her every movement, and he remarked that she continued in her usual state of ecstacy whilst performing the several actions that resulted in the opening of that magnificent health-giving fountain, the enduring proof of the reality of the Vision manifested to Bernadette.
Dr. Dozous asked her the meaning of all her movements. She answered that as soon as the Lady appeared she said, "My child, I wish to tell you another secret which concerns yourself alone; you must not reveal it to anyone." After a short silence she continued: "Now go and drink, and wash yourself in the fountain, and eat of the herb that grows near it." Not seeing any fountain there, Bernadette naturally bent her steps towards the Gave, "but," said she to Dr. Dozous, " the Lady bade me not to go there; she stretched out her hand and pointed to the right side of the Grotto, to the spot to which I went on my knees yesterday, when you heard me say 'Penance ' three times; and she said to me, 'The fountain is there.' When I reached the place I could see no water, but as soon as I scraped the earth some began to ooze out. I filled my hands, but it was so muddy I did not at first like to drink it; at last I did swallow some, and -washed my face with it, and ate some of the herb; then the Lady smiled sweetly and soon vanished." Dr. Dozous examined minutely every part of the interior of the Grotto, and ascertained beyond a doubt that it was perfectly dry in every part, except in the little hollow made by the feeble hands of Bernadette; there a tiny stream, not broader than a straw, -was flowing slowly towards the Cave, but the dry earth and sand absorbed it, and its course could only be followed in some places by a trace of moisture. Everyone who had assisted at the scene we have described carefully explored the ground Bernadette had that day passed up and down. The hollow, about the size of a cup, that she had formed with her little hands was eagerly and closely examined; all who could procure a small vessel of any kind carried away with them some of this moist earth, which could scarcely be called water. This occurred about seven in the morning on the 25th of February, one of the principal market-days at Tarbes, the chief market town of the department, and the news was conveyed thither by all those who had seen what had occurred, and, spreading rapidly from one to another, it became known to all the country, far and near, and all determined to go to Lourdes. Some went there that evening, slept there, and early the next morning five or six thousand persons were seen crowding every spot of ground before and above the Grotto. A considerable number awaited on the road the coming of Bernadette, and as soon as she passed through their ranks they closed them and followed her, thus forming a first procession to the Grotto, to be succeeded by so many others. When she appeared, they cried out, "Here is the Saint!" and many tried to touch her garments. But all were doomed to disappointment. Bernadette took her accustomed place opposite the niche; she recited the rosary, she anxiously fixed her eyes on the opening in the rock, but no beautiful light appeared to announce the advent of the Lady. Sadly, at last, she rose from her knees. "She is not there," she said, and, making her way through the crowd, she returned home weeping. On her way she heard the scoffs and jeers of the unbelievers.
That morning Bernadette, as she proceeded to the Grotto, had been the object of quite an ovation; the people had hailed her as a Saint. May we not conjecture that our Blessed Lady, fearing that the simplicity and humility of the child might be endangered by the thoughtless enthusiasm of the crowd, deprived her of her presence, in order that by this salutary mortification she might understand and feel how incapable she was, of herself, to evoke the heavenly Vision? Those who were not blinded by inveterate prejudice could not but reflect how this non-appearance of the Vision completely refuted the last two arguments of the opponents of Bernadette. The child, said the unbelievers, is the victim of hallucination; or else, by kneeling long in prayer with her eyes intently fixed on the opening in the rock, her imagination becomes so excited, and her eyes so fatigued, that she fancies she sees the apparition she describes. Now, on this day, the 26th February, her expectation and desire to see the Lady were greater than ever, her prayer longer and more earnest, and with intense anxiety she lingered on past the usual time in the fond hope that the Lady would appear. How was it, then, all the outward circumstances being the same, her prayers, hopes, and desires more than ordinarily fervent, that she saw nothing, and that in the face of an immense and expectant crowd? She had to leave the Grotto, saying, to her own and everyone's disappointment, " She has not come." Common sense answers that the reason was that when the child's countenance underwent that wonderful transfiguration which always took place when she said she saw the Vision, the Lady was really there, and really spoke to her; but that on this day, as on a former occasion, she was really not there.
The non-appearance of the Vision did. not in any degree abate the enthusiasm of the people, who during the whole of that day invaded the Grotto, and the supposition that Bernadette was in direct communication with the Blessed Virgin became a conviction in the minds of all except a few freethinkers, at the head of whom was M. Jacomet, the police officer. The inhabitants of Lourdes and the neighbourhood were by this time convinced that God had sent the Blessed Virgin to them on a mission of mercy, and in this sense they interpreted all the actions of the child whilst in a state of ecstacy ; the order she received to open the spot from which the water was now flowing rapidly, and which they felt assured had not been brought forth from the bowels of the earth without a purpose; the command to wash her face with it and drink it encouraged them to believe that miracles would be worked at the Grotto, and God himself now deigned to confirm their faith and the truth of the child's testimony by the undeniably miraculous cures of Louis Bouriette, a quarryman, who recovered the sight of one of his eyes; of Blaisette Soupene, and of the child of Croizine Ducomte.
ON the 27th, Bernadette returned to the Grotto, and again had the happiness to behold and converse with the Lady. Everyone could read on her countenance how greatly she was consoled for the privation she had felt so keenly.
The water was flowing so abundantly that the little hollow she had made with her feeble hands was greatly enlarged, and the stream was widening every hour. The Grotto was now always crowded during the day, and, as many persons brought with them lighted tapers, it had already the appearance of a Sanctuary. Hymns were sung, litanies recited aloud, novenas made: all in the greatest order and with most edifying recollection of manner, as if the pilgrims were assisting at service in a church, and joining in the prayers with an officiating priest. However, not a single priest was there; the clergy had held aloof, for they shared in the opinion of M. Peyramale, the parish priest of Lourdes, who answered some who urged him to take part in the visits of the people to the Grotto,—" Let us wait; in human affairs an ordinary prudence is enough; but in what relates to God our prudence must be tenfold." The people, who had no responsibility, listened only to the evidence of their senses, which told them that the child could not have been so beautifully transfigured while praying, except in the presence of a
Supernatural being; and that the vision was from Heaven was clearly proved to them by the miracles they daily witnessed.
March 4th was the last day of this memorable fortnight, and it was looked forward to with no small amount of interest and anxiety. Would the apparition give her name? Would not some new and wonderful manifestation mark this closing day?
Crowds of people hastened to Lourdes, encumbering the hotels, the houses, and every nook of shelter in the town; the inhabitants making every effort to accommodate them. The Pyrenean Shepherds and the men from the mountains contented themselves with what shelter they could find under and around the rocks of Massabielle; they secured the best places near the Grotto, and before dawn every available spot on the bank of the Gave on the Grotto side was taken possession of; great numbers, especially tradespeople, covered the slopes on the opposite bank of the river, from whence, looking over the heads of the crowd on the other side, they could see distinctly what was passing at Massabielle. The concourse of people was extraordinary; never before had Lourdes witnessed so great an affluence of pilgrims. Beam, Bigorre, the far-distant mountains, even the Spanish slopes of the Pyrenees, had sent their contingents. As the sun rose above the mountains and sent forth its rays, bright and warm as they are in the south even in the month of March, the scene it disclosed was striking in the extreme. There were more than twenty thousand persons assembled; some saying the rosary, others with prayer books in their hands; all were quiet and orderly, not seeming aware that in their rear were foot police, mounted police (gendarmes), and a troop of cavalry from Tarbes. The police officer, Jacomet, and the local crown prosecutor had taken their stand on a height in the vicinity and were watching the movements of the crowd.
At last the cry was heard, "She is coming!" And, preceded by the police, who made way for her through the. serried ranks of the people, Bernadette was seen advancing towards the Grotto. She prostrated herself in prayer. Instantly every head was uncovered and every knee was bent. Amidst the most profound silence, insensible to all around her, that simple innocent little peasant girl communed with the celestial vision. All that our Lady deigned to say to this lowly child was not to be made known to others; we know that she bade her repeat those acts of humility that she fulfilled on the 25th of February when the fountain was opened; she again requested that a chapel should be built, and processions made to commemorate these events; but when Bernadette asked her name she only answered with a sweet smile, full of gentleness and tenderness. At last, graciously saluting the little girl, she vanished, and the glory in the midst of which she had been enveloped also faded away. The last day of the fortnight was over, and Bernadette, her face, clouded with a marked expression of sadness, taking the arm of her aunt, withdrew.
This day then had not been marked by any extraordinary event, beyond the usual marvellous apparition; and it might be conjectured that the people, disappointed in their expectations, would lose somewhat of their fervour; or that with the closing day of the visions their visits to the Grotto would cease, or, at least, be less frequent; but it was not so. The celestial apparition, which had been sent on a mission of mercy and grace, had penetrated the souls of the greater number of those who had joined Bernadette in her prayers during the past fortnight; great conversions had taken place, piety had been revivified, the sacraments more frequented, vices abandoned, miracles performed, the pilgrimage to the Grotto established; and now, every day, from early dawn, hundreds of people might be seen kneeling in prayer at that spot erewhile so lonely and abandoned that, as I was told by an inhabitant of Lourdes, many did not know the way to the rocks of Massabielle. And each day Bernadette also went there to pray; with longing eyes she gazed on the rose tree and the niche, but the beautiful vision was no longer there. But three weeks after, on the morning of the 25th of March she felt again the well-known strong constraining force, the interior impulse that during the fortnight had impelled her to go to the Grotto. Yes, again she felt the call, and most joyfully did she obey: she ran to the Grotto, and was soon surrounded by a great concourse of people. Many persons were already there, and when she was seen hastening that road numbers left their houses and followed her, for a vague hope prevailed that on that day the Vision would again be seen by Bernadette; and those hopes were not deceived. Scarcely had the child began the rosary when the Vision appeared. As usual a glorious effulgence resembling the aurora beamed around the Lady and was reflected on the countenance of the child. "She sees !" exclaimed those nearest to her, and the words were repeated to the utmost limits of the crowd. "My Lady," said Bernadette, "be so good as to tell me who you are?" The only answer she received was a gracious smile ; again she urged the same request, yet no answer was vouchsafed. A third time, with humble but persistent earnest entreaty, the child repeated, "Oh, my Lady, you ought to tell me who you are." During all this time the Lady stood before Bernadette, gazing on her with that benignant look that inspired the child with so much confidence and love: her hands were folded, palm to palm on her breast as if in prayer, but when the child finished speaking the Lady unfolded her hands, and extended them downwards as if saluting the earth, then raising them and her head towards heaven, she joined them with fervour; her looks gazing upwards seemed to penetrate far beyond the bounds of the universe, whilst the radiance of her countenance, and the splendour that surrounded her, became every moment more luminous. From the midst of this resplendent aureola, Bernadette heard these words issue in the soft silvery tones she knew so well, "I AM THE IMMACULATE CONCEPTION."
Without turning again her eyes towards the earth, without changing her attitude, the Virgin Mother of man's Saviour returned to Heaven, leaving the favoured child so deeply impressed by the beauty of what she had just beheld that the remembrance was never after effaced from her soul. When afterwards she described it to those who questioned her, there was so heavenly an expression on her face, and when, in imitation of our Lady, she lifted up her head to heaven, there was so much dignity and grace in the gesture of raising her hands and folding them on her breast that those who saw her were deeply impressed with sentiments of reverence and admiration. A man of the world who once witnessed her representation of our Blessed Lady's movements exclaimed: "This is sufficient for me. I believe. I am convinced that this child really saw our Lady; she never could invent what she has described to us. It is evident that what she has seen belongs to another world."
As soon as Bernadette left the Grotto, she hastened to the presbytery to tell M. Peyramale what she had heard; but, as she did not understand the words, she kept repeating them to herself all along the road, " lest," as she once said, "lest I should lose them; and I wanted to bring to the cure the very words of the Vision, that the chapel might he built."
The parish-priest perfectly understood, as did everybody else, that the lady who had so often appeared at the Grotto, and who had bidden Bernadette to open the fountain that was already working so many miracles, was no other than the Blessed Mother of the Redeemer of mankind.
We shall not at present relate all the efforts made by the unbelievers to destroy the impression produced by these wonderful events. When the narrative of Bernadette's Vision of our Lady is concluded, we shall recount all the persecution she suffered, and all the efforts made to prevent people visiting the Grotto.
Bernadette still continued going there to pray, as did numerous pilgrims of all ranks and conditions. Even tourists, hearing of the wonders that had been wrought, turned aside on their journey to visit the rocks of Massabielle.
ON Easter Monday, April 5, the child again felt the interior voice that called her into the presence of the Vision. Crowds accompanied her, for it was easy to see when she was going to the Grotto to obey that call; and for the last time the multitude saw her in ecstacy, communing with the blessed Virgin, who deigned to mark that day by a miracle.
Whilst Bernadette was in her ecstacy she placed on. the ground in front of her a large blessed wax light. For a time she supported it with her hands, although it was so large that it stood steadily without that assistance; presently she joined her hands above it, but as the tips of the fingers alone touched each other, the burning wick was enclosed within the arch formed by the separated palms, and the flame was seen to pass through her fingers; now and then, driven by the wind, it played on the palm of the left hand. Those around her exclaimed, " She will be burnt!" and wished to remove the light, but Dr. Dozous, who was close beside, begged them not to disturb her. For he saw, to his great surprise, that she seemed quite unconscious of what was taking place, and, as far as he could see, the skin seemed perfectly intact. He took out his watch, and for a full quarter of an hour attentively observed this phenomenon; at the expiration of that time Bernadette took up the wax light, and ascended on her knees to the upper part of the Grotto, where the water was flowing forth in abundance, drank some, and bathed her face.
When the Vision had disappeared, and she was about to return home, Dr. Dozous asked her to allow him to see her hands. He examined them most minutely in the presence of numerous spectators who had witnessed the action of the flame on them; not the slightest trace of burn, or any mark, was to be seen on the fingers or on any part of the hands. Presently, whilst the child's attention was drawn elsewhere, Dr. Dozous passed the flame of a lighted taper across her hands; she started, and exclaimed, '' Sir! you are burning me." There were nearly ten thousand persons at the Grotto on that morning.
Bernadette once again, but more than three months after this miracle, was permitted to contemplate that beautiful Vision. During that lapse of time she had been subjected to every kind of annoyance and persecution by the authorities.
On the 16th of July our Blessed Lady again deigned to appear to her and console her in the midst of her trials. It was late in the afternoon, on the feast of our Lady of Mount Carmel, that Bernadette once again felt that mysterious influence that had so often drawn her towards the Grotto. She spoke of it to her mother and a young aunt of hers; the latter proposed to go with her; not, indeed, to the Grotto— which, as I shall relate hereafter, was closed to the public, and to Bernadette more than to anyone else—but to the meadows on the slopes of the opposite banks of the Gave facing the rocks of Massabielle. Two women accompanied her and her aunt; they knelt down exactly opposite the Grotto, near a group of persons who were kneeling in prayer.
It was a lovely summer evening; the sun was sinking behind the Gers, and its last rays illuminated the sky and mountains with brilliant hues; but Bernadette 's looks, whilst she prayed, sought only the spot where the Vision had so often appeared. Presently her features were irradiated by that supernatural light which denoted the presence of our Lady, and to those who beheld her, the crimson and gold of the sky, the rich purple and opal tints on the mountain and on the river, seemed far less luminous than the child's transfigured face. This last and unlooked for appearance of the Immaculate Virgin was for Bernadette alone. The Vision lasted only a quarter of an hour, but sufficed, as it was no doubt intended it should by her who is named " Comforter of the afflicted," to render the poor little girl supremely happy and entirely consoled.
She spoke of this evening with an expression of intense happiness, and appeared to take great pleasure in relating all the details of the Vision. She said that as soon as she perceived the first rays of the splendour which always preceded the apparition of the Blessed Virgin she lost sight of everything else; the Grave, the rocks, the barrier at the Grotto, all disappeared; she felt herself as near the Vision as when she knelt close to the eglantine during the happy fortnight. She saw once more the Lady—nothing but the Lady—her brilliant white robe and veil, her dazzling blue girdle, her sweet benignant looks and smiles. But the Virgin had never appeared SO gloriously radiant, her face never so beautiful, the light that surrounded her never so magnificent and brilliant, as on this evening; and the Lady, as she retired, saluted her with a most benign expression, as if loth to leave the poor little child. Thrice happy Bernadette! no wonder that, after receiving such celestial favours, threats and flattery were alike powerless to move you! Neither the persecutions of the unbelieving, nor the marks of veneration of her fellow-citizens, nor the offers of money or favours, ever had the slightest influence on her character; she was always the same—modest, quiet, unassuming—fulfilling with diligence all her home duties, refusing every offer of pecuniary assistance, even the smallest presents. She gradually withdrew as far as possible from the crowds who thronged to the Grotto, going there to pray only when it was most free from visitors. She went daily to school at the convent, where she was remarked only for her attention and her simple manners. She was silent and retiring, pondering in her heart all that had taken place, and doubtless her soul often feasted on the memory of that incomparable vision. During her stay at the Hospice at Lourdes under the protection of the nuns, she was allowed to receive visitors of all ranks of society, who came in great numbers. Patiently and modestly she answered all their questions, never varying in her account of what had taken place at the Grotto, although two years had elapsed since she was favoured by the last Vision; but she ardently longed for the quiet and retirement of some distant convent, where, unknown to men, she might live only for God in the service of His poor. After several years this was granted to her, and after passing well through her novitiate, on October 30, 1867, she made her profession at Nevers in the convent of the Sisters of Charity of that name. She is still there, actively employed in tending the sick and the infirm, fulfilling all her duties with fervour and intelligence. Her superiors speak of her as pious, gentle, and of a truly charming character. One of the sisters of the community says in a letter, "May God deign to preserve her to us; she is so good, gentle, and humble, that it does one good to see her."
We must now retrace our steps to the fortnight of the apparitions, and after having had the happiness of recounting these manifestations of the mercy of God, who sent his beloved daughter, the Virgin Mother of the Saviour, to recall His people from the paths of sin and error, we must relate the blind and violent opposition of a small but noisy and virulent body of men, composed chiefly of the provincial authorities, backed by all the irreligious press, especially of Paris. The Immaculate Virgin, in accomplishing her mission at the Grotto, had to contend against that eternal hatred which the principle of evil ever opposes to the works of God.
THE opposition to the manifestations of devotion at the Grotto of Massabielle, which had been aroused by the apparitions of our Immaculate Lady to Bernadette, was led by a certain Monsieur Jacomet, who at that time held the post of Commissary of Police at Lourdes. He was, of course, encouraged and supported by the knot of rationalists and freethinkers which is always to be found in the provincial towns of France; and he received powerful support from the Prefect of the Department, and the irreligious newspapers of Paris.
It was to have been expected that Bernadette should be accused of feigning to see visions and to have ecstacies, and that her parents should be charged with encouraging their child in the imposture. It was also equally to have been expected that the clergy should be accused of having inspired and directed the deceit. But these charges were not credited by the good people of Lourdes, although they were doubtless believed elsewhere. At Lourdes, Bernadette and her parents were too well known to be deemed capable of planning such trickery, much less to have been thought clever enough to carry it out. It was well known, too, that the clergy, so far from patronising Bernadette, had from the first received the account of her visions with great coldness, and almost with disfavour, and had always kept aloof from what had been done at the Grotto. The opposing party was, therefore, soon obliged to lay aside these calumnies, and to have recourse to other means of checking the devotion. They, therefore, applied to the Prefect and to the Minister of Public Worship, for powers to prevent Bernadette and the people from visiting the Grotto of Massabielle.
The minister, M. Rouland, a man without any fixed religious principles, was indignant that in this enlightened century, and during his term of office, celestial apparitions should be seen, and miracles be wrought. Nevertheless, he was obliged to act with caution, for the guiding principle given to the Ministers of the Second Empire would seem to have been, "to silently repress religion, but to show a certain outward respect to the bishops and clergy." Guided by this policy, M. Rouland told the Prefect that, although the law would justify them if they immediately ordered the Grotto to be closed to the public, it would nevertheless be dangerous to act abruptly; that it would therefore be advisable to prevail on the Bishop to forbid Bernadette and the people to go to the Grotto; and, "You may tell him from me," added the wily Minister of State, "that a free course should not be allowed to a state of things which cannot fail to serve as a pretext for fresh attacks upon religion and the clergy."
The Bishop saw clearly, through the astute Minister's words, the half-threat conveyed in them, and the desire to make him do acts so contrary to the individual liberty of his flock, and which must naturally arouse the indignation of all just men. The Bishop was, of course, most anxious to prevent anything taking place that would authorise the Minister or the Prefect to have recourse to violent measures; but his conscience would not allow him to formally forbid Bernadette or the people going to the Grotto, as long as they did not offend against the laws or cause any annoyance or disturbance. He, however, begged the parish priest to counsel Bernadette to go there but seldom, and as privately as possible; but the advice was scarcely necessary, for, of her own accord, she had always tried to avoid the crowd; and, for that purpose, although the weather was so cold, she always went to the Grotto as early as the daylight appeared, but hundreds went there before daybreak, and frustrated her desire. There never was the least noise or disturbance of any kind, as the people were most orderly, quiet, and respectful; and, although the crowds were immense, there never was any confusion, and no one was ever hurt.
The authorities, baffled in their plans, now changed their tactics; and, seeing that they could not entangle the Bishop and clergy in their opposition to the now popular devotion, they threw off all restraint and determined to try intimidation. Their first move was to try to have Bernadette shut up in a lunatic asylum; but in this they were opposed by the parish priest, who invoked the French law, which prescribes that no one shall be confined as a lunatic, unless, after being duly examined, he or she shall be declared by two competent doctors to be suffering from severe mental disease. Accordingly, during three weeks, Bernadette was subjected to daily examinations. The result was that the physicians, one of whom was the particular friend of the Crown Prosecutor, certified that they had not been able to discover any mental or cerebral disease in the child; two of the doctors added that probably—they would not say certainly—she might be subject to hallucinations.
The Prefect wished to avail himself of this word "hallucinations," and have Bernadette arrested, and in due time transferred to a lunatic asylum; but it was pointed out to him that this abuse of his authority would lead to very serious consequences, and raise a storm of indignation and angry feelings, for the results of which he would be held responsible.
Thwarted in this, he gave orders, in virtue of a law forbidding any place to be used as a Sanctuary without the permission of the Minister, that the Grotto should be closed; for in it prayers were offered up, lights burned, and hymns sung, all which the Prefect declared gave it the appearance of a Sanctuary.
When it became known that the Grotto was to be closed, and despoiled of all the gifts and offerings that had been placed there, a great agitation arose in the town and it soon spread to the adjacent districts. Great crowds of peasants from the mountains poured into the town, and assumed a very threatening attitude. The parish priest and his vicars went amongst them, exhorting them to be calm and patient. It was no easy task to soothe the general indignation. "The Blessed Virgin," said they, "has deigned to visit our country, and shall we allow Her to be thus insulted?" But the excellent parish priest answered them, "Believe me, our Blessed Lady will know how to defend her rights, and will turn all to the glory of God. Do not give way to anger: submit to the law." These words had the desired effect, and, although it was difficult to bear patiently the proceedings of the police, the people remained calm and silent.
The Grotto was by this time filled with offerings, some of which were of considerable value; and money to the amount of several thousand francs was lying on the ground inside the balustrade which the Confraternity of Carpenters had put up before the Grotto.
No thief had dared to lay a sacrilegious hand on this money, placed there as the first subscriptions towards building the church asked for to our Lady. The Commissary of Police, however, was not so scrupulous. He took upon himself to confiscate this money, as well as everything else; but, to carry off the spoil, a cart -was necessary, and here M. Jacomet's troubles began. No one would lend a cart for such a purpose. After many fruitless petitions, he applied to M. Barrossi, a well-known and most obliging postmaster; but Barrossi flatly refused to lend either cart or horse. "I do not hire out my horses for such work," was his reply. "But," said the Commissary, "you have no right to refuse your horses to a person who offers to pay for them." "The horses," retorted Barrossi, "are for the service of the post. You can bring an action against me, if it suit you to do so; but you will not obtain horses or cart from me."
From door to door went the baffled Commissary, and, although the town was full of horses and conveyances of every kind, he could obtain neither animal nor cart, although he offered thirty francs to anyone who would do the work for him. The ready-witted Bearnais people made a loud and unanimous allusion to the thirty pieces of silver offered to, and accepted by, the most wretched traitor the world ever knew, and many were the bitter taunts addressed to Jacomet by the crowd that followed him.
At last a young woman, seduced by that sadly memorable sum, lent her cart and horse, to the intense disgust and profound indignation of all the inhabitants of Lourdes. There was at that time no possibility of bringing a cart, however small, up to the Grotto; the police were, therefore, obliged to leave it at some distance, and carry the different objects away from the Grotto in their arms. The people looked on in silence, but there was something in their attitude that gave reason to fear that their patience was nearly worn out. Several wise and prudent persons went through the crowd, reminding them of the parish priest's words, and of their own promises not to cause any scandal, and to leave all to the Blessed Virgin. This kept them quiet; but it was easy to see that the police were ashamed of the work they were doing, and uneasy as to how the people would bear their proceedings.
When all the lights were extinguished, and all the offerings and money had been carried off, Jacomet ordered the balustrade to be removed. To effect this a hatchet was required. More than an hour elapsed before this implement could be procured. At last, amidst murmurs of contempt, a man lent one; but, even then, no one would use it, and Jacomet had to destroy the balustrade himself. As the frail barrier fell beneath his blows, the crowd made a threatening movement. Jacomet, alarmed, assured them, in the most humble tones, that he was obeying the orders of the Prefect, and did so with regret; but there was a stir amongst the people which showed that their wrath was rising. At this moment several voices called out, "Keep calm; no violence. Leave all to the justice of God." Once more the voice of prudence prevailed, and the people dispersed quietly ; but in the evening they again repaired to the Grotto, bringing with them a profusion of flowers and lights; and, kneeling down in great order and recollection, they recited the Rosary.
Two singular accidents occurred that very day. The young woman who, for thirty pieces of silver, had lent her cart and horse, fell from a hayloft and broke her ribs, A few hours later, the man who had lent the hatchet had both his legs smashed, through a large plank which he was moving falling upon them. These two incidents made a great impression on both believers and freethinkers.
THE next move of the Prefect was to forbid the people to go to Massabielle, or to approach the Grotto. He caused a large board to be placed on the rock, and another near the Grotto, on both of which were painted these words: "It is forbidden to enter these grounds." Strong barricades were placed on every side, and some of the police were stationed there to keep the people from approaching, and from taking away the water of our Lady's fountain. But these measures only served to increase the fervour of the people and the number of the pilgrims, who, being prevented from approaching the neighbourhood of the Grotto, assembled in vast bodies on the opposite side of the Gave, some even kneeling on the stones in the bed of the river. The police harassed and vexed the people in various ways, and arrested all who ventured too near the barricades.
Jacomet was triumphant, and he exercised his high functions, as he considered them, in an extremely harsh and imperious manner. One day he caught sight of a group of persons, composed in about equal number of ladies and gentlemen, making their way along the heights of Massabielle. Rushing up to them, he bade them, in his usual imperious tone, to read the words painted on the board. "Do you not see," he said, " that it is forbidden to pass here?" One of the strangers answered, "Thanks, friend," and the party continued to advance, evidently bent on going down to the Grotto. Jacomet, in the most violent manner, demanded their names, threatening to arrest them. A lady of the party said, with extreme politeness, "Have the kindness, sir, to lend me your note-book an instant, that we may ourselves write our names, as the orthography of some of them is difficult." Each one of the party wrote his or her name; the lady then handed back the book to its owner, and without waiting for permission, they all continued their descent to the Grotto. Dr. Dozous was present at this scene, accompanied by the celebrated Carmelite, Pere Hermann, and M. Louis Veuillot, and he says, "The Commissary was so absorbed in reading what had been written in his note-book that he paid no attention to us, although we passed close by him in the track of the party whom he had wished to arrest. We descended the slopes to the Grotto, but paused on our way to see what had become of Jacomet. He was still in the same spot, still gazing with a pale face at the names in his pocket-book. Suddenly he started off to the town. We afterwards learnt that the lady who spoke so quietly and politely to Jacomet was Madame Bruat, wife of the excellent Admiral Bruat, and governess to the Prince Imperial, and that her companions were high functionaries of the Imperial Court."
In the meantime Jacomet, his note-book in hand, hastened to relate to the Prefect what had occurred, and to communicate to him his fears. The two worthies saw clearly the rock ahead. It was well known that Madame Bruat, a very excellent woman, was in the confidence of the Empress, and they felt sure that if their petty tyranny should be exposed to the Empress it would be speedily checked. It was, therefore, expedient to take measures that would prevent their authority from being discredited. The Prefect consequently wrote to the minister, praying him to tell the Bishop that a stop must be at once put to the continuance of the deplorable superstition which was so seriously affecting the true interests of religion. The minister immediately wrote a most pressing letter to the Bishop, urging him to use strong measures to prevent his flock from going to Massabielle or ever more speaking of the vision.
The substance of the Bishop's answer was that he had named a commission for the purpose of examining into the extraordinary events that had taken place at the Grotto, that the commission had already advanced some way its labours, and that M. Rouland's letter could in no way stop or change the work already begun, the result of which would be laid before himself, and would guide him in forming a decision which would clear up all doubts, and thus guarantee the true interests of religion. However, the vexatious persecutions went on as before; many persons were arrested, fined, and even imprisoned, on the most trifling pretexts; Three poor women were arrested and heavily fined for having said that the Emperor had asked Bernadette to pray for him. The case was sent on to the superior courts at Pau, but there the first sentence was reversed; the women were declared innocent, with the observation that the case should not have been brought into court.
This decision of the higher courts gave great satisfaction to the people; it showed them that, beyond a certain clique, their rights would be respected, and that in the end justice would prevail. They had not long to wait. What the Prefect and Jacomet feared came to pass: Madame Bruat and her friends related all that they had seen to the Empress, who likewise daily received letters from all parts protesting against the prohibition to visit the Grotto, and complaining of the harsh and arbitrary conduct of the Prefect and the police.
Orders were sent to the Prefect to allow the people to have free access to the Grotto. Overwhelmed with vexation, he sent for Jacomet, who advised him not to allow it to be known that he had received the order, but gradually, and as if of his own accord, to relax the vigilant watch that had been established at Massabielle. They hoped that this order, which was so damaging to their dignity, was only an Imperial caprice, and would soon be forgotten. But their hopes and calculations were very quickly disappointed. A second order, more stringent and imperative than the first, placed them on the horns of a dilemma. To hesitate now to execute the Imperial decree would he equivalent to signing their own dismissal; on the other hand, to publish it in the terms in which they had received it would be a public condemnation of their past severity.
Jacomet again came to the rescue of the Prefect. He would, he said, take upon himself the task of making it appear to the people that the Prefect had resolved, in spite of all risks, to give everyone for the future free access to the Grotto, for which courageous act on the part of the Prefect he trusted they would he duly grateful.
Unfortunately for M. Jacomet, the parish priest had received orders to inform the people that they were to have full permission to visit the Grotto and use the water of the fountain, and that all restrictions to their devotion were now removed.
M. Peyramale made this good news known to his flock as soon as he received it, and therefore, when Jacomet issued his invitation to the inhabitants of Lourdes to meet him at the Grotto, they knew that he would be obliged to tell them the truth. Not knowing that they were already informed of the contents of the Imperial decree, he addressed them in words intended to mislead them as to the true state of the case. He told them that he had always sympathised with their sentiments of faith and piety, that it had caused him great pain when, in obedience to superior orders, he had been obliged to impose so many restraints upon their devotion, but that he was resolved for the future to protect them from every annoyance. When the people heard these patronising words, they burst into loud laughter. Jacomet now saw how matters stood, and thought it most prudent to beat a hasty retreat from the spot. Thus ended the persecutions that Bernadette and the good people of Lourdes and its neighbourhood had endured with so much forbearance.
FROM that day forth the scene of our Lady's apparitions has been visited by thousands, who were drawn to it from every part of Christendom; and thus a spot which was but a few years ago so wild and unfrequented is now known and spoken of throughout the world. The desert has burst into flower, the solitude is thronged, and the voices of countless multitudes awaken the echoes with hymns of praise and supplication.
The chief interest attached to Lourdes is, of course, of a purely spiritual character; nevertheless, it possesses other attractions of no mean order, and its natural beauty harmonizes well with the supernatural privileges which it has received. Many of the great sanctuaries of Christendom are surrounded by fair scenery, but scarce one, we think, occupies a fairer site than that of Lourdes.
The little town is strikingly picturesque. It is situated at the foot of the Pyrenees, and on one of their lowest spurs. Round it rush the foaming waters of the Gave de Pau, and above stand the battlemented walls and towers of the old castle, placed on an isolated rock which rises abruptly from the river. The snowy peaks of the Pyrenees, rising in the distance, tier above tier, towards the clouds, make a noble background to the beautiful scene.
The Grotto which was the scene of our Lady's apparitions is at the distance of about half a mile from the town. It is a cleft in the rock of Massabielle, and is but a few feet above the level of the Gave, and is quite close to its banks. Above the Grotto the rock rises almost perpendicularly to a considerable height. The great numbers of pilgrims who began to flock to Lourdes necessitated many alterations near the Grotto. But these changes have been made with such care that the Grotto itself has suffered no change, and art has touched the surroundings with a hand so skilful and delicate that, whilst everything possible has been done to facilitate the approach of the pilgrims, not a charm has been disturbed, and everything of interest remains. No doubt the pious pilgrim would prefer to see the whole spot remain exactly as it was when our Lady appeared to Bernadette. But this, of course, was not possible. The advantage of all had to be considered, and no considerable number of persons could have approached the Grotto without great alterations being made. Besides, our Lady had expressed a desire that a church should be built on that spot, and to do this it was necessary to form roads for the workmen and materials, as well as for those whose devotion should draw them to the new sanctuary.
The work of forming convenient approaches to the Grotto and church has been very difficult and laborious. The stream that obstructed the path from Lourdes to Massabielle had to be turned aside into a new course. A road has been made from the town, which, after a little distance, branches into two: the upper road, leading to the church, is cut out of the solid rock; the lower path is conducted along a handsome quay planted with trees, which also serves to keep the impetuous waters of the Gave in a regular course; in front of the Grotto it widens into a spacious esplanade. A road is cut in the rock to form an approach from the Grotto to the principal front of the church, while, a little behind the Grotto, a gently-sloping path, which winds up a steep acclivity amidst groups of evergreen shrubs and flowering plants, also gives ready access to the church.
The Grotto itself is enclosed by an iron railing; within it many wax lights are constantly burning, and numerous crutches hang there that have been left by those who only reached the Grotto by their help, but went away with unaided steps. The water of the miraculous spring still flows abundantly from one extremity of the cave; it is now conducted by a pipe to a plain marble fountain just outside the Grotto, whence it flows in three jets. Close by a small building has been erected where those who wish may bathe in the water of the fountain.
When the pilgrim for the first time reaches the Grotto, his eyes instinctively seek the niche that was hallowed by the vision of the Virgin Mother of his Saviour. He sees it over the cave, a little to the right. It remains just as when the vision was first seen there, with the wild rose growing around it; but in it there is a beautiful statue, of the purest Italian marble, representing our Blessed Lady at the moment when, raising her eyes towards heaven, and folding her hands on her breast, she said, "I AM THE IMMACULATE CONCEPTION." It is very beautiful and very devotional; it would be matter for deep regret if it were removed, for something would then seem wanting to the place: yet we can well understand Bernadette's look of sadness when she first saw it in the niche. How could that cold marble give pleasure to her who had so often had the happiness of seeing there the Blessed Virgin herself in all her heavenly splendour?
High above the rock of Massabielle, and immediately over the Grotto, rises the beautiful Gothic church, built in obedience to our Lady's wish, expressed to Bernadette, and repeated by her to the parish priest of Lourdes. This beautiful sanctuary might well be named the Church of All Nations, for it was built with the offerings that poured in from all parts of the world. It was finished in an incredibly short space of time, and opened for public service, to the intense joy of all, and to the great consolation of the pilgrims, who had continued to visit the Grotto in large and ever increasing numbers.
The church, built in the beautiful style of the 13th century, is a double one. The upper church is lofty and brilliant; beneath it is the crypt, which forms a second church, and is low and comparatively gloomy. This lower church is approached through two long corridors, on issuing from which the pilgrim finds himself in a large chapel of simple and massive architecture. The first effect is a somewhat confused one, Owing to the forest of columns which support the intricate groining of the vaulted roof, but the eye soon grows accustomed to the dim light, and perceives the five chapels which surround the crypt. The centre of these is dedicated to our Lady, and is the high altar of the lower church; the altar of St. Joseph on the right is that which is immediately above the grotto.
Through a magnificent porch under the lofty tower which adorns the front of the sanctuary, the pilgrim enters the upper church. It is a very spacious and elegant building, very lofty, and beautifully proportioned. It is not much less than two hundred feet in length, and consists of a single nave without aisles, but it has a series of chapels on each side and round the apse, fifteen in all. The high altar is of Carrara marble, beautifully sculptured, and behind it is a statue of our Lady of Lourdes, surmounted by a lofty gilt canopy. Numbers of lamps hang from the roof before this altar; they are all of them handsome, and some are of matchless beauty. Amongst them the lamp sent by the Catholics of Ireland holds a distinguished place.
It would take too long to describe in detail the fifteen chapels which surround the church. Each has some special interest attached to it, not only from the beauty of its altars, stained glass, and other adornments, but also from the special circumstances connected with it. We may mention that one of the five chapels, which form as it were a crown round the high altar, is dedicated to our Lady of the Rosary, and is adorned with a beautiful sculptured group, representing St. Dominic receiving the Rosary from the hands of the Blessed Virgin.
The upper church is adorned with innumerable offerings of various kinds, that have been sent by countries, dioceses, towns, and private individuals, either as marks of devotion or in thanksgiving for graces received. But the church receives its distinguishing character from the banners that hang on its walls and from its roof. None of them are unworthy of their position, and many are resplendent with embroidery of the greatest richness and beauty; they are so numerous that they occupy every available spot, and one wonders whether space could be found for one more. The effect they produce, seen in combination with the lamps that hang before the high altar, and in the rich light that pours in through the stained glass windows, is one of matchless splendour. These banners are memorials of the pilgrimages that have visited Lourdes. Like the pilgrimages themselves, they come from all parts and the visitor from our own shores notices with interest and consolation the banners of England, Ireland, Scotland, and Canada.
VERY few of those who visit Lourdes leave it without driving some spiritual benefit from their pilgrimage. During the few days of their stay they witness the simple confidence and fervent piety of those around them; they themselves have prayed, have received the Bread of Life, and have felt the soothing influence of a place where God reigns supreme. In our churches we can hear while we pray the noise and bustle of the ever-restless world murmuring at the very doors; at Massabielle everything speaks to the soul of God. The history of the apparitions of our Lady are every moment recalled to the mind with a vivid reality, and we perceive how each word and act of our Blessed Lady during these Visions has a significance that it imports us to study.
It would take up too much space here to point out the lessons to be learnt from each incident of the sixteen days' apparitions; but we may be allowed, as we close this short history, which it has given us so much pleasure to write, to indicate some of the pious thoughts that may be gathered from certain actions of the Immaculate Virgin and of Bernadette.
The way in which the child made the sign of the cross on the day of the second Vision, and ever after was remarked by those present. She was asked why she made it in that manner; she answered that the Lady had taught her to do so. Many who saw her signing herself with the cross were converted, amongst others M. Estrade, who, speaking on the subject, says :—" Occasionally the child made the sign of the cross in a manner so devout, noble, and commanding that for the first time I understood its meaning, and I could not help thinking that, if the saints in Heaven make the sign of the cross, it must be in the way Bernadette makes it. The action with her seemed to embrace the universe." How often with the generality of Catholics is it made in so hurried a manner that it becomes a source of disedification to man, and an offence to God. And yet in reality it is a profession of our faith and a commemoration of the death of our Redeemer.
The first day that our Lady deigned to appear to Bernadette, she held in her hand a Rosary, and, passing the beads through her fingers, she invited by her gestures the child to say her Rosary, which she did, and was rewarded, as she tells us, "by a sweetly approving smile." Every day after that the child commenced her visit to the Grotto by devoutly saying the Rosary. What an encouragement is this to all to have recourse to that beautiful devotion which consists in meditating on, and offering to God the Father by the immaculate hands of Mary, the Life, Passion, and Death of our Divine Redeemer.
On one day of the Vision, Bernadette saw the Lady gazing intently towards, or rather beyond, the horizon with a sorrowful, far-off look, as if she was contemplating scenes far away. At length she turned her eyes towards the child, who saw in them an expression of such deep yearning grief that her heart was stirred, and bursting into tears, she cried out, "Oh, dear Lady, what is it? What can I do?" Slowly the answer came: "Pray, pray for sinners." Then she heard the Lady say thrice the word " Penance," and in obedience to the directions given her, she bent down to the ground, and then on her knees mounted the abrupt ascent to the Grotto, repeating aloud and distinctly, "Penance, penance, penance." Surely not alone to Bernadette or the persons around her was this appeal—which reads like a warning—made.
The extraordinary transfiguration of the child's countenance when in the presence of the heavenly Vision, and while communing with the Blessed Virgin, suggests ideas of the beautiful but not visible transfiguration of a soul that is pure and in a state of grace, who beholds her God not merely at a distance, but in her very centre, and is so united with Him in Holy Communion that she can in truth say, "I live now, not I, but Christ liveth in me."
Many other useful reflections will no doubt suggest themselves to the meditative mind of the reader as he peruses the account of our Lady's apparitions at Lourdes. At least, we think, the narrative, however imperfectly told, will leave on his mind a feeling that he has been in the presence of God, not unlike that which is made on the happy pilgrim who visits the Grotto of Lourdes itself, and who goes away saying like Jacob after his vision, " Truly God is in this place."
God has in truth set His mark upon Lourdes, and has chosen it for one of His privileged sanctuaries. Thus He chose Mount Sion under the old law—" the hill of Sion which he loved." And thus He has chosen Loretto in Italy, Montserrat in Spain, Einsiedlen in Switzerland, and innumerable other spots of less renown, and has placed them under the protection of His Mother, that she may there dispense from Him special and extraordinary blessings to those who go to seek them, not indeed to all who seek them, for He remains the Sovereign Lord of His gifts, and gives them freely to whom He wills—but to innumerable souls, who there find health of body and peace of soul. To deny this choice which God makes of certain favoured spots would be to go contrary to the testimony of all ages and of all countries, for there is no country that has not been blessed with these sanctuaries, and there is no age that has not witnessed their rise. The Church does not indeed compel us to acknowledge them to be the scene of the miraculous events which are recorded of them, but she does approve of them and encourage her children to visit them, and this she could not do if their history was but imposture and lying.
The Sanctuary of our Lady at Lourdes dates from only a very few years back, but it has already received abundant recognition from the Church. Indulgences and gifts have been sent to it by the Supreme Pontiff himself; bishops from every part of the world have visited it on their way to Rome or returning from it; pilgrims flock to it from all parts in ever-increasing numbers. Yes, Lourdes has taken its place among the great Sanctuaries of Christendom; it has become a centre of piety, the scene of innumerable miracles, and a source of faith to an unbelieving generation.