Bernadette Soubirous was born in Molino de Boly on January 7, 1844. Years later, her family moved to Lourdes, where the first apparition of Our Lady took place on February 11, 1858.
On February 11, Bernadette went with her sister and a friend of hers to the grotto of Massabielle, on the banks of the River Gave, to collect firewood. The other two girls went on ahead, and Bernadette began to take off her shoes to cross the stream. She heard a noise like a gust of wind, and looking upwards towards the grotto, saw “a Lady dressed in white: she wore a white dress, a veil that was also white, a blue sash around her waist, and a yellow rose on each foot.” She made the Sign of the Cross and prayed the Rosary with the Lady. When they had finished the prayer, the Lady disappeared.
Three days later, February 14, despite the fact that her parents had forbidden her to return there, Bernadette felt a strong interior impulse to go back to the grotto. She insisted until her mother gave in, granting her permission to go. She prayed one decade of the Rosary and as she finished, the Lady appeared to her once again. Bernadette tossed some holy water at the apparition, but the Lady smiled and bowed her head. When she finished praying the Rosary, the Lady disappeared again.
On February 18, the Lady spoke to her for the first time. Bernadette offered her a paper and a pen for her to write her name. The Lady told her it was not necessary and added, “I do not promise you happiness in this life, but in the next. Do you want to do me a favor by coming here for the next 15 days?”.
A brief and silent apparition took place on February 19. Bernadette arrived at the grotto with a blessed candle that was lit. That is where the tradition of taking candles to Lourdes to light them in the grotto comes from.
From February 20-23, Our Lady appeared to Bernadette, teaching her and giving her messages that were just for her. Bernadette never mentioned what Our Lady said to her, and only refers to “those things.”
The Lady said on February 24, “Penance! Penance! Penance! Pray to God for sinners! Kiss the ground in penance for poor sinners!”
On February 25, Bernadette tells us, “She told me to go drink from the fountain… I did not find anything other than a little bit of muddy water, and on my fourth try, I was able to drink a little bit. She also told me to eat the grass that was around the fountain. Then the vision disappeared and I left.” Many said that she was crazy, but she only responded, “It’s for the sinners.”
The apparitions on February 26 and 27 were silent. Bernadette drank water from the spring and repeated the same gestures of eating grass and washing her face with the muddy water as an expression of penance.
The first miracle took place on March 1. There were more than 500 people present. That night, Catherine Latapie went to the grotto, bathed her dislocated arm in the water from the spring, and her arm recuperated its agility.
The next day, March 2, the Lady told Bernadette to say to the priests that she desired “that a chapel be built in this place, and that they come in procession.” When she informed the priest of Peyra-male, he only wanted to know one thing: the name of the Lady. He also demanded a sign: that a wild rosebush sprout in the middle of winter at the grotto.
The next day, Bernadette received a simple smile as her answer. The parish priest said to her again, “If the Lady really wants a chapel, she must say her name and make the rosebush bloom at the grotto.”
On March 4, the last of the 15 days, the vision remained silent. Bernadette did not go back to the grotto for 20 says. She returned to the grotto on March 25 and the vision finally revealed her name. Bernadette tells us: “She raised her eyes towards heaven, folding her hands in a sign of prayer, because they had been open and extended towards the ground, and said to me: I am the Immaculate Concepcion.” Bernadette headed off running, repeating those words the whole way until she met up with the parish priest. She did not know that theological expression, nor the fact that only 4 years earlier, Pope Pious IX had declared the dogma of the Immaculate Conception.
The last apparition in Lourdes was July 16. Bernadette felt the calling to go to the grotto and there she found the Lady. “I did not see anything other than the Blessed Virgin, and I had never seen her look so beautiful!”