Seventeenth Apparition Of Our Lady Of Lourdes
Wednesday 7 April 1858
The number of people traveling to the Grotto was steadily increasing, more so now that the mysterious Lady had finally identified Herself as the Immaculate Conception. Until this title had been announced, Bernadette had always called the Woman ‘the Lady’ – the people at the Grotto had also followed this example set by the little one. But after the Feast of the Annunciation, they were able to personalise the name of the Lady – there was now no doubt about Her identity; She was Mary, the Mother of God. And subsequently, She was referred to as Our Lady of Massabieille or Our Lady of the Grotto. On Easter Sunday, 4th April 1858, the parish church in Lourdes was filled with people all day long. And throughout the day, people flocked to the Grotto. Commissioner Jacomet counted “in all, 3,625 visitors to the Grotto” between five in the morning and eleven at night. The next day, Jacomet counted “3,433 strangers and 2,012 Lourdes people; in all 5,445 visitors” at the rock of Massabieille. Bernadette, however, had not been back to the Grotto since the day the Lady had named Herself. On the Tuesday evening, 6th April, the child once more felt within herself the summons from the Lady of the niche – she was called to a further meeting. It was the Wednesday of Easter week. At six in the morning, Bernadette was once more kneeling in prayer in front of her beloved Grotto, the place she would later call “a little piece of Heaven”. The Lady was standing in the niche, bathed in the light of Heaven. Again the vision was a long one, lasting nearly forty-five minutes. The child was praying the Rosary as usual. Doctor Dozous was present throughout the Apparition. He describes for us the scene as he watched it take place – “Bernadette seemed to be even more absorbed than usual in the Appearance upon which her gaze was riveted. I witnessed, as did also every one else there present, the fact which I am about to narrate. “She was on her knees saying with fervent devotion the prayers of her Rosary which she held in her left hand while in her right was a large blessed candle, alight. The child was just beginning to make the usual ascent on her knees when suddenly she stopped and, her right hand joining her left, the flame of the big candle passed between the fingers of the latter. Though fanned by a fairly strong breeze, the flame produced no effect upon the skin which it was touching. “Astonished at this strange fact, I forbade anyone there to interfere – and taking my watch in my hand, I studied the phenomenon attentively for a quarter of an hour. At the end of this time Bernadette, still in her ecstasy, advanced to the upper part of the Grotto, separating her hands. The flame thus ceased to touch her left hand. “Bernadette finished her prayer and the splendour of the transfiguration left her face. She rose and was about to quit the Grotto when I asked her to show me her left hand. I examined it most carefully, but could not find the least trace of burning anywhere upon it. I then asked the person who was holding the candle to light it again and give it to me. I put it several times in succession under Bernadettes left hand but she drew it away quickly, saying ‘You are burning me!’. I record this fact just as I have seen it without attempting to explain it. Many persons who were present at the time can confirm what I have said.” A neighbour called Julie Garros (who later joined Bernadette in the convent of Nevers as Sister Vincent) also witnessed this. She relates – “As the Apparition continued, the candle gradually slipped down so that the flame was playing on the inside of her hand”. Bernadettes younger brother, Jean-Marie, recalled “seeing this very clearly as it passed between her fingers”. Another neighbour present, a boy called Bernard Joanas, remembered that while this was taking place, Doctor Dozous checked the child’s pulse but could find no irregularity. And that when someone was about to remove the candle from her, the woman was told by Doctor Dozous to “Leave her alone”. “Bernadette, meanwhile, made no movement”, stated the boy, who later became a curate in Lourdes and the Chaplain of the Lourdes Hospice run by the Sisters of Nevers. Other witnesses later mentioned that this phenomenon also occurred earlier during the Apparitions, sometime before the end of February. At those times, people shouted to take the candle away from the child as it would burn her, although in fact she was not burned – despite the long period of time during which her hand was in contact with the flame. THE THREE MONTHS LEADING TO THE END OF THE APPARITIONS Toward the end of the Apparitions, the civil authorities had made all sort of attempts to put an end to the occurrences at the Grotto of Massabieille. A number of doctors and psychiatrists had been called to examine her – the child submitted to each and every examination without question. The doctors concluded that while there still existed the possibility that the visions were the result of “some cerebral lesion”, still they could not conclusively decide if this was the case. Other doctors were unwilling to discount the possibility that what was occurring was the result of a supernatural manifestation. The Bishop of Tarbes, Monseigneur Lawrence, was also following the unusual events in Lourdes. As yet, he had not formally set up a Commission to investigate the alleged Apparitions. Between the penultimate and the final Apparitions, the child was quite ill – as a result of her asthma she was sent to the mineral springs in Cauterets for recuperation (although this was not entirely effective). Also, the Grotto itself had undergone some changes; workmen had widened the path leading to the Grotto and had completed the stone troughs into which the waters of the spring were to be redirected and allowed to collect, so allowing pilgrims to bathe in the water or to take it away in bottles. Bernadette also made her First Holy Communion, on the Feast of the Blessed Sacrament – Thursday 3rd June 1858. Also on that day, she was invested by Abbe Peyramale with the Brown Scapular of Our Lady of Mount Carmel – this scapular remained with her until death. Later, in the convent at Nevers, she would make her own scapulars as the need arose. Many of them can still be seen in the museum there. That afternoon, Jean Baptiste Estrade and his sister were once again in the company of the child. Monsieur Estrade asked her – “Tell me, Bernadette, which made you happier – receiving Our Lord or conversing with the Blessed Virgin?”. The child replied without hesitation – “I don’t know. The two things go together and cannot be compared. All I know is that I was intensely happy in both cases”. That day, there were more than six thousand people in attendance at the Grotto, hoping for some heavenly manifestation; they were not to be disappointed, despite the fact that no vision occurred that day. Among the people present, there were many who were sick and crippled. A labourer from the countryside had come together with his family, including a boy of six years who was suffering from paralysis of the spine. Again Doctor Dozous was present at the scene – and he wrote later that he had taken quite an interest in the poor family with the paralysed child. “Since you have come” he said to the father of the child, “to obtain from the Blessed Virgin a cure which you have asked for in vain from science, take your child, undress him, and place him under the taps of the spring”. This was duly done and the child was partially submerged in the cold water for a few minutes. “The little invalid” continues the Doctor, “after he had been well dried and his clothes put back on, was laid on the ground. But he immediately got up by himself and made his way – walking with the greatest ease – toward his father and mother, who smothered him with vigorous hugs, shedding tears of joy”. But there were also unhappy events. The civil authorities were trying their best to have the Grotto closed to the public, and use of the water disallowed until it had been properly checked once more. Further – and more worrying still – they were plotting to have the child arrested and committed on her next visit to Massabieille. This sad state of affairs was only halted by the intervention of Abbe Peyramale who – despite his lingering doubts about the visions themselves – was in no doubt about the innocence of the visionary. She might be deluded, but she was certainly no threat to the moral order of Lourdes or of France! At this time, there were also a number of Satanic manifestations at the Grotto. From the start of time, God had warned Satan that there would forever be enmity between him and the Woman. Lourdes was to be no exception to this rule. The Satanic manifestation had begun during the fourth Apparition, when Bernadette had heard the cacophony of dark voices rising from the waters of the river, until silenced by the glance from the Virgin. Now, toward, the end of the Visions, he would once more commence his assault. A young lady of Lourdes named Honorine, had been at the Grotto one day when she heard voices coming from within the empty Grotto – she said these voices produced a strange effect on her senses. This was repeated the next day, when Honorine again heard sounds – this time, savage howls and sounds like wild beasts in combat. The girl was terrified, and did not return to Massabieille for a number of weeks. The People of Lourdes said she was simply hysterical. At the same time, a young man from Lourdes was passing the Grotto one day on his way to work before dawn. He crossed himself as he passed the rock, in honour of She who had been present there. Instantly, strange globes of light surrounded him and he felt unable to move. Terrified, he made the Sign of the Cross once more – as he did so, each of the globes of light exploded loudly around him and he was able to leave the place. As this was occurring, he could hear from within the Grotto, maniacal laughter and blasphemies. Jean Baptiste Estrade witnessed some of the assaults of the father of lies. A lady from the Rue des Bagneres in Lourdes, named Josephine, was experiencing apparitions in the niche – this lasted for two days. Estrade watched what was happening, but said that while Bernadette was in ecstasy, he felt “transported” – with Josephine, he merely felt “surprised”. And whereas Bernadette during her ecstasy was “transfigured”, Josephine was simply beautiful. The girl in question related to Estrade that she had indeed seen strange figures within the niche, but that she had felt suspicious of them since they appeared to her to be evil in nature, not Heavenly. One day a young boy named Alex returned to his home in Lourdes screaming and shouting, but so paralysed with fear that he could not tell his poor mother what was the matter. After several days, he calmed down sufficiently to relate the cause of his terror – “When I left the house I went to walk with some other children by the side of Massabieille. When I reached the Grotto I prayed for a moment. Then, while waiting for my companions, I went up to the rock. Turning toward the hollow of the rock, I saw coming towards me a beautiful lady. This lady concealed her hands and the lower part of her body in an ashen coloured cloud, like a storm cloud. She fixed on me here great black eyes and seemed to wish to seize me. I thought at once that it was the devil and I fled”. Many other similar events occurred around this time. Bernadette also had her own problems. There was a constant stream of visitors to the Cachot, all seeking an interview with the child and wishing to hear her relate a narrative of the Visions. The child submitted herself to all of this without hesitation, question or complaint. She saw it as an opportunity to fulfill the requests of the Lady for penance, although she later said that having to tell the same story from early morning till late at night each day, was a greater penance even than the asthma which was troubling her so much at this time. The poor child was constantly exhausted. To make matters worse, the authorities were once more threatening to imprison the child, claiming that she was receiving financial rewards for telling her story. Of course this was untrue; the family were still living in abject poverty and were frequently without sufficient money to feed the children. On one occasion, Pierre – one of Bernadettes younger brothers – was found eating candle wax in the church, such was his hunger. He had previously accepted the gift of a small coin for showing a wealthy couple where the seer lived (although he neglected to mention that she was in fact his own sister). When Bernadette found out, she was very displeased and took him to the home of the couple in question, where he was forced to return the coin. Bernadette remained above any reproach of pecuniary – or other – gain until the day she died. After all, the Lady had said that her happiness lay not in this life, but in the next.