Mary in History: A Surprising Lady

February 11, 1858 – Lourdes, France

On the Tuesday before Ash Wednesday (which is called “Fat” or “Shrove” Tuesday,) Bernadette Soubirous, her sister, and a friend were gathering firewood in the cold outside their small French town. They were near a river and a grotto (a shallow cave) where the locals would dump their garbage. Then fourteen-year-old Bernadette heard the sound of a sudden swish of wind. As Bernadette would later recall:

“I had just begun to take off my first stocking [intending to cross the shallow river barefooted as my companions had done] when suddenly I heard a great noise like the sound of a storm. I looked to the right, to the left, under the trees of the river, but nothing moved; I thought I was mistaken. I went on taking off my shoes and stockings, when I heard a fresh noise like the first. Then I was frightened and stood straight up. I lost all power of speech and thought, when, turning my head toward the grotto, I saw at one of the openings of the rock a [rose] bush, one only, moving as if it were very windy. Almost at the same time there came out of the interior of the grotto a golden colored cloud, and soon after a Lady, young and beautiful, exceedingly beautiful, the like of whom I had never seen, came and placed herself at the entrance of the opening above the bush. She looked at me immediately, smiled at me and signed me to advance, as if she had been my mother. All fear had left me, but I seemed to know no longer where I was. I rubbed my eyes, I shut them, I opened them; but the Lady was still there continuing to smile at me and making me understand that I was not mistaken. Without thinking of what I was doing, I took my Rosary in my hands and fell on my knees. The Lady made a sign of approval with her head and took into her hands a rosary which hung on her right arm. When I attempted to begin the Rosary and tried to lift my hand to my forehead, my arm remained paralyzed, and it was only after the Lady had signed herself that I could do the same. The Lady left me to pray all alone; she passed the beads of her Rosary between her fingers but she said nothing; only at the end of each decade did she say the ‘Glory Be’ with me.”

St. Bernadette Soubirous then returned to her family’s poor home, but this would be just the first of eighteen apparitions to her by the Blessed Virgin Mary, Our Lady of Lourdes, over the five months to follow.

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