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Bernadette (1844-79), visionary of Lourdes and later nun. She was the daughter of François Soubirous, a miller, and was the oldest of six children, who for various reasons lived in acute poverty.
At the age of fourteen, in 1858, she experienced in the space of six months a series of eighteen visions of the Blessed Virgin Mary at the rock of Massabielle, Lourdes. The Virgin described herself as 'The Immaculate Conception', ordered the building of a church, and told Bernadette to drink from a spring, which from that time until the present day produces 27,000 gallons of water a week. The content of the visions was extremely simple: they were principally concerned with the need for prayer and penance. The vast pilgrimage movement to Lourdes, which developed from them is the greatest in modern times.
Bernadette was an undersized ailing child who suffered from asthma; her intellectual equipment was simple, and some witnesses thought her stupid. But her veracity, courage, and complete disinterestedness are beyond dispute. She was subjected to a series of searching interrogations both by the clergy and by minor state officials; from all these she emerged with her story unshaken. But she suffered considerably from publicity and curiosity; eventually in 1866 she joined the Sisters of Notre-Dame of Nevers, where she spent the rest of her life.
She died at the age of thirty-five after much illness heroically borne. She was completely cut off from the development of Lourdes as a pilgrimage center and was not present at its culmination, the consecration of the basilica in 1876. The only 'extraordinary' months in her life were those of the apparitions; before and after, her life was humdrum in the extreme.
She was canonized in 1933, not because she saw visions and experienced trances, but because of her total commitment in simplicity, integrity, and trust. For these qualities in her balanced, though limited personality, she stands almost alone among Marian visionaries of recent times.
Feast: 6 April, but often in France on 18 February.
From: An Illustrated Dictionary of Jewelry, autor: Harold Newman, publishers: Thames and Hudson