Saint Bernadette is remembered as the young girl who saw the Immaculate Conception at Lourdes. Vilified for her claims, Bernadette was resolute, and slowly showed her detractors what it meant to be a recipient of God's Grace. Father Steve Grunow explores the life of this unlikely messenger, and her depiction in the classic film "The Song of Bernadette," today on the Word on Fire blog.
April 16th was the feast of St. Bernadette Soubirous, whose name in religious life was Sister Mary Bernard. Saint Bernadette is popularly known as the visionary of the shrine at Lourdes. Both the saint and the shrine are held with affection and in esteem by Catholics, and Lourdes remains one of the most visited pilgrimage destinations in the world.
The shrine is situated where Saint Bernadette claimed to have seen the Mother of God. Adding to the already hallowed grounds is a spring of water reputed to have healing properties and facilitate spiritual conversion.
Lourdes, therefore, known as a place of miracles.
The story of Bernadette and of Lourdes is one of Catholicism’s well- and often-told tales. In this respect, both the saint and the shrine are known through a mixture of history and legend, fact and fiction. The discernment of one from the other as they pertain to Bernadette and Lourdes is in itself a literary genre.
In this regard, Ruth Harris’s distillation of the events and personalities that gave rise to Lourdes as a unique cultural phenomenon in her 1999 book, “Lourdes: Body and Spirit in the Secular Age,” is worthy of note. And in terms of piecing together conflicting accounts and disparate testimonies, it represents an insightful and magisterial effort. Predecessors to Harris include no less a man of letters than Emile Zola, whose attempt at a critique and debunking of the phenomenon would give most pious Catholics the shudders.
Franz Werfel wrote his novel, “The Song of Bernadette,” as a tribute to the saint and the shrine that he credited as providing him a sanctuary and place of refuge during the Second World War. The work is largely a response to Zola’s denunciations. Werfel’s novel would become the basis for a 1943 film that is itself, like Lourdes, an enduring point of reference in which the story of Bernadette and her visions is remembered and told...