St Bernadette

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Visionary, and later nun. Born in 1844, Bernadette was the eldest of six children born to Francois Soubirous, a miller, and his wife Louise. The family lived in great poverty. When they couldn't afford to pay the rent, after 1857 the family were forced to live in one room of an old prison.

Throughout her childhood Bernadette suffered many illnesses, including cholera. She had asthma all her life.

In 1858, when she was just 14, she began to experience a series of visions of Our Lady in a cave near a rubbish dump near the town at a place called Massabielle.

The Virgin described herself as 'The Immaculate Conception', a term which meant nothing to Bernadette. The Lady ordered the building of a church and told Bernadette to dig in the ground for water. Bernadette did as she was told and found the spring from which 27,000 gallons of water a week pours to this day.

The message of the visions was mainly concerned with the need for penance and prayer. Initially the Church was very sceptical about Bernadette's story. But after many interrogations the bishops began to believe her.

For several years Bernadette stayed in Lourdes and suffered as crowds followed her wherever she went. In 1866 she joined the Sisters of Notre Dame in Nevers. From that point she was completely cut off from Lourdes and did not see the consecration of the basilica built over the place where she had seen Our Lady. The shrine grew to become the centre of the largest pilgrimage movement Europe.

During her 13 years with the Sisters, Berhadette worked in the infirmary, as an assistant nurse, then nurse in charge and sacristan. She was very often ill there herself, suffering with tuberculosis.

St Bernadette died in 1879. She was canonised in 1933, not because of her visions, but because of her total commitment, simplicity, integrity and trust.

If you would like to know more about Lourdes, visit the official Lourdes website - which includes live webcam film from different parts of the shrine - at: www.lourdes-france.com/

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