april 16. bernadette soubirous, "the most spectacular incorruptible"
Patron saint of bodily ills, illness, Lourdes, people ridiculed for their piety, poverty, shepherdesses, shepherds, sick people, sickness
Lived 1844 to 1879
"Oh my Jesus, help me to love you; love me, and then crucify me as much as you please." - Bernadette
VISIONS / MARIAN APPARITIONS
Over the course of five months, fourteen-year-old Bernadette had 18 visions of a tiny woman—described an as an aquero / "a dazzling light, a white figure"—who urged her to build a chapel at the site of a nearby garbage dump. (Aquero is a word that means "it" in Occitan.) On the second visit, Bernadette doused the aquero on repeat with holy water, telling her to only stay if she came from God. Bernadette wrote: "the more I sprinkled her with holy water, the more she smiled and bowed her head." On the third visit, the aquero said I do not promise to make you happy in this world but in the other. There followed a "holy fortnight" during which Bernadette fell into trances and had visions each day. The aquero gave her three secrets and forbade her to tell a soul. Entranced, Bernadette ate grass and rubbed mud on her face and swallowed it, saying the aquero made her do it as an act of penance. The next day a clear spring flowed. During her longest vision, Bernadette showed no sign of pain when a candle burnt down to her fist's skin. On her seventeenth appearance, the tiny woman came out as Our Lady the Virgin Mother. She wore a "white veil, a blue girdle, and a yellow rose atop each foot."
To skeptics Bernadette replied, "I have been told to tell you about it. I have not been told to make you believe it." She also once said: "For a Religious, there's something missing if she is not mortified."
"Pilgrims flocked to Bernadette, asking her to touch their medals and rosaries and sign their holy cards with the famous 'p.p. Bernadette' (priez pour bernadette / pray for bernadette). Many pilgrims wanted more and some went so far as to try to cut off parts of her veil [. . .] or requested a lock of her hair."
NOT 'THE AMELIE OF SAINTS'
I wrongfully thought that Bernadette Soubirous was the Amelie of saints. I imagined her as wide-eyed as Jennifer Jones who portrayed her in the 1943 biopic: trapped in a clear cage of wonderment. But in reading the saint's actual writings, I find that the real Bernadette—though humble / unsure of herself—is almost as dour as her medieval counterparts. My favorite quotes are those about the crucified Christ, or as Bernadette would say, Christ crucified:
"May my crucified heart be forever lost in your own and hidden away in the mysterious wound made by the spear." "O my jesus, help me to love you; love me, then crucify me as much as you please." "Let me be transformed into a living crucifixion." "The more we die on the cross, the more glorious our Resurrection will be. What folly it is to pull away when Our Lord asks for our hand to nail to the cross. From now on, the more I am crucified, the more I will rejoice."
I also am quite fascinated by this bit of tricky logic from the same source: "For Jesus to increase, I must decrease. His presence increases in proportion to how much I decrease. If I do not, I prevent him from increasing."
Bernadette died of tuberculous of the knee in 1879, and Wikipedia reports that her corpse is "internally incorrupt, but [. . .] not without blemish." In 1925, upon her third exhumation in 46 years, the firm of Pierre Iman made light wax casts to protect her imperfect flesh before returning her remains to their crystal grotto. Those who desire a meatier account of her exhumation exam can read a detailed catalog of her body parts. This site, which describes her as "the most spectacular of the incorruptibles," has an odd photograph that—when you hold your cursor over Bernadette's face—will morph between two versions of her corpse to prove she is still intact. A quote:
"To this day, the body of Bernadette is a profound source of inspiration and of mystery surrounding the ways of the Lord. The face of Bernadette is one of surreal beauty, and will remain for us always the face that gazed into the eyes of the Mother of God."
Between 65 and 5,000 inexplicable cures have been attributed to the waters at Bernadette's spring.