Our Lady of Lourdes | Twelfth Apparition
Twelfth Apparition of Our Lady of Lourdes
Monday 1 March 1858
From the beginning of the Apparitions in the Grotto of Massabieille, the popular press - and many individuals, most notably the 'free-thinkers'- had done all possible to put an end to these curious events; when this had failed and it was clear that they were powerless to stop what was happening, they resorted to the fall-back plan - to misrepresent, distort and discredit the occurrences.
This was clearly seen in the lies being told about Bernadette in the papers - she was described as mad, a neurotic, a cataleptic, an epileptic, a psychotic, a fraud, a devious little liar, a fool who was manipulated by others... the list was nearly endless.
Particular events at the Grotto were also played upon and misrepresented, taken out of context in an attempt to give them meanings which they did not possess. During the Twelfth Apparition such an event occurred. And as before, it was only after the event was explained by Bernadette herself that it made sense and cleared away the misrepresentations surrounding it.
Many people believed in the Apparitions, further, they were also certain of Who was appearing; they felt sure it was none other than the Blessed Virgin Mary, although Bernadette herself had never made this claim. Instead, the child had always spoken of 'the Lady' (un damizelo) who appeared, but who, so far, had declined to name Herself. But, believing that Bernadette was indeed in communication with the Queen of Heaven, the followers often made attempts of one sort or another to obtain souvenirs of the Apparitions and of Bernadette herself.
Monday 1st March saw at least 1300 people at the Grotto - as Jacomet the police commissioner stated in a report he sent the next day. But this number was based solely on those counted by the gendarmes returning to the town after the Apparition; it did not include those who left in other directions and did not pass through Lourdes. That day, one of those present was a priest from nearby Omex; the priest, Abbe Dezirat, had been only recently ordained. He was the first cleric to visit Massabieille during the Apparitions. He described what happened after Bernadette’s arrival at 7:00am in the company of both of her parents -
"From the moment she arrived, I watched her closely. Her face was calm, her look unassuming, her walk most natural, neither slow nor hurried. No sign of exaltation, not a trace of disease.
"The crowd on the road pressed close behind the child to get to the scene of the Apparition. Once there, I did as the rest. When we arrived in front of the Grotto, someone said - 'Let the priest through!'. These words, though spoken softly, were easily heard, for there was deep silence over everything. They made way for me and advancing a few paces I was quite close to Bernadette, a yard away, not more.
"Between the moment when I got near to the child and the moment when the vision began, there was scarcely time to recite a decade.
"By her posture and by the expression on her face, it was evident that her soul was enraptured. What profound peace! What serenity! What lofty contemplation! Her smile was beyond all description. The child's gaze, fixed on the Apparition, was no less captivating. Impossible to imagine anything so pure, so sweet, so loving.
"I had watched Bernadette with scrupulous care while she was making her way to the Grotto. What a difference between what she was then and what she was as I saw her at the moment of the Apparition. It was like the difference between matter and spirit... I felt I was on the threshold of Paradise."
Here, Monsieur Jean Baptiste Estrade, present throughout the Apparition, takes up the story - but it is also here that the misunderstanding of the day occurred.
"I witnessed that day a great display of religious enthusiasm. Bernadette had just returned from her place under the spur of the rock. Kneeling down again, she took her beads as usual from her pocket, but as soon as she lifted her eyes again to the privileged bush, her face became sad. She held up her beads with surprise as high as her little arm would allow there was a moment’s pause, then suddenly went the beads back into her pocket. Instantly, she displayed another pair which she waved and held up as high as the first. The look of anguish vanished from her face. She bowed, smiled once more and recommenced her prayer.
"With a spontaneous movement, everyone took out their Rosaries and waved them. Then they shouted 'Vive Marie' and went down on their knees and prayed with tears in their eyes. The opponents of religion spread the rumour that Bernadette had that day blessed the Rosaries".
One Paris newspaper printed the following article a few days later -
"That little actress, the millers daughter at Lourdes, collected round her again on the morning of the 1st of March, beneath the Massabieille rock, nearly two thousand five hundred boobies. It is impossible to describe the idiocy and moral degeneration of these persons. The visionary treats them like a troop of monkeys and makes them commit absurdities of every kind. This morning, the pythoness was not inclined to play the seer, and to make a little variety in the exercises, she thought the best thing was to play the priestess. Assuming a grand air of authority, she ordered the fools to present their Rosaries and then blessed them all."
Since the day following the discovery of the Spring, the crowd had often imitated Bernadettes actions at the Grotto, such as kissing the ground in penance; today was no different, although the crowd had misinterpreted what had happened.
If Bernadette had not blessed the Rosaries, then what had been the meaning of the strange event which had just occurred? Later that day a priest asked the child this same question; only after her explanation was the odd happening demystified.
Bernadette explained that while on her way to the Grotto earlier that morning, a lady named Pauline Sans (who was the Lourdes seamstress) had spoken to her; she had desired to have a memento of the Apparitions and so had asked the child if she would be kind enough to use her (Madame Sans') Rosary that morning while the Blessed Virgin was praying with her. Bernadette had agreed to this proposal.
As Bernadette was about to make the sign of the Cross, she took the Rosary from her pocket but was not able to lift her hand to her forehead. The Lady asked Bernadette where her own Rosary was - here, the child lifted the Rosary high in the air for the Lady to see. But the Lady saw only too well "You are wrong" She told Bernadette, "this Rosary is not yours".
Realizing she had Madame Sans' Rosary in her hand, she put it back into her pocket and retrieved her own Rosary of black wood beads on a knotted cord, bought previously by her mother. Again she lifted the beads.
"Use those", said the Lady sweetly, smiling at the child, and Bernadette was able to begin her prayers.
The priest who asked the child to explain said to Bernadette "Is it true that you blessed Rosaries at the Grotto today?".
Bernadette smiled. "Oh but Monsieur, women do not wear the stole!"