Canonization of Bernadette Soubirous Summary

  • Last updated on November 10, 2022

The Roman Catholic Church canonized Marie-Bernade Soubirous in recognition of her devout faith and humility after she had visions of the Virgin Mary in 1858. Bernadette was designated the patron saint of those afflicted with illness, and Christians from all over the world continued to pray to her and to make the pilgrimage to Lourdes, France.

Summary of Event

Born in Lourdes, France, on January 7, 1844, Marie-Bernarde Soubirous (more commonly known as Bernadette) was the eldest child of Francis and Louise Soubirous. Her childhood was beset with poverty and illness. On February 11, 1858, while gathering wood with one of her siblings and a neighborhood friend, fourteen-year-old Bernadette witnessed her first apparition of the Virgin Mary in the Grotto of Massabielle, situated near the Gave River. The figure in the vision, whom Bernadette called “the lady,” continued to appear to Bernadette in seventeen similar apparitions at the cave. Bernadette described the lady as a young woman wearing a white robe and veil with a blue sash. The vision’s feet were decorated with golden roses, and she held a rosary in her right hand. [kw]Canonization of Bernadette Soubirous (Dec. 8, 1933) [kw]Bernadette Soubirous, Canonization of (Dec. 8, 1933) [kw]Soubirous, Canonization of Bernadette (Dec. 8, 1933) Saints, canonization Roman Catholic Church;saints [g]France;Dec. 8, 1933: Canonization of Bernadette Soubirous[08460] [g]Italy;Dec. 8, 1933: Canonization of Bernadette Soubirous[08460] [c]Religion, theology, and ethics;Dec. 8, 1933: Canonization of Bernadette Soubirous[08460] Bernadette of Lourdes Pius XI Pius X

Although all of the apparitions were important, three of Bernadette’s encounters with the lady had especially significant impacts on history. On February 26, 1858, at the apparition’s urging, Bernadette discovered a small stream of water in the cave that eventually grew to a significant size and flowed into the Gave River. On March 2, the lady told Bernadette to ask the local clergy to have a chapel built on the site. Finally, on March 25, the spirit revealed herself to be the embodiment of the Immaculate Conception. Bernadette’s visions of the Virgin Mary were viewed by many as miraculous, and as word spread, pilgrims began to descend on Lourdes to witness the phenomenon themselves.

Both ecclesiastical and government officials questioned the authenticity of Bernadette’s claims and tried to restrict access to the site, but public outcry forced them to keep the grotto open. Amid staunch skepticism, Bernadette retold her story often, and she never changed any of the details of her experiences, never wavered under the pressure of those who doubted her truthfulness, and never accepted any gifts. Instead, she took refuge from all of the public attention at a local school run by the Sisters of Notre Dame in Nevers. Then, in September of 1878, she took her vows and became Sister Marie-Bernard. She remained at the convent, where she suffered from numerous health problems, until her death on April 16, 1879.

In 1908, Bishop Gauthey of Nevers formally began the process of canonizing Bernadette by initiating a series of 132 sessions in which church officials interviewed Bernadette’s family members, friends, and clergy about her life and character. On September 22, 1909, Bernadette’s remains were exhumed from their resting place near St. Joseph’s Chapel in Nevers. To everyone’s surprise, the exhumed body was intact and practically undamaged after being interred for thirty years, and many considered the body’s preservation to be a miracle. On August 13, 1913, Pope Pius X bestowed the title of venerable on Bernadette, indicating that she had completed the first stage of canonization. In accordance with the Church’s canonization guidelines, Bernadette’s body was exhumed two more times for identification purposes. The second exhumation occurred on April 3, 1919, and the third on April 18, 1925. Both exhumations revealed that her body remained almost entirely intact.

On May 2, 1925, the Church certified that two miracles had been performed in Bernadette’s name. The first involved Henri Boisselet, who was cured of tubercular peritonitis after a novena to Bernadette was started. The second involved Sister Marie-Melanie Meyer, who was cured of a gastric ulcer after making a pilgrimage to Bernadette’s tomb. Following the Church’s authentication of these miracles, Pope Pius XI presided over Bernadette’s beatification ceremony on June 14, 1925, in which she was declared blessed and was given a feast day of April 16. Her body was permanently laid to rest in a crystal coffin at the chapel of Saint Gildard, in Nevers, on August 3, 1926. Following the beatification ceremony, the church was required to verify two additional miracles performed in the candidate’s name. Both of these miracles occurred within three years of Bernadette’s beatification and involved the miraculous healings of Archbishop Lemaître Carthage, who suffered from a chronic amoebic infection, and of Sister Marie de Saint-Fidele, who suffered from Pott’s disease. Once these miracles were certified, the Church published the decree de tuto, the last step in the canonization process, on July 2, 1933. Finally, on December 8, 1933, on the Feast Day of the Immaculate Conception, the Pius XI canonized Bernadette in a special ceremony in St. Peter’s Basilica in the Vatican. Bernadette was made a saint as much for her honesty and humility as for her visions of the Virgin Mary, and she became known as the patron saint of those suffering from illness.


The historical significance of Bernadette’s visions of the Virgin Mary at Lourdes and her subsequent canonization as Saint Bernadette is enormous. Immediately following Bernadette’s first apparition, people began to travel to Lourdes to witness the miracle at the grotto, and in 1876, a shrine was built above the grotto to accommodate all of the visitors. By the late nineteenth century, reports of miraculous healings at the grotto’s springs began being reported. In response, people from all over the world—many of them ill and in search of a cure—descended on Lourdes.

In 1943, Bernadette’s story was popularized for millions by the film The Song of Bernadette, which was based on the book Das Lied von Bernadette (1941; The Song of Bernadette, 1942) Song of Bernadette, The (Werfel) by Franz Werfel. Jennifer Jones won an Academy Award in the title role.

In 1958, a church capable of holding twenty thousand people was built at the site. Lourdes remained one of the most visited destinations for religious pilgrimage: At the beginning of the twenty-first century, an estimated six million people visited the grotto at Massabielle each year. Many of these visitors came to drink or bathe in the spring water discovered by Saint Bernadette in hope of being cured of their ailments. The spring produces approximately twenty-seven thousand gallons of water per week.

On November 9, 2005, the Medical Bureau of the Sanctuary of Our Lady of Lourdes verified the sixty-seventh miraculous cure at the Grotto. It involved the immediate healing of Anna Santaniello, who suffered from Bouillard’s disease until she was instantly cured after bathing in the spring water at Lourdes in August of 1952. Saint Bernadette’s body, which remained uncorrupted, continued to be on view for visitors at the chapel of Saint Gildard in Nevers. For Catholics and other believers worldwide, her corpse’s preservation was yet another example of Bernadette’s miraculous healing powers. Saints, canonization Roman Catholic Church;saints

Further Reading
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Carroll, Michael P. “The Virgin Mary at LaSalette and Lourdes: Whom Did the Children See?” Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion 24 (1985): 56-74. Explores why apparitions of the Virgin Mary appear to certain people and not to others. Also examines the theory that these visions might be modeled after a parental figure.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Heffernan, Anna Eileen, and Mary Elizabeth Tebo. Saint Bernadette Soubirous. Boston: Pauline Books & Media, 1999. Written for a young-adult audience, this book provides readers with a short biography of Bernadette of Lourdes as well as a description of the shrine at Lourdes at the end of the twentieth century.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Laurentin, René. Bernadette Speaks: A Life of Saint Bernadette Soubirous in Her Own Words. Boston: Pauline Books & Media, 2000. A fact-based account of the life of Bernadette of Lourdes.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Taylor, Therésè. “So Many Extraordinary Things to Tell: Letters from Lourdes, 1858.” Journal of Ecclesiastical History 46 (July, 1995): 457-482. Explores Bernadette’s visions by examining letters written by Adelaide Monlaur, an eyewitness to the events at Lourdes. Describes how the visions led to the establishment of Lourdes as a world-renowned religious shrine.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Trochu, Francis. Saint Bernadette Soubirous, 1844-1879. Rockford, Ill.: Tan Books, 1985. Comprehensive biography traces the saint’s life from her childhood in Lourdes to her death as a nun at the convent in Nevers.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Werfel, Franz. The Song of Bernadette. 1942. Reprint. New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1998. Based on fact, this novel tells the story of the saint’s life.

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Categories: History