There were 18 appearances in all, the final one occurring on the feast
of Our Lady of Mt. Carmel, July 16. Although Bernadette's initial reports provoked skepticism, her
daily visions of "the Lady" brought great crowds of the curious. The Lady, Bernadette explained, had
instructed her to have a chapel built on the spot of the visions. There the people were to come to
wash in and drink of the water of the spring that had welled up from the very spot where Bernadette
had been instructed to dig.
According to Bernadette, the Lady of
her visions was a girl of 16 or 17 who wore a white robe with a blue sash. Yellow roses covered her
feet, a large rosary was on her right arm. In the vision on March 25 she told Bernadette, "I am the
Immaculate Conception." It was only when the words were explained to her that Bernadette came to
realize who the Lady was.
Few visions have ever undergone the
scrutiny that these appearances of the Immaculate Virgin were subject to. Lourdes became one of the
most popular Marian shrines in the world, attracting millions of visitors. Miracles were reported at
the shrine and in the waters of the spring. After thorough investigation Church authorities
confirmed the authenticity of the apparitions in 1862.
During her life Bernadette suffered much. She was hounded by the public as well as by civic officials until at last she was protected in a convent of nuns. Five years later she petitioned to enter the Sisters of Notre Dame. After a period of illness she was able to make the journey from Lourdes and enter the novitiate. But within four months of her arrival she was given the last rites of the Church and allowed to profess her vows. She recovered enough to become infirmarian and then sacristan, but chronic health problems persisted. She died on April 16, 1879, at the age of 35. She was canonized in 1933.
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