Bernadette Soubirous was born in 1844 in a small town in France. St Bernadette was one of eight children born into a very poor family. Although initially unremarkable, Bernadette’s life was to inspire generations of people to journey in faith on pilgrimage to Lourdes. Between 11 February and 16 July 1858, Bernadette saw the Virgin Mary eighteen times in a series of Apparitions that took place in a cave on the outskirts of Lourdes, a place known as the Grotto of Massabielle. In the course of these miraculous encounters, Bernadette, then aged just 14, became the friend and confidante of Our Lady, the mother of Jesus.
The Apparitions of Lourdes were authenticated in 1862 by the Bishop of Tarbes. In 1866, Bernadette left Lourdes to live out her religious vocation within the community of the Sisters of Charity of Nevers. She died in 1879, was proclaimed Blessed in 1925, and was canonised as a Saint in 1933.
The life and legacy of St Bernadette has touched the lives of people across the world. 164 years after the first pilgrimages to this special place began, Lourdes is one of the busiest Christian pilgrimage sites in the world, with the Catholic Church acknowledging 70 miracles as having taken place there.
A relic is a part of the physical remains of a saint after their death, or an object which has been in contact with them.
The veneration of relics is rooted in the natural human instinct to treat anything connected with those we love, who have died, with care and reverence. From the earliest days of the Church, the bodies of saints were held in special veneration, and in Rome, prayers were said and Masses celebrated in the catacombs, the burial places of saints and martyrs. Simply put, relics help us feel close to a holy person, making the communion of saints more real and fostering in each of us a desire to be like them – to be holy.
During September and October, the relics of St Bernadette have travelled on pilgrimage from Lourdes to England, Scotland, and Wales for the very first time. This very special once in a lifetime event has provided an opportunity for people of all ages and backgrounds to experience the special gifts and charisms of Lourdes in a church or cathedral near to their home.
The visit has provided people across our community of faith with a valuable opportunity for prayer and healing.