The Fortnight
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Body of Bernadette

Bernadette at Lourdes


Final Visions

Our Lady's Message

Making of a Saint

Personal Notes


"I do not promise to make you happy in this world, but in the next" ... These words spoken by Mary to Bernadette at the third apparition on February 18, 1858 were a prophesy of Bernadette's life. This was the promise in return for Bernadette's total compliance with the will of the heavenly Mother.

The happiness promised to Bernadette was not only intended for life after death. It is a happiness experienced by all those who progress in the way of prayer; who go beyond prayerful words to the discovery of true Prayer. It was this experience that Bernadette came to discover as she knelt before Our Lady. She went beyond the mere recitation of the rosary to savor the deeper experience of a loving communion, "of a friend speaking to a friend." There at the Grotto, Bernadette's deeply prayerful experience silently touched the hearts of all who watched, and crowds began to form in ever greater numbers as the famous Fortnight of Apparitions progressed.

Friday, February 19, 1858 Eight people were present, including Bernadette's mother and her aunt Bernarde, who was her godmother. In spite of their natural fear, they found comfort in the calm happiness displayed by Bernadette throughout this fourth Apparition. Bernadette was armed with a candle for protection.
"I came back for a fortnight. The vision appeared every day, except one Monday and one Friday. She repeated to me several times that I was to tell the priests they were to build a Chapel there, and I was to go to the fountain to wash, and that I was to pray for sinners. During this fortnight, she told me three secrets which she forbade me to tell anyone. I have been faithful until now."

Bernadette's writing of The Fortnight focuses on the time when the Lady confided to her messages and secrets. Calendars matter little to her, except concerning the two occasions on which the Vision did not appear.

Lourdes at the time of the Apparitions

Lourdes at the time of the Apparitions

Saturday, February 20, 1858 Thirty people were in attendance and returned to the village deeply moved and astonished at the extraordinary atmosphere of peace and joy that emanated from the poor little Grotto. Father Pene, the local parish curate, questioned Bernadette about the happiness she found at the Grotto. She answered "When I see her I feel as if I'm no longer of this world. And when the vision disappears I'm amazed to find myself still here."

Sunday, February 21, 1858 Over one hundred people had gathered. The police began to keep an eye on the place. They counted the crowd and were truly alarmed by the events. Jacomet, the Police Commissioner, sent for Bernadette, questioned her, threatened her, and finally obtained from François Soubirous, who had no desire to return to prison, the assurance that the whole business would cease. Bernadette's sadness upset her family ..."she is no liar", said her mother.

Monday, February 22, 1858 In obedience to her father, Bernadette painfully went off to school. But, in the afternoon of that same day an irresistible force drew her back to Massabielle. There was however no Apparition.

Tuesday, February 23, 1858 In spite of the Police Commissioner, Bernadette was back again at the Grotto for the seventh Apparition. There was but a small gathering of people that included some of the leading villagers who had come out of curiosity and the desire to mock the gullibility of the "lower classes." A certain Jean-Baptiste Estrade, a tax inspector with a rather aloof personality, was also present. He was sent by the parish priest Father Peyramale to find out what was going on. He and Duffo, the court official, with officers from the garrison and other eminent citizens, had come to witness this "Mardi Gras carnival" on the advice of the parish priest. But, instead of being shocked or scandalized, they were astonished and moved by the whole experience. The vision of Bernadette in prayer turned them into "believers and witnesses".

Something was definitely happening at Massabielle. There was no stopping it now. The "pig–sty" was about to become the "Blessed Grotto," a place destined to make Lourdes the capital of prayer in which the "Message of Prayer" would take root and flourish.

Bernadette in ecstasy

"Bernadette in ecstasy" The artist affirms that this portrait was drawn during one of Bernadette's ecstasies. This final drawing bears no signature but only these words of dedication: "To the Countess of Geoffre, Lecomte de Noüy." It was given to the Museum of Bernadette at Nevers, by the Count de Certaínes. He received it from his mother, who had in turn received it from her parents. The colors have never been fixed, and have faded.

Wednesday, February 24, 1858 250 people clustered around Bernadette taking up all the space between the River Gave and the rock of Massabielle. Sadness and tears stained the transfigured face of the visionary. The message given today was repeated at the Grotto and in the town: "PENANCE!"
And pray they did at Massabielle. People arrived earlier than ever. In the cold of winter, they were satisfied to be there, by the banks of the River Gave, to watch and pray.

Discovery of the Spring

Thursday, February 25, 1858 The police recorded a crowd of more than 350. Hoping to witness something of her ecstasy, the crowd waited with eagerness for Bernadette's arrival. Unlike the fine weather of previous days, this was a cold, miserable rainy day. It was out of the cold misty dawn that Bernadette finally appeared. She was seen to remove her hood, put her candle aside, walk towards the Gave, then turn, go down on her knees and finally crawl on all fours to the back of the Grotto, towards the left of the rock.
The 'Source' - 1997 photo" (The Lady) told me that I should go and drink at the fountain and wash myself. Seeing no fountain I went to drink at the Gave. She said it was not there; she pointed with her finger that I was to go in under the rock. I went, and I found a puddle of water which was more like mud, and the quantity was so small that I could hardly gather a little in the hollow of my hand. Nevertheless I obeyed, and started scratching the ground; after doing that I was able to take some. The water was so dirty that three times I threw it away. The fourth time I was able to drink it. She made me eat grass growing in the same place where I had drunk; once only; I do not know why. Then the Vision disappeared and I went home."

Mary at the spot of the ApparitionsThe Ninth Apparition is a culminating point of the Lourdes message. The water bubbling up and mixing with the mud from the inner recesses of the Grotto was to take on an unimaginably deep meaning. Much more than a mere purifying water which may sometimes produce miraculous cures, this water is the mystical sign of the water that flowed with the Blood from Christ's side, pierced by the soldier's spear. An enlightening coincidence, since it was at that time that an account of the Passion was being read in the Catholic liturgy. Without knowing, Bernadette had mimed the Passion "for sinners."

But, as Bernadette was discovering the meaning of the Lady's message, only a few scarce people, such as Marie Pailhes, grasped the full gravity of the situation. Moved by the sadness upon Bernadette's face, "She seemed to carry all the sorrow of the world," wrote Pailhes. But as for the majority, they had callously behaved like the many who, on Good Friday, had abandoned Jesus, whom only a few days before they had so admired and loved.

As Bernadette scratched the muddy ground and chewed the bitter grass, her friends and supporters one by one began to abandon their belief in the claimed visions. This was just like Jesus' friends failed to understand that "ours were the sufferings He carried, and ours the sorrows He bore." Yet they had lived with Him and He had tried to teach them this. On the evening before Christ's passion, He had taken a loaf of bread and said, "this is my body given up for sinners." He had taken a cup of wine and said, "this is my blood poured out for all people." Jesus had tried to avoid this, asking three times of the Father to "let this cup pass from me." But He surrendered himself to the Father: "May your will be done." Jesus had a great love and compassion for sinners, and it led Him to severe suffering. He was the innocent lamb, sacrificed for the salvation of the world, taking on Himself all the sins of the world.

Gave River - 1998 photo For those who cared to watch and listen, true meaning was discovered in Bernadette's crawling in the mud, and the grass that she found "difficult and bitter" to eat. At the ninth apparition, a passion play of sorts was performed by Bernadette. She observed the sadness of Mary, was called to offer sacrifices and penance for sinners, and surrendered herself in a symbolic gesture representing the poverty of sinners. During the course of her life, Bernadette meditated and deepened her understanding of this mystery. Her compassion and prayer for "poor sinners" was to grow ever more profound.

February 25, 1858 Continued Bernadette rose from crawling in the mud at the Grotto. The crowd was surprised and shocked when she turned towards them. Her face was unrecognizable, smeared with mud, and chewing a tuft of grass pulled up from the ground. The surprise of the onlookers soon turned to resentment, sarcasm and anger. Some were horrified. Headlines in the next day's newspapers angrily proclaimed that "the gullible have been well and truly had ... Bernadette's real place should be in the asylum." On the day of the apparition, Bernadette's Aunt Bernarde intervened, slapping Bernadette's face and sending her off towards the Cachot. The standersby jeered as she passed.

"An unforgettably gloomy day" wrote Estrade, the tax inspector. He now had to suffer the taunts of his colleagues at the Café Français. Furious at having let themselves be dragged into this misadventure, they discovered that Bernadette was a "filthy little upstart." The term was used throughout the town to conjure up the image of Bernadette covered with the mud of the pig–sty. The local authorities sensed the changed mood in the village and acted quickly. That same evening, Bernadette was summoned to appear before Dutour, the Imperial Public Prosecutor. He was the same man responsible for landing Bernadette's father in prison.

For two long hours, Bernadette stood on her feet with her mother standing beside her. The fourteen–year–old girl endured a grilling interrogation. She was questioned, accused, and threatened with all kinds of insinuations. Finally, her mother, weakened with fear, fainted. The inspector persisted, but gave them chairs to sit down.

Continue to the next page for the conclusion of the "Fortnight" !

Chronology of Apparitions at Lourdes

Bernadette photos
Photographs of St. Bernadette and Lourdes