The Investigation
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Body of Bernadette

Bernadette at Lourdes


The Fortnight

Our Lady's Message

Making of a Saint

Personal Notes


"We judge that Mary Immaculate, Mother of God, really appeared to Bernadette on the 11th February, 1858 ..."
— Mgr. Laurence, Bishop of Tarbes, Jan. 18, 1862

Fr Cros' dialect text of the Apparitions

October 23, 1865, Fr. Cros S.J. visits Bernadette for the second time. He asks Bernadette to dictate the dialect words of the Virgin Mary, and he writes (image above). Later, Bernadette copied her words for verification. Although Fr. Cros was not the first to record Her words, he was probably the most prolific researcher on the events.

Days following the final apparition, on July 28, 1858 Bishop Laurence of Tarbes appointed a commission to investigate the entire affair. Influential bishops from Soissons and Montpellier had already visited Lourdes and met Bernadette. Impressed by her simplicity and strength of character, they pressed Laurence to initiate the investigation. Veuillot, a famous reporter from the newspaper l'Univers published a sensational account on the apparitions. When asked if she was affected by this, Bernadette simply replied "I hardly know how to read."

The commission worked and studied for three and one–half years. Bernadette was first officially questioned on November 17, 1858. Every witness was interrogated and countless reports made. Inexplicable cures were examined. A team of doctors, under the supervision of Professor Vergez of the Faculty of Medicine of Montpellier, confirmed thirty–five cases of inexplicable healing. These miracles, combined with Bernadette's unwaivering and undoubted credibility, ultimately convinced Bishop Laurence of the truth of the Virgin Mary's apparitions. He declared in a Pastoral Letter dated January 18, 1862, that "truly, the Virgin did appear to Bernadette."

During the three and one–half years of the commission (1858–1862) many believers complained that harsh police measures only added to the unrest in Lourdes. Emperor Napoleon III was the one to finally intervene. Not wishing to fall out of favor with the local population, he ordered the barricades removed from the Grotto. Peace and order restored, the Grotto of Apparitions soon grew into the center of pilgrimage that it continues to be today.

Grotto of Massabielle at the time of the Apparitions

Original condition of the Grotto of Massabielle. Photo from time of the apparitions.

During the time of the investigation, the steady flow of pilgrims transformed Massabielle into a center of religious fervor. So was the Grotto itself transformed quickly from the muddy pig–sty it originally was. Imagine the majestic basilicas that are the focal point of the sanctuary today were built in Bernadette's lifetime—the "Crypt," a chapel built within the interior of the rock rising over the Grotto, was dedicated in 1866 in Bernadette's presence! She had not yet entered into her vocation.

Building site of the Crypt, and the first official procession to dedicate the statue by Fabisch, April 4, 1864

1st official procession

In 1863, the Lacour sisters from Lyons returned from Lourdes with the notion that a statue "representing in a manner as exactThe Fabisch statue today as possible the dress and the pose of the Apparition" would be preferable to the small plaster likeness currently occupying the cavity in the rock.  Mgr. Laurence and the Curé Peyramale consented, and the work was contracted to Lyons sculptor Joseph Fabisch, who would carve the Lady in Carrara marble. Fabisch came to interview Bernadette on the appearance of the Virgin Mary on September 17, 1863. Two months later he sent a photograph of a model to Lourdes. Peyramale took down Bernadette's criticisms of the photo. After improving on the sculpture, Fabisch brought the finished work to Lourdes several days before it's scheduled dedication (April 4, 1864). All present showered him with praise over the achievement. Bernadette, first gazing at it with admiration, finally concluded "No, it is not her". She would later say that it was impossible to replicate the Lady as She was. Fabisch, knowing that he had failed, said the girl's reaction was the "greatest sorrow of his artistic life." In those days, the statue was lit from below in the evening, which changed its appearance from that intended by Fabisch. It's eyes are looking upward toward heaven, although this is typically not apparent from the angle of those passing below.

While the famous statue could not capture the pure kindness and simplicity of the "little Lady," it was dedicated with a procession and formal ceremony on April 4, 1864. Bernadette and the Curé Peyramale were to be present, but were both ill for the occasion. The statue still remains in the crevasse of the rock where Our Lady appeared. Several feet beyond reach to those who pass below, countless millions of pilgrims have knelt and prayed before the icon.

St. Bernadette and Lourdes pages

Chronology of Apparitions at Lourdes

Bernadette photos
Photographs of St. Bernadette and Lourdes