Born to a very poor family on January 7, 1844, she suffered severely from asthma and was such a poor student she was delayed from making her First Holy Communion until 1858, when she was 14. On February 11 of that year, the first of her visions took place as she was gathering firewood along the river Gave. This drama is known to most Catholics as the Apparition at Lourdes.
On March 25, 1858, the Blessed Virgin appeared for the last time and identified herself as the "Immaculate Conception." With these words the Mother of God confirmed the pious belief which Pope Pius IX, 4 years earlier, had raised to the dignity of a dogma of the infallible Church.
The Sisters of Nevers, who operated a school at Lourdes, were later entrusted with Bernadette's care, and when she was 22, was admitted to their order. She spent the rest of her days there, a short distance from Lourdes. After suffering heroically for years from tuberculosis of the bone in the right knee, including several complications, she died a holy death on April 15, 1879.
The body was first exhumed 30 years after her death. On September 2, 1909, in the presence of representatives appointed by the postulators of the cause, 2 doctors, and the sister of the community, the coffin was removed by workmen from the place where it was intombed. On opening the lid, they discerned no odor and the virginal body lay exposed, completly victorious over the laws of nature.
The arms and face were completly unaffected from corruption and had maintained their natural skin tone. The teeth were barely visible through her slightly parted lips. The rosary in her hands had become rusty, and the crucifix was coated with verdigris.
The sisters, with the best of intentions, thoroughly washed the body and reclothed it in a new religious habit before placing it in a new casket. After the official documents pertaining to the exhumation were placed beside the body, and the double casket officially sealed, the remains were again placed in the tomb.
The second exhumation took place at the end of the Process on April 3, 1919. The body of the Venerable was found in the same state of preservation as 10 years earlier, except that the face was slightly discolored, due to the washing it had undergone during the first exhumation. A worker in wax who was experienced in such duties applied a coating to the face of the Saint who had been dead 40 years.
This sacred relic was placed in a coffin of gold and glass and can be viewed in the Chapel of Saint Bernadette at the motherhouse in Nevers.
Picture & biography courtesy of Joan Carroll Cruz, "The Incorruptibles" ©1977. Used with permission.
Saints Alive! home page
Last edited March 21, 1998