Our Lady of Lourdes is one of the titles by which we honor the Blessed Virgin Mary, and each year this feast is celebrated on February 11. The date marks the anniversary of the first appearance of the Blessed Mother to a humble, fourteen-year old peasant girl named Bernadette Soubirous (1844-1879) near Lourdes, France, in 1858.
Bernadette later wrote: “I had gone down one day to the bank of the River Gave when suddenly I heard a kind of rustling sound. I looked up and caught sight of the cave where I saw a lady wearing a lovely white dress with a bright belt. On top of each of her feet was a pale yellow rose, the same color as her rosary beads.” During this vision the lady said nothing. Bernadette returned to the cave of Massabielle the following Sunday, and Mary reappeared without a word.
Mary finally spoke to Bernadette on her third appearance, and she asked Bernadette to return to the cave for the next fifteen days. During the successive appearances Mary had a number of special requests. Mary asked Bernadette to tell the priests that a chapel should be built in the locality. She asked Bernadette to pray for the conversion of sinners; invited her to pray with greater devotion, particularly the rosary; asked for an increase in works of charity; and requested special care and attention for the poor, especially the sick.
When Bernadette told others that Mary had appeared to her, there was immediate doubt and demands for proof. Subsequently on February 25 Mary asked Bernadette to take a drink of water and wash herself. Bernadette scratched the surface of the ground, and miraculously a spring of water flowed forth. There were eighteen appearances in all, the first on February 11, 1858, the last on July 16. During the March 25 apparition the woman identified herself as the Immaculate Conception.
Whenever someone claims to have received an apparition, there are questions of reliability. The Church conducted a thorough four-year examination of the happenings at Lourdes, and in 1862 declared them authentic and reliable. With this approval, a church was built at Lourdes and devotion to the Blessed Mother surged across Europe and around the world.
The spring waters have been associated with a number of miraculous cures. The water has been scientifically analyzed and it has no special chemicals or additives which would give it a medicinal quality, and as a result the healings have been attributed to the intercessory power of Mary. Lourdes has become an extremely popular pilgrimage site, both for Christians who would like to show their respect to Mary, but particularly for the sick who are seeking relief from their suffering and the restoration of their health.