On February 11, 1858 in the Pyrenean village of Lourdes, France, a beautiful young lady appeared to a poor, fourteen-year-old girl named Bernadette Soubirous.
Bernadette and her sister were searching for firewood near the Grotto of Massabielle. Bernadette was often ill, so when her sister removed her stockings in order to wade across the river, the frail girl remained where she was. Soon, a strange silence filled the air.
She turned her head towards the grotto and saw in the opening of the rock a beautiful young lady. “The Lady” was dressed in white with a yellow rose at each foot and a rosary draped over her arm. Removing her own rosary from her pocket, Bernadette knelt down before “the Lady” and began to pray.
This was the first of eighteen apparitions of the Blessed Mother to the young girl. During the sixteenth apparition on March 25, the feast of the Annunciation, Our Lady identified herself as “the Immaculate Conception.”
Bernadette ran to her pastor’s house, repeating to herself over and over again the strange name that “the Lady” had given her so as not to forget it. At that time, the “Immaculate Conception” was not a well-known term: just four years earlier, on December 8, 1854, Blessed Pope Pius IX had proclaimed the dogma of the Immaculate Conception in the apostolic constitution Ineffabilis Deus.
Although unknown to the illiterate young Bernadette, the name that “the Lady” had given her was to her dumbfounded pastor more confirmation than he had ever expected.
Complying with Our Lady’s request, there is now a church at the grotto. Our Lady asked that people come in procession, and persevere with prayer and personal conversion.
During the ninth apparition, Our Lady asked Bernadette to kneel and wash in the spring. Confused, because there was no spring near Massabielle, she began to scratch the loose gravel off the ground inside the grotto. As she did so, a small pool formed, and she cupped her hands together and drank, and then washed her face.
The next day, the pool was overflowing and water was dripping down over the rock. To this spring are attributed countless cures, though only 67 are officially recognized by the Church and medical science.
The shrine is considered the most visited place of pilgrimage and healing in the world.
The celebration of the feast of Our Lady of Lourdes was extended to the universal Church in 1907.