The white, snow-capped Pyrenees mountains behind the city of Lourdes, France, appeared at first to me as very white clouds. Then, as the bus neared the city, I realized the white was snow and that misty clouds concealed the bare rocky crags. The small city and its outlying farmhouses in the foothills below could be seen basking in the mellow, spring-afternoon sunshine.
In 1945 a movie titled, Song of Bernadette, told the story of Bernadette Soubirous, a fourteen-year-old girl, who saw an apparition of a beautiful lady at the grotto called Massabiele, near the city of Lourdes in 1858. The beautiful lady eventually identified herself as the Immaculate Conception. After visitors began to bathe in a spring which started to flow during one of the apparitions, unexplained healings took place.
As our bus turned onto a narrow, cobbled-stone street and pulled up to our hotel, I thought about the movie. How accurate was the story to the actual events that took place? I knew that many people simply believed Bernadette’s word. Others didn’t believe her even after the miracles. This made me think about the Stuart Chase quote, “For those who believe, no proof is necessary. For those who don’t believe, no proof will suffice.”
I loved our hotel, a lovely older building near the Gave River. As I’ve experienced before in Europe, none of the rooms had screens, even in rooms several stories up. Our room overlooked a cobbled street and had an unobstructed view of the river with tall buildings on the opposite bank. Since it was late in the day, we hurried to join our fellow pilgrims for dinner.
After dinner, my daughter Tammie and I went for a walk. We crossed a nearby bridge and strolled a narrow street lined with souvenir shops. Taking a few turns, we found a shaded avenue which lead to the area immediately around the grotto, called the Domain by the Roman Catholic church who owns and manages it.
Everywhere we went, we saw young people in large groups, chanting glory and praise, singing, blowing whistles and drumming drums. A shop owner told us it was youth week at the shrine and these were Catholic Church confirmands for this year. The youngsters radiated energy and joy. We also saw many adults who were infirm and wheelchair bound; staple visitors at Lourdes.
I commented to Tammie, “I’ve always wondered why the movie about Mary appearing at Lourdes was called the Song of Bernadette. It wasn’t a musical.”
My daughter answered, “Yes, I’ve wondered about that, too!”
Chuckling, I admitted, “I looked up the word, “song”, and found that a seldom-used definition is; ‘a habitual or characteristic manner’. Then I looked deeper and found, ‘marked or excessive adherence to a particular manner.’ Now the name of the movie makes sense to me. Bernadette never wavered or changed her story despite the ridicule and scolding she received from people she loved and respected.”
Watching a happy, singing group of Catholic teenagers walk past us, Tammie commented, “The whole experience must have been very intimidating for Bernadette.”
“Yes.” I agreed. “By all accounts she was a shy, uneducated person, but she never wavered and always did exactly what Mary instructed her to do. Most of the teens we see tonight would be the same age as Bernadette.”
Until Bernadette saw Mary, the people of Lourdes used Massabiele as a dump. While at Lourdes, I was struck by how neat and orderly the town was despite the huge number of visitors it received each season.
The next morning, we pilgrims rose early to attend Mass at the grotto. Sleepy-eyed, Tammie and I walked to the cave near the apparition niche. I studied the three churches that rise above on the massive rock, like tiers of a cake, one on top of the other. The first rays of the morning sun glinted on the beautiful, giant, gold crown placed in front of the middle church.
Several green shrubs and vines had found cracks to grow in on the grotto’s rock face. As our priest presided at Mass in the shallow cave, birds fluttered among the foliage and sang happy, early morning songs. I thought, “Our Mass couldn’t possibly have a more adept musical accompaniment than this!”