Marie Bernarde (Bernadette) Soubirous was the first of six children born into extreme poverty in Lourdes, France, in 1844. Although quite a sickly child, at fourteen years old, Bernadette began experiencing visions of the Virgin Mary in a cave above the banks of the Gave River near her home.
Witnessing a total of eighteen visions, she suffered much criticism and hostility for reporting them. Eventually she gained support and her claims were declared worthy of belief after a canonical investigation. On December 8, 1933, Bernadette was canonized as a saint in the Catholic Church. She is considered to be a Christian mystic.
There were many photographs of Bernadette taken. Most were anonymous, so we do not know the context of this image. We simply see Bernadette, clasping her rosary, in the peasant dress of her youth.
Lourdes is now one of the world’s most popular sites of pilgrimage for Catholics. The Basilica of St. Pius X was built at the site of Bernadette’s visions. It is the largest and most controversial of the Domain‘s churches, a modern concrete building that lies almost entirely underground. Many of its critics deride it for resembling an underground carpark due to its lack of natural light and bare construction, which is gloomy and uninviting.
Completed in 1958 in anticipation of the enormous crowds expected in Lourdes for the centenary of the Apparitions, it fulfills its purpose of accommodating large numbers, but is unpopular with many visitors to the site. Eighteen images of the apparitions that appeared to Bernadette as well as further depictions of her life decorate the walls.