St. Bernadette was born at the Boly Mill in 1844, the eldest of 9 in a very poor family. Poverty changed to destitution and the family were forced to live in the disused prison The Cachot. This was their home at the time of the Apparitions. Our Lady appeared to Bernadette 18 times between February 11th and July 16th 1858. After the apparitions, Bernadette lived on with her parents for 2 years, and then in 1860 went to live at the convent in Lourdes. In 1866 she left Lourdes to join the Sisters of Nevers 400 miles away. She never returned to Lourdes. She devoted her life as a nun to care for the sick. She died in 1879, aged 35 years and was canonised in 1933. Her body is incorrupt in a shrine in Nevers.
The Apparitions began on 11th February 1858, when Bernadette and her companions went to gather sticks near the old grotto beside the Gave River. Bernadette heard a wind-like storm. Our Lady appeared within the old grotto; four days later Our Lady appeared again and the whole of Lourdes could talk of nothing else. At the third apparition on February 18th, Mary asked the girl to come for the next 15 days and told her “I do not promise to make you happy in this world, but in the next.”
From February 19th to March 4th there were 12 apparitions during which Mary asked Bernadette to pray for sinners, to urge the world to penance, and ask clergy to build a chapel and to invite pilgrims. She taught Bernadette a prayer for her personal use, which was never disclosed. During these weeks, crowds began to come to the grotto. On February 25th, Mary asked Bernadette to scoop up some clay and drink the muddy water that poured forth. Thus began what we now know as the Lourdes water which pours out 20,000 gallons per day, some going to the baths and more to the drinking taps from which people bring Lourdes water all over the world.
On March 25th, Bernadette asked the lady her name and she identified herself as The Immaculate Conception. The final apparition was on July 16th, the Feast of Our Lady of Mount Carmel.
Opposition and hostility were the reactions of clergy and police. One month after the apparitions, a commission was set up to investigate the facts and examine reported miracles. Four years later, in July 1862, the commission reported that Our Lady had definitely appeared to Bernadette and recommended that a chapel be built. Crowds now thronged to Lourdes with 1864 seeing the first organised Pilgrimage. The first Irish Pilgrimage to Lourdes was in 1913.