OUR LADY OF LOURDES
The apparitions of Our Lady of Lourdes began on 11 February 1858, when Bernadette Soubirous, a 14-year-old peasant girl from Lourdes admitted, when questioned by her mother, that she had seen a "lady" in the cave of Massabielle, about a mile from the town, while she was gathering firewood with her sister and a friend. Similar appearances of the "lady" took place on seventeen further occasions that year.
Bernadette Soubirous was canonized as a saint, and many Catholics believe her visions to have been of the Virgin Mary. The first appearance of the "Lady" reported by Bernadette was on 11 February. Pope Pius IX authorized the local bishop to permit the veneration of the Virgin Mary in Lourdes in 1862.
On 11 February 1858, Bernadette Soubirous went with her sister Toinette and Jeanne Abadie to collect some firewood and bones in order to be able to buy some bread. When she took off her shoes and stockings to wade through the water near the Grotto of Massabielle, she heard the sound of two gusts of wind (coups de vent) but the trees and bushes nearby did not move. She saw a light in the grotto and a girl, as small as she was, dressed all in white, apart from the blue belt fastened around her waist and the golden yellow roses, one on each foot, the colour of her rosary.
Three days later, Bernadette returned to the Grotto with the two other girls. She had brought holy water as a test that the apparition was not of evil provenance, however the vision only inclined her head gratefully when the water was thrown. Bernadette's companions reportedly became afraid when they saw her in ecstasy. Bernadette remained ecstatic when they returned to the village. On 18 February, she was told by the Lady to return to the Grotto over a period of two weeks. The Lady allegedly said: "I PROMISE TO MAKE YOU HAPPY NOT IN THIS WORLD BUT IN THE NEXT".
After the news spread, the police and city authorities began to take an interest. On the 25th Bernadette was asked to dig in the ground and drink the water of the spring she found there. This made her dishevelled and caused dismay among her supporters, but revealed the stream that soon became a focal point of pilgrimage. At first muddy, the stream became increasingly clean. As word spread, this water was given to medical patients of all kinds, and numerous miracle cures were reported.
These events established the Marian veneration in Lourdes, is one of the most frequented Marian shrines in the world, and to which between 4 and 6 million pilgrims travel annually.