Bernadette in Lourdes

On January 7th 1844, Bernadette Soubirous was born in Lourdes, a small town in the Pyrenean  mountains, to a miller’s family who enjoyed relative prosperity during the early years of Bernadette’s life.

Gradually, the family suffered serious health problems.  Water mills were progressively shutting down, marking the beginning of industrialisation.  Soon there was no money left at the mill.  Louise and Francois Soubirous were obliged to borrow, as was the case for so many others.  Within a few short months, all they could offer to anyone who wanted to employ them, was their physical strength.

In 1854 they, and their four children, were obliged to leave the Boly Mill.  They moved from house to house, each place less expensive and smaller than the previous one, until finally they were given free accommodation in the Cachot, a single, dark and unhealthy room, in the town’s disused prison… described by Imperial Attorney Dufour as “a sordid and dark hovel where no human being could live.”

The Soubirous family became trapped in a spiral of misery: unemployment, eviction, exclusion, contempt.  Bernadette suffered from ill-health.  She had stomach pains, also persistent asthma as a result of a cholera epidemic.  She was one of the many children in France who, at this time, did not know how to read or write because they had to work.   Occasionally she attended school in a class for poor children in the Lourdes Hospice run by the Sisters of Charity of Nevers.

In 1858 the Apparitions began for Bernadette.