The history of Saint-Gildard
In the 19th century, the reconstituted Congregation of the Sisters of Charity of Nevers attracted a substantial number of novices. The old Convent of the Visitation where the Sisters had been living, no longer met their requirements so they were obliged to seek accommodation elsewhere.
So the Bishop of Nevers, Monsignor Dufetre proposed building on a site near the town, on a hill – an ancient place of worship where nothing remained except a church with a wine press.
The origin of the sanctuary on the hill (Saint-Gildard) dates back to the Middle Ages. Monks had settled there and a priory was built – possibly at the end of the 7th or the beginning of the 8th century. It was consecrated to Saint Loup, a deacon who had converted the Lord of the nearby town of La Charite. Very quickly the name of Saint Gildard was associated with that of Saint Loup.
Saint Gildard was a priest who had particular influence on the parishioners of Lurcy-le-Bourg where he ministered. After his death his body was transferred to the priory church. The number of miracles increased, attracting crowds of people.
Only the name of Saint Gildard remained as a reference to this abbey, situated one kilometre outside the walls of the town and surrounded by vineyards. By the 19th century, almost nothing remained of the original priory and church except three bays of the nave and two portals to the south and the west.
The Sisters of Charity of Nevers built, what later became, their motherhouse and novitiate. In July 1856 the new buildings were blessed, the chapel consecrated and the community moved in.
Ten years later, on 7th July 1866, Bernadette Soubirous arrived in Saint Gildard to begin her religious formation. She remained here for thirteen years until her death in 1879.
The novitiate remained in use until the 1970’s, when it was decided to transform the house into a place of welcome and a spiritual resource centre. The dormitories, previously occupied by postulants and novices, are now bedrooms and are used by pilgrims who come to pray to Bernadette.