Saint Bernadette was the eldest of nine children, born into a poor family living in the town of Lourdes, France in the Pyrenees Mountains near the Spanish border. In 1858 when Bernadette was fourteen years old, she had a vision of a young woman wearing shining white in a small grotto in the hills outside of the town. Bernadette returned frequently to the grotto at the request of the shining lady. When she asked the woman her name, the vision responded, “I am the Immaculate Conception.”
Mary asked Bernadette that a chapel be built on the site of the visions. As word of the Our Lady’s appearance spread, multiple churches were built near the spot, including the Basilica of St. Pius X which can fit more than 25,000 people. About five million pilgrims visit Lourdes each year. People seeking cures drink from a spring which formed at the grotto, and more than seventy people have experienced miraculous cures after making pilgrimages to Lourdes.
Bernadette did not like the fame which the visions brought her. She sought the chance to devote herself to prayer and work by joining the Sisters of Charity in the town of Nevers, France. She died of tuberculosis at the age of thirty-five on April 16, 1879. When her body was exhumed forty years later, it was found to be incorrupt. She was canonized a saint on December 8, 1933
In this icon, Saint Bernadette is shown holding a rosary and a candle in her right hand. The candle is a symbol of the candlelight processions of pilgrims at Lourdes, and the rosary was deeply important to Bernadette who died while praying the rosary. In her left hand are yellow roses, which often appeared at the feet of Our Lady in Bernadette’s visions in the grotto. She also holds a crutch. Many pilgrims who were cured of disabilities or injuries while visiting the grotto left their crutches behind in Lourdes. To her right, the drops of water represent the miraculous spring.
The feast day of St. Bernadette is April 16th.
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