By Richard Mc Brien
Between February 11 and July 16, 1858, the Blessed Virgin Mary is said to have appeared to Marie Bernarde (later Bernadette) Soubirous [April 16], a fourteen-year-old girl, eighteen times at the grotto of Massabielle, near her hometown of Lourdes on the northern slopes of the Pyrenees mountains. Although by March twenty thousand pilgrims had gathered to witness the apparition, only Bernadette could see it. She was instructed by the apparition to bathe and drink from a spring that began to fl ow the following day. Since then the bath at Lourdes has been associated with miraculous healings. The local bishop eventually authorized the cult of Our Lady of Lourdes in 1862. The site of the apparitions attracts over three million pilgrims a year. Of some five thousand reported cures, at least fifty-eight have been declared miraculous by church offi cials. In 1907 Pope Pius X made the feast of Our Lady of Lourdes a feast of the universal Church. It remains on the General Roman Calendar.