Born: 7 January 1844
Died: 16 April 1879 (lung disease)
Birthplace: Lourdes, France
Best known as: The girl who saw the Virgin Mary at Lourdes
Name at birth: Marie Bernarde Soubirous
Bernadette of Lourdes is the French saint whose body is said to have been miraculously preserved. In 1858, 14-year-old Bernadette Soubirous had a vision of the Virgin Mary in a grotto near Lourdes. Despite some public skepticism, Bernadette held to her belief in the visions, which eventually were accepted as genuine by officials of the Catholic church. A shrine was built at the grotto in Lourdes, and the waters are still considered by many to have miraculous healing properties. Bernadette later joined a convent in Nevers, France, where she spent her adult life. After her death she was beatified in 1925 and canonized in 1933 by Pope Pius XI.
Bernadette’s body was exhumed three times in the early 1900s in the course of research for her beatification. Each time the corpse was reportedly “incorrupt” — that is, remarkably well preserved. Eventually a layer of wax was placed over her features, and her body is now kept in a special shrine in Nevers… The saint’s story was told in the 1942 book Song of Bernadette by Franz Werfel; a 1943 movie based on the book was nominated for 12 Academy Awards, and actress Jennifer Jones won the best actress Oscar for her portrayal of Bernadette… It’s true: pop singer Madonna named her first child Lourdes.
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