St Bernadette was a poor peasant girl who lived with her family in a hovel that had formerly been the city jail until it was deemed too unhealthy for the prisoners. She was sickly, with asthma, and uneducated. On February 11, 1858, Bernadette went with her sister and a friend to collect firewood. Before crossing a stream, Bernadette paused beside a grotto known as “La Massabeille” (the old rock) to remover her stockings. Her attention was drawn to the grotto by a gust of wind. Here is what she saw, in Bernadette’s own words:
“ As I raised my head to look at the grotto, I saw a Lady dressed in white, wearing a white dress, a blue girdle and a yellow rose on each foot, the same color as the chain of her rosary; the beads of the rosary were white."
"The Lady made a sign for me to approach; but I was seized with fear, and I did not dare, thinking that I was faced with an illusion. I rubbed my eyes, but in vain. I looked again, and I could still see the same Lady. Then I put my hand into my pocket, and took my rosary. I wanted to make the sign of the cross, but in vain; I could not raise my hand to my forehead, it kept on dropping. Then a violent impression took hold of me more strongly, but I did not go."
"The Lady took the rosary that she held in her hands and she made the sign of the cross. Then I commenced not to be afraid. I took my rosary again; I was able to make the sign of the cross; from that moment I felt perfectly undisturbed in mind. I knelt down and said my rosary, seeing this Lady always before my eyes. The Vision slipped the beads of her rosary between her fingers, but she did not move her lips. When I had said my rosary the Lady made a sign for me to approach, but I did not dare. I stayed in the same place. Then, all of a sudden, she disappeared.”
The front of this medal depicts St Bernadette kneeling before the Madonna in the grotto. She’s holding a rosary and a candle because during one of the apparitions, she held her hand over the flame of a candle for at least 15 minutes without burning her skin. This was witnessed by many onlookers, including a doctor who examined her immediately afterwards. The Virgin Mary is depicted just a Bernadette described her. She’s standing in a niche above a rose bush with her hands clasped in prayer. She has a rose on each foot and a rosary hanging from her arm.
You’ll see this depiction of Bernadette and the Virgin Mary on the backs of many medals, usually with Mary on the front. The inscription at the top says “Souvenir of the 50th anniversary” and “1858 to 1908” beneath it. So, dating this medal is pretty easy. We know it was struck in 1908 to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the apparition of the Virgin Mary at Lourdes.
“Will you do me the kindness to come here every day for fifteen days?
I do not promise to make you happy in this world, but in the next.
I would like for everyone to come to pray for sinners.
Penitence! Penitence! Penitence!
Go drink at the spring and wash there.
Kiss the ground for sinners.
Go to the priests and tell them to build a chapel here where people can come in procession.
The 25th of March the Virgin said: I am the Immaculate Conception”
That’s a lot to fit on a little pendant that only measures 1 1/8 x ¾ inches!
I could go on and on about Lourdes and the miraculous spring and Bernadette’s life, but I think I’ll save that for another medal - this post is quite long enough as it is. So...to be continued…