Saint Bernadette Soubirous, was the first-born daughter of a miller from Lourdes, France. On February 11, 1858, Ms Soubirous is said to have experienced the first of her “Marian apparitions” in a cave at Massabielle, France. She said a “young lady” identified herself as the “Immaculate Conception” and asked that a chapel be built on the site of vision.
Ms Soubirous, who was aged 14 at the time, said she was out gathering firewood with her sister Marie when the first vision occurred inside the cave.
She revealed how a “dazzling light appeared, followed by a white figure” during the first of 18 visions of what she referred to as “aquero”.
On February 14, after Sunday Mass, Ms Soubirous, with her sister Marie and some other girls, returned to the site.
Ms Soubirous knelt down immediately, saying she saw the apparition again falling into a trance, before claiming “the vision” had asked her to return to the cave every day for two weeks.
Following this incident, a period of almost daily visions came to be known as La Quinzaine Sacree, or “holy fortnight” and caused a frenzy in the local town, with some claiming she had a mental illness.
However, opinions were changed on February 25, when Ms Soubirous said the vision had told her to “drink of the water of the spring, to wash in it and to eat the herb that grew there”.
The next day, the cave was no longer muddy and clear water flowed and many were quick to call it a miracle.
A month later, on March 25, according to Ms Soubirous’ account, the vision identified herself as the “Immaculate Conception”.
After an investigation, church authorities confirmed the authenticity of the claims in 1862, after “extremely rigorous scientific and medical examinations”.
However, in the 150 years since the claims first came to light, the account has been verified by the Lourdes Medical Bureau as “inexplicable”.
A commission that examined the water of the cave revealed that, while it had a high mineral content, it contained nothing out of the ordinary that would account for the“miracle” attributed to it.
However, several have discredited the story, claiming that Ms Soubirous fabricated the claims for financial gain.
By the time the events in the cave were said to have happened, the Soubirous family’s financial and social status had declined to the point where they lived in a one-bedroom basement of a former jail.