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Friday, 14 August 2009

St Bernadette and Bartres

St Bernadette first spent time at the village of Bartres, about three miles from Lourdes, when she was a baby. An accident had prevented her mother from breast-feeding her, and a lady in Bartres, Marie Lagues, who had just lost a baby, agreed to wet-nurse St Bernadette.

Her second stay was when she was 13, from the summer of 1857. St Bernadette returned to the Lagues farm to help with the housework, looking after two young children, and the sheep and goats that were kept in a field about five minutes' walk outside the village. Above is the sheepfold where St Bernadette used to shelter the sheep. Below, in a photo taken on the walk back from the sheepfold, you can see how the Church of St John the Baptist, dominates the scene.

The view from outside the Church across the fields is impressive:

Inside, the Church is quite beautiful:

Here are close-ups of the three panels above the High Altar: on the left, the Visitation:

In the centre, the Baptism of Our Lord:

and on the right, the head of St John the Baptist presented to Herod's wife on a dish:

The Lady Chapel of the Church is very special. Although the Church has been enlarged since St Bernadette's time, she would have known the altar and reredos. She used to join the first Communion class in the Lady Chapel, run by with Fr Ader, a devout priest who recognised the simple holiness of St Bernadette.

Unfortunately, Fr Ader left the parish in January 1858. He tried his vocation with the Benedictines but his health was not up to it and he was appointed to another parish, eventually dying relatively young.

From the point of view of St Bernadette's story, his departure is significant. The parish was left vacant and St Bernadette resolutely returned to Lourdes towards the end of January, to the "Cachot", the cramped former prison cell where her family lived, so that she could continue with her instruction for first Holy Communion with the Sisters of Nevers. It was on 11 February that Our Lady first appeared to her at the grotto of Massabielle. St Bernadette made her first Holy Communion on 3 June 1858; Our Lady had appeared to her seventeen times and the grotto had begun to become famous. Only a few days later, the Mayor of Lourdes barricaded the grotto and the last appearance of Our Lady there was to St Bernadette as she knelt outside the fence. St Bernadette said:
I thought I was at the Grotto, at the same distance as I was the other times. All I saw was Our Lady ... She was more beautiful than ever.
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