Saint Bernadette

Bernadette was born on 7 January 1844 and was the first child of Francois Soubirous and Louise Casterot who were married in 1843.

The little baby was baptised two days after her birth and was christened “Marie Bernarde” although she was soon known as Bernadette to her family and friends.

She was the eldest child in the family and had a further six brothers and two sisters but as was not unusual for those times five of the brothers and a sister all died before they were to reach the age of ten.

In November 1844 Louise suffered an accident and was no longer able to breast feed Bernadette and as a result of this Bernadette went to live with her foster mother Marie Aravant Lagues in Bartres which lies a few miles away from Lourdes. Bernadette was to stay with her foster mother for eighteen months before returning home.

In 1854 Francois was injured whilst working and lost his sight in one eye from a flying stone chip and this was to handicap him in his work. At this time a drought went on for two years and deprived the area of its wheat harvest with the follow on consequences for the millers who were already struggling in the face of competition from the new and more efficient steam powered mills. Bernadette’s father was a kind and considerate man and gave away food and drink to those who were less fortunate and also would not enforce payment of his debts where it would harm another family and this eventually led to him being unable to pay the rent for the mill. Eventually the owner of the mill took back the Boly Mill and the Soubirous family were forced to leave what Bernadette had always known as the ‘Mill of good fortune’.

In 1855 a cholera epidemic broke out in this area of France and Bernadette caught the disease and was ill for some time before she recovered although she would always suffer with asthma and a general weakness for the rest of her life. Francois was unable to find any form of employment and the family descended into poverty. A relation Andre Sajous allowed them to live from 1857 in the Cachot which was an old disused prison which had been declared uninhabitable and allowed them to live there rent free. The family were excluded and looked down upon by the people of Lourdes and they were the but of malicious jokes etc and life was very hard for the family. The Soubirous Family were in utter poverty, with no food to eat Francois was accused of stealing two bags of flour, and was imprisoned for eight days. The charges against Francois were dismissed, but thereafter he had to suffer with the reputation of a thief. Due to the family’s financial difficulties Bernadette did not attend at school very often and at the age of fourteen she was still unable to speak or write French, and was therefore unable to do her Catechism as this was only taught in French.

In November 1857 Bernadette who was still a weak child went to live with her foster mother Marie Aravant Lagues in Bartres and worked on her farm as a shepherdess. She returned to her family in January 1858 who were still were living in the Cachot as she was desperate to learn her Catechism and she was eventually allowed to join the class to prepare for her First Holy Communion.