Our pilgrimage is taking us through beautiful regions, mainly rural and dotted by small villages, each with a lovely church. There is also the occasional castle. The crops are past their prime and seasonal weather is replacing the high temperatures we were experiencing a week ago.
Today we drove to Nevers, the monastery of the Sisters of Charity and Christian Instruction. As the apparitions of Bernadette began to be accepted in Lourdes the notoriety weighed on the shy Bernadette. She found shelter in Nevers, some 300 miles away from Lourdes. Initially she was schooled by the sisters. She was illiterate and didn’t even speak French (she spoke a local pyrenean dialect) when the Blessed Mother appeared to her. In one of the apparitions the Blessed Mother told her she needed to learn to write. Likely this would be to better communicate the experience. Eventually she would join the order as Sr. Mary Bernard. Bernadette remained frail and sickly, her condition exacerbated by her impoverished childhood. Her illness limited her to what she could do. She assisted the nursing sisters, not well enough to nurse the sick. Bernadette’s poor health led to her death at 35 years old.
Today, the body of Bernadette is displayed in a crystal case in a side chapel in the church at the Espace Bernadette. It is incorruptible, meaning the tissue may discolor but does not break down. I included photos, so you decide what you think.
I am happy that Nevers was included on the pilgrimage. It seemed to me that Bernadette gets lost at Lourdes. Pilgrims are focused on the healing waters, on the processions, on the miraculous healing they would like to experience. What seems to get lost is the message of conversion and prayer. I talked to several pilgrims that faith was the most important aspect of healing. Jesus would tell those he healed “your faith has saved you.” The Blessed Virgin told Bernadette to wash in the spring but the healing that followed were secondary. The Lady told Bernadette that she could not promise happiness in this life, but in the life to come. Bernadette, shy and young and poor, was ridiculed by townspeople and civil authorities, and yet was able to stand on the side of truth. Although she suffered physically all her life she never bathed in the waters. Though people would have gladly made her life more financially comfortable, she chose simplicity and humility and service instead. She chose the little way, bearing troubles bravely putting her faith in joy in the life to come. In my opinion, this gets drowned out in Lourdes, but is central in Nevers.
Tomorrow we will end our time with a few days in Paris.