Home The Song of Bernadette Starring: Jennifer Jones, William Eythe, Charles Bickford, Vincent Price, Lee J. Cobb, Gladys CooperDirector: Henry King.  A true story of St. Bernadette and the Lady of Lourdes France

"For those who believe in God, no explanation is necessary.

For those who do not believe in God, no explanation is possible."

Bernadette Soubirous (Jennifer Jones)

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Our Lady of LourdesThe story begins on February 11th, 1858, in the town of Lourdes in southern France. Bernadette Soubirous (Jennifer Jones), a simple minded peasant girl, sees a vision of a "beautiful lady" in the grotto near the village dump. 

is not a very healthy child, a sickly girl whose chronic asthma and had
difficulties in school. Yet, Bernadette shoulders her Bernadette Soubirous (Jennifer Jones)weaknesses and sufferings well, her character  is a pure-hearted and honest one.  Her physical ailments do not hinder her from attempting to lead a simple and good life.

The Soubirous family struggles to eke out a living and could barely even afford the former prison cell of Lourdes in which they lived.  The parents were often forced to seek whatever meager employment that fate might bestow upon them. 

The cinematography during these early scenes is, honestly, quite mesmerizing, from its establishing shots of the Soubirous prison cell home to the dreariness of the father's occupation.  The Song of Bernadette easily won an Oscar for best cinematography, and right from the start, it's easy to see why.
Bernadette Soubirous (Jennifer Jones)
One day Bernadette and her sister go to fetch some wood. While her sister and a friend gather the timber, Bernadette stays behind because she’s too frail to cross a frigid stream.

ventures into a grotto and sees a vision of a beautiful lady (Linda Darnell).  The lady was attired in a white veil with a blue girdle around her waist and a golden rose upon each foot.

There was a pleasant friendliness about the lady which warmed and intrigued Bernadette. She claimed that the "beautiful lady" asked her to return to the grotto every day for fifteen days. Bernadette Soubirous (Jennifer Jones)

An irresistible desire to see the lady once again brought Bernadette back to this same grotto many more times over the following days, and on most occasions, she would receive a visitation from this apparition.

Naturally, no one believes that she has indeed had this vision. Still, the people begin to flock in hope of a glimpse.
Immediately after this encounter, Bernadette’s health appears to improve, and good luck starts to befall her family.

At first, both municipal and ecclesiastical authorities are skeptical that this "stupid" young girl could be the subject of divine revelation.
Bernadette Soubirous (Jennifer Jones)
Bernadette's story caused a sensation with the townspeople, who were divided in their opinions on whether or not Bernadette was telling the truth.

When Bernadette receives her first visitation is one of the classic moments in cinema history.  The combination of Alfred Newman's whirling flutes and strings and choral arrangements, the deeply evocative cinematography, and Jennifer Jones' expressive acting during this scene make it truly unforgettable and certainly one of the highlights of the film.  The remainder of the visitations closely follow the accepted account of Bernadette's experience.

Such wonderment spreads quickly throughout France, creating adoration and enlivened faith in the Blessed Mother, fear and disbelief from her family and neighbors, skepticism from the municipal doctor, hostility from Bernadette Soubirous (Jennifer Jones)the Church, accusations of insanity from the town prosecutor, and threats of physical punishment from the Chief of Police.

Large number of people following Bernadette on her daily journey, some out of curiosity and others who firmly believed that they were  witnessing a miracle.

Bernadette remained true and proved her truest love and fidelity to her "Lady’s" wishes.  Her courage and faith, and the miraculous healings that take place, finally convince her antagonists of the holiness of her visions and the authenticity of her "Heavenly Messenger".
Bernadette Soubirous (Jennifer Jones)
The great drama of her soul continues after her apparitions with endless interrogation and investigation by Church and Civil authorities.

On the ninth visitation, the lady asked Bernadette to drink from the spring and to eat of the grasses there.  With no spring visible, Bernadette dug at the ground near the grotto, and water slowly began to flow from the shallow hole.  To some, the appearance of the spring, with its healing waters, was considered a miracle.

On the twelfth visitation, the lady asked Bernadette to request of her priest to build a chapel upon the site of the grotto. 
Bernadette Soubirous (Jennifer Jones)
On the sixteenth visitation, when Bernadette summoned the courage to finally ask the lady of her name, the lady's reply was, "I am the Immaculate Conception."

In total, there were eighteen visitations. 

By then, news of Bernadette's visions had spread even to the ears of Emperor Napoleon III. 

Jennifer JonesBernadette Soubirous (Jennifer Jones) is so good (and gets even better as the film progresses) that she transcends the material and brings a true aura of magic to the screen.  The film may be based upon an actual miracle that occurred in nineteenth-century France, but the miracle of this picture is Jennifer Jones' performance, which earned her a well-deserved Best Actress Oscar.

Credibility was increased when her "Lady" instructed Bernadette to dig in the ground with her hands which resulted in the discovery of an underground spring.

The water was soon found to have healing powers and the grotto at Lourdes became a haven for the sick and  afflicted from all over the world. 
Lourdes water
When the grotto was temporarily boarded off by nervous local officials, the Emperor eventually re-opened it to the public in November of that year. 

By that time, Bernadette's visions had long ceased, though she would continue to hold a deep affection in her heart for the grotto.

At the age of twenty, Bernadette eventually entered religous life at Saint Gildard's Convent in Nevers.  
In the convent where Bernadette takes her vows in 1867 as Sitster Marie Bernarde, and accepts the challenges presented to her with a special grace.
Bernadette Soubirous (Jennifer Jones)
Bernadette endures continuous pain complicated by tuberculosis of the bone until her death at the age of thirty five.

The final portion focuses once again on Bernadette, her acceptance into a convent, and her final days.  It is in the beginning and final portions of the film that Bernadette is featured most prominently, and consequently, it is in these scenes that Jennifer Jones shines most brightly. 

Her last few remaining years are spent in a convent  where she is comforted only by the memory of her "beautiful lady". Bernadette Soubirous (Jennifer Jones)

Her death was on April 16, 1879 at the age of 35 and she was beatified in 1925 and was canonized a Saint by the Catholic Church in  1933.

A shrine was built at the grotto in Lourdes, and the waters are still considered by many to have miraculous healing properties. It regularly receives a huge number of pilgrimages to Lourdes each year and is purported to have mysterious, curative properties unexplainable by modern medicine

Bernadette's body was exhumed three times in the early 1900s in the course of research for her beatification. Each time the corpse was reportedly "incorrupt" -- that is, remarkably well preserved. Eventually a thin layer of wax was placed over her features, and her body is now kept in a special shrine in Nevers..
Bernadette Soubirous (Jennifer Jones)
Her body was exhumed for an Ecclesiastical Inquiry in 1909 and twice thereafter.  Each time, remarkably, the body was found to be perfectly intact, as though she were merely asleep. 

After the third exhumation, Bernadette was enshrined in the chapel of Saint Gildard's Convent for public veneration. 

She remains there to this day, miraculously and perfectly incorrupt, more than a century after her death.

"I cannot promise to make you happy in this world, only in the next."

Lourdes France

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