begins on February 11th,
1858, in the town of Lourdes
in southern France. Bernadette
Jones), a simple minded peasant
vision of a "beautiful lady" in the grotto near the village dump.
Bernadette is not a very healthy child, a
sickly girl whose chronic asthma
and had difficulties in school. Yet, Bernadette shoulders
her 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
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.
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.
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.
Bernadette 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
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.
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
At first, both municipal and
ecclesiastical authorities are skeptical that this "stupid" young girl
could be the subject of divine revelation.
story caused a sensation with the townspeople, who were
divided in their opinions on whether or not Bernadette was telling the
When Bernadette receives her
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 the Church, accusations of insanity
the town prosecutor, and
threats of physical punishment from the Chief of Police.
number of people following Bernadette on her daily
journey, some out of curiosity and others who firmly believed that they
were witnessing a miracle.
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
The great drama of her soul continues after her apparitions with
endless interrogation and investigation by Church and Civil authorities.
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
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.
sixteenth visitation, when Bernadette
summoned the courage to finally
ask the lady of her name, the lady's reply was, "I
am the Immaculate
In total, there were eighteen visitations.
By then, news of Bernadette's
visions had spread even to the ears of Emperor Napoleon
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.
increased when her "Lady" instructed Bernadette to dig in the ground with her
hands which resulted in the discovery of an underground spring.
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
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
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
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.
complicated by tuberculosis of the bone until her death at the age of
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".
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
Church in 1933.
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
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..
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
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.
promise to make you happy in this world, only in the next."