It sounds like the beginning of a joke, but a rubbish dump, a beautiful lady and 143 year old bones all have St Bernadette as their common denominator!
This month, the Ten Ten Year of Pilgrimage resources help children engage with the St Bernadette Relics tour taking place in England, Wales and Scotland during September and October 2022. You can find out more about the St Bernadette UK Relics Tour here.
Who was St Bernadette?
Bernadette Soubirous lived a short life of 35 years; yet her legacy was great and continues today. Born in Lourdes, the first of eight children, she grew up in poverty and suffered significant ill-health, but was well loved by her family. Their poverty led them to live, for a time, in one room which had previously been a prison. Her father had been accused of stealing flour and, although innocent, Bernadette was known as a child of a thief.
This humble start in life, and the desire to be close to God, paved the way for a great transformation, not only for St Bernadette and the town of Lourdes, but for the millions of pilgrims who have flocked to Lourdes ever since.
What is her story?
Bernadette visited ‘Massabielle’, a deserted place outside of the main town of Lourdes where rubbish was dumped and pigs were fed. It was here, by a cave (grotto) that she encountered the ‘beautiful lady’. Other children present could not see the vision. Undeterred, Bernadette returned at the lady’s request and followed her instructions. These included praying, digging in the mud for water, drinking and washing in it, sharing a message of penance and a request to build a new church in the town of Lourdes.
During Bernadette’s childhood, she received 18 apparitions of Mary, the mother of Jesus. With each new apparition, interest grew, and townsfolk began to accompany Bernadette to the grotto of Masabielle.
After a couple of significant events, belief in Bernadette’s visions began to grow. A woman’s dislocated arm had been healed after she had plunged it into the new spring of water in the grotto. Then, the beautiful lady revealed her name. She said, “I am the Immaculate Conception.” This dogma had been officially declared by the church only 4 years earlier. To Bernadette, the words were unfamiliar but the Church officials understood their significance and recognised that it could not have been made up by an uneducated girl.
Bernadette went on to live a quiet and secluded life of prayer as a Sister of Charity in Nevers. It was here that she learned to read and write.
She died on 16 April 1879 and (most of!) her incorrupt mortal remains – her relics – can be venerated in Nevers.
What are relics and why are they venerated?
Simply put, relics are the mortal remains (body parts) or items that belonged to a saint. They are kept in a container called a reliquary which is put on display for the purpose of veneration.
Similar to the way we may visit the grave of a loved one, visiting and honouring the relics of saints is a way that Catholics feel a tangible link with their heroes of the faith, who once lived but are now in heaven. Keeping bones in a box might seem a little macabre, but many people keep hold of items that belonged to their dead relatives. Even their ashes can be very difficult to part with.
It is important to say that the veneration of relics is not worshipping a saint. Worship is reserved for God alone. Honouring saints gives glory to God because we recognise His power working in them.
Whilst on earth, St Bernadette grew closer to God through Our Lady’s guidance. Visiting St Bernadette’s mortal remains is an encouragement on our journey to get closer to God and a way of asking for her intercession.
What exactly is inside the reliquary that is touring the UK?
Many people are intrigued to know exactly which of St. Bernadette’s remains are contained in the reliquary. There are two patellae (kneecaps), fragments from her ribs, muscle from the right thigh, other muscle, skin and hair.
In Bernadette, God chose an insignificant girl, on the lowest rung of society, to bring hope and healing to many.
If Bernadette had lived today and attended school, how would she have been seen? She’d certainly have been classed as a vulnerable child with a string of acronyms – perhaps *ACE, PP, FSM etc. Illiterate, speaking only the local dialect, with serious ill-health, and a father who had spent some time in prison, it was easy to see how she was overlooked. Perhaps we can have some sympathy for the priest who initially did not believe her fanciful story of meeting a beautiful lady – who no one else could see – in a rubbish dump!
How can St Bernadette’s relics tour inspire teachers?
Consider some of the students you know who, like Bernadette, face significant challenges. Those with a bad reputation, poor attendance and a difficult home life. What work may God be calling them to do? And how can we encourage them in their vocation?
Through the intercession of Our Lady of Lourdes and St Bernadette, may God grant us the eyes to see the dignity, value and unique vocation of every student we teach.
Sharing St Bernadette with your pupils
Here at Ten Ten, we have created an assembly resource, ‘Our Pilgrimage with St Bernadette’ which shares the story of St Bernadette, and how her faithfulness to Jesus changed her life: nothing is impossible to God who works through those who are open to Him!
- For schools who do not have a Ten Ten Resources Collective Worship subscription, a version of the assembly is available here.
- For schools who have Ten Ten Resources Collective Worship subscription, an extended version of the assembly will be available to you on Wednesday 28th September with the intention of it being used as your normal Ten Ten Year of Pilgrimage assembly during the week commencing 2nd October.
Our Pilgrimage with St Bernadette
This assembly continues the Ten Ten Year of Pilgrimage, as Pilgrimage Guides introduce the next ‘stopping place’, Lourdes, a place of healing and special devotion to Our Lady. Then children will be inspired by the story of St Bernadette’s faith and openness, and learn that for God, nothing is impossible.
*ACE – Adverse Childhood Experiences
PP – Pupil Premium
FSM – Free School Meals