Bernadette Soubirous was the 14 year old girl who had a vision of the Virgin Mary at Lourdes in 1858. Despite much public skepticism, she stuck to her claims. They were eventually accepted as genuine by the Catholic Church. A shrine was built at the grotto in Lourdes and the waters eminating from the shrine are reported to have incredible healing properties. Bernadette died at the rather young age of 35 of lung disease in 1879. She was beatified in 1925 and canonized into sainthood in 1933

So what's so interesting about that...

Well, it seems that during the process of beatification and canonization, Bernadette's body had to be exhumed three times. Each time, the body was found to be incorrupt.

The first exhumation took place in 1909, a full 20 some odd years after her death. Reports indicate that she appeared exactly as she had been on the day of her death. In her hands she held a rusting Rosary and a Crucifix. Her body was completely intact. Again, according to reports, there was no smell. The doctor present at the exhumation, one Dr. Jourdan, described the following.

"The coffin was opened in the presence of the Bishop of Nevers, the mayors of the town, several canons, and ourselves. We noticed no smell. The body was clothed in the habit of Bernadette's order. The habit was damp. Only the face, hands, and forearms were uncovered."

"The head was tilted to the left.The face was dull white. The mouth was open slightly and it could be seen the teeth were still in place. The hands, which were crossed upon the breast, were perfectly preserved, as were the nails. The hands still held a rusting Rosary. The veins on the forearms stood out." After this was over, the Sisters present then washed the body and dressed it in a fresh habit. It was placed in a new coffin and lowered back into the tomb.

Flash forward to 1913...

One of the steps on the road to sainthood is to be given the title "Venerable". In order to do this, the body had to be re-exhumed. Unfortunately, the matter of WWI interrupted this process and it was not undertaken until sometime in April of 1919. The process was the same as the earlier exhumation as were the results.

Let's move along to 1923... the process of beatification begins and a third exhumation is needed. This time, any relics buried with Bernadette were to be taken from the body and then sent to Rome

In April of 1925, the third exhumation takes place. Even though Bernadette has been dead for over forty six years, her body remains "incorrupt" and intact. Well, almost, it is noted that a small portion of the skin on her face had discolored slightly. This is attributed to the washing of the body during the previous exhumations and the exposure to bacteria. It is later decided that the face and hands of Bernadette Soubirous are to be covered with a light coating of wax. It is moved to a special shrine in Nevers, France.

For a more detailed account of Bernadette Soubirous, may I suggest a book published in 1942 by Franz Werfel titled Song of Bernadette and the movie of the same name in 1943. Incidentally, the movie was nominated for 12 Academy Awards and Jennifer Jones won the Best Actress Oscar for her portrayal of Bernadette.

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