On the 11 February 1858 a young girl, by the name of Bernadette Soubirous, had a vision of the Virgin Mary revealed herself with the words “I am the immaculate conception”. Bernadette would have 17 more such visions up to 16 July that same year. Four years later the visions where declared authentic by Pope Pius IX in 1862 and thus beginning the veneration of Mary Our Lady of Lourdes.
These visions took place in the Massabielle grotto and today, along with other religious sites constructed within the Sanctuary, are visited by almost 6 million people each year. The recess in the grotto is simple and undecorated, a plain stone altar and lectern have been place there so that Mass can be said.
Above the altar in a small niche stands a statue of the Virgin by French sculptor Joseph-Hugues Fabisch who visited Lourdes and in fact met with Bernadette between 15-19 September 1863. Bernadette described her visions to Fabisch who then sculptured the figure which was unveiled on April 4 1864 to a crowd of more than 20,000 people. Abbot Blanc commissioned the work who wanted the statue to be faithfulas possible to Bernadette’s description.
No sooner had the unveiling occurred that controversy started as many believed the figure was too simple to fully convey the importance of Bernadette’s visions. This controversy was only heighted when Bernadette herself did not approve of it.
Today the figure still stands and in many ways is a symbol not only of Bernadette and her visions but also of the town of Lourdes