The Last Miracle of St. Bernadette

The incorruptable face of St. Bernadette in her glass case a century after her death.
The incorruptable face of St. Bernadette in her glass case a century after her death.

I turned my old truck down the steep hill at the tiny lake resort community turn-off.  I was on my way to the home of Don and Agnes.  I went to their home five days a week for two or three hours a day and went to other homes in the afternoons.

Don and Agnes had been very happily married for years, even though their marriage had a couple of quirks.  For one thing, Agnes was ten years older than Don.  I don’t recall how they met.  For another thing, Don was a  Catholic and Agnes was a protestant, Baptist.  They were over sixty-five and had never had children of their own.  Agnes had one child, a daughter from a previous marriage.  They did have a cat, Lucky.

Lucky had been given that name by Don, who found him on the side of the road as a kitten, half-dead.  One of his eyes was missing.  Don took him to the vet, got him patched-up, took him home and spoiled him rotten.  Yes, Lucky had been quite lucky.

Agnes was bed-ridden from complications of a stroke and Don had lymphoma.  He was responding well to treatment.

“It’s just me!”  I hollered, as I went in the front door.  Sometimes Don could be hard of hearing.

“Hel….lo!” Agnes called from her bed.  She always divided the word in two.

I went straight to see Agnes, to make sure she was clean, dry and well-situated.  Don and one of his long-winded stories could wait awhile.  He came right into the room, because he wanted to talk.

“Would you like to get up today, and go into the dining room table to eat lunch?”  I asked Agnes.  Lucky continued to nap on the foot of the bed.

“Yes!”

“Okay, if you are comfortable, I will go make some lunch and we will sit down and eat.

I pulled some meat from the freezer, defrosted it in the microwave then got Don’s hammer out of the tool drawer and went outside to pound the meat as thin as a pancake.  I dipped it twice in flour and sautéed it, making mashed potatoes and gravy to go with it and some green beans with bacon. Don liked cornbread—I had made some the day before from his special recipe—and I put out rolls for Agnes.  When I wheeled Agnes into the dining room she exclaimed, “Good!”

I always cut up her meat in tiny pieces, but I encouraged her to feed herself and would until she could do it no more.  She had to eat with her left hand because of the stroke, and it was awkward, because she was right-handed, but she always managed beautifully and did not go hungry.  In fact, on this day she wanted seconds of everything.  I did not ever eat much, but sat at the table and monitored Agnes closely.

After I cleared away the dishes and washed Agnes’ hands, I wheeled her to the sofa and transferred her.  I put a warm afghan on her lap and fixed the TV.

“Do you mind if I look at some of your photo albums?”  I asked Agnes.

“Go….right…..ahead!  I got three albums down from the shelf and sat next to Agnes on the sofa.  I watched from the corner of my eye to see if Agnes would show interest, and sure enough, she started pointing to the pictures.  Her voice was impaired a bit because of the stroke, but it was easy for me to understand her.   “Don…tell….her….’bout…..this!”  Agnes yelled at Don who was in the kitchen investigating the workings of his wine-in-a-box apparatus in the refrigerator.

St. Bernadette as a young girl.
Bernadette Soubirous as a young girl.

“What on earth is this a picture of, Don?  It looks like you and Agnes are on a vacation in France?”  I was mesmerized by the page of photos.

Don sat on the other side of me on the sofa.  I was in a kind of Don and Agnes sandwich.

“Oh, that!  That is St. Bernadette.”

I picked up the album and held it closer to my eyes, then lowered it again.

“What is this, a shrine to Bernadette, a life-sized wax model made of her and laid out in a glass case?”

Don replied.  “No, it is not a wax model.  It is Bernadette, herself.”

“You are kidding me.  She looks like she is sleeping.  Death has not disfigured her in any way.”  I remarked with astonishment.

“Yes.  And she died over a hundred and twenty-five years ago.  It is just one of the many miracles connected with St. Bernadette.”

“Yeah!”  Agnes agreed, loudly.

I leafed through three pages of photos of Bernadette that Don and Agnes had taken from different angles and distances.  I was vaguely familiar with the story of Bernadette Soubirous.  When she was fourteen and gathering firewood with her sister and a friend near the grotto of Massabielle, she began to see visions.  Her sister and friend did not see the visions, but did witness Bernadette’s strange reactions to the visions.  A dazzling white female figure visited Bernadette near the grotto, giving the girl instructions for a fortnight.  One of the instructions was for Bernadette to drink the muddy water at the grotto and also to eat an herb nearby, as an act of penance.  The next day the water at the grotto was no longer muddy, but fresh and clear.

In the span of time since Bernadette first drank from the water at the grotto, sixty-seven cures have been verified as inexplicable by the Lourdes Medical Bureau—cures of people who drank from or bathed at the grotto.

“Bernadette is not the only one, you know.”  Don said, interrupting my train of thought.  “There are many others.  When bodies were exhumed for some reason or other, usually by accident, after years of interment, much as Bernadette’s was, the bodies were found to be soft and pliable with no evidence of decay.

“No, I did not know that at all.”

“Yes there are several:  In ancient times, the body of St. Cecilia was found to be incorrupt when it was moved in 822 AD.  The body of St. Agnes of Montepulciano was not only incorrupt, it gave off perfumed liquid, in 1317.  Catherine Laboure’ who died in 1876 was found to have an incorrupt body in 1933.  She is displayed, such as Bernadette, in the chapel of Our Lady of the Sun in Paris.  A Lebanese Maronite Catholic monk, Charbel Makhlouf had and incorrupt body—not only that, dazzling lights appeared over his grave before it was exhumed.  Saint John Vianney, of incorrupt body is displayed  in a glass case also.  Many of the incorrupt bodies are said to have the odor of sanctity, which is described as a sweet-smelling perfume, like roses and jasmines.  There are several others.  In order to have an incorrupt body, the body does not decay after death.  It remains completely flexible and it cannot have been embalmed, to qualify as incorruptible.  Not all are Roman Catholics.  The Russian Orthodox Church has had its share of incorruptibles.

I was still gawking at the photos of Bernadette when Don got up and went to his room.  “Lucky and I have something in common, you know.

I was taken aback when he opened up his hand and showed me a glass eye.  .  It was not a round sphere, but almond-shaped and only the front part was colored like an eye.  I looked closely at his face.  His glass eye was neatly in place.  “Oh! This is one of my old ones.  It was really startling when I first went to get a glass eye.  The technician pulled out a huge drawer and there were hundreds of eyeballs staring up at me!”

“Oh….Don!”  Agnes exclaimed, with a laugh. “You…. will…. give…. her….the…. creeps!”

I have got to say that I miss all of those dear characters—Don, Agnes, Lucky and their occasional pesky neighbors.  I also miss their stories complete with glass eyes, incorruptible bodies of saints, mystics, visionaries,  childhoods in Pocahontas, Arkansas—and remind me to tell you another one sometime, about Agnes’ favorite TV preacher.

ScavengersSong

Please click the book cover image to read more about Sara Marie Hogg and her novels.

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  • Caleb Pirtle

    That is an amazing story, Sara. And the photos of St. Bernadette in her glass case are difficult to believe. Life is full of things we don’ understand and can’t really explain, and this is one of them.

    • Sara Marie Hogg

      Thanks, Caleb. I had forgotten about these strange miracle bodies. The story about the Woman pulled from the Seine reminded me.

  • Where is Our Lady of the Sun in Paris? It didn’t come up on a search. Is this fiction or fact?

    • Sara Marie Hogg

      The story above about the elderly couple and the caregiver is fictionalized, although it actually happened to me. The incorrupt body, Catherine Laboure’ (1806-1876), is displayed in a case at Our Lady of the Sun Chapel in the Rue du Bac, Paris. About Bernadette: her body that is on display DOES have some wax applied to the face and hands, several years after the fact. Supposedly her skin was damaged by over-washing by the nuns. The nuns had wax applied. Sorry for any confusion. I cannot verify the reason for the incorrupt bodies. It is a gray area, like ghosts. You either believe it is possible or don’t. Some believe it is a fact, some don’t.

      • Sara Marie Hogg

        A good article about this which goes into greater detail, with some pictures and other miracles is found by Googling Mystics of the Church:Saints that are incorruptible.

      • I believe in miracles. I find it constantly amazing that people believe in superstitions, demons, werewolves – but say they don’t believe in God.

        The biggest proof for me is that my heart softens, over and over, and I can find good and continue to try to do right. I certainly doesn’t come from me.

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