On February 11, 1858, the fourteen-year-old Bernadette and two friends went to gather firewood. They stopped near the Gave River to remove their shoes and wade across the small stream. They were near a natural grotto at a place called Massabielle. The other children waded into the icy stream and ran ahead, but Bernadette hesitated for fear that the cold water might bring on another asthma attack. Suddenly, she heard the sound of rushing wind and saw a bright light near the grotto. In this light appeared a lady whom Bernadette later described as being "so beautiful that to see her again one would be willing to die." Bernadette felt inspired to pray the Rosary, and slipped the well-worn beads out of her pocket. The lady seemed to smile, and she joined in the "Glory Be to the Father" prayers.

At a subsequent apparition, the lady asked Bernadette to return each day for fifteen days, which the young girl promised to do. During the apparitions, the lady gave Bernadette a number of messages. The main purpose of most of her requests was to ask people to do penance for their sins. The lady gave Bernadette some messages for herself which she never revealed. She also asked for a chapel to be built at the grotto, and for processions. During one of the apparitions, she asked Bernadette to drink from the spring; Bernadette, not knowing of a spring, turned and began walking toward the Gave, but the lady called her back. She indicated a spot on the ground, and Bernadette obediently dug into the earth. The people watching were astounded to see the little visionary apparently eating mud or dirt. From this spot, an underground spring welled up which today provides water for the pilgrims at Lourdes.

Modern Saints, Their Lives And Faces
Ann Ball