The examination of St. Bernadette Soubirous, undertaken as part of the canonization process, started at 8:30 am on Wednesday, September 22, 1909. The solemn event unfolded with masons raising the stone covering her resting place, while civil servants, including the mayor and deputy mayor, bore witness to certify the proceedings. With great care, the coffin was delicately placed on a special table and carefully unsealed, revealing the lead lining within. What met the eyes of those present was a scene both extraordinary and profoundly unusual: there was no trace of unpleasant odour, and the body lay in a state of preservation that defied normal expectations.

The attending sisters, who had carefully prepared Bernadette for burial three decades prior, attested to the remarkable sight before them. Despite the passage of time, she appeared unchanged, save for a gentle shift in the position of her hand. Notably, the rosary clasped within her fingers had weathered with rust, contrasting with the flesh that covered it.

For a body to be considered incorruptible, it must exhibit a range of extraordinary characteristics: lifelike colour and freshness, absence of any foul odour or signs of decay typical of mortals, and a degree of flexibility in its skin or joints. Crucially, such preservation must occur without any human intervention. Any subsequent decay following examination or relocation would nullify claims of miraculous preservation.

In the case of St. Bernadette, her initial state of preservation during the first exhumation in 1909, combined with the dampness of her garments and the degradation of the rosary, undoubtedly left a remarkable impression. However, subsequent examinations in 1919 and 1925 revealed a gradual departure from this condition. Factors such as handling during the 1909 exhumation and the passage of time contributed to observable changes: discolouration of the skin, patches of mildew, and a drying effect became apparent.

While natural explanations for such phenomena cannot be dismissed outright, the meticulous scrutiny and the consistent conditions surrounding St. Bernadette’s remains suggest a departure from conventional decay patterns. Scriptural references, such as Psalm 16, evoke notions of divine intervention, promising preservation for the holy. In the Christian context, where the resurrection of the glorified body holds significance, instances like St. Bernadette’s offer glimpses of this transcendent hope.

Her enduring serenity in the face of suffering, encapsulated in her poignant words, “all this is good for heaven,” serves as a beacon, guiding hearts toward holiness and inspiring faith.

Some quotes by Bernadette:

“My job is to inform, not to convince.”
“The simpler one writes, the better it will be.”
“When you don’t want anything, you always have what you need.”
“If the Good Lord allows it, you cannot complain.”
To the question “Are you suffering?”,
she answered: “All this is good for Heaven”.

Key dates of the life of Bernadette Soubirous

1843 – January 9: marriage of François Soubirous and Louise Castérot.
1844 – January 7: birth of Bernadette at the Moulin de Boly.
1844 – January 9: baptism of Bernadette.
1846 – birth of her sister Toinette.
1851 – birth of her brother Jean-Marie.
1854 – bankruptcy of the Moulin de Boly run by François Soubirous.
1855 – birth of her brother Justin: Bernadette was affected by the cholera epidemic that hit Lourdes and its surroundings.
1857 – the Soubirous Family lived at the “Cachot”. Bernadette was a sheep-keeper at Bartrès and sometimes she helped with service at her aunt’s cabaret at Lourdes.
1858 – January 17: Bernadette left Bartrès.
1858 – February 11: first apparition at the Grotto of Massabielle.
1858 – June 3: Bernadette made her first communion.
1858 – July 16: last of the 18 Apparitions.
1858 – July 17: Bernadette met a bishop (that of Montpellier) for the first time.
1860 – February 5: confirmation of Bernadette and first meeting with Mgr. Laurence, Bishop of Tarbes.
1861 – Bernadette’s first photo shoots.
1862 – Bernadette’s health worsened and she received extreme unction.
1863 – Bernadette met the sculptor Joseph Fabisch for the creation of the statue of Our Lady of Lourdes.
1864 – Bernadette expressed her wish to join the Sisters of Nevers.
1866 – Bernadette was present in the middle of the crowd for the inauguration of the Crypt; she left Lourdes on July 4.
1867 – Bernadette’s religious profession with the Sisters of Nevers, where she was entrusted with “the work of prayer”.
1875 – from that year onwards, Bernadette was increasingly ill.
1878 – Bernadette was almost permanently bedridden in her room in Nevers.
1879 – April 16: death of Bernadette
1925 – June 14: beatification of Bernadette
1933 – December 8: canonization of Bernadette

Reference:

Taylor., Therese. (2008) Bernadette of Lourdes: Her life, Death and Visions. Bloomsbury Publishing Plc. ISBN: 9780826420855.

Trochu., Francis. (2009) Saint Bernadette Soubirous. Tan Books. ISBN-10 ‏ : ‎ 0895552531