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From well known film maker Jean Delannoy comes a story about a young peasant girl that rocked a nation-- Bernadette. When the young peasant girl saw a vision, people thought she was crazy, insane, or lying. Subject to intense disbelief from the church, medical world, and state she held fast to her story. Then, through a miraculous turn of events she became who she is known as today-- Saint Bernadette.
In January of 1844 a tiny baby girl was born to an impoverished miller and his wife in Lourdes, France. They named her Bernadette (Sydney Penney). Bernadette’s childhood was not easy. As a toddler, the little French girl contracted cholera, which weakened her health and left her with chronic asthma for the rest of her life. As the oldest of nine children, however, even her weaker health did not exclude her from the hard work. Because of the many mouths, Bernadette’s mother was forced to take in laundry to supplement the family’s income. Bernadette was required to help, meaning she never received a proper education. And so, the difficult life of the namesake of the film Bernadette progressed. By age fourteen, Bernadette was living with her family in the basement of the abandoned town jail, because they could not afford a home. Then one day all that changed. It was a normal February day for the fourteen year old Bernadette. Then, as she was gathering firewood with her younger sister and a friend in a grotto near the town, she saw a vision. Just like the movie Bernadette portrays, the young Bernadette saw a beautiful lady dressed in blue and white shining from a niche in the grotto. Amazed, Bernadette fell to her knees and began to pray before the woman, which she later described as a “petite young lady.” Yet, her sister and friend saw nothing. Three days later, the girls returned to the grotto to gather more firewood. Immediately upon entering, Bernadette knelt on the ground, saying she could see the vision again. Startled, because they could still not see the woman, her companions threw holy water toward the niche Bernadette knelt toward, and then a rock. When the rock landed it shattered, and, according to Bernadette, the apparition vanished. Four days later Bernadette returned, whereupon the woman-- as viewers will see in the film Bernadette-- asked the poor young French girl to return every day for a fortnight. So Bernadette did. By this time Bernadette’s parents had become embarrassed over their daughter’s “antics”, and tried to stop her, but Bernadette kept returning. On the twenty-fifth of February the vision told her to drink the water of the muddy stream that flowed through the grotto, as an “act of penance.” Bernadette did so, and the next day the stream flowed clear and happily. On March second Bernadette told her increasingly more shocked family that the lady told her a chapel should be built. Finally on March twenty-fifth, during her sixteenth vision, Bernadette asked for the lady’s name. At first she was answered with only a smile, but after begging three more times the lady finally responded, “I am the Immaculate Conception.” The townspeople of Lourdes, France had grown increasingly more divided throughout Bernadette’s visions, as in the film Bernadette. Some believed her story, others thought the weak young girl was insane, and clamored for her to be moved to a mental institution. The claim Bernadette made that she had seen the Virgin Mary was the last straw. Bernadette was intensely questioned by the Catholic Church and the French government. Imprisioned, forced into medical and psychological examinations, and threatened, Bernadette held consistently to her story. In 1862 , four years after her first vision, the Church confirmed she spoke the truth. During and after her lifetime, sixty-nine cures have been attributed to the stream Bernadette cleared-- after much medical and scientific examination miracles are the only explanation for them. Many chapel were built in the grotto, just as the Lady requested. Disliking the attention, the young woman of the film Bernadette retreated to the hospice school run by the Sisters of Charity of Nevers. Finally, the poor young peasant girl could read and write. In July of 1866, Bernadette became a postulant with the Sisters of Charity and took the name Marie-Bernarde. She spent the rest of her life working in the infirmary, and embroidering beautiful alter cloths and vestaments for the Church. When asked about her visions she once said, “The Virgin used me as a broom to remove the dust. When the work is done, the broom is put behind the door again.” In 1879, the young peasant girl whose life is portrayed in the film Bernadette died of tuberculosis. Bernadette was declared blessed in 1925, and on December 8th, 1933 she was officially canonized.
The miraculous story of Saint Bernadette is one that will inspire and encourage the whole family. Whether studying the life of Bernadette, or simply interested in her story, the film Bernadette portrays the astounding life of the simple peasant girl. Bernadette’s story will inspire viewers of all ages to live-- like Bernadette-- with greater faith, obedience, and humility. Her courage in the face of persecution will challenge viewers old and young alike. The story of Bernadette, portrayed in the film Bernadette, is one of a simple French peasant girl, impoverished, inconsequential, and invisible, whose great humility, sacrifice, courage, obedience, and faith has touched and changed the lives of countless numbers of individuals across the world.
Bernadette was rated PG by the Motion Picture Association of America (in the 1980s). Some topics and issues in the film Bernadette may not be suitable for younger viewers. As always, it is recommend that parents preview all content to determine what is suitable for their children, but the film Bernadette is considered appropriate for most older audiences.
Remastered from the original production, Bernadette tells the story of Saint Bernadette and the apparitions of Our Lady of Lourdes