"A born writer, especially a born story-teller. Dr. Sutherland, who is distinguished in medicine, is an amateur in the sense that he only writes when he has nothing better to do. But when he does, it could hardly be done better." G.K. Chesterton.
This is the third instalment of Dr. Sutherland’s account of his visit to Lourdes in his 1934 book, A Time To Keep.
On the evidence Bernadette was in a state of trance which varied in depth. Sometimes when seeing the Vision she was conscious of her surroundings. At other times she was unconscious. The trance could not be self-induced, because twice she failed to see the lady. She showed no symptoms of hysteria. During the rest of her life she never saw another vision, and in the communal life of a French convent proved herself to be a very practical person with a sense of humour, and occasional flashes of temper. Once in the convent when sitting up on her narrow bed gasping for breath, she said: “I am at my job.” Another nun asked: “What is it?” “Being ill,” said Bernadette. Humour is the keynote of sanity. Another fact that will influence me until I die is that Bernadette, who had been bullied by younger children, became, after seeing the Vision, remarkably self-possessed. So much so that she, the poorest child in Lourdes, stood her ground against those in authority. The whole story is amazing. I have qoted less than one-tenth of what Father Martindale has written, and he avers in his monograph that he has only written one per cent of what he knows about Bernadette. If so, for God’s sake let him write the whole story. He, and he may not like this, is an iconoclast, but he has written the only life of a saint that has ever moved me. Iconoclast as he is, a man who hates sentimentality, and who loves truth a any price, he has written a monograph that had made me, like himself, fall in love with Bernadette. If you think we are silly, read his monograph for yourselves, and then we shall all be rivals for the favours of Ste Bernadette. Dear little girl, I may have utterly bewildered you! If so, I’m sorry.
Had she been a highly strung educated girl she might have been a fraud or the victim of her imagination, but she was an illiterate peasant who reported words whose meaning she did not always understand. In choosing such an instrument perhaps the lady foresaw one objection that was likely to be raised. The most reasonable explanation is that a supernatural power was operating on the girl’s subconscious mind, and that power was, as it declared to be, the Virgin Mary.
When the people turned the grotto into an oratory the civil authorities intervened. Three doctors were sent to examine Bernadette and found nothing abnormal except her asthma. They thought she must be so impressionable as to have seen a ray of light and imagined it into a figure of Our Lady. Dr. Dozuns, a sceptic who at the age of forty-nine had been converted by seeing Bernadette in ecstasy, was not allowed to be present at this examination, although he was the only doctor who had seen her in ecstasies. On 11th April the Bishop of Tarbes told the cure to stop Bernadette from going to the grotto. Next day the Minister of Public Worship wrote tot he Prefect that the grotto should be closed, as no oratory could be opened without permission from the civil and ecclesiastical authorities. The Prefect told the Bishop, who was now in a dilemma. If the visions were genuine he should sanction the cult; if they were not genuine he should stop it. The Bishop did neither, but appointed a Commission of Enquiry, which say for four years and took the evidence of hundreds of people. The Prefect then ordered the Commissioner of Police to dismantle the grotto. Amid hoots and yells, the police removed the statues and candles. That night the people carried everything back into he grotto, and once more it was a blaze of light. Next the Prefect was informed that the water was medicinal. This would explain the cures, and all mineral springs became the property of the State. later it was discovered that the water has no medicinal properties; but on the first report the Prefect ordered the cave to be barricaded. The quarrymen of Lourdes tore down the barricade. The mayor rebuilt it. Again it was destroyed. This enraged the curé, and from the pulpit he addressed the quarrymen: “You will have to deal with me henceforth, not the police. I shall station myself on the road to the grotto—I fear no hammer or crowbar. If you come en masse you will have to trample me underfoot and know yourselves for cowards; if you come one by one, well, the first-comer who begins a fight with me—I warn him it will not be he who wins.” The quarrymen obeyed the curé. Not so the women. They went to the grotto and said their rosaries. The police arrested them., and in court they treated proceedings as a jest. Finally the police arrested the wife of an admiral and the governess to the Prince Imperial. On learning this the Minister of Public Worship wrote to the Prefect that the arrests must cease.
In the autumn the people sent a deputation to Napoleon III, who telegraphed the Minister of Public Worship that the grotto must be opened. In 1862 the Bishop’s Committee decided the apparition s were genuine and that a church should be built above the grotto. On the top of Massabielle they built a church, on the roof of the first a second, and on the roof of the second a third. As for Bernadette, she refused to accept gifts from those who were cured at the spring. Nor would her parents accept gifts, even of food. The poverty of the whole family remained a public scandal, until Soubirous agreed to accept the gift of a small mill, and Bernadette entered a convent. The Lady, it was said, had forbidden Bernadette to accept gifts. Everything the Lady has asked her to do she had done, and Ste Bernadette is now on the altars of the Catholic Church.From A Time to Keep (1934)