By Fr. C. C. MARTINDALE, S.J.
THE CHALLENGE OF BERNADETTE, by Hugh Ross Williamson (Burns Oates I0s. 6d.).
A FLOOD of books about
I.ourdes is being poured out, and despite this one in many ways original we anxiously await the third volume of Abbe Laurentin's work, based on the authentic documents concerned with the police interrogations of Bernadette and very many other contemporary publications.
The story of Lourdes falls really into four parts. Firstly, the history of the place, and of Bernadette before the Apparitions, clears up certain obscurities: to mention one only-Bernadette has always been represented as a slow-witted child--she could not learn her catechism: but, no wonder! she could then speak only patois, and the catechism was in French.
She was shy. and frozen by flattery even more than by scoldings; but she was able to make sharp retorts and was an excellent mimic, even in her convent.
SECONDLY, the period of the "..-/ Apparitions: here nothing precisely new can be said: but Mr. Williamson interestingly suggests that the Grotto (which had a bad name) may have been the scene of pagan worship of springs when the Romans held the town, assuming that the source was then flowing free.
He thinks that Bernadette's having to drink the muddy water and chew the herb growing by it may have been a humiliation helping to erorc•ise the Grotto, and he emphasises the epidemic of false "visionaries" that occurred later on. (I myself do not trust M. Estrade's story of diabolic voices howling from the river, and silenced by Our Lady.)
The third chapter in the history of Lourdes would treat of the development of the shrine (and the miracles); but the author wisely leaves that alone.
The fourth part would concern the history of Bernadette after the Apparitions till her death. She took long to resolve to become a nun, hut she might not have become a Saint save for the suffering, spiritual and bodily, she en
(lured in the huge convent at Nevers.
mR. WILLIAMSON does his best to explain the behaviour of the novice-mistress, Mere Vaueon. who so sharply yet so erratically snubbed Bernadette "lest she should grow conceited." they usually say. He argues that she kept suppressing her growing affection and admiration for the young nun.
Maybe her treatment of her was often inconsistent. The very day after Bernadette arrived at Nevers, exhausted by the journey and desperately homesick, and still in her peasant dress, she was made to re-enact her story before the assembled community and numbers of nuns brought from outsidesome 150 persons.
Later, Mere Vauzou caused Lasserre's romantic " Marvels of Lourdes" to be read to the novices with Bernadette still in the house -in fact, she accidentally entered the room during, the reading. And yet the Sisters were expected to treat Bernadette as if she was in
no way special! •
Probably the forceful Mere Vauzou, who liked to " use the chisel ", who said she would " knock Bernadette into shape", was deeply divided in soul-she really did not "like" the young peason whose simplicity clashed with the appallingly rigid etiquette of the French middle classes of the time; she was exasperated by her and yet she loved her: and Bernadette loved her in return even when paralysed by her. Mr. Williamson opens wide the door, already ajar, to a psychological study of extreme interest.
RUT his real object is the challenge flung down by the Saint and Lourdes to the world. What genuinely happened? Either God exists, and the Incarnation is a fact, and Mary has been the Messenger to our age of the Supernatural, or we must find reasons for denying the whole of "Lourdes" and of what it involves. It appears that over 8,000 books have been written about Lourdes, for or against (see Luke 2:34); and that many more, books, films and plays, are being conceived. At long last, M. Laurentin seems to be providing the whole of the unexpurgated documents concerned: so far, I have seen only vol. 1.