Famous site of Virgin Mary was plagued by false seers
While the apparitions at Lourdes, France, to Bernadette Soubirous, whose anniversary was celebrated Sunday, are among the most credible of the Blessed Mother's appearances, few realize that the site was plagued by an onslaught of false and even demonic seers who nearly caused the entire situation to be condemned.
Historical records reveal that within two months of Bernadette's first apparition on February 11, 1858, others began to claim they were also seeing Mary. It started when five women went to an opening in the cliff above the grotto and claimed they too saw an apparitional woman and several days later a second group went to the opening and observed a vague, vaporous form.
It was the beginning of an eruption that would soon spawn at least 48 seers.
"The devil prompted the appearance of a host of visionaries, who indulged in the wildest extravagances," noted a Brother Leobard, who was in charge of schools at Lourdes, and who is quoted in a book we will be making available, Evidence of Satan in the Modern World (by Leon Cristiani). "Did they really see anything? Yes, there is every reason to believe that many of them did see something, the Evil One, in various guises."
While Bernadette looked natural during her apparitions -- with a comportment strikingly similar to what has been recently recorded at Medjugorje -- the false seers were more dramatic, bending, contorting, hearing calls to apparitions and racing through the village. "Each of them held a rosary, but all the rosaries were new and unconsecrated," said one chronicler, a priest named Father Cros. "They did not want any others. They would hold the rosary loosely, with the crucifix on a level with their eyes, and the beads swinging in front of their faces."
Some were blatant counterfeits, braying like wolves or dogs. Some were acclaimed as healers. No one knows how many people in total claimed apparitions (the figure is almost certainly more than 50 in Lourdes alone, not to mention neighboring villages) but we know that many were children who made nearly farcical whirling motions.
Where accounts from Bernadette caused tranquility and an uplifting of the spirit, those from false seers were known more for the sensation of surprise.
During one frenzy an eerie, high-pitched voice issued from the grotto. While some thought it was the Virgin, others were less easily fooled. "The one who speaks," grumbled a witness, "is more the devil than the devil himself."
We have only to look at Revelation 12:15 (the devil spewing a torrent at the woman) to see a prediction of this: the purpose, as Cristiani points out, was that "the Blessed Virgin should be smothered under a flood of odd or grotesque imitations, which would later be absorbed enthusiastically by some of the population of Lourdes" and cast a shadow on Bernadette.
The situation reached a crisis level on July 30, 1858, when M. Rouland, the minister of culture, wrote to the bishop of Tarbes asking for an end to the chaos and a condemnation of all stories of visions -- including Bernadette's.
Fortunately the bishop condemned accounts coming only from the false seers and established a commission to investigate Bernadette -- who of course was found to be authentic despite the devil's best try. "Even this dark shadow was illuminated by the divine work," noted Father Cos. "The most powerful patronage was of no avail to the visionaries, who disappeared with their grimaces leaving only the luminous figure of Bernadette, bathed in sincerity and peace."
The real seer, St. Bernadette Soubirous
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