Lourdes: The Original File by a Skeptic Turned Believer by J.B. Estrade (Templegate, 1999, 221pp. Available from AD Books, $29.95 incl. GST)
Lourdes: The Original File by a Skeptic Turned Believer is a book on Lourdes with a difference. The author, J.B. Estrade, witnessed many of the miracles and was a close, personal friend of Bernadette. It is his account of the happenings at Lourdes.
Estrade begins by telling a little about himself and how he was persuaded to write this book and then carefully sets the scene by describing Lourdes and some of the people who feature in the story.
The author next proceeds to describe the appearances of Our Lady to Bernadette, although, due to his skepticism, he was not at the first six of these. However, he has gathered detailed accounts of these from those who witnessed them, while, interspersed with these second-hand accounts of the appearances, the author writes honestly of his then disbelief.
Estrade's description of the seventh appearance, the first he saw, is very detailed and poignant. Throughout the book, he writes lovingly of the patience and care Our Lady showed him while she led him to her.
After describing all the appearances, he writes of the trials Bernadette had to endure at the hands of the Church, the medical profession and authorities. He elaborates on the lengths to which these bodies went to keep pilgrims away from Lourdes and refers also to mocking articles that appeared in the newspapers.
After a very careful examination of the evidence, the Bishop of Tarbes eventually wrote an open letter - reproduced in the book - to the people of Lourdes, proclaiming the authenticity of the miracles.
Throughout all the furore, Bernadette tried to go back to her daily life. However, with people constantly wanting to see her, these pressures contributed to a decline in her health. Eventually the Sisters of the Hospice of Lourdes took her in. On recovering, she stayed with the Sisters and did light work for them.
Estrade writes that Bernadette had never thought of joining a religious order until the Bishop of Nevers came to inspect the Hospice. He put that option before her and left her to decide. She prayed and reflected a full year before asking to join the Order.
After a time of sickness, she went to the novitiate at Nevers. The author describes her emotional departure from Lourdes.
Twelve years after she began her religious life, interrupted many times by sickness, Bernadette made her final vows. Soon after taking this step Bernadette died. The author describes this event with great sensitivity and admiration.
J.B. Estade has written an honest and direct account of the miracles at Lourdes. The book is easy to read and the details open up much of Bernadette's life often glossed over. It is recommended to anyone seeking solid spiritual reading or simply wanting to learn more about St Bernadette herself.
Katie Lindorff is a Melbourne Catholic writer.