THE HOUSE WHERE BERNADETTE WAS BORN
The Boly Mill (so called after the name of the original owner) was, for a period of 10 years (1844-1854), a place of happiness for Bernadette Soubirous. Now a Catholic Saint, Bernadette is the saint and visionary of Lourdes, France. She lived here with her parents, her brothers and sister, and also with her grandmother, her uncles, aunts and cousins.
THE RECEPTION AREA
The photos on display, depict the people of Lourdes in 1850 ; we see the civil, military and religious society of the time (the upper class), and the poorer people, millers, stonemasons, peasants and labourers (the lower class).
Our attention is drawn to two families : the Casterot family, who where master millers resident in the Boly Mill, and the Soubirous family, who where simple mill workers.
A marriage of love united these two families. Franpois loved Louise, in spite of the age difference between them, and in spite of local custom that demanded he marry Bernarde the eldest of the family. His love for Louise and their marriage flourished and endured in spite of all the problems.
It was a Christian family united in prayer, open to others, and full of charity towards those less fortunate than themselves.
HOME AND BIRTHPLACE
On the upper floor :
Here is the room where Bernadette was born on January 7 1844. She was baptised two days later (January 9) the day of her parent’s wedding anniversary. There is another room where the memorabilia recall : family life at the Mill, its joys and sorrows, work, meals and prayer.
On the ground floor :
One room was used for everything and served as both kitchen and living room. By day, it was a living room and by evening a place of prayer. This was the Mill as it was known to Bernadette, the Mill whose millstones turned in the flow of the Lapacca river.
Bernadette lived the first ten years of her life in an atmosphere of love and faith. Since their marriage on the 9th January 1843 her parents lived happily together. It was during these years, in this loving atmosphere, that Bernadette began to acquire qualities of personal strength and to develop a balanced temperament. These qualities were later to help her weather the storms of her life. The good times gave way to a period of hard struggle. 1853 saw the beginning of this difficult period.
A number of things combined to make life difficult for the family, The industrial revolution with its introduction of steam mills, a time of great drought in the region, the family’s great generosity towards the poor and their reluctance to force debtors to settle their accounts, were all factors which ultimately endangered the future of the family business.
In the Spring of 1854, the family were unable to pay the rent and were thus forced to move to a cheaper mill.
In 1855, a cholera epidemic swept through Lourdes killing 38 people in five weeks. As a result of this epidemic Bernadette herself was to suffer chronic asthma for the rest of her life. This was a painful hardship for one so full of life. The epidemic also forced the family to seek yet a cheaper mill to rent. This time they were forced to leave Lourdes and go to Arcizac.
In 1856 famine struck the area and the government distributed free flour. This meant bankruptcy for the Master Miller Soubirous who now found himself looking for work and was often unemployed. Bernadette’s mother, although she had four children, two having died very young, was forced to go out and work. Bernadette herself worked as a waitress in a local Inn. It was thus impossible for Bernadette to go to school or to receive any formal religious education.
In 1857, the family were unable to pay any rent at all and were forced to seek accomodation in the Old Jail « The Cachot » (a place you should also visit). On March 27th, Franqois Soubirous was wrongly accused of having stolen a bag of flour and was put in jail for a week. Then in November so as to decrease « the number of mouths to be fed », Bernadette was sent as a housemaid to a farm in Bartres where in the evenings she minded the children and during the day she tended the sheep. She stayed at Bartres till January 1858 just three weeks before the Apparitions.
Bernadette was able to endure this decline in social standards, and this whole series of setbacks and failures, because she found in the family (father and mother, brothers and sister, godfather and godmother, aunts and cousins) a stable environment, a family whose love was stronger than misfortune.