Thousands of pilgrims have been descending on St George’s Cathedral to glimpse the relics of St Bernadette.
The relics, fragments of kneecap, muscle, hair and ribs from the venerated saint, famous for her association with Lourdes, were displayed at the cathedral from Wednesday, October 19 until Thursday, October, 20.
Housed in a 70cm, 24-carat gold church-shaped vessel, also known as a reliquary, they have traveled all the way from the upper basilica at the French Pyrenean Shrine of Lourdes, France.
Father Michael Branch, Dean of St George’s Cathedral, said: “It’s such a great privilege because Lourdes is a great place where everyone is made to feel very special.
“It’s almost as if we’ve become a mini-Lourdes. That peace and healing and profound sense of love has been brought to our cathedral here.”
St Bernadette, born Bernadette Soubirous in Lourdes, southwest France, in 1844, was a French peasant, and the eldest of nine.
Many Christians believe that between February and July 1858, she experienced a series of visions of the Virgin Mary at the Grotto of Massabielle in France.
Nowadays, every year, six million people visit the sacred site, many believing that by bathing in its waters, they will be cured of ailments both medical and spiritual.
Father Michael has visited Lourdes “many times”, including with his father, who was suffering from pancreatic cancer at the time.
“My mum and I took my dad to Lourdes with a view to giving my dad a sort of peace. When we got back, he had the bi-monthly x-ray to see how large the tumor was growing.
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“We were told that after the scan that, beyond all possibility, the pancreatic cancer and the secondary tumor on his oesophagus, had totally disappeared. I believe it was truly miraculous,” he said.
Since her death in 1879, aged 35, St Bernadette’s body, which lies in the town of Nevers, 700km north of Lourdes, has been exhumed on three separate occasions, most recently in 1925.
On that occasion, Doctors Comte and Talon retrieved the relics. Father Michael said: “It’s a bit like having a photograph of mum, dad or a relative, or like having a lock of hair.”
He said hosting the relics is part of Metropolitan Archbishop of Southwark John Wilson’s evangelizing mission, demonstrating that the faith “is not a closed shop but that we’re open to everyone”.
The relics of St Bernadette are currently navigating the UK in a dedicated tour van as part of a trip which concludes on November 1, 2022.