The Song of Bernadette

by Franz Werfel

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Characters Discussed

Bernadette Soubirous

Bernadette Soubirous (behr-nah-DEHT sew-bee-REW), a young girl of Lourdes, growing up in grinding poverty and generally regarded as hopelessly slow and stupid. One day, she goes alone into the Grotto of Massabielle. A beautiful lady, shining with a brilliant light, appears to her. Bernadette’s story becomes known, and she is reviled both as mad and as a fraud. People go with her on her repeated visits, but they see nothing. The lady bids Bernadette to ask Dean Peyramale to build a chapel on the sight of the grotto. He insists that only a sign will convince him: a blooming rosebush in the cave in February. The lady bids Bernadette dig with her hands; to the following crowd, Bernadette’s actions seem mad. A spring flows from the spot, and the soil applied to a blind man’s eyes cures his blindness. Roses bloom in the cave, and at last the authorities agree that Bernadette has seen the Blessed Virgin. She becomes a nun, remaining calm and humble until she dies, more than seventeen years later, after a painful illness. Canonized, she is now a saint of the Roman Catholic church.

François Soubirous

François Soubirous (frah[n]-SWAHZ), Bernadette’s father. Fallen into pitiful poverty, he and his family are dependent on the odd jobs he can beg from the prosperous citizens of Lourdes.

Louise Soubirous

Louise Soubirous (lweez), his wife. She takes in washing, but this income added to her husband’s is insufficient to take care of the family.

Sister Marie Thérèse

Sister Marie Thérèse (mah-REE tay-REHZ), Bernadette’s teacher, who regards the girl as impossibly stupid, even in her study of religion. Sister Marie Thérèse remains skeptical even after Bernadette becomes a nun; it is only on Bernadette’s deathbed that Sister Marie Thérèse admits her error and her belief in the miracle.

Dean Peyramale

Dean Peyramale (pay-rah-MAHL), who refuses to build a chapel on the site of the grotto until he has evidence of a miracle in a blooming rosebush. Later, he becomes disappointed and saddened because he has been ignored by the church authorities in the establishment of a shrine.

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