Novels are but one way of exploring the dimension of a subject. Many still prefer non-fiction accounts of such a phenomenon as Lourdes. For this anniversary no distinctive new books have been published in either English or French.
But this seems scarcely to matter for some excellent books are still available, new, second hand or through the national public library system which serves all the county libraries and their branches.
The best biography which is at once sensitive to the religious issues involved and scholarly is Thérèsa Taylor’s biography Bernadette of Lourdes: Her life death and visions (Burns & Oates, £5.91pb). The author is an Australian academic, but the book, based on exhaustive research, is highly readable. Undoubtedly the first book for anyone to read.
One of the most interesting testimonies to the Lourdes experience remains Alexis Carrel’s Voyage to Lourdes (London: Hamish Hamilton 1950; out of print), written in 1903 but not published until 1949, five years after the death of the pioneering yet controversial surgeon.
He witnessed at Lourdes the cure of Marie Bailly, which occurred after a flagon of the bath water was poured over her swollen abdomen – it occurred right before his eyes, and naturally proved controversial. (His text was later included in a book with accounts of Lourdes by the poet Francis Jammes and the novelist Françoise Mauriac, but this was never translated.)
A more sociological approach was taken by Oxford University historian Ruth Harris in Lourdes: Body and Soul in a Secular Age (London: Allen Lane, 1999; also Penguin £14.99pb). She explores the large social and political dimension of late 19th-Century France, on which she is an authority.
Though Bernadette was herself notably reticent about her experiences in later years, what he had to say will be found in A Holy Life: The Writings of St Bernadette of Lourdes, by Patricia A. McEachern (Ignatius Press, €16.99), professor of French at Drury University, published in 2005.
Not to be overlooked is an older book, St Bernadette Soubirous (Longman, Green & Co. 1957) by Mgr Francis Trochu, who died in 1967. This is still a very readable book by a French Catholic author who presents the saint’s life in the context of her time as seen by a French priest of the older school. Though dated it is still much admired in France.
For those anxious to develop their knowledge before undertaking the pilgrimage there is Lourdes Diary: Six Days at the grotto of Massabielle by John Martin SJ (Loyola University Press, £8.44), as well as a pilgrims’ guide to present day Lourdes A Pilgrimage to Mary’s Grotto by Kerry Crawford (Servant Books, $15.99).
The local diocese has also facilitated The Wonders of Lourdes: 150 Miraculous Stories of the Power of Prayer to Celebrate the 150th Anniversary of Our Lady’s Apparitions, edited by Gerald Korsan and John Pepino (Magnificat USA, $24.95), which runs to some 636 pages of personal narratives.