That year marked both the canonization in Rome of Bernadette Soubirous (1844-1879) and the rise of Adolf Hitler to power in Germany--a coincidence to which Werfel calls attention in the closing pages of the novel.
This "supernatural grace" was not granted to Israel "on account of natural merit," he argues (202), any more than Mary's appearance to Bernadette Soubirous could be said to have been merited by her.
In the battle against this, which man must win, not only [does] Lourdes stand like a very rock, but the life of Bernadette Soubirous retain[s] its prophetic activity within time" (577).
Writing about Bernadette Soubirous, Franz Werfel raised his pen and his voice in an inhuman age, to try to call people back to introspection; to the courage of fidelity to the individual, examined conscience; to remind them of the possibility of divine grace and of the central value to human beings of a transcendent love.
Lourdes has attracted at least 200million visitors since 1858, when a 14-year-old peasant girl named Bernadette Soubirous
claimed she had been visited 18 times by the spirit of the Virgin Mary.
Saint Bernadette Soubirous
(1844-1879), was only 14 when she encountered the Blessed Virgin Mary in the grotto of Lourdes in the south of France on February 11, 1858, though at the time, she did not know who she was.
When Bernadette Soubirous was sent out to forage for firewood on a chilly February morning, she noticed something moving in a rocky hollow, or grotto, into which cattle often strayed.
Although she set in motion one of the Roman Catholic Church's most famous pilgrimages, Bernadette Soubirous did not benefit from the apparently miraculous cures the church has subsequently registered.
And paralleling the 19th--century's Bernadette Soubirous
of Lourdes, the 1970s Bernadette Brown of Quebec gets harassed by the authorities.
, 800 years later, was a child of poverty.
The renowned religious tour operator combines the important shrines of Lourdes (in southwestern France) where the Virgin Mary appeared to young Bernadette Soubirous
in 1858, and Fatima (northeast of Lisbon) where the blessed Virgin appeared to three Portuguese children in 1917.