Lourdes was in the same general region as La Salette; Bernadette, like the children of La Salette spoke in a "patois": Like Maximin and Melanie she could neither read nor write. Unlike them, she was already an advanced contemplative when Our Lady appeared, having cultivated the habit of praying always. In the fields she constantly said her rosary over and over. She was the daughter of poor parents, who were very devoted to one another.

The improvident nature and erratic generosity of her father kept the family in dire poverty at all times, but it did not affect in any degree the love of husband for wife and vice versa. At the time Our Lady appeared to Bernadette in the Grotto of Massabielle, Bernadette was fourteen years old and living at home, which was part of an old abandoned jail. She was the most innocent type of moral character, scrupulously honest, obedient, who never committed a deliberate venial sin during her entire life. On February 11, 1858, Bernadette Soubirous, her sister, 'Toinette Soubirous, and a friend, Jean Abadie, were walking alongside a narrow stream, thirty or forty feet wide. It was a cold day, and they were about the business of gathering firewood for the hearth. Passing along the left bank of the stream, they came opposite the grotto of Massabielle, ("the rock"), at which point one of the girls suggested they take off shoes and stockings, wade across the stream and continue searching on the opposite side. Bernadette never seemed to enjoy good health and was reluctant to go wading in cold water, fearing an attack of asthma 'Toinette and Jean, having no such scruples, took off shoes and stockings to cross immediately. Bernadette asked Jean to take her on ha shoulders, but Jean refused bluntly, told Bernadette, "If you won't come, stay where you are."

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