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The Song of Bernadette Paperback – October 1, 2006
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- Publisher : Ignatius Press; First edition (October 1, 2006)
- Language : English
- Paperback : 600 pages
- ISBN-10 : 1586171712
- ISBN-13 : 978-1586171711
- Item Weight : 1.43 pounds
- Dimensions : 5.24 x 1.55 x 8 inches
- Best Sellers Rank: #427,044 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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Bernadette saw, she believed and she created an avalanche all by herself. Faith can move mountains. Against all odds, this unlettered peasant girl made Lourdes the greatest shrine in Christendom outside the Vatican. The spirit is greater than the human condition. That is what Franz Werfel is telling us and showing us via this beautiful novel.
Franz Werfel- sophisticated, educated and a Jew- seems to have an almost mythical relationship with Bernadette. You feel he understands her, believes in her, supports her and most of all, understands her rather elusive personality.Werfel is about as far from Bernadette as you can get, seemingly. But they are spiritually in rapport even though living a century apart.
Werfel, born in Prague, was living in Austria when the Germans overran that country in 1938. He and his wife escaped to France, in Lourdes, where Werfel found spiritual solace at the shrine of our Lady. When the Nazis occupied France and started deporting German Jews to concentration camps, Werfel vowed that if he escaped he would write the story of Bernadette. Escape he did, to California, and write he did, this splendid novel you hold in your hands.
Church and State, normally at odds with each other in post-Revolutionary, anti-clerical France, became uncomfortable allies in attempting to rid France of this embarrassing situation, but to no avail: Bernadette would not retract her claim. Bernadette, always staying above the fray, continued to see her lady, who eventually revealed herself to be "The Immaculate Conception." (The doctrine of the Virgin Mary's having been born free of Original Sin had been proclaimed by the Pope four years before, but the people around Bernadette maintained that she knew nothing of that.) After miracles started occurring at a spring at the grotto--Bernadette, following the lady's direction, had uncovered the spring--Church and State found it increasingly difficult to suggest that Bernadette was a pretender or an outright fraud.
This novelized treatment of the famous story of the woman who would be canonized Saint Marie-Bernarde Soubirous has a story behind it about as interesting as its subject. It was penned by Franz Werfel, a Jew, to keep a promise. Werfel, trying to flee German-occupied France during World War II, had sought refuge in Lourdes while seeking a way out of the country. The people of Lourdes had been very accommodating and generous, and while he sojourned with them, he learned the story of Bernadette Soubirous. He promised that one day, if he and his wife escaped safely, he would "sing the song of Bernadette." It's interesting to note that, though one might think in reading the book that it was written by a Catholic, Werfel remained a Jew his whole life. (THE SONG OF BERNADETTE was later turned into a movie starring Jennifer Jones in her pre-sultry starlet days; Jones won an Academy Award for her performance.)
What I found remarkable is that, albeit not entirely free of cinematic-like dramatic devices, the novel is as sober-minded as it is. One can read this account and still think that everything Bernadette experienced stemmed from her imagination, and that the miracles associated with Lourdes may have been borne of the power of suggestion (though some of the miracles would be difficult to explain that way). Indeed, as the novel points out (and Werfel hewed closely to the facts of the matter, taking dramatic license in the interactions and discussions between people), the Catholic Church had been very reluctant to accept both Bernadette's claims and the miracles. Only after thorough testing of Bernadette, witnesses, and medical experts did it finally embrace the entire matter. The mayor of Lourdes had rather early on attempted to exploit the spring's "miraculous" mineral waters by trying to recreate lowly Lourdes as a glitzy spa--unfortunately, tests on the spring waters found nothing remarkable about them. Still, the mayor would triumph as Lourdes became a Catholic Mecca.
THE SONG OF BERNADETTE is a lengthy novel, but it is mostly a brisk read. It will appeal to Catholics, of course, but also to anyone interested reading about one of modernity's first confrontations with a mass religious phenomenon. (Readers who might like a similar story set in contemporary times are urged to pick up David Guterson's flawed but nonetheless interesting OUR LADY OF THE FOREST.)