The small village of Bartres is situated in the countryside about 5kms from the town of Lourdes. When St Bernadette was about 10 months old her mother Louise Soubirous was injured when a candle fell on her chest and was unable to nurse her baby daughter so Bernadette was brought to the village of Bartres to the the home/farmhouse of Marie Aravant to be ‘fostered’.
Marie Aravant was to be her ‘wet nurse’ until she was weaned, as Marie Aravant herself had just lost a new born child so had milk to nurse Bernadette. Bernadette remained in Bartres until she was approximately 2 years old.
Then in the autumn of 1857 Saint Bernadette returned to live in the home of Marie Aravant, this time for very different reasons. The Soubirous family were at that stage living in poverty in the Cachot, Saint Bernadette was in poor health, having contracted cholera during the epidemic so a second winter in the Cachot was not going to help her health in anyway and it was hoped that a winter in the countryside would be better for her and would also mean that her family would have one less mouth to feed.
So Bernadette returned to Bartres, not so much a guest of the family but to ‘help’ with the everyday chores on the farm and to help look after Marie ARavant’s own children.
We often see St Bernadette depicted as a Shepherdess, recalling this period of her life in Bartres from September 1857 to January 1858 when one of her ‘jobs’ was tending the sheep of her foster family in the fields beside the village and in the vicinity of the Sheepfold/Bergerie which is still standing today.
During that period in Bartres Saint Bernadette began catechism classes with the parish priest of Bartres in the village Preysbytery in order to make her first holy communion.
In mid January 1858 these classes stopped when the priest moved elsewhere so Bernadette , who was intent on making her first holy communion, asked her parents if she could return to Lourdes even if it meant living in the poverty/misery of the Cachot so that she could follow catechism instruction given in the Hospice school by the Sisters of Charity of Nevers (in Lourdes).
St Bernadette returned to Lourdes late january 1858 and a couple of weeks later she ‘met’ Our Lady at the Grotto. Her time in Bartres can almost be considered as a time of preparation for the extraordinary events that were to happen from 11th February.
When we visit Bartres we recall this period in St Bernadette’s life, we can visit, pray and/or have mass in the Parish Church which was the church that existed during St Bernadette’s lifetime.
There have been some changes to it since the mid 19th century but the main altar area etc remains the same .
The old farmhouse is still standing, it is a private residence now and is no longer open to the public but we can see it from the entrance to the village; Part of The old presbytery can be visited, it was a small ‘museum’ on the ground floor which is part of a restaurant nowadays.
The sheepfold/bergerie lies on the outskirts of the village, the walk up to it is a little bit ‘rough’ so really only for youth groups or intrepid walkers! But there is a replica of the sheepfold in the Cité St Pierre/City of the Poor.
A visit to Bartres is a little ‘time out’ and an opportunity to reflect on the life of St. Bernadette away from the hustle and bustle of the town.
We can visit Bartres either on a morning or afternoon trip. Traditionally we would make a brief stop at the Lake of Lourdes on the way home if time and weather allow – or alternatively some groups stop to visit the Ukrainian Church, the Hospice or the Irish plot at the graveyard, a few different options depending on what people would like to do and depending on time constraints.
You can find details about our tours to Lourdes here: PILGRIMAGE TO LOURDES.Contact Us