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On 11 Feb 1858, in the French village of Lourdes, François Soubirous and his wife Louise begin the daily struggle to provide for their daughters Bernadette and Marie and sons Justin and Jean. The poverty-stricken family lives in the town's former jail, which provides an unhealthy environment for the asthmatic Bernadette. Bernadette and Marie go to school, where Sister Marie Therese Vauzous is irritated by the fourteen-year-old Bernadette's ignorance. Because Bernadette has not learned her catechism, the imperious nun does not allow her to keep a holy picture given to her by Dean Marie Dominique Peyramale, and Bernadette asks her friend, Jeanne Abadie, to study at home with her. Louise sends the girls to gather wood, and while Jeanne and Marie wade ahead through the River Gave, Bernadette waits by the grotto of Massabielle. Bernadette is drawn to the cave's edge, where a beautiful Lady appears to her. Bernadette kneels before The Lady and says a rosary with her, but is wakened from her reverie by the reappearance of Jeanne and Marie. Bernadette describes The Lady, who was not seen by the other girls, but they are skeptical, as are Louise and François. The next day, Bernadette is overcome when she again sees The Lady, who asks her to visit fifteen times and tells her that she cannot promise Bernadette happiness in this world, only in the next. Frightened and concerned, Louise makes Bernadette promise never to return to Massabielle. The story of Bernadette's vision spreads through the village, until Bernarde Casterot, Louise's sister and Bernadette's godmother, insists that they accompany her to the grotto. The next morning, several others go with the family to Massabielle, and although no one else can see The Lady, Bernadette's exaltation convinces them that she is communicating with something glorious. The story spreads to other communities, and soon Mayor Alphonse Lacade, imperial prosecutor Vital Dutour, police commissioner Jacomet and other officials are upset by the ridicule being heaped upon Lourdes because of Bernadette's inexplicable actions. Dr. T. Duzous informs the men that, after examining Bernadette, he cannot diagnose her as mentally ill, and Father Peyramale also refuses to interfere, even though he does not believe in Bernadette's vision. Jacomet warns François that the entire family will be locked up if Bernadette's visits to the grotto do not cease, and Marie Therese punishes Bernadette by ridiculing her in front of her classmates. When Bernadette sobs that she will die if she cannot see The Lady, François gives her permission to return to Massabielle. There, The Lady, who has never told Bernadette her name, asks the girl to tell Peyramale to instruct the priests to build a chapel at the grotto, and to "let processions come hither." Peyramale reprimands the teenager, but then orders her to have her Lady perform a miracle to prove herself. Peyramale demands that The Lady make a rose bush in the grotto bloom, but instead, The Lady tells Bernadette to "eat of the plants" and "drink of the spring and wash there." The large crowd is appalled to see Bernadette choke down some weeds, then dig in the earth and rub mud over herself, and a stunned Louise leads the girl home. The jeering crowd applauds Jacomet's declaration that Bernadette is an idiot, but miller Antoine Nicolau, the girl's shy admirer, sees water trickle from the hole. When stonemason Louis Bouriette, who believes Bernadette, bathes his blind eye with the water, he can suddenly see. Convinced that the water has mysterious powers, Bouriette and Antoine lead others to build a stone channel for the flowing spring. That night, Croisine Bouhouhorts takes her dying son to the spring and he is revived by the cool water. Dozous is astonished to see that the toddler's paralysis has vanished, and the villagers proclaim that a miracle has occurred. All of France discusses the incident, and as Peyramale begins to wonder if Bernadette truly is a vessel of grace, hundreds of pilgrims converge on Lourdes. During the last of Bernadette's proscribed visits, she asks The Lady her name, but confesses to Peyramale that the answer--"I am the Immaculate Conception"--baffles her. Later, Lacade, who wants to profit from the miracles, reluctantly closes the grotto at the request of Dutour and Jacomet. Dutour invites a psychiatrist to examine Bernadette, but when the men attempt to institutionalize the girl, Peyramale defends her and takes her to the convent hospital for safekeeping. There, Marie Therese chastises Bernadette, telling her that in earlier times, she would have been burned at the stake for her actions. Meanwhile, Peyramale visits the Bishop of Tarbes and asks him to form an Episcopal Commission to investigate Bernadette's vision. The bishop agrees, but on the condition that the grotto be opened through The Lady's intercession. Soon the grotto is open at the behest of the Empress Eugénie, who believes that the waters cured her feverish son. In Nov 1860, the Commission begins an extensive examination of Bernadette, the grotto and the healings that have occurred. The years pass as Bernadette grows to womanhood, until finally the commission admits the possibility that she was "chosen by powers above." Peyramale tries to impress upon Bernadette the consequences of their findings, and although she fears the implications, she accepts the necessity of leaving the everyday world and becoming a nun. Bernadette goes to the Sisters of Nevers, and there again encounters Marie Therese, who is the Mistress of Novices. Marie Therese is a hard taskmaster to the twenty-year-old novice, but Bernadette patiently accepts her chores and her new name, Marie Bernarde. When Marie Therese sees Bernadette limping one day, she assumes that the girl is only seeking attention. Although she knows that even the Pope has accepted Bernadette's gift of holy vision, Marie Therese is still torn by doubt and asks the young woman what she knows of suffering. Marie Therese explains that she has deliberately led a severe life but has felt no touch of grace, and although Bernadette has no answer for the tormented sister, she finally shows her a large tumor on her knee. Bernadette is diagnosed with tuberculosis of the bone, which the doctor describes as unbearably painful. Astonished by the grace with which Bernadette has born her suffering, Marie Therese becomes the younger nun's devoted servant. As Bernadette grows weaker, the Commission questions her again, and she reaffirms her belief in The Lady. At Bernadette's bedside, Peyramale tries to calm her fears that she is not worthy enough to see her Lady again. As the sisters pray around her, Bernadette's face lights up and she cries out "I love you" upon seeing the beckoning Lady. Bernadette then dies, and Peyramale quietly states: "You are now in heaven and on earth. Your life begins, O Bernadette."