For a five-hour journey to Lourdes from the Gave of Austerlitz in Paris we boarded the “TGV” (Train a Grande Vitesse – French word for “high-speed train” which normally travels between 270 km/hr and 320 km/hr)). Our hotel, Saint-Sauveur at 9 Rue Sainte-Marie, is conveniently located near the entrance of the Sanctuaries of Lourdes, and a walking distance to the various places of interest.
A small market town of 15,043 inhabitants lying in the foothills of the beautiful Pyrenees mountains in southwestern France, Lourdes is not only a place of pilgrimage; it is also rich in tourist attractions. Approximately 5,000,000 million pilgrims, visitors and tourists (500,000 of these are sick people hoping to be cured or healed miraculously) making it profitable for 400 hotel owners of the city.
It all began on the 11th of February 1858, when a 14-year old illiterate girl named Bernadette Soubirous, together with her sister Toinette and a friend, Jeanne Abadie, went to gather firewood in the cave called “Massabielle” (meaning “old Rock”), along the banks of the River Gave de Pau and experienced the first of the 18 apparitions of the Blessed Virgin Mary (“Que Soy Era Immaculada Oncenpciou”).
Our pilgrimage started with a holy mass at the plain stone altar and lectern of the grotto of Apparitions which stands humbly below the Cathedral of the Holy Rosary. Next to the altar is the tall conical stand containing votive candles that are kept burning constantly. As our devotional gesture we purchased candles to be burnt here.
In the evening we joined the rosary and the solemn nighttime procession by candlelight.
At the rear of the grotto is the miraculous spring Bernadette is said to have dug, shielded by a glass cover. We sit, pray and contemplate at the rows of benches lined in front of the grotto.
Adjacent to the grotto are the healing baths, consisting of small cubicles of ice-cold waters from the spring in which the sick, or some who are terminally ill, or even if you aren’t ill, immerse themselves in the hopes of being cured. “It is because of our need to be reborn, forgiven, purified, reconciled … that we come to this WATER. We come in memory of what Jesus said: “If anyone is thirsty let him come to me and drink. The water that I shall give you will become a spring welling up to eternal life” reads a green leaflet handed to all pilgrims at the baths in Lourdes.
It is estimated that every year about 350,000 people use the baths to receive grace. There’s a separate section for men and women and you have to come early in the morning to avoid long queues although the sick are given priority.
On the crest above the domain are the monumental Stations of the Cross – the 14 Stations consisting of colossal figures, whose statues in cast iron are 2 meters high.
At the Sanctuaries of Lourdes are the three Basilicas – Our Lady of the Rosary Basilica, The Upper Basilica (the Basilica of Our Lady of the Immaculate Conception), and the Basilica of St. Pius X (also known as the Underground Basilica).
We also visited the Boly Mill, the birthplace and family home of Bernadette.
Don’t miss to visit the fortified castle of Lourdes perching on a high rocky promontory above the valley of the Gave. Now a museum displaying the crafts and traditions of the Pyrenees, the fort used to be a military post and then later a state prison.
Our pilgrimage to Lourdes deepens and strengthens our faith relived after that glorious moment when we completely submerged, unclothed and humbled, into the WATERS of LOURDES.