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Beautiful, spiritual Lourdes, nestling in the foothills of the Pyrénéen mountains. The largest pilgrimage site in the world with over five million visitors each year. From all four corners of the globe they come, the dying; the sick; the devout and the just plain curious.
Lourdes mini guide
|Department:||South West France > Midi Pyrenees > Hautes-Pyrénées >|
|Quick links to accommodation:||Accommodation near Lourdes - Hotels in Lourdes|
It all began in 1858 when a 14 year old, asthmatic girl named Bernadette Soubirous was resting in a cave near her home. The Virgin Mary appeared to her and instructed her to dig with her hands into the soil of the cave. Water began to bubble up from an underground spring and it is this water which is said to contain the miraculous power of healing. Since then Lourdes has expanded to accommodate its ever growing number of visitors but the viper of commercialism, in all its vulgarity, preys on these vulnerable people.
Today, souvenir shops brimming with merchandise of doubtful religious association, line the commercial centre known as the Boulevard de la Grotte, displaying their wares on the pavements outside like an Egyptian souk. Plastic bottles to fill with Holy Water, some in the shape of the Virgin Mary; statues of the Saints; rosaries; mugs enhanced with pictures of the Pope; decorated shrines; the list of kitsch is endless. Hotels, guest houses and restaurants abound for Lourdes is into mass catering. In the streets are throngs of people, chattering in every conceivable language, each Continent represented, their cameras busily clicking. For make no mistake about it. Lourdes is big business.
The true religious experience should begin on entering the grounds of the Churches known as the Domaine de la Grotte, at the bottom of the town. There is an instant change in mood. Stand for a moment at the beginning of the wide Esplanade des Processions, which has room for 40,000 people and look towards the Basilique du Rosaire built in 1883 at the other end. There is a kind of a surreal disbelief about the structure of this Church, resembling as it does a Walt Disney creation, built here in this sacred place. A second Church was built in the 1950’s to the left of the Esplanade known as the Underground Basilica Pius X. This provides accommodation for a further 20,000 people but at certain times of the year, even these huge numbers are not enough to accommodate the crowds.
The services taking place inside are often broadcast around the Esplanade. Sit for a moment to listen to the singing of the congregations and the incantations of the priests. Absorb the atmosphere. Then walk towards the Basilique. Look at the tall statues outside placed in re-enactments of various religious scenes, then enter the Church to see the truly massive mosaics depicting Christ’s life from birth to the Ascension. Climb the hillside above the Basilique to visit the 12 Stations of the Cross, the huge figures made out of bronze. The richness and size of the Domaine is immense. Afford it all some measure of dignity if you can.
To the right of the Basilique and behind it is the place where Bernadette had her vision. This tiny space, known as the Grotte de Massabielle, is where patient queues of people wait to enter the cave, a few at a time. This is also the place where water is collected from the spring. There are taps to fill the Virgin Mary plastic bottles and pools for the sick and crippled people to bathe in the miraculous water of hope.
For hope is what Lourdes is truly about. The heart of this town is not to be found in the questionable architecture, in the statues, frescoes and mosaics. It is in the woman moving on her knees from the back of the Basilique to the alter, her lips moving in silent prayer. It is in the procession of the sick and dying crossing the Esplanade en route to the Holy Water. Most cannot walk. They are in wheel chairs or lying supine on mobile beds being pushed by nurses dressed in identical uniforms. They are there in their hundreds moving in single file, slowly, silently, towards the culmination of their prayers. Of course there have been cures in this place which defy medical explanation but these have been few and far between. Yet still the people come every day in an endless stream of belief, sincerity and hope.
It is difficult to reconcile the two faces of Lourdes. It manages to encompass the very best and the very worst of humanity and serve it up with a smile. Love it or hate it, Lourdes is certainly worth a visit if only once in a lifetime.
Things to do in Lourdes
Take the Funicular railway to the top of the Pic du Jer (3080m) to experience the exquisite mountain views.
Take a trip to other mountain resorts such as Cauterets and Pont d’Espagne.
Visit the Lac de Lourdes, a large, natural lake popular for walking, canoeing and picnics
For the historically minded Lourdes has its fair share of museums, some depicting village life as it would have been in Bernadette’s time. The Musée de Petit Lourdes is good for children since it depicts Bernadette’s village in miniature but with the addition of toy trains.
On a hill overlooking Lourdes is a Château which now houses the Musée Pyrénéen. As the name suggests this museum houses many artifacts of the old way of life in the Pyréenées.
For the sports enthusiasts there is go-kart racing; white water rafting; parapenting; hot air ballooning and courses on rock climbing and much more all within easy reach of Lourdes.
Around 10 kms from Lourdes are the Grottes de Bétherram, a series of breath taking caves full of glittering stalactites in awe inspiring patterns, shapes and sizes. At the deepest point there is a small stretch of water which is crossed by boat. To return to the surface a train hurtles at breakneck speed accompanied by the shouts and laughter of the passengers.
For more information about Lourdes, what to do, where to go and forthcoming events visit the tourist information website. The web address is in the Tourist information box above.
Nancy Lynne Robathan.
Please contact Nancy if you are coming to the Hautes Pyrénées or the Gers and would like to know more about Lourdes or any other part of this area at Le Sommet Service.
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