September 2009 Visiting Lourdes in the Pyrenees

Lured to Lourdes

a childhood dream of mine to visit, the timing felt right for me to go.

Lourdes map

John and I were amongst the visitors - five million with hope in their hearts descend on Lourdes every year, more visitors than any other shrine in Europe. In France Lourdes is second only to Paris in the number of visitor beds, yet this is a small town.

Lourdes road sign

I went to a catholic school when I was growing up and one of my teachers visited Lourdes and came back with many stories of Lourdes, so I promised myself one day I will visit this magical healing place which gives hope to so many people who come here. I hope to bring our visit to Lourdes to you through my own experience by sharing my photographs with you. We spent a long four hours in the car driving to Lourdes from Serignac - some people it takes days.

We visited Sainte Bernadette's Shrine in Nevers in September 2005   2005/09

14 year old Bernadette Soubirous vision of the Virgin on 11th February 1858 at the mouth of the Grotte de Massabielle, a river side cave. The "Lady in White" appeared a further 18 times to this illiterate girl from a humble miller's family, the eldest of five children.

Bernadette's mystical experience set off an immediate fore lore. The spring discovered after the ninth apparition and the first miraculous cures (67 recorded by the church, I believe). This spurred families to bring their sick and their lame to Lourdes.

Sainte Bernadette's Shrine in Nevers

Bernadette SoubirousBernadette Soubirous

Pilgrims and the merely curious are still flooding to this town today. Bernadette remained in Lourdes for eight years, six of those years she spent training in the hospital after the apparitions, before she was forced to move to Nevers.

In July 1866, when she was 22 years old she joined the sisters of Charity in Nevers. She died aged 35, on 16th April 1879. On 8th December 1933, she was canonised by Pope Pius X. I found it very moving when I visited her shrine in Nevers especially when I took the photograph above of Bernadette, in Nevers she was so tiny I thought. This old photograph opposite, was on a poster on the side of a hotel in Lourdes.


The shrine of Lourdes where the people gather to touch the rock, pray and light candles after.

The Grotto of MassabielleThe Grotto of Massabielle

The Grotto of MassabielleThe Grotto of Massabielle

We stood in the queue for 30 minutes to enter this cave, I touched the grey rock-face, in place's the rock has been worn very smooth indeed by all the visitors. The silence and the atmosphere were both somber & very moving indeed. In 1864 the statue of the Madonna of Lourdes was inaugurated, with the words incised as Bernadette heard them "Que soy era Immaculada Councepciou" (I am she who was conceived without sin).

Rosary Basilica within the Sanctuary of our Lady of Lourdes.

The Rosary Basilica, LourdesThe Rosary Basilica, Lourdes

The Rosary Basilica entranceThe Rosary Basilica, Lourdes

We arrived on a cloudy but warm day, the sky was heavy with cloud which took most of the day to clear, it was perfect weather for standing in the queue. I could imagine on some days this could cause so many problems to the people who are ill and waiting in the heat of the sun. The queue for the healing waters was so long, I decided not to participate, here but drank from the many water taps that are around fed from the springs.

The gilded crown & cross surrounding the dome a gift from Ireland.

The gilded crown and crossThe gilded crown and cross

Rosary square viewRosary square view

This gilded crown & cross was a gift from the people of Ireland in 1924 it was re gilded in 2000-2. We had good views of the Pyrenees' but sadly not such a clear day. I was careful walking up all the steps with my poorly knee - but I soon forgot my pain seeing so many ill people with hope in their eyes. I brought all my family here with me in spirit.

Rosary Square - I was busy helping people take photographs of their group's.

Nuns posing for photos on Rosary squareNuns posing for photos on Rosary square

Group posing for photos on Rosary squareGroup posing for photos on Rosary square

On my return no photograph's were taken of me or John and I in Lourdes. I think I was so busy taking photographs that I just don't appear in any. I did manage the one of John at the Cross above.

Views of the weir and the 11th century Chateau fort, a hilltop castle perched above Lourdes

The weir on the River Gave de Pau in LourdesThe weir on the River Gave de Pau in Lourdes

Chateau fort de LourdesChateau fort de Lourdes

Basilique Saint-Pie X

World-famous pilgrims centre for Catholics - Basilique Saint-Pie X, capable of holding 20,000 people.

There were many places to hold Masses in the sanctuaries (local and International), the daily blessings of the sick, which were evident on the day, from one church to another, we heard many blessings, many songs sung in the different church's in different languages, many songs also sung in the grounds. From a very chaotic beginnings when Bernadette was here to the now many medical centres which have grown over the years to the organisations working so hard . With countless volunteers helping especially tending the transport of the handicapped in such a giving & refined way.

Inside the Basilique Saint-Pie XInside the Basilique Saint-Pie X (Mass & Communion)

Candles on sale in every size - lighting a candle near to the Grotto

Candle shopCandle shop

Devotional candles in a brulièreDevotional candles in a brulière

I was moved to see so many candle's being bought in the many shops, I could not believe just how many candles one person could buy - they were being bought by the arm full, perhaps for each person they were praying for.

I loved all the Mosaic works both interior & exterior - extensively renovated in 2006-2007

Ave Maria mosaicAve Maria mosaic

The interior of the Rosary BasilicaThe interior of the Rosary Basilica

Dome of the Rosary BasilicaDome of the Rosary Basilica

Work began in 1883 on the vast Basilique du Rosaire, with it's 18 chapels, from which an exterior ramp was built leading to the Supérieure.

Yet it was not enough for the growing number of Pilgrims. We enjoyed hearing someone play the guitar and sing a song in German, then a priest joined in on the organ. The music was very moving indeed.

We did not have enough time in a day to explore all that was here or visit the museums, we tended to just sit with the people and the moment in many of the places we visited.

Singing from wheelchairs under the shade of trees overlooking the Grotto and Rosary Basilica.

Pilgrims singingPilgrims singing

Pilgrims assembled for a blessing and a singing session with many members of a dedicated family with friends or perhaps a volunteer who was here to help. So many wore a uniform and a badge to say who they were.

Tourist attractions to visit later in the day.

Shopping in LourdesShopping in Lourdes

Tourist train in LourdesTourist train in Lourdes

The setting sun was such a beautiful end to a perfect day.

The believers and none believers gathered hand in hand as we did today. Lourdes was crowded and it's appeal was hard to fathom for some people, especially when you see the commerce and the money that is being spent here. Yet faith held by the sick and their families brought them here to Lourdes. The smiles, the look of hope with the intensity of the faithful is the consequence of Bernadette a 14 years old's vision. Today I witnessed near the Grotto so many smiling faces, this alone left us moved bringing a glow inside of John and I as we drove back home to Serignac and our boat. I hope my prayers will be answered today.

Thank you for sharing this day with me.

Sunset on the way homeSunset on the way home