Lourdes, France: Our Lady of Lourdes, Site of Healing and Hope
The story of Lourdes:
One of the most visited shrines in the world, Lourdes holds a special place in the hearts of many. You need to appreciate the history to truly enjoy your visit here. On February 11th, 1858, Bernadette Soubirous, her sister Toinette and a friend of theirs, Jeanne, went looking for wood on the meadows and led towards “the place where the canal rejoins the River Gave”. They were in front of the Grotto of Massabielle. Toinette and Jeanne crossed the icy water crying out with the cold, Bernadette hesitated to do this because of her chronic asthma. She heard “a noise like a gust of wind”, but “none of the trees were moving”. “Raising her head, she saw, in a hollow of the rock a small young lady, who looked at her and who smiled at her. At that time the Grotto was a dirty, hidden, damp and cold place. It was called the “pigs’ shelter” because that was where the pigs feeding in the area usually took shelter from the cold. This is where the Virgin Mary appeared to Bernadette.
During the third apparition on February 18th, The Virgin Mary spoke for the first time. Bernadette held out a sheet of paper and a pencil so that she might write down her name, but the Lady replied: “what I have to say to you does not have to be written down”. The second statement of the Virgin Mary was: “Would you do me the kindness of coming here for 15 days?” Bernadette was overwhelmed. It was the first time that anyone had addressed her in a formal way. Bernadette described these words by saying that the Virgin looked at her “as one person looks at another person”. The third statement of the Virgin was: “I do not promise to make you happy in this world but in the next.” During the first seven apparitions, Bernadette was radiant with joy and happiness. Between the eighth and twelfth apparitions everything changed – the face of Bernadette became hard, sad and sorrowful, she did things that no one could understand and they began to think she was crazy.During one of the apparitions, “the Lady” asked Bernadette to scrape the ground at the back of this “pigs’ shelter”, saying to her : “Go to the spring, drink of it and wash yourself there”. She moved on her knees to the back of the Grotto, kissed the dirty disgusting ground and ate some bitter grass. She scraped the ground three times trying to drink the muddy water, then smeared mud on her face. Then she turned to the crowd with her hands apart. There was only a little muddy water to begin with for Bernadette to drink, then little by little it became clear running water. The miraculous spring was finally revealed, and has continued to flow ever since, providing water for the physical healing of some, and spiritual healing for millions.
During the thirteenth apparition, Our Lady said: “Go, tell the priests to come here in procession and build a chapel here.” On March 25th, 1858, the day of the sixteenth apparition, Bernadette went to the Grotto, and on the instigation of the parish priest, Abbé‚ Peyramale, asked the Lady for her name. Three times Bernadette asked the question. On the fourth request, the Lady responded in dialect “Que soy era Immaculada Conceptiou”. (“I am the Immaculate Conception”). With these words the Mother of God confirmed the pious belief which Pope Pius IX had proclaimed as a dogma of the Church four years earlier in 1854. Bernadette didn’t understand the meaning of these words, but went to the priest to tell him the Lady’s name. He knew immediately that it was the Mother of God, and the Bishop of Tarbes, Monseigneur Laurence, confirmed this.
About the Shrine of Our Lady of Lourdes:
Lourdes is about healing and hope, and the blessing of the sick (in the afternoon) with the procession of the Blessed Sacrament is one of the most moving events one can witness. (most of the documented physical healings have taken place during this procession). Of course Mass at the Grotto is one of the highlights of a visit here. Another memorable event is the nighttime procession when pilgrims from all over the world gather together with lit candles and follow the statue of their Mother and Queen while singing songs of devotion to her.
Most pilgrims want to take the “baths” at Lourdes in the miraculous spring water. Be aware that this will take a lot of your time here (waiting in line) so don’t leave it for last. Take the baths as soon as possible after arriving.
The Immaculate Conception is, as the Church teaches, “Mary, conceived without sin, thanks to the merits of the Cross of Christ”. The solemn declaration by the Bishop can be read on a marble slab on the right hand side after entering the Upper Basilica “We judge : that Mary Immaculate, the Mother of God, really did appear to Bernadette Soubirous, on eighteen occasions from 11th February 1858 at the Grotto of Massabielle, near the town of Lourdes ; that these apparitions bear the characteristics of truth; that the faithful can believe them as true. We humbly submit our judgement to the judgement of the Sovereign Pontiff, who is responsible for governing the Universal Church”.
The Boly Mill is where Bernadette was born and where her family lived during more affluent times. They lived here for many years until poverty overtook them and they were evicted. They left the comfort of the Mill and moved into a tiny one room dwelling called Le Cachot. This had been a prison cell, very damp and unfit even for animals to live in.
The Soubirous family were able to live here rent free, and even though in squalor, they were grateful and never lost their inner joy. It was while living here that Bernadette went to the Grotto and had her apparitions.
There are free tours for “day pilgrims” offered daily during the busy times of the year. We suggest you contact the information center for days and times. The information center is right on the grounds of the shrine and easy to find. Normally these tours start in the early afternoon and you will see the guides with signs in various languages so that you can find them quite easily.
Traveling to Lourdes:
Lourdes is in Southeastern France, about 500 miles from Paris. If you are traveling by train, the high-speed TGV gets there in about 5 hours. The train station is right downtown and close to the shrine.
If you are flying you can fly from Paris to Toulouse, Pau or Lourdes. There not as many flights directly to Lourdes and most of them do not fly from Charles de Gaulle airport (they fly from Orly Airport), so be sure the check before booking flights to allow enough time to change airports if necessary. Pau is closer to Lourdes than Toulouse but has fewer flights every day.
A note for independent travelers traveling by car: There is a town south of Toulouse named Lourde (without the S on the end). This is not the shrine of Lourdes, so be careful when using your GPS device.
Address: 1 Avenue Mgr Théas, 65108 Lourdes
GPS coordinates: 43° 5′ 50.3736” N, 0° 3′ 26.7156” W
Tel: +33 (0)5 62 42 78 78 Fax: +33 (0)5 62 42 78 77
Click here for the official website of the Shrine of Lourdes
Residents of the United Kingdom with serious health problems might want to check out Across, which offers special bus service for those with severe medical needs.