In 1858, Bernadette Soubirous – a 14 year old peasant girl – was collecting firewood in a rocky bluff by the River Gave de Pau in the little town of Lourdes. She saw the figure of a young girl, surrounded by light, in a crevice. Speaking to Bernadette in the local dialect, the apparition asked her to return to the cave. During seventeen subsequent visits over the next five months, Bernadette came to believe the apparition was the Virgin Mary, who told her to dig with her hands and release a hidden spring with waters that would have curative powers. After she had done that, Bernadette was instructed to bring local priests and have them build a chapel on the spot.
Four years later, church officials authenticated Bernadette’s vision, and almost immediately believers began making pilgrimages to see the grotto and drink from the spring. Some who came found cures for their suffering, leaving their crutches and other tokens behind in the grotto, enhancing its reputation for miracles. It has become as sacred a place to Roman Catholics as the Ganges is to Hindus or Mecca is to Muslims.
The Grotto of Massabielle in Lourdes, nestled in the south-western part of the Hautes-Pyrénées, draws pilgrims from around the world, from the illustrious to the poverty stricken.
The revered site – also known as the Miraculous Cave and the Cave of Apparitions sees the suffering immersing themselves in the grotto’s seventeen pools. There are six for men and eleven for women.
Between Palm Sunday and mid-October, there are torchlight processions each night. Pilgrims carrying banners walk along the Esplanade des Processions and it is a spectacular sight under the nearby snowcapped Pyrénées.
Each year 100,000 sick and infirm pilgrims journey there, all praying for a miracle cure. Since 1858 the church and medical community have confirmed sixty-six true miracle cures – cures which cannot be scientifically explained. In reality, most who arrive with a disease or handicap leave in the same condition.
Lourdes has become a tourist town, and not a particularly tasteful one. There are tacky souvenirs everywhere you look, and more hotels than any other French city outside of Paris.
Best Western Hotel Beausejour Lourdes is located right in front of the train station in the heart of the town. Renovated in 2003, the hotel is one of the oldest in Lourdes with 45 rooms spread over three floors. Le parc Restaurant and La Belle Epoque Brasserie offer fine quality dining. It has panoramic views of the Pyrénées and across the city.
Southern France near the Spanish border.
WHAT TO WEAR
French Travel Connection offers two night twin share packages staying at Best Western Hotel Beausejour, including a walking tour.
Flight Centre and Emirates has return airfares to Paris with Air France connections to Lourdes.