Lourdes, France – Sanctuary of our Lady

The apparition of the Blessed Virgin Mary at Lourdes in the Pyrenees in southern France, was reported to have taken place this month 162 years ago (1858). By all accounts, Our Lady appeared to the 14-year old Bernadette Soubirous in a cave while she was gathering firewood.

Since then, as reported in my previous blog ‘Lourdes – Pilgrims & Carers’, over two hundred million pilgrims have journeyed to the town, as much to seek spiritual enlightenment as a cure for their individual ailments.

To date the Roman Catholic Church claims there have been 69 verified miracles.

Conscious that the world’s attention is currently focused on the CoronaVirus (COVID-19) outbreak, we are reminded how urgently we not only seek cures, but also appropriate caring environments. Reports of China recently building a COVID-19 treatment hospital in 8 days are in stark comparison to the centuries of work building hospitals and churches in Lourdes, but core to it all is the belief that, with or without divine intervention, a cure must be found.

Built on the banks of the River Gave de Pau, which feeds off the Pyrenees melt water, the small market town of Lourdes (pop. 13k+) is a charming destination even for the non-religious. Three peaks of a thousand metres overlook the town: Béout, Le Petit Jer and Grand Jer. The climate in southern France is most agreeable from late spring through to early autumn, allowing visitors to enjoy the gentle nature of the Sanctuary of Lourdes over a long period.

The five-domed Ukrainian St Mary’s Church stands high above the river and holy waters of the original grotto, with views over the surrounding churches, hospitals and open terrace squares. Across the way the castle stands like a distant lighthouse.

The town itself with its crescendo of Catholic memorabilia, busy market stalls and vibrant café culture, hosts a constant stream of pilgrims, both the disabled, with their starchy-uniformed carers, and the able-bodied. Through the riverside gardens and across the larger squares and embankments, church groups, all with distinctive signs and neckerchiefs, mix with regular tourists, local families, nuns, monks and priests.

A visit to Lourdes is humbling and sobering in equal measure, whether for a short stop as you pass through the area, or as someone seeking a longer, more spiritual encounter.