On the 11th February 1858, in a cave by the river Gave which runs through Lourdes, the Virgin Mary appeared to Bernadette Soubirous. Hearing a noise “like a rush of wind” in an alcove in the rock, Bernadette turned to see “a lady surrounded by light who looked and smiled at me”. It was the first apparition. Seventeen more were to follow. Each year, Lourdes welcomes millions of people from all over the world visiting the Sanctuary of Our Lady of Lourdes, open every day. The Massabielle Grotto is where the 18 apparitions took place.
Water is omnipresent in Lourdes in the form of the River Gave but, above all, with the water in the spring that Bernadette discovered on the 25th February 1858, the symbol of purification. An iconic part of any pilgrim’s visit to Lourdes, bathing in the pools is a significant spiritual experience.
Ever since the apparitions, the sanctuary has been organized to receive large numbers of sick pilgrims and facilitate their attendance. There are now two medical reception centers here to welcome any elderly, sick and disabled pilgrims who require help, in comfortable and safe surroundings. The eucharistic procession, held every day from April to October at 5pm, is a particularly moving experience for sick and disabled worshippers, who receive a special blessing.
From April to October, a torchlight procession takes place every evening at 9 p.m. It is the most moving part of the day at Lourdes and an opportunity for prayer much valued by pilgrims and visitors to Lourdes. During the Christmas period, the torchlight procession takes the form of a rosary of burning torches in front of the Grotto of the Apparitions at 8.30 p.m.
As Lourdes is a very cosmopolitan place, an International Mass is held for all pilgrims at Lourdes, every Wednesday and Sunday during the pilgrimage season (April to October), at 9.30am in the St. Pius X Basilica, also called the Underground Basilica. Mass is celebrated in six languages.
Far from agitation, the “upper” city has kept its architecture of ancient times with its Bigorre houses. One can stroll through town on gently sloping streets while viewing the Bigorre slate roofs. The castle, an impressive fortress modified according to Vauban’s instructions, was successively the residence of the Bigorre counts, a mercenaries’ hideout, then a royal prison and finally a garrison before housing since 1921, a Pyrenean Museum which has managed to preserve all its charm.
The Pic du Jer, overlooking the city, offers a unique belvedere with a breathtaking 360° view over Lourdes and the Pyrenean peaks. With a one-hundred-year-old and utterly charming funicular, inaugurated in 1900, one can climb up to the summits to experience nature’s grandeur and majesty.
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