Wednesday, June 04, 2008

Lourdes - Part 2

The main pilgrimage centre at Lourdes called 'The Sanctuary of Our Lady of Lourdes', was a short walk from our hotel. Pictured below is the Rosary Basilica. During the time of the major Catholic feasts and festivals, the town is overwhelmed by pilgrims from across the globe. However, since our stay didn't coincide with any of the main events, the crowd level was at a pleasant bustle.

You can call me fanciful, but I swear the moment I stepped through the gates of the Sanctuary, it was as if the buzz of the world right outside the walled compound hushed away...... a nearly tangible sense of peace descended over me. We had hoped to attend a Mass and as it turned out, one was just about to start, although in French. Though we didn't understand a word, it was one of the most moving church experiences of my life partly because of the priest who sang the hymns with such faith and conviction that language was not a barrier, and partly at the sight of people from so many nationalities harmoniously sitting together in prayer.

The Rosary Basilica as viewed from the back. The River Gave flows along the Sanctuary and is tied into Lourdes's miraculous legacy. Between February-March 1858, a 14-year old local girl, Bernadette Soubirous, saw 18 apparitions of the Virgin Mary at a place called Massabielle. Although Bernadette was surrounded by hundreds and thousands of curious onlookers during the later apparitions, she was the only one to see the Virgin. It was during one of the later apparitions that theVirgin asked her to drink from a stream (an offshoot of the Gave), which was quite muddy at the time. This was a form of penance for the sinners of the world. Since that time, the waters of the stream have had miraculous healing properties.

The young Bernadette devoted her life then on to the church as a nun, but died young in 1879 after a prolonged and painful illness. The Catholic church, quite rigourous when it comes to legitimizing miracles and visions, had taken four years to declare the apparitions as real after their occurence and Bernadette was sainted only in 1933. Another intriguing part about this humble saint is that her body has not decomposed. It can be viewed intact at another shrine in a place called Nevers, which was she had taken her vows.

This is the Grotto of Massabielle. The statue in the niche is that of The Virgin Mary in the spot where the apparitions occured. The stream that Bernadette drank from flows in the grotto beneath. The Basilica's foundations rest over this holy spot and the faithful gather here to pray and light candles.