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Extended Travel: Lourdes, France

Torchlight Marian Procession to the Sanctuary of Our Lady of Lourdes, photo by Pierre Vincent

Torchlight Marian Procession to the Sanctuary of Our Lady of Lourdes, photo by Pierre Vincent

Once a sleepy market town on the way to the Pyrenees resorts, since the miraculous vision of a young girl in 1858, Lourdes now attracts 5 million people each year, many of whom have come on a pilgrimage to the site in order to receive the ‘healing’ waters.
Bernadette Soubirous, or Saint Marie-Bernarde Soubirous, was born in 1844, the eldest of five to a miller and laundress, in Lourdes, France. Her family was exceedingly poor but neighbors would often remark how happily they all lived together in their one room home. When Bernadette was 14, her sister and a friend were out gathering firewood at the grotto of Massabielle outside Lourdes when Bernadette saw “a small young lady” in the grotto while her sister and friend saw nothing. On Bernadette’s second visit to the grotto, the vision spoke to her and told her to come every day for the next 15 days.

Each of these visions consisted of a message of penance and prayer but during the thirteenth vision, the “small young lady” told her “Please go to the priests and tell them that a chapel is to be built here. Let processions come hither.” The miracles of her vision were eventually confirmed by the Pope and a church was built at Lourdes. The healing waters of Lourdes are due to the ninth vision, in which the lady told Bernadette to drink from the spring underneath the rock and eat the plants that grow there. No known spring flowed under the rock but after digging, Bernadette found water. Since then, 67 cures have been verified by the Lourdes Medical Bureau as “inexplicable” after people had drank and bathed in the water.
Many movies have been made about Lourdes, filmed on location, including several biopics about the life of Bernadette, which ended in a convent at the age of 35 after she contracted tuberculosis. Two recent films made on site are Lourdes, a 2009 French film about a wheelchair bound girl who makes a pilgrimage to the site and the award winning 2007 film The Diving Bell and the Butterfly directed by artist and filmmaker Julian Schnabel. The Diving Bell and the Butterfly is the true story of Elle editor Jean-Dominique Bauby who suffers a stroke and has to live with an almost totally paralyzed body. Only his left eye isn’t paralyzed, which he uses to communicate his autobiography. Bauby has to live much of his life in his memories, one of which is a trip to Lourdes with his girlfriend Inès. During the trip, he and Inès visit the grotto, he buys her a kitschy souvenir and they decide to break-up.
Since 1858, little has changed in regards to the actual town of Lourdes, there is even still a market, but much has to the sites with the building of a multitude of churches, including the fascinating Underground Basilica of St. Pius X. The real draw of Lourdes is the pilgrimage sites, which are interesting to even the least faithful. The sites are easy to find throughout town and include the famous grotto and the home where Bernadette grew-up. With about 270 hotels, Lourdes has the second greatest number of hotels per square kilometre in France after Paris so choices of accommodation are many.
Access: Lourdes is less than a two hour drive from Toulouse and you will be able to find bus tours leaving from this bigger city. Train service is also available with a train from Paris that take 6 hours. All service is usually very well suited for those with special needs owing to the fact that many who travel to Lourdes are infirmed.

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