We stumbled from Spanish into French as our excitement for the fresh, warm bakery had distracted us. Fresh bread and pastries have a way of filling the nose and emptying the brain of all rational thought. We had to buy the tasty treats in our sights and scent immediately! After walking down the street victoriously with our munchies it was decided that we should stay outside and not rudely eat/shop through the store in front of us.
The sound of construction behind us on the torn street almost drowned out the voice greeting us…
“You are Australian?”
We turned to see a smiling elderly Frenchman. “Oh no haha, Americans…USA” After speaking for a little while we found that he had visited Los Angeles way back in the day and pointing to our packs he asked “St. Jean Pied De Port…ehhh Camino?” Oh yes, oui, definitely! He told us to walk down the street for five minutes, just 5 minutes before catching the train, it’s so much prettier. Then he was off, smiling and enjoying the beautiful cool weather. Mom and I were quick to abandon the store and walked down the street to a little area full of cafes and an open area with an ornate old carousel. Definitely much prettier! Then it was back to catch our train to Lourdes.
Upon arrival in Lourdes we found out the Grotto and Sanctuary was just a 500 meter walk downhill and through the town. Umm yes please! So setting off down the hill mom noticed a blue line was painted along the curb and ever so often was a blue box painted on the sidewalk giving direction for the path to Lourdes.
The First Blue Box
Following the Blue Line
Soon we were passing shops filled with holy water bottles, statues, medals, and other religious items displayed in multitude. About 2/3 of the way to the basilica we see an arrow pointing into the house turned museum where St. Bernadette first lived.
The Home of St Bernadette´s Parents
St. Bernadette´s Bed
The only house her parent´s ever owned is now run by St. Bernadette´s grandneice. After paying a small donation for entry we were given a small magnet as a souvenier and picked up an english description of all that we were about to see. The house was covered with marble squares of ¨Merci¨ and statues of holy saints displayed throughout.
¨Merci¨ covers even the fireplace
Religious statues on every shelf
The upstairs looped back into the museum attachment and there were many rosaries, books, and mementos for sale. Needless to say I spent about as much time there as in the house itself. I´m pretty terrible about getting souveniers to bring home, but I always grab a postcard or five along the way.
Then mom and I continued on down the road through the gates of the basilica grounds. There is a long avenue down past a hospital, small chapel, confession building, and information center. But you almost notice those last as the basilica at the end draws your eye to its massive and ornate beauty.
Upon entering the very top basilica, known as the Upper Basilica or the Basilica of the Immaculate Conception we realized that this was much more than one church. In reality the Upper Basilica sits on top of a crypt which usually displays some of Bernadette´s remains, like the catacombs, and underneath the crypt is the Basilica of the Holy Rosary. I assume back in Bernadette’s time of the 1800s this must have been one huge hill and they built the Basilica of the Immaculate Conception(Upper Basilica) at the top. Over time the rest of the crypt and Basilica of the Holy Rosary were carved into the hill creating what now seems like one massive church.
To the left of the basilicas is a river and along the side are many fountains containing the famous spring water of Lourdes. People were filling up water bottles, holy water containers of all sizes, and even washed their hands and feet in it.
Continuing down along the side of the basilicas at the base of the hill is the grotto. The stone was smooth from the line of pilgrims prayerfully touching the rock with their hands as they walked through the grotto. The origin of the spring was encased in glass and many pilgrims left roses and petitions there. A statue of Mary sits in the crevice where Bernadette first saw Our Lady in 1862.
Side of Basilicas with Grotto
Pilgrims walking through the Grotto
Mary´s crevice in the Grotto
Our first night we joined the 9pm Marian procession from the grotto, up the avenue and back, to the outdoor square of the Basilica of the Holy Rosary.
Candles for the procession
¨This flame continues my prayer¨¨
It was rather cold at that point, but with the help of a blanket we stayed for the 11pm mass in the grotto, which is always in Italian or French. I was extremely excited for the Italian service that night, and the next morning we attended a French mass!
Just beyond the grotto are the baths where many go in hopes of healing or prayerful cleansing. The water was so cold that the bath was more of a walk into the water and quick dip down to immerse yourself once before exiting in prayer. However even a frozen holy water bath cannot diminish the joy and silliness God placed in my soul. Clearly….
(Note: All of the above links are from the official Lourdes website found at http://en.lourdes-france.org)
We spent much time wandering around the grounds, walking through the grotto, filling our bottles at the fountains, and participating in the events Lourdes had to offer during our short stay.
The campus was huge and we only saw a small portion in our two days, but every second was put to great use. Such a refreshing trip, no matter how short, caused our souls to rejoice in the beauty and reverence permeating the air in that holy place.
That last afternoon we visited a cafe, found a post office (caused some confusion but finally mailed the holy water and postcards), and headed back to catch our train.
The overall lesson learned here was one of humility and sacrifice. We followed in the footsteps of a 14 yr old girl with wisdom that will last for ages. Truth never fades.
“I must die to myself continually and accept trials without complaining. I work, I suffer and I love with no other witness than His heart. Anyone who is not prepared to suffer all for the Beloved and to do His will in all things is not worthy of the sweet name of Friend, for here below, Love without suffering does not exist.” – St. Bernadette