Wednesday, August 29, 2012

My Lourdes!

Heading back north, I prodded Adam into making one last stop, Lourdes. A family member of mine had been there a number of times with her nursing students and highly recommended it, and after further reading about the hype around this place, I was intrigued.

Back in the 1850s, an young girl, Bernadette, saw 18 apparitions of Mary in the town's local grotto.  Even if a crowd was standing with her, she was the only one who could see and hear this beautiful lady. On one such account the spirit asked her to go and drink from a fountain within the grotto which at that time, did not exist. At that same moment, though, water came gushing from the rocks, and it is this water source that has attributed to 1000s of miraculous healings. One source tells me the church has only officially recognized around 67 as real miracles (with many more under investigation), but there have been over 8000 cases reported of healing of some sort. As you can imagine, it took the church a few years and some skepticism to officiate Bernadette's sightings, but in the end, they officiated the sighting and followed one of Mary's requests and built a church over the grotto. Once the first miracles started occurring, 1000s of pilgrims began flocking to this sight to get a look at the grotto and hope to be healed as well by it's powerful waters.

A garden of rosaries (St. Bernadette pictured)
As the guidebooks say, this sight will put any believer or non-believer in awe. It is said that this town receives around 5 millions of visitors each year (to a town of only 15,000) from all over the world, and is one of the most visited pilgrimage sites in Europe (hard to believe, I think, next to Rome, but whatever). As Adam and I tried to snake our way through town, stuck in traffic, and surrounded by store after store after store of religious nicknacks, we started getting prematurely annoyed by the whole idea. Ahhh, just another tourist trap!

Once we parked, though, and started towards the church, I couldn't believe my eyes; there was a nonstop stream of wheelchairs, all with their own lane on the sidewalk, going to and from the church. Holy crap, this is for real! People really are coming here to be healed! I don't thing I've ever seen such a diverse group of sick, disabled, crippled group of people, all speaking different languages all together at once. Maybe this place really does have some magic?

Filling up on some magic drink
The church that was built over the grotto was absolutely gorgeous. And I've seen a lot of churches (which all seem to look the same after awhile), but this had a certain fairytale castle look to it. I loved it. Below the church was the line to fill up your water jugs with the healing waters as well as the line for the grotto. People will fill filling everything from tiny 1 oz jars to 3 gallon jugs. We simply refilled my water bottle and chugged away. Healing or not healing, it at least saved us from dehydration on a hot day. (but let's hope it had some healing powers to it!) But this whole idea of miracles still had me mystified. Next, we shuffled into the line for the grotto. In actuality, this is simply a small cave on the side of the cliff, but it was incredible how smooth the stones felt after years of millions of people running their hands over them, saying a prayer. I was most impressed by this 'tourist spot', for everyone around treated it with such respect. The crowd was in a reflective silence, and it was quite emotional seeing the line of cripple and sick in their wheel chairs coming up to get a glimpse, seeing their families in tears. wow.

Basilica of the Rosary, built over the grotto

A marvelous church built over a grotto
Plaques along the side of the church in about 20 different languages
reading "Come and drink at the spring, and wash yourself there"

All us pilgrims

Prayer candles
We thought that was it, but continuing along the cliff, we came across stand after stand of prayer candles.  Ah ha! so THAT's what all the stores were selling. There must have been 1000s of candles in all sizes from tiny tea lights to human sized giants. We even saw a sign saying that you could purchase these online and have them lit here. Ah, the idea of online pilgrims! Genius. The Catholic Church does it again. Beyond that, we saw another crowd of people split into guys and girls, and realized this was where you could bath yourselves in the spring. We couldn't really see how this happened since it was all behind closed doors, but I read somewhere that some 400,000 people come bathe themselves each year here (though not all of the miracles have happened because of the should read about the scientific banter about all this)

In the end, Adam and I both agreed it was a great stop to make, if anything, just to see what the power of belief does to a town and to its visitors. In addition, it also gave me the chance to understand a bit more about the difference between our two religions, as I took for granted the idea of Saints and pilgrimages, and the rosary, all that stuff really is a Catholic thing.  Good thing, I suppose,  that someone had a Catholic along for the ride to shed some light on all this : )

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