My second stop on the Easter trip was the tiny town of Lourdes, at the edge of the Pyrenees in South-western France. There, in 1858, the Blessed Virgin Mary appeared to a young girl named Bernadette along a river near the town. The apparition was investigated thoroughly and approved by the Church. What keeps pilgrims coming, besides the motivation of prayer, is a spring of water which bubbled up from the ground. Our Lady told Bernadette to wash in the spring and to drink from it, which she did. Pilgrims came to bathe in the waters and many were healed, resulting in an unbelievable number of sick and those in wheel chairs coming to the shrine every year. It is, I believe, the most visited Marian shrine in the world. Our visit coincided with the “HCPT pilgrimage,” which brings 5000 people from the United Kingdom to Lourdes every year.
I was able to celebrate Mass three times at one of the small altars in the middle of the basilica. The basilica is three levels, the lower level being dedicated to the mysteries of the Rosary and decorated with mosaics. The middle level has small altars and chapels for Masses, and the upper level is a proper church. It was build beside and above the grotto, while leaving the famous cave intact and open to the air. A statue there shows where Mary appeared to Bernadette, and an altar was set up for outdoor Masses.
Our visit was characterized most of all by water. First, of course, there was the water from the grotto, which I also bathed in, not for any physical healing but carrying some spiritual intentions for certain people. For those who are wondering, this is not the outdoor polar plunge; the water runs into a series of tubs where volunteers help the pilgrims take a dip very privately. Besides this water, there was a nearly constant rain, which rolled across the town and filled the river. Water in the Bible is almost always a creative force, and it seemed fitting for the week following Easter. It was, however, rather cold, and we gratefully took refuge in the coffee shops and restaurants. There are, of course, many ways to celebrate the end of Lent and the Resurrection of the Lord.