Lourdes is a town in the southwest of France, at the Pyrenean foothills, that is often visited by people seeking to be healed. That’s because folklore establishes the site as a sacred one and its waters as being responsible for numerous medical miracles.
A pilgrimage is different from other types of travel in that it is considered to be a religious journey. People who go on a pilgrimage to Lourdes are not only in search of miracles, but of connections with the sacred. Most people who go on pilgrimages do so with groups of like-minded people.
The story of Lourdes begins with a peasant French girl who in 1858 is said to have seen a ghostly woman wearing white near a shallow cave. This apparition revealed herself as the Virgin Mary. She appeared to the girl various times. Since then, people have flocked to the town to experience its sacredness and to take the waters of Lourdes, which are fabled to have healed many. Ironically, the same girl responsible for the site’s fame died at the age of 35 from a long and painful illness, according to Catholic Pilgrims.com.
People with all kinds of ailments still flock to Bernadette’s grotto, named after the French peasant girl, to experience the water’s healing properties. The town has had to build several hospitals to care for the many ill people who visit regularly in hopes of being miraculously healed. Despite the site’s religious connotations, it’s packed with gift shops that sell knick-knacks such as pictures of Christ on the cross with gaudy blinking eyes.
Truth vs. Myth
Even in the age of modern medicine, each year Lourdes attracts between 5 and 6 million people who go there seeking miracles or who simply want to satisfy their curiosity about the site. While many more people claim to have been healed by the waters of Lourdes, the Catholic Church only recognises 65 miracles at the site.
What to Expect
The gift shops disappear once tourists near the famed grotto. The religious often choose to attend mass. There are three chapels and a huge, underground basilica. A procession after mass leads attendees from the basilica to the grotto. The spring water is now available on tap, so visitors can drink it and even bottle it to take home with them. People can also bathe in the waters of the grotto. Volunteers at the site help the infirm in and out of the water.