Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Our Lady of Lourdes

Yesterday I awoke to rather dismal weather so I decided to hit the road and head to Lourdes. Only about an hour's drive from Salies, Lourdes is a small market town located at the base of the Pyrenees in south-west France. The town itself has become incredibly famous, especially among Catholic circles for the Marian apparitions that are reported to have occured in 1858 to a 14 year old local shepherd girl named Bernadette Soubirous. The story goes that one day a beautiful lady appeared to her in the remote Grotto of Massabielle. The lady identifid herself as “the Immaculate Conception” and everyone believed her to be the Virgin Mary.

It was these Marian apparitions which are responsible for the tens of millions of Marian pilgrimages per year. About 5 million pilgrims visit Lourdes every year and within France only Paris has more hotels than Lourdes. Thus each decade, 50 million Catholic pilgrims visit Lourdes, based on Marian apparitions to one person on a remote hilltop.

There are many things to do and shrines to see in Lourdes. For example, you can bath in the spring which wells out from the grotto (thought to have miraculous healing properties), you can observe sacred processions, or you can purchase tall blue and white votive candles which are meant to be burnt as a devotional gesture in large metal stands called brulieres.

Not considering myself a religious person, I did not take part in any of these events. Nevertheless, I did observe these activities and I even visited the sacred grotto where the Marian apparitions are said to have occured. My favourite part of the experience was a visit to the beautiful Rosary Basilica and its exquisitly crafted mosaics which recount the 15 mysteries of the life of Jesus and the Virgin Mary.

The town itself works itsway from top to bottom. Narrow streets lined with hotels, restaurants, cafes and of course the infamous religious-trinket-souvenir shops which sell just about every kind of Marian paraphrenalia imaginable. Everything from candles to mugs and necklaces to statues. Near the top of the town one could expect to see one of these shops about every block or so. However, as you make your way down to the bottom of the town the more and more souvenir shops you see. Until finally that's all you see, as every store, on both sides of the street, is a souvenir shop. You're all probably wondering if I bought anything while I was visiting. And to answer your question, yes I did. I bought the tiniest little charm that you can put on a necklace. The charm is that of a rose with a depiction of Mary on the back. I think it cost 1.50 euro or something.