Town in the département of Hautes-Pyrénées in the Midi-Pyrénées region of southwest France, on the Gave de Pau River; population (2005 est) 15,100. Its Christian shrine to St Bernadette has a reputation for miraculous cures from illness, and Lourdes is an important centre for Roman Catholic pilgrimage. In 1858, a young peasant girl, Bernadette Soubirous, claimed to have been shown the healing springs of the Grotte de Massabielle by the Virgin Mary, who visited her on 18 occasions between 11 February and 16 July.
Pilgrimage Until the second half of the 19th century Lourdes had been a small village dominated by a 13th–17th-century castle (now a museum), built on a rock overlooking the shrine. This changed in 1862 when the Roman Catholic Church authorities declared the facts about the visions to be authentic and Lourdes became an official place of pilgrimage. Since then Lourdes has become the greatest place of Christian pilgrimage in the modern world. Bernadette was canonized (made a saint) in 1933, and her feast day is 16 April. Summer is the peak season for pilgrimages to the site.
Around 5 million pilgrims and visitors travel to Lourdes each year, including many who are seriously ill or handicapped. They go there to wash in the waters of the spring, which first appeared during the period of the visions. Pilgrims from England regularly leave Britain for Lourdes in specially built ambulances known as ‘jumbalances’. At least one doctor and a number of nurses accompany them.
Cures Many people who go to Lourdes report that they feel much better after their visit or have found a greater inner strength to cope with their illness, even if they have not been completely cured. Numerous ‘miracle cures’ have been claimed, many of which have been confirmed by the church authorities. A medical bureau, the Bureau des Constatations Médicales, examines people who claim to have been cured. It consists of a permanent president and a panel of other doctors, of any nationality or religious persuasion, who happen to be in Lourdes and who have registered with the bureau.
The shrine The grotto where St Bernadette had her visions now holds a statue of Our Lady of Lourdes (whose feast day is 11 February). Pilgrims go to the open-air grotto in the evenings with lighted candles and sing hymns of praise including the Lourdes pilgrim hymn ‘Immaculate Virgin Mary’.
A basilica was built around the shrine of St Bernadette in 1876 in a neo-Gothic style. Below the shrine is the Church of the Rosary, a Byzantine-style building built in 1889, which opens out onto the vast Esplanade des Processions. An underground basilica was consecrated in March 1958, and dedicated to St Pius X; a huge boat-shaped building of bare concrete, it can accommodate over 20,000 people. Pilgrims also attend services in the four churches nearby.
Notre-Dame de Lourdes
Communion at Lourdes
Tour de France
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