Our Lady at Lourdes
I arrived in Lourdes at 4:00pm, a bit tired after 7.5 hours of train travel across southern France. It was a muggy hot 91 degree day (33C). I located my hostel where I will share a small room with two other women. The room is pleasant and clean and I left my main things there to go visit the Cathedral and grotto.
Lourdes is not a large place and everything is walkable. From a bustling approach street stuffed with religious souvenir shops, one arrives suddenly at a large promenade to the cathedral that is startlingly impressive. The huge cathedral seems to just appear before you, with many large striking statues. The approach promenade is fairly long and stately.
Before you enter the main cathedral you encounter many more huge dramatic mosaic images on the outside walls. They kind of take your breath away. When entering the cathedral this theme of grandiosity continues. It’s impressive. Picture below is mass in this outside chapel, taken the following morning.
The Cathedral has flying buttress wings to the sides that are stairways up and I was drawn to explore. I had looked online (unsuccessfully) to be familiar with the overall layout. In fact, one can wander for a while through this large complex wondering where to go. There are specific (and confusing) schedules of the impressive number of masses and other services happening in the many various languages. I wanted to use my precious time “efficiently,” but I decided this confusion I experienced was the “Divine Plan” that I should just trust, wander and explore to find the inspirations waiting for me.
Following the flying buttress stairs I found several more chapels. So many chapels all around! These are smaller ones, and later I realize they sit directly over the grotto, which I hadn’t yet found. This sweet little chapel was celebrating mass in Spanish. The magnificent organ was playing. I took a seat.
I haven’t attended many masses since I was a Catholic-raised child but it all came back fairly quickly. Indeed, I found myself rising for the sacrament of the Eucharist – a symbol for me of God’s love expressed through the enlightened spiritual Master, Christ. I was moved by the experience in this special location. The organ played Ave Maria and the congregants sang; it was magnificent.
I followed my intuition to the next smaller chapel, enjoying it’s littleness. Wandering outside the giant cathedral complex once again, I looked for the information office that was nearby. In fact, I had already walked right past it when mesmerized by the magnificent cathedral entry. I thus now learned the location of the grotto!
The grotto isn’t hard to find once you get your bearings; it is literally under the cathedral in the cliff face on the river side. Once arriving, there is an overwhelming sense of wonder. How does one take this in? Our Lady, Mary, Divine Mother, the Goddess, appeared here and spoke to mankind? How does one process that?
A short queue leads me to the grotto wall where one can touch the rocks that are smoothed to a fine polish by millions of devotional hands. The water spring, also here, appeared miraculously when Bernadette had asked for a sign to prove Our Lady was real. She was instructed to dig in the otherwise dry rocks. The spring that erupted there is protected behind a well-designed plexiglass window and continues with an impressively strong flow, more than 100 years later.
One follows the queue, touching the polished rocks around the small grotto, moving along to the place directly below where Our Lady appeared in the little grotto cave above. What is it with the compulsion to touch? Somehow there is a tactile feedback to our human brain that makes it more real, and one feels blessed in the doing.
People placed hankies and small pieces of cloth on the dampness of the rocks to bless them, kissed the rock below the site of the apparitions, and stay for prayers – sitting on the simple unadorned pine seating.
Priests arrived soon after and service began in Italian. I finally recognized the repetitions of the Hail Mary prayer (Our Lady had asked Bernadette to say these). The priest recited the first half of the prayer, the congregants completed the ending….you know, we say the part about “us sinners”. I don’t regard myself as a sinner but rather a saint in the making, but I could get into the prayers in a devotional way by simply saying “pray for us” and omitting the singers part.
The grotto was standing room only. I stood for 30 minutes, shifting back and forth on my painful on-fire feet (unfortunately due to my neuropathy condition). I prayed for the healing of my feet, and healings for family and friends in need. I prayed most for inner peace that surpasses all body concerns.
I left the grotto and enjoyed more of the large grounds, crossing the river, watching the many flavors of people. There are lots of pilgrims here but it doesn’t feel like it, being well set up and organized.
Finally I walked and found some dinner at a relaxing street cafe to rest and eat. Next up: the evening candlelight procession at 9:00pm! Read my next post for that.