28i,29th March 2015
We had breakfast at the hotel and left Bordeaux in the morning. We started driving towards Lourdes. This was a long drive close to 525KM and we knew we would take a long time to reach Lourdes. On our way, we stopped near a public park and had our lunch. Mala, Sue and Helen made sandwiches using bread and cheese bought at the Sunday market. We also had prosciuitto and sasauges purchased at the market.
We have been to Lourdes before. It is a very special place for Catholics. You find people from all over the world visiting Lourdes specially during the summer time. Lourdes is a small market town lying in the foothills of the Pyrenees. It is most famous for the Marian apparitions of Our Lady of Lourdes said to have occurred in 1858 to Bernadette Soubirous. At that time, the most prominent feature of the town was the fortified castle that rises up from a rocky escarpment at its centre.
Catholics believe that the Virgin Mary has appeared to Marie-Bernadette Soubirous on a total of eighteen occasions at Lourdes. Lourdes has become a major place of Roman Catholic pilgrimage and of miraculous healings. The 150th Jubilee of the first apparition took place on 11 February 2008 with an outdoor Mass attended by approximately 45,000 pilgrims.
Today Lourdes has a population of around 15,000, but it is able to take in some 5,000,000 pilgrims and tourists every season. With more than 250 hotels, Lourdes has the second highest number of hotels per square kilometre in France after Paris. Since the apparitions, Lourdes has become one of the world's leading Catholic Marian shrines and the number of visitors grows each year. It has such an important place within the Roman Catholic church, that Pope John Paul II visited the shrine twice: on 15 August 1983, and 14–15 August 2004. In 2007, Pope Benedict XVI authorized special indulgences to mark the 150th anniversary of Our Lady of Lourdes.
We arrived in Lourdes in the afternoon and booked into Hotel Astrid.
We booked the hotel using Booking.com and somehow due to a mistake, we have made a double booking. We contacted Booking.com and managed to sort it out. Otherwise we would be charged twice for the rooms. The Astrid hotel is a fairly new hotel very close to the cathedral which was the only good point. The rooms and the facilities were very basic compared to other hotels. In Lourdes, the large number of pilgrims who arrive annually, has made the demand for hotel rooms very high. Hotels, restaurants and souvenir shops do a roaring business during the season.
We took a rest in the hotel and later in the evening visited the cathedral. There was some construction and renovation going on near the cathedral. The Grotto was not accessible due to renovation work. We had to cross the bridge, walk down to the end, then cross over again on a foot bridge and walk back to be able to light candles. We lit the candles and walked back along the same route. Sue and Helen joined us in our lighting candles.
One important mission was to collect a can of water from the spring. This water is supposed to have healing power. Once again due to construction work, this area has been barricaded. We had to wait in a queue and give our can to a warden who filled it up for us and brought it back to us.
We visited all the chapels in the cathedral and took photos. One place we have missed in our previous visit was the Basilica of St. Pius X, known as the Underground Basilica. This is the largest of the Domain's churches. It was completed in 1958 in anticipation of the enormous crowds expected in Lourdes for the centenary of the Apparitions. A modern, concrete building, it is almost entirely underground. When full, it can accommodate 25,000 worshippers, the largest Catholic church in the world. The underground church was designed by the architect Pierre Vago. The nave is oval, 191m long and 61m wide, and slopes gently upwards from the center, where the sanctuary is situated on a raised platform. The ceiling is low, at only 10m high, and is supported by 58 pre-stressed concrete pillars which meet 29 concrete beams which cross the ceiling, giving it the impression of an upturned ship. This design creates a very large open space, of 12,000 square metres, for maximum visibility from any part of the nave.
The walls are decorated with Stations of the Cross, a depiction of the Rosary, and a depiction of the Apparitions, making a total of 52 images, all in the local Gemmail style of overlapping stained glass.
We carried some letters and offerings given to us by our friends to be made at the Lourdes cathedral. This place was closed due to repair work and we were directed to a new office above the information centre where we made the offerings and collected acknowledgement cards to be given to the friends.
While we were in Lourdes, we were able to take part in the procession that takes place at about 9:00 PM, when pilgrims join the Torchlight Marian Procession from the Meadow to the Esplanade in front of the Santuaries of the Immaculate Conception and the Rosary.
Many pilgrims join the procession at the top of the avenue, and then turn and process back to the Esplanade, where they line up in front of the sanctuaries. Those in wheelchairs or otherwise unable to process assemble in front of the sanctuaries. Other pilgrims and tourists stand on the ramps leading up to the Basilica, filling the ramps with light. The picture above was taken from the top of the ramp, looking down on the Esplanade at the throngs with their candles.
A group of people carry a well-lit statue of the Virgin at the head of the procession. When they reach the Esplanade, they bring the statue to the top of the Rosary Basiica and display it in front of the golden crown. The rosary is recited in at least six or seven languages.
During our stay, we had lunch and dinner in nearby restaurants. Most of the restaurants and hotels open after April 1, when the actual season starts. There were a few open restaurants where we could have our lunch and dinner.
One popular tourist attraction in Lourdes is the Funicular Le Pic Du Jer. We took this Funicular and went to the top of the mountain to get a panoramic view of the entire Lourdes basin. We could see the range of snow capped Pyrenees mountains on one side and the Lourdes town down below.
The basic principle of funicular railways resides in the balance between two vehicles linked by a cable: when one cabin is at the lower station, the length of the cable is such that the second cabin is at the upper station. In order for the cabins to be able to cross each other, there is a two way loop at the mid-point. The initial movement is achieved through the driving force of electricity. There is a 185 horse-power Electric engine in the higher station to start the carriage movement. The cable driving the two cabins is 1155 metres long. Each cabin, weighing 5500 Kg when empty has a capacity of 80 people. One way trip can take from 6 to 11 minutes.
It was windy and cold on the top of the mountain. Helen and Sue went for a quick walk while I and Mala opted to stay behind and enjoy a hot coffee in the restaurant.
The next morning, we had breakfast in a restaurant near the hotel and started our drive towards the next destination San Sebastian.