Why Should You Visit Lourdes on a Pilgrimage?
Located at the base of the Pyrenees, this French town attracts millions of visitors each year establishing itself as one of the most popular religious destinations in the world. There are many stunning spiritual places of pilgrimage around the world but Lourdes remains of the main ones. So why do so many people visit this French town in the south of France? And why should you visit?
With its famous cuisine, colourful history, breathtaking art, stunning countryside and bustling cities France overall has something for everyone. While Lourdes may not offer beaches like the Cote d’Azur or the bright lights and glamour of Paris it offers a different aspect to the lure of French culture.
Aside from its stunning location at the base of the Pyrenees which attracts many looking to explore the mountains and its beautiful surroundings, Lourdes has firmly established itself as one of the most visited religious destinations in the world.
This French town differs from other religious destinations in the sense that it’s not actually an ancient site. It is relatively new when it comes to looking at historic destinations that have decades of history and religious prominence.
The small, relatively unknown, town’s rise to fame and popularity began in 1858. Between 11th February and 16th July, the Virgin Mary appeared in a grotto called Massabiele a total of 18 times to a young girl from the village called Bernadette Soubirous.
Unwittingly, Lourdes became known all over the world, as word of these miraculous apparitions spread and people began to make their way there to witness for themselves this sacred place. Thus began the tradition of pilgrimages to Lourdes, which has seen the small French town in the foothills of the mountains become one of the busiest destinations in France. It has grown and developed to meet the needs of all of its yearly visitors and boasts over 200 hotels. Leaving it only second in number to the capital city, Paris.
With the main travel season beginning at Easter time and ending in October, just like most tourist destinations in Europe, Lourdes plays host to approximately 6 million pilgrims each year, with an estimated 200 million since 1860.
With the development of this town, there became a number of main attractions for the visitors. With the main focal points being the Grotto and the surrounding area, commonly known as the Domain. This area covers the Offices of the Lourdes Medical Bureau, the taps from which pilgrims get Holy water, the Basilicas and a number of churches.
The Holy Water is certainly one of the most famous aspects of Lourdes, with its discovery during one of Bernadette’s visions. On 25th March, which marked the 16th apparition as well as the first time the woman revealed herself as the Virgin Mary, Bernadette began to dig a hole in the earth until a small puddle formed. This puddle continued to grow and it is today the sacred spring and pool for which Lourdes is renowned.
People go to bathe in the water which is a symbol of baptism and faith. It is a cleansing process and many believe the waters have healing qualities. The construction of the famous Baths, allow people to wash and immerse themselves completely. Many claim to be cured after being immersed or being cleansed by this water.
In another of the apparitions Bernadette was instructed by the Virgin Mary to tell the local Priest to construct a chapel because people would soon come to visit it. The Crypt was the first church to be built and is still the smallest to this day. Bernadette’s father was one of the men who worked on its construction and it was officially opened in 1866 on Pentecost Sunday.
With the number of pilgrims growing this small church was soon unable to cater to the growing demand. The Basilica of Immaculate Conception, or the Upper Basilica, built on the top of the Grotto was the second church to be built is one of the main attractions.
The Rosary Basilica with a capacity of 1500 was the third church to be built. There is an ornate gilded crown and cross decorating the exterior which was actually a gift from Ireland in 1924. The wide open space in front of this Basilica is known as the Rosary Square.
Completed in 1958, the Basilica of St. Pius X which has become known as the Underground Basilica, was built to cater for larger crowds. It is a vast modern building that can hold up to 25,000 people!
For many people the processions are a huge attraction and a focal point of the day. These are held twice a day. These are known as the Blessed Sacrament Procession the Torchlight procession.
Answering why people come to Lourdes is not as simple as it would be with other places. Yes they come to see the valleys and the stunning mountains and towns full of charm but there is also a more spiritual and personal side to people’s journeys too.
With every pilgrimage, there is the visitors’ own personal and underlying motive, whether they make them known or keep them private. A pilgrimage is essentially a show of devotion and faith in God.
A visit to Lourdes gives you the chance to reflect, pray and feel close to God in such a sacred place where so much history has unravelled and decades of devotion has been shown before.