Lourdes: a past rich in devotions and pilgrimages (profile)
Lourdes is located near Tarbes in France's Upper Pyrenees Mountains. Our Lady appeared on February 11, 1858, to Bernadette Soubirous, a 14-year-old girl of humble means, inside a grotto in Massabielle Rock. The Rock itself is not far from the River Gave which flows through the village of Lourdes.
In the following months, Our Lady re-appeared another 18 times, the last one on July 16, 1858.
In her apparitions, the Virgin Mary asked Bernadette to come to her for "15 days to pray and do penance for the conversion of sinners". She also asked the girl that a church be built and that pilgrims come.
In her 9th apparition the Virgin told Bernadette to dig the ground for spring water: "Drink it and wash yourself with it."
In her 16th apparition on March 25, 1858, Our Lady spoke to Bernadette in Occitan: "Que soy l'Immaculada Councepciou" ("I am the Immaculate Conception).
These words convinced Lourdes parish priest, Father Domenique Peyramale, of the authenticity of Bernadette's tales. They also convinced Msgr. Laurence, the Bishop of Tarbes, who on January 18, 1862, declared Our Lady's apparitions to Bernadette authentic. "We believe," the bishop wrote, "that Mary Immaculate, Mother of God, did indeed appear to Bernadette Soubirous on February 11, 1858 and in the following days for a total number of 18 times inside the Massabielle grotto."
The Upper Basilica was inaugurated in 1871 and consecrated on July 2, 1876. It is built on the rock in which the Massabielle grotto is found, directly over the place where the apparitions occurred.
Pilgrims come to Lourdes in the millions every year to plea with Our Lady. They were 6 millions in 2003 from over 100 countries.
The shrine has 6 official languages: French, English, Italian, Spanish, German, and Dutch.
Each day, 54 massed are celebrated in 22 churches and chapels.
Every year around 400,000 people immerse themselves in the waters as an act of faith with the help of about 100,000 volunteers.