February 11, 1858 was the day in which everything changed. On this day Mother Mary appeared to Bernadette Soubirous for the first time. Until then, Lourdes was a small hamlet, but that changed rapidly. Lourdes soon developed into a popular place of pilgrimage. Each year five million people pay their respect here; everybody with his or her own dreams and wishes…
According to tradition, Mary appeared to Bernadette no less than 18 times. This happened in the Grotto of Massabielle, which from that moment became a place of devotion. After the apparitions, a well sprang up here. It is said that Lourdes water has healing properties. Believers use it as drinking water, but also to wash themselves with it or to completely immerse in it.
Around the Grotto of Massabielle, the Sanctuary of Our Lady of Lourdes was built. There are three basilicas, various chapels, statues of saints, a large and small Way of the Cross and accommodation for sick pilgrims.
In Lourdes, the family home and birthplace of Bernadette are well visited. For a complete overview, a trip to Le Pic du Jer can be helpful. This mountain is 950 meters high and can be recognised by a large cross. You can quickly get to the top by cable car and that is worthwhile: the 360 degree view is phenomenal.
Wherever there is a public, there is commerce. This is no different in Lourdes: the shops sell plenty of statues of saints, rosaries, prayer cards, candles, pilgrim insignia and other devotional items. These find a ready market, because Lourdes pilgrims feel connected to this special place. Also non-believers experience this: there is a peaceful, almost sacred atmosphere. An oasis of peace in a hectic world.
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