My pilgrimage to Lourdes France, where Saint Bernadette had visions of the Mother
A few years ago, I was blessed with a pilgrimage to Lourdes and even as I was thinking to post it here, a friend called and wanted to know all about my experience! So here it is, my most beatific day at Lourdes, one of the most heavenly pilgrimage spots in the world!
Many years ago, I was visiting with some friends in Nice, an idyllic beach-town in Southern France and one evening after attending the Opera there, we sat down to drinks at a nearby restaurant. My friends started to talk about their pilgrimage to Lourdes and how blessed they had felt when they had first been there. My heart immediately began to long to go there and in a couple of days I found myself in a train to Lourdes!
Location and train-journey
Lourdes is located in the foothills of the Pyrenees mountains, close to the French border with Spain; and from Nice it took the train about 9 hours to arrive there. It was an overnight train-ride and I still remember, quite clearly, the face of the train conductor as he gently asked me in French, "Où vous-êtes?" ('where are you'). The coach had comfortable berths for sleeping and there was just one more lady sharing it with me who took it upon herself as her righteous duty to alarm me about the dangers of a young girl traveling alone in the night. I thanked her for her genuine concern and assured her that nothing bad could happen to me as she was there to protect me and moreover we had the blessings of Saint Bernadette upon us-I could already start feeling the Saint's presence more and more with every passing hour and my mind could not be dragged to any mundane concerns, even for life itself!
Note: You can book train tickets on http://en.voyages-sncf.com/en/ , SNCF is France's national state-owned railway company. On TGV (French high-speed train) from Paris, it takes approximately 6 hours to arrive at Lourdes.
A friend told me that there is also an airport between Tarbes and Lourdes but is not easily accessible except by cab or the bus. You may need to check the bus time-table before your flight. I would recommend the train.
Arrival at Lourdes
Heavy rains pronounced our arrival into the Gare de Lourdes (the Lourdes railway station) but nothing could deflate my uplifted spirits that day, not even bad weather--my heart was bursting with the excitement of treading the same ground as Bernadette once had and meditating in the cave where Our Lady had appeared to her. Even as a child, I had always felt a drawing to this 19th century Saint whose simple but profound life had made a deep impression on my young heart. Freshening myself up at a nearby inn (which are in plenty there!), I enjoyed a simple breakfast of coffee and croissant before starting my walk towards the cave. It was around 8:30 a.m. and I observed with delight pilgrims who had come from many different parts of the world, from as far as India and Japan and America!
Note: There are no lockers available at the Lourdes railway station for luggage storage but you can leave your luggage at Le Cafe de la Gare located in front of the train station and give them an appropriate amount for storage. (It's a free amount and they don't ask to pay anything specific). For any additional enquiries, you can chat online with customer assistants at lourdes-infotourisme.com.
Walking to the Lourdes Shrine
Immediately after breakfast, I started my walk towards the cave. With the luggage already given in for storage, I had with me just a little backpack that carried a sandwich, water, and a sweater. I also had with me a film camera--it was an ancient film camera that took terrible pictures and I still don't know what I was doing with it! I have posted some of the pictures here; although old, they are a sweet memory of the trip. The walk took me through the city-center, through quaint shops and country-homes, as I happily marched downhill arriving at the Shrine gates in not less than 15 minutes!
Note: From the Lourdes railway station, it is a pleasant 15 minute downhill walk through the city-center to arrive at the Shrine and if one is able-bodied, it is strongly recommended.
Spending my day at the Lourdes Shrine
My spirits reached a zenith as I entered the Shrine gates and standing there in tremendous awe of the place, I saw a couple of nuns walk towards me. They were noticeably impressed that I had come alone from so far away a land and offered to escort me to the viewing of the 30 minute video presentation on the life of Bernadette. Inasmuch as I would have liked to accept the offer so kindly made, my heart couldn't resist the callings of the Cave that had brought me thus far!
Despite the weather, the place was filled with pilgrims from the world over including many on wheelchair and some on crutches, evidently there to take a dip in the healing waters. Making my way through them, I slowly approached the cave where a mass was in progression and joined the group of people waiting to get in. Standing there with so many other devotees from different nationalities and religions, my heart was uplifted in a feeling of united Love that seemed to pervade the grounds and sanctify our souls. I felt so blessed to be there that day.
The Cave or the the Grotto of Massabielle
Inside the cave, my eyes beheld at last the statue of Our Blessed Lady just at the spot where she had first appeared to Bernadette. I stood there some time just looking at Her in complete absorption and then moving further away, began to meditate. I could feel the wet and cold of the cave and it was several moments before I opened my eyes again, only to find out that somebody had walked away with my umbrella!
The rain was only falling lightly now and despite the discomfort of being without an umbrella, I was wholly inspired to join the long queue of pilgrims to take a dip in the Healing Waters. People chanted and prayed as the line slowly moved on and the general aura of the place was peace and love. My turn came for the dip and I was shown into a small room for ladies only, where scores of women-pilgrims were being dipped in a tub filled with the holy water. By then my mind was firmly fixed on Saint Bernadette and I felt nothing about getting into the same water in which hundreds of pilgrims were being bathed. I was given a towel to change and before I knew, two strong and big women pulled me up in the air and holding me from the arms and legs, dipped me in the tub filled with the healing water. It was over in a second but a second whose blessings may perhaps last for eternity! I felt cleansed and purified as if my sins had washed away and I was a new person!
By this time, I was getting hungry and walked over to the bridge and standing there alone, looking at the river, ate my sandwich in peace filled with the wonderful, uplifting vibrations of the place and the bath.
Just outside the entrance, one can find many shops selling souvenirs of the place and especially plastic bottles in the shape of the Blessed Lady to collect the healing water. There are many taps provided for the same and one may fill as much water without charge. I bought many bottles and happily filled them with the Holy Water to bring to my friends who could not be there with me that day.
The Basilica of the Rosary
It was already late afternoon when I walked to the Basilica of the Rosary or Saint Bernadette's Church. Built in 1899 and consecrated in 1901, the church possesses an other-worldly beauty that transcends time and space. Feeling uplifted from the events of the day, I sat there on one of the benches and began to meditate. It seemed like a long time before I decided to leave the Chapel and turning my back, was completely stunned by the beauty and the radiance of the gold cross coming from outside the door. It seemed to reflect a thousand glorious rays of the sun and wondering if the sun had come out, ran outside to embrace it--however, there was no sun, the weather was the same; the golden light was actually the light of the gold of the dome! It was magically beautifully and seemed to adorn every aspiration of my heart.
Returning to the railway station
Before leaving, I kept my promise to the nuns and saw the movie on the life of Bernadette. It was over fast and I was overcome with a gratitude of having been one of the hundreds of pilgrims to visit the shrine that day. It felt as though many days had eclipsed since I arrived at Lourdes that morning and now with a grateful heart, I turned back to the road. The same winding streets, the same homes and shops and hotels but even after all the exhaustion of the day, I felt rejuvenated in spirit and more energetic than ever so that I almost ran all the way back!
When I arrived at the train station, they told me that the train to Paris had been cancelled and I had been automatically put on the next train which was to leave the next morning. The rail authorities apologised for the delay and promised to pay for the hotel lodgings for the night. I was only too pleased to be able to spend the night in such spiritual surroundings! The next day, the second class to Paris was sold out so I was put in a first class coach from where I could thoroughly delight myself in magnifique views of the French landscape for many hours from my seat--it was a perfectly sunny day and the perfect ending to a beautiful pilgrimage.
Recommended movies to see before making the pilgrimage: