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Lourdes pilgrimage facts

Lourdes, the pilgrimage city, is the second most visited city in France. Most visitors are pilgrims from all over the world. The story of Bernadette, the many pilgrimages and the beauty of nature in the Pyrenees will touch everyone. Visit France.

Lourdes pilgrimage facts

The small city of Lourdes in south-western France is known worldwide for the 18 apparitions of Our Lady of Lourdes to 14 year old Bernadette Soubirous in 1858.

Lourdes is a place of pilgrimage. 200 million people have visited the shrine since 1860. 6 million pilgrims visit Lourdes each year, three times a many as in Mecca.

The Catholic Church has officially recognised 67 miraculous healings, stringently examined for authenticity.

Gavarnie is 40 kilometers from Lourdes
Gavarnie is 40 kilometers from Lourdes

From Paris to Lourdes

Lourdes is 668 kilometers south from Paris. By car, it is a long way unless you stay a week in this lovely area. You could also be on your way to Spain. On the way from Paris to Lourdes, visit the Loire Valley Castles and the Bordeaux wine country and the lovely and lively 18th century Bordeaux city.

There are direct flights by Air France to Pau near by and direct TGV trains. Check train schedules and buy tickets.

View of Lourdes
View of Lourdes

What can you do in Lourdes?

Lourdes is a pilgrimage city. For the faithful, it is the encounter with our Lady of Lourdes and the pilgrims. Masses take place in various languages. Check Sanctuary web site for mass schedule.

1, avenue Monseigneur Théas
Lourdes 65100 France

For skeptics, Lourdes is a fascinating place to be respected. Skip Avenue Bernadette Soubirous, the commercial street leading to the sanctuary. Attend a mass in Pie X Basilica or at the Grotto. Stay in the gardens feeling the pilgrim faithful atmosphere. You will be deeply moved.

The Basilica in Lourdes
The Basilica in Lourdes

Lourdes apartment and hotel map

Best Lourdes accommodation

Villa l'Orante offers pet-friendly accommodation in Lourdes. Free private parking is available on site. Every room is fitted with a flat-screen TV. There is a kettle in the room. Rooms come with a private bathroom with a bath or shower, with bath robes and free toiletries provided. Villa l'Orante features free WiFi throughout the property. There is a shared lounge at the property. Notre Dame de Lourdes Sanctuary is 400 meters away and House of Sainte Bernadette 400 meters.

22, rue du Docteur Boissarie
Lourdes 65100 France
Villa d'Orante in Lourdes
Villa d'Orante in Lourdes

What can you do around Lourdes?

Lourdes is at the foot of the Pyrenees, the beautiful mountains at the border between France and Spain. Three sights close to Lourdes are worth the trip: the Gavarnie Cirque (Distance between Gavarnie and Lourdes is 40 kilometers), the Pyrenees National Park and Pic du Midi. Enjoy nature around Lourdes.

Lourdes city web site
Gavarnie web site
Pyrennees National Park web site
Pic du Midi web site

The Grotto in Lourdes
The Grotto in Lourdes

Bernadette in Lourdes

Bernadette was born in Lourdes in 1844 from poor parents. On February 11, 1858, she was sent to gather firewood, when a beautiful lady appeared to her in a grotto. Three days later, Bernadette and other girls returned to the grotto, and saw the lady again. On February 18th, Bernadette said the vision asked her to return each day for a fortnight. With each visit, Bernadette saw the Virgin Mary. On February 25th, the vision told her to drink of the water of the spring, to wash in it and to eat the herb that grew there as an act of penance. The next day, the grotto's muddy waters had been cleared and fresh clear water flowed. On March 2nd, Bernadette told her family the lady said "a chapel should be built and a procession formed.". On March 25th, Bernadette asked the woman her name, she finally said "I am the Immaculate Conception." Church authorities and the French government rigorously interviewed the girl, and by 1862 confirmed she spoke truth. 69 cures have been verified by the Lourdes Medical Bureau after rigorous medical examinations, no one was able to explain what caused the cures.

A picture of Bernadette
A picture of Bernadette

Lourdes pilgrimage history facts

The National Pilgrimage of Lourdes brings together a crowd of Catholic pilgrims each year on the occasion of the Feast of the Assumption. As early as October 1872, a large-scale demonstration already brought together thousands of faithful, coming from all corners of France, to worship in front of the Massabielle grotto.

Very early on, the small Pyrenean town of Lourdes attracted crowds. During the apparitions of the Virgin to young Bernadette in 1858, many people surrounded the young girl. After the official recognition of the apparitions by the Church in 1862, the faithful flocked to the Marian city.

The pilgrimages were launched. The arrival of the railway in 1866 only reinforced the phenomenon. In 1872, following the defeat to Prussia, a surge of spirituality unfolded: “Religious ideas are not going away in France” specified the journalist from Le Figaro. Indeed, a movement of collective atonement took shape with the construction of sanctuaries dedicated to devotion to the Virgin Mary: “The buildings rise from the ground as soon as the call to Christians is made in the name of the mother of Christ” affirmed the journalist.

It was in this atmosphere that the pilgrimages took off, affirming this desire to work for France. So in 1872, Assumptionists created Notre-Dame-du-Salut to organize these pilgrimages.

In the fall of 1872, trains brought more than 200,000 people to Lourdes: this event was called the “pilgrimage of the banners” bringing together eight bishops of France and representatives from all the provinces. Subsequently, the first -National Pilgrimage- took place in the city of Lourdes in July 1873. To disseminate information concerning pilgrimages, the liaison bulletin Le Pèlerin was created.

Article published in Le Figaro on October 9, 1872

From Paris to Lourdes

Thirty-five trains, with two thousand passengers each, arrive at Lourdes this evening and tomorrow morning. To these seventy thousand pilgrims, it is appropriate to add the poorest who will come on foot and the richest who will come by ordinary trains. So this is a huge trip, an imposing demonstration, an event. I propose to recount this event, exactly as a country guard puts himself in a position to draw up a report.

While stopping at Bayonne yesterday, I heard that the white flag was raised at Lourdes; that the cry of: “Long live the King” had been raised there by fifty thousand voices, and that troops were sent there from all parts of France. I arrive at Lourdes and find a very quiet little town, sitting in the middle of a delightful valley, and I hear no other sound than that of the Gave, rolling its white waters through the rocks. As demonstrators, I only see sick people, women, children kneeling at the foot of a statue of the Virgin. There is only one opposition here, but it is terrible: it is that of the rain which cuts off our roads and which takes away our view of these marvelous mountains.

The brilliance of the Lourdes demonstration will show that religious ideas are not leaving France. They survive our misfortunes. There is, and will only be, a religious solemnity here. Yesterday I saw the commander of the department's gendarmerie, who seemed to me to be very unconcerned about the turn events could take. It will be necessary to take good measures to avoid accidents, and that's all.

Frankly, I'm very happy with it. The brilliance of the Lourdes demonstration will show that religious ideas are not leaving France. They survive our misfortunes. The soldier who returned to the village said that on the battlefields there were men dressed in long black robes, who leaned over the wounded and the dying, and with a few words gave them hope and courage, that these men fell struck in the accomplishment of their peaceful and holy mission.

The soldier also remembered that at the time of disasters everyone was accused, - that everyone declared themselves sold or betrayed, - that the generals cursed the administration, and that the administration complained of the ministers, - that everyone placed the responsibility for our misfortunes on the neighbor, superior or inferior, - but that there had, nevertheless, been in the middle of this lost army, men whom no one could blame or curse, men who had done their duty to the end, without any failure, and that these men were the religious, priests or brothers, or rabbis or ministers. The servants of God, so divided by their beliefs, found themselves united in this courageous work: in this charitable and patriotic mission. The religious idea must have survived after the shipwreck?... And a few months later the hostage priests were massacred.... And now they are knocking out the simple pilgrims! … What revenge all this is preparing for us!

I am coming back to Notre-Dame-de-Lourdes. I will not tell you about the apparition, nor about Bernadette, nor about the spring which sprang up spontaneously. But there is something touching in this devotion to Mary that must be noted.

Each pilgrim has a candle in his hand. Many carry small tin boxes intended to hold water. On the threshold of the grotto stands a beautiful white marble statue representing the mother of Christ. In front stretches a wide esplanade bordered by the Gave. On the side is a marble pool receiving water from the spring located at the bottom of the grotto. An altar is placed near the gate which closes the sanctuary. Next to it a pulpit stands for the priest who gives the address or prayer. This is all very simple. The crowd crowds the esplanade. Each pilgrim has a candle in his hand. Many carry small tin boxes intended to hold water. There is nothing official about it, nothing settled.

From time to time - almost without interruption - some pilgrim says aloud the first verse of a psalm, a hymn, a litany. Immediately the crowd sings in chorus the sacred melody. Nothing hinders the zeal of the pious choristers. The rain is falling in torrents. They kneel on the sodden earth and continue the hymn. Then a single voice is heard again and the chorus begins again. Night is coming. Men and women come to replace the tired pilgrims and continue their songs, interrupted only by the recitation of the rosary, the blessing of a passing priest, or the speech of some orator.

There are so many people there who suffer and who hope that the indifferent will discover themselves. This devotion has lasted for years, and the slightest scandal has never occurred at the grotto of Lourdes. There is no skeptic, no atheist who, arriving at the banks of the Gave, is not struck with admiration for this collected and confident crowd. There are so many people there who suffer and who hope that the indifferent will discover themselves. From a purely human point of view, it would be a crime not to respect this sincere faith, these ardent wishes, this real fervor.

On the rock of the grotto, overlooking the Gave valley, stands a large and beautiful church, which is enriched every day by special donations. A few months ago, a committee of ladies wanted to provide the church of Lourdes with an organ. This committee now has nearly one hundred thousand francs. The same goes for everything here. Christian France has its eyes on this little corner of the Pyrenees. Whenever in our country it is a question of paying homage to the Virgin Mary, this is also the case. See Notre-Dame-de-France, Notre-Dame-de-la-Garde, Notre-Dame-de-Bon-Secours! Buildings rise from the ground as soon as the call to Christians is made in the name of the mother of Christ. There is a poetry in this devotion that seduces our imaginations. In times of crisis, churches were closed and bronze saints were melted down. The statuettes of the Virgin have been respected almost everywhere in their stone niches!

In the basilica of Lourdes, prayers and songs continue as at the threshold of the grotto. They are only interrupted by regular services. Underneath the large nave there is a vast crypt which is also filled with faithful... In front of the church, several buildings were erected for passing priests, of whom there are very many. A venerable clergyman to whom I asked for directions explained his presence to me very simply. He is the priest of a small village in Poitou. All year long, he saves the price of the trip penny by penny and comes to Lourdes to pray for his parishioners. He presents for blessing a host of small objects that the faithful have entrusted to him, and which he brings back to them blessed. This good priest is eighty-three years old!

As I came here to be indiscreet, I must tell you the important role played by one of our confreres in the extension of the devotion of Lourdes. Mr. Henri Lasserre - the journalist in question - had very sore eyes. He came to Lourdes and was healed: he attributed his healing to the Virgin Mary, and, in a very well written book, recounted the vision of Bernadette, the discovery of the source, and the difficulties that the administrator of the department opposed to the establishment of a church on the banks of the Gave.

A little-known bookseller until then, Mr. Victor Palmé, printed and above all launched this work. Several hundred thousand copies were sold. This made the fortune of the author and publisher and founded the pilgrimage. If tomorrow someone talked to Lourdes about erecting a statue to Mr. Lasserre, we would have a hundred thousand francs the day after tomorrow.

Think about it! Not only are the hotels never empty all year round, but there is no inhabitant of Lourdes, bourgeois or artisan, who has not become a lodger. There are more than fifty stores here where only religious items are sold. In the smallest shop of this type, we make, in any season, three or four thousand francs in revenue per month! The manufacture of large-grain rosaries is one of the most important industries in the Lavédan valley.

There are more than fifty stores here where only religious items are sold. Finally, the head of the Lourdes station told me earlier that the pilgrimage had brought in more than five thousand francs per day for the Compagnie des chemins de fer du Midi for four years! Tomorrow alone will see him collect a net income of four hundred thousand francs.

The whole country became an innkeeper. When there is no accommodation in Lourdes, we go to live in Argelès, Saint-Pé, Bétharam, Pierrefitte, and as far as Cauterets. A very frequent train service puts these charming localities in easy communication with the destination of the pilgrimage. This movement is such that each year, we make a new plan to build a monumental station in Lourdes, but each year we also recognize that the plan is insufficient and that we postpone it until the following year to make it bigger. This is why the railway only arrives at Lourdes in a horrible shed. To finish with these details, I will say that Mr. Henri Lasserre has just had a sort of very elegant thatched circus built, at his own expense, in the meadow, on the banks of the Gave. Under this shelter, marble tables and rustic benches are prepared for pilgrims. There are about twelve hundred places. This is where a snack can be served to the faithful. The idea is a happy one and its realization costs around ten thousand francs.

The religious ceremonies of Lourdes have a spontaneous character which makes them difficult to recount. Today, however, the event began, the program of which, arranged in advance, attracts a huge crowd of pilgrims here.

Around the grotto, hundreds of colored lanterns shed a soft light. This demonstration lasts four days. The weather, which was terrible, suddenly calmed down today, which gave some brilliance to the first ceremony. Four or five thousand pilgrims gathered at two o'clock in front of the grotto. We recited the first part of the rosary, then we sang the Regine sine labe conceptae three times. A priest, carrying a simple cross, ascended the mountain, followed by the crowd singing the litanies. We entered the church, where vespers took place.

Father Chocarne, of the Preaching Brothers, took to the pulpit and gave a patriotic and religious speech on this theme: Help yourself, heaven will help you. He pointed to work and prayer as the way to return to greatness and prosperity. We then performed the office of the Blessed Sacrament. In the evening, the church terrace was illuminated. Around the grotto, hundreds of colored lanterns shed a soft light. Around nine o'clock, a priest came to the pulpit and said the rosary. The rain did not stop the pilgrims.

Already, a large number of departments have organized pilgrimages. The current demonstration has no other character than the previous ones. It only borrows its splendor from the feast of the Holy Rosary with which it coincides. There will be more people, but not less contemplation. What is certain is that the stock market will not drop a cent because of this. And we know what deplorable results come from fewer, albeit noisier, meetings! Here the committees' slogan can be printed in gold letters, it will not offend anyone. Here it is as it was repeated in all the dioceses: “France is also sick. Let us ask the Virgin of Lourdes to intercede with God for her healing.”

So be it!...

By Alfred d'Aunay*

* Real name Alfred Descudier, journalist at Le Figaro then founder of La Gazette (1876).