Trip Start Aug 12, 2012
Trip End Sep 26, 2012

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Flag of France  , Midi-Pyrenees,
Monday, September 3, 2012

Lourdes is a city of two faces. The first face you see is the conglomerate of shops selling religious emblems, keepsakes, empty containers for holy water, jewellery, scarves anything that can be imprinted with an emblem, a message or religious image. The tawdry and seldom beautiful, tourist side of the town competes for attention with itself shop by shop. Hotels cram side by side in some parts of the town trying to squeeze each other out. Some have closed down, either for the end of the Summer season or for lack of patronage. They boast placards like “€32 per night” which reminds me just how much we are paying for the 4 star Mecure Lourdes. But alas the cheap hotels are closed or I didn’t bother looking them up. More fool me, but then comfort in one’s old age is important. The rest of the town, on the other hand, services the other needs, tours, fast food, bars and sandwich shops, laundries etc.

Contrast that then with the eager, innocent pilgrims cramming the town. Their playing fields are the sanctuary where the reason for the popularity of Lourdes sits. A simple grotto (a small cave) in the side of the river where almost 100 years ago a young woman told of a vision of the Virgin Mary. Built on this grotto is now a huge basilica with elevated pathways rising from ground level to the base of the spire like two welcoming arms. Alongside the grotto are the segregated baths, where pilgrims can bathe in the holy water from the grotto (all for free). The sick and disabled are catered for with stretchers, trolleys and wheelchairs to take them into the healing waters. They might also light a candle (many are free or require a small donation-others are expensive) as a continuation of the prayer they make. Still others participate in the candle-lit processions as they parade the statue of Mary around the square. Masses are said each and every day by priests and I saw at least one cardinal present at the procession. The same priest who said the mass for us at 9am was again there at 10pm to lead the processional prayers and rights. As well as these regular everyday items, pilgrims come here from all over the world, in groups, to meet together, meditate, attend seminars and pray for peace or personal needs. The mood is sombre yet joyful. They might be getting fleeced by the souvenir sellers and the service providers, but theirs is a clearer, innocent vision. Amidst all the clamour they stand happy in their faith. A team of volunteers, many in religious uniforms attend to the needs of the disabled, helping them into and out of the baths, walking them around the town and just providing someone to call on or to talk to. They were always of good cheer even when their charges might be difficult or tired.
By the way, most pilgrims accept that a miracle is just that, a miracle. But just maybe today might be the time for my miracle. My wife said, as she emerged from the baths, that she felt at peace. That was a miracle in itself.

So on day one we had enjoyed a mass in the basilica, collected some holy water to bring home, washed  in the baths and participated (watched) the candlelight procession. Tired, but happy we stumbled into bed.

The next morning was all about the flesh and not the spirit. We lay in bed and went to breakfast later in the morning and then went out to visit both the Castle Fort or Chateu and the Finucula. The fort has been on its present site since the Romans first occupied Gaul and the Finucula is the oldest? In France. We travelled around by La Petit Train. Enjoy the photos!
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