Pilgrimage to Lourdes: Who are the pilgrims? Which places to visit? When to go?

Pilgrimage to Lourdes: Who are the pilgrims? Which places to visit? When to go?

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Table of contents:

1- How long have pilgrimages to Lourdes existed?

2- The origin of pilgrimages to Lourdes: the apparitions of the Virgin Mary to Bernadette Soubirous.

3- The beginnings of organised pilgrimages to Lourdes

4- The first miracles of Lourdes

5- When did the pilgrimage to Lourdes take place?

6- Who are the pilgrims of Lourdes?

7- What are the emblematic places of the Lourdes pilgrimage?

8- The grotto of Massabielle

9- The crypt of the Basilica of the Immaculate Conception

10- The Basilica of the Rosary in Lourdes

11- The underground basilica of Saint Pius X

12- The Way of the Cross in Espélugues

The Grotto of Lourdes, site of the eighteen apparitions of the Virgin Mary to Bernadette Soubirous between 11th February and 16th July 1858, very quickly became a place of pilgrimage. Indeed, at each apparition, real crowds formed to accompany the young shepherdess.

Very quickly, the institutions themselves organised pilgrimages to support the faithful. Today, Lourdes is the third most important place of pilgrimage in the Catholic world and the first in France.

Very popular, Lourdes is always full during the pilgrimage season. Millions of visitors come here every year.

How long have pilgrimages to Lourdes existed?

The origin of pilgrimages to Lourdes: the apparitions of the Virgin Mary to Bernadette Soubirous

Since the first apparitions, believers have accompanied the young Bernadette to the grotto of Lourdes. The number of visitors rapidly increased to 15,000.

This crowd soon became a nuisance for the authorities who had to ensure public safety. As early as 1859, a police report used the word "pilgrimage".

The beginnings of organised pilgrimages to Lourdes

On 18th January 1862, a commission chaired by Bishop Laurence concluded that the apparitions had the characteristics of the Truth and that "the faithful are justified in believing it to be certain".

On 4th April 1864, the statue of the Immaculate Conception was placed before a large crowd.

Little by little, pilgrimages were organised by parishes and then by French regions. The first official pilgrimages were proposed by the local parishes of the Tarbes region in response to the demand of believers. Pilgrimages then quickly spread throughout France and then throughout the world.

The miracles of Lourdes

The first miracle at Lourdes happened very quickly while the apparitions were still in progress. On 1st March 1868, Catherine Latapie, whose hand had been paralysed for 18 months, felt drawn to the grotto. Once there, she plunged her paralysed hand into the basin filled with water still mixed with earth: the miraculous water source that had been dug by Bernadette on the Virgin Mary's instructions. Immediately Catherine's fingers regained their elasticity and mobility. This first miracle was recognised in 1862 by the ecclesiastical authorities. This healing was the first of 70 miracles recognised by the Church and thousands of unexplained healings.

When does the Lourdes pilgrimage take place?

People can go to the Grotto of Lourdes all year round to pray, alone or in groups. However, pilgrimages are organised from Easter to the end of October each year. The climax of the pilgrimages is around 15 August, the feast of the Assumption. Each year, thousands of pilgrims gather around the grotto and in the various facilities of the shrine. In 2019, the number of pilgrims expected in the city during Assumption week was 15,000, with a peak of 25,000 pilgrims on 15 August.

Who are the pilgrims in Lourdes?

Pilgrimages to Lourdes bring together Christians from France, Europe and the whole world.

Among Europeans, the most numerous are Italians. Among world citizens, the most numerous nationalities are: the United States, but also South Koreans, Brazilians, Indians and Australians. More than 140 countries from all over the world come to Lourdes to share and pray. In total, some six million pilgrims come to the Grotto each year.

In Lourdes, the Virgin Mary has invited us to come and ask for graces at this shrine. All Christians are therefore involved and come from all over to pray. The disabled and the sick are particularly welcome in the city. Everything is organised to receive them despite the mobility difficulties that some may have.

What are the emblematic places of the Lourdes pilgrimage?

The tradition of pilgrimage is deeply rooted in many religions. Making a pilgrimage to Lourdes is above all a personal journey of faith. However, the sanctuary of Lourdes has many particularities in terms of the places, rites and gestures that take place there.

The heart of Lourdes is, of course, the grotto of Massabielle, where the apparitions of the Virgin Mary to Bernadette Soubirous took place. However, in order to welcome pilgrims, it was necessary to build places large enough to gather them and celebrate mass. Let's take a look at the most emblematic places in Lourdes.

The grotto of Massabielle

The grotto of Massabielle is the place where the Virgin Mary appeared to Bernadette. At the time of the first apparition, Bernadette was simply gathering wood in front of this dark grotto, known in the village as "la tutte aux cochons". Bernadette heard a gust of wind and then saw a "Lady" in the rock of the cave. This was the first place to be built in Lourdes to receive the crowds of pilgrims who soon flocked there. The statue of the "Immaculate Conception" stands on the very spot on the rock where the Virgin Mary appeared.

The ritual gestures of the grotto :

  • caressing the rock
  • drinking water from the spring
  • lighting a candle
  • meditating

These gestures made by believers in front of the grotto bring them great inner peace. They are a response to the Virgin Mary's invitation to "go and drink at the fountain and wash".

A few metres from the grotto are the pools where one can fulfil Mary's second injunction to wash oneself. Pilgrims wishing to immerse themselves and purify themselves in this sacred water are welcomed by volunteers in the 10°C water.

The crypt of the Basilica of the Immaculate Conception

Directly on the rock of Massabielle is the crypt. It was inaugurated in 1866, and is the only one of the prayer rooms built in Lourdes that was visited by Bernadette. A long access corridor lined with votive offerings leads to a place of silence and prayer.

The Rosary Basilica in Lourdes

Built between 1883 and 1889, it was consecrated in 1901. This basilica is the second most famous image in Lourdes after the grotto of Massabielle. The two large ramps framing the sanctuary esplanade provide access to the basilica.

The interior of the monument, in Romanesque-Byzantine style, is particularly remarkable for its Venetian mosaics depicting various scenes from the Bible and apparitions.

The underground basilica of St Pius X

This basilica was inaugurated on the occasion of the centenary of the apparitions in 1958 and is located under the sanctuary esplanade. It is a pre-stressed concrete structure located below the level of the Gave de Pau. This basilica is exceptional because of its ellipsoidal shape and its capacity: it can receive up to 25,000 people. Its particular shape places the altar in the centre, which allows all the faithful to see the altar.

The Way of the Cross at Espélugues

In Lourdes, the Way of the Cross runs for 1,500 metres on the Espélugues hill. It includes the fourteen traditional stations plus a fifteenth station added in 1958 representing the resurrection of Christ. These are made up of 115 slightly larger than life figures, about two metres high. The statues are made of cast iron.

The spiritual experience of a pilgrimage to Lourdes is powerful. The various sites and rituals performed in Lourdes are uplifting and calming. This explains why so many people from all over the world come to the sanctuary every year.

Prayer for Pilgrims

Lord, we come to you as pilgrims on our way to our destination.

We thank you for the blessing of being able to undertake this journey and to seek you in a deeper way.

We entrust our minds and hearts to you, and we ask you to guide and protect us on our journey.

We ask you to give us the strength and perseverance to keep going, even when difficulties arise.

We ask you to bless the encounters we make along the way and to help us answer your calls on our lives.

We ask you to bless our families and friends back home, and to protect them too.

We thank you for all the blessings you have given us so far and we entrust our journey to you.


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