|What to See & Do in Lourdes, France|
|This religious pilgrimage site attracts millions of visitors from around the world.|
The name Lourdes has long been synonymous with religious pilgrimages and healing. So what's the story?
In 1858 a poor young girl named Bernadette Soubirous was out gathering firewood when she saw a vision of the Virgin Mary in a cave (Grotte) called Massabielle. Over the next few weeks there were seventeen more apparitions, causing great consternation in the town. After revealing herself as the Immaculate Conception, the Lady requested that a Chapel be built at the Grotto for the faithful to visit.
The Lady also told Bernadette to drink at the spring and wash in the water. Although no spring was visible, Bernadette dug in the soil and revealed it, and the spring continues today to provide water for the baths and fountains—thousands of gallons per day.
As for the chapel, it's now a huge two-level Basilica that rises above the grotto. But since even a 2000 seat Basilica wasn't large enough, in the 1950s the Basilique Souterraine de St-Pie X, or Underground Basilica of St Pius X, was built to accommodate 25,000 pilgrims.
So what's to see and do today? Lourdes is an interesting place to visit—indeed, it attracts nearly 6 million visitors each year.
But if you are not a religious pilgrim or looking for a cure, you might find Lourdes a bit overwhelming. Within the basilicas and in the grotto there is a definite sense of religion and piety. But the main streets are lined with sometimes gaudy souvenir shops. They provide a sharp contrast, particularly at night when they are illuminated by bright neon lights and flashy signs.
The Massabielle Grotto, where it all began, can be visited (though there may be a line). More...
The Basilica of the Rosary and Basilica of the Immaculate Conception, large churches built on two levels over the Grotto, is the first thing you'll notice as you approach the site. More...
The Basilica of St Pius X, the large underground Basilica, is across the lawn from the sanctuaries. Unless there is a service, there is not much to see other than the amazing size. More...
Processions take place several times a day, with the most attended being the night time torchlight procession from the Meadow to the Esplanade. More...
The Meadow refers to the grassy area across the Gave de Pau River. On that side are additional chapels, a welcome center for pilgrims, the "low" stations of the cross ("high" stations are on the other side, above the Basilicas).
For those who wish, there are daily masses and other services. An Information Center, located in front of the Basilica (near the Basilica of St-Pie X) can provide schedules of masses and other events. The official Tourist Information Office for Lourdes is a bit farther away in the town, near the Parish church.
As might be expected, Lourdes also supports a large number of shops, selling everything from candles and rosaries to plastic water bottles for collecting water from the famous spring. More...
There are also a number of museums and historic buildings, most focused on Bernadette. More...
Visitors to the sanctuaries are greeted by helpful volunteers, called Hospitaliers, who can provide information. Many of these volunteers also support and escort those who have come to Lourdes seeking healing. Don't be surprised to see a lot of people in wheel chairs.
Lourdes as a town existed long before Bernadette, as evidenced by the château-fort that sits high above the town. More...
And by the way, Lourdes is located in a beautiful setting in the foothills of the Pyrénées, surrounded by gorgeous hills and valleys. Not far away is the Funicular du Pic du Jer, which will take you quickly to the top to enjoy views of Lourdes and the surrounding area.
Lourdes is an easy trip from Pau, about 45 kilometers (29 miles), less than an hour's drive. It's 174 kilometers (108 miles) from Toulouse, and just slightly less (159 kilometers/99 miles) from Biarritz.