Day 22: 30-Day Ultimate Blog Challenge for April 2014
MY TRAVELS IN EUROPE SERIES #01 TRAVEL TO LOURDES, FRANCE
My Travel to Lourdes, France
A personal thoughts, travel blog about my own Pilgrimage to Lourdes, France. It’s about my visit to the Shrine of Our Lady of Lourdes, attending most of the activities at the sanctuary, the masses, the vigils, the blessings and the candlelight processions, singing Ave Maria and talking about my experiences from the memorable pilgrimage to Lourdes including my trip to Toulouse and then flying back to Paris to start my travels to Europe on my vacation holiday.
The Basilica of the Immaculate Conception in Lourdes
Toulouse is the city located in the southwest of France, just a few hours of the Atlantic Ocean, the Mediterranean Sea, and the Spanish border. Before the flight could take off, an elderly lady was brought in by wheelchair to the plane’s entrance but was not allowed to get inside the plane because the aisle seats were all filled up. I was on the front aisle seat and was requested by the pilot and flight stewardess if I could give up my aisle seat for the lady on a wheelchair and I was moved to the back of the plane beside the seat near the stewardess. I gave up my aisle seat so that the elderly lady can board the plane and we can be on our way and the plane was able to take off. Little did I know that after that kind gesture I have made that I would get all the attention from the flight stewardess and was offered complimentary drinks while everyone else had to pay for drinks and beverages. The entire flight was smooth all the way to Toulouse from Orly Regional Airport where I had to transfer by shuttle bus from the Charles de Gaulle International Airport when I arrived in Paris after taking the direct flight from Toronto via Air France. Here in the airport closest to Lourdes at Toulouse our flight from Paris arrived safely. After we were allowed to disembark the airplane, we boarded a bus that was destined for Lourdes and most of us were pilgrims going to the Shrine. After an hour ride by bus and passing by old towns and villages, we arrived at Lourdes, a small town filled with tourists and pilgrims.
At the bus station I took a taxi to the small quaint hotel that I had booked a two-day reservation. After checking in and being ushered to my hotel room, I went out for a walk to the Sanctuary hoping to catch some of the activities at the shrine before nightfall. I was able to see the Grotto, but the mass was already over so I just prayed the Rosary and then left the Shrine on foot again. I bought some souvenirs on the way back to my hotel where all souvenir stores were lined up along the main road in town. Also bought some plastic hollow statues to fill up with holy water from the shrine and take it home after the blessing of the Lourdes water from the eternal spring at the grotto.
When I arrived at the hotel it was time to have dinner so the waiter found me a nice table by the window, where I could see what was going on out there but I was busy trying to check out the menu to even bother looking out. The waiter recognized me as a guest at the hotel so he offered to call the chef and make me a special dinner, which I gladly welcomed. When the chef of the hotel restaurant offered to cook me a special meal, I told him to be my guest in broken French phrases. I asked if I can have an order, a glass of white wine but when the waiter came back to bring me some wine, he brought a whole bottle and opened it for me. After smelling the cork, he poured the wine to my glass, then my dinner was brought by the chef himself to my table. It was a gourmet dish with a French flavour as expected, tasted really great. Then dinner was over, I only finished two glasses of wine and the waiter took the bottle away, brought me some pastries and coffee for dessert. After dinner I went up to my room and retired for the night. I placed an early morning wake-up call so that I can start early going to the Shrine. I woke up early and got ready for my very own pilgrimage to the Shrine of Our Lady of Lourdes. I have my cameras ready and also my movie camcorder. After breakfast at the hotel cafe, I was ready to start my pilgrimage. I would start taking pictures at the shrine when I get there, since it was a great sunny day in autumn, there was a cool breeze yet warm sunshine and blue skies abound.
My Pilgrimage to Lourdes, France
The Gates of the Sanctuary
This is the sanctuary of the Shrine of Our Lady of Lourdes. When you enter the Gates of the Sanctuary you will see first of all the Basilica of the Immaculate Conception on the hill with two winding walkways that leads to the center and winds up at the main entrance of the basilica.
The Basilica of the Immaculate Conception
In the Basilica of the Immaculate Conception high masses are celebrated especially on the 11th of February, the Feast of Our Lady of Lourdes, a full program of activities takes place here. The interior of the Rosary Basilica is impressive with a mosaic of the Immaculate Conception and mosaics depicting the fifteen Mysteries of the Rosary. I want to experience what most pilgrims have at the sanctuary on their pilgrimage of a lifetime. From the moment I stepped into the sanctuary after entering the iron gates of the shrine, I really felt something so holy and should I even say heavenly, if such feelings ever existed and that I have never felt this way before. Everything that was unfolding before my very eyes seemed like an illusion of ever being present there not only feeling blessed but loved by the Blessed Virgin Mary. I had this child-like feeling of coming home to a sacred and holy land. I cannot really explain why I felt that way but I was glad to be there walking side by side with all those pilgrims; young or old and healthy or sickly pilgrims. Then after visiting the main basilica, I went down to the crypts below where the chapels were located and masses were held all day by the hour so I attended a mass that was celebrated at one of the chapels. After communion when the mass have ended I went outside to take more pictures.
Then I walked around the sanctuary and went to the shrine’s grotto. The very heart of the sanctuary is the Grotto of the Massabielle which means “old Rock”. Pilgrims from all over the world come to Lourdes to pray at the spot where Mary appeared to Bernadette Soubirious. Virgin Mary instructed Bernadette to “Go and drink from the spring”, “Go and tell the priests to build a chapel”, and to “Have the people come here in procession”. These requests from the Blessed Virgin Mary was one of the most important roles that played in having this important domain constructed.
The Grotto of Our Lady of Lourdes
This is the Grotto of Our Lady of Lourdes, here on the same spot that the Blessed Virgin Mary showed in an apparition most of the miracles happened, when the sick are cured, the blinds can see and the cripple can walk they leave their used canes behind as proof that a miracle did occur. This is the place where miracles do really happen and if you are lucky enough you may be able to witness this event in person, in real time then bless you as somebody who have witnessed an event of a lifetime.
Then when I got to the spot where the eternal spring was located, you can see it on the floor of the chapel enclave where it is covered by glass. The eternal spring is connected to the wall faucets on the side of the shrine’s wall. Here people would fill up their bottles with water from the eternal spring and some stores sell hollow plastic statues that you can fill with holy water that is then blessed during the ceremonies. Following Bernadette’s footprints “go drink at the spring” a water walk is provided opposite the Grotto, on the other side of the River Gave.There is a series of stations and a small Lourdes water well. The pilgrims are encouraged to come to the well and put their hands in the trickling well and wash their faces. After 10 minutes the pilgrims gather in a semi circle around the well of Siloam for a Hail Mary prayed for the Virgin Mary. As well as the Grotto there are specially made baths for pilgrims to immerse themselves in. There are 17 separate baths, 6 for men and 11 for women. The water runs straight from the spring into the baths and is not heated, each immersion lasts for a minute or two, allowing a short time for prayers to be recited.
At the Shrine, showing the evening procession of candle lights held after sunset, attended mostly by all the pilgrims who are still at the shrine after a whole day in attendance; then praying the Litany of the Rosary after the Rosary was prayed at the start of the activity. The evening winds are cooler at this time, but walking for miles at the Sanctuary will not only warm up your entire body but your spiritual soul as well. It makes you feel better knowing that you have prayed not only for yourself but also for all your loved ones who couldn’t be there to join you in this pilgrimage to the most holy shrine on earth. Our Lady of Lourdes, Bless us all! Amen.
After spending the whole day at the shrine, I was exhausted so I went outside the sanctuary and waited for a taxi to take me back to the hotel. I waited for quite a while but there was no more taxi around the vicinity. I was standing beside a nice couple with their teenage son who had also visited the shrine, but they seem to be townsfolk out for a visit in their own shrine. The young man ask me politely in French-accented English if I was waiting for a cab and when I replied affirmatively, he told me that there are no more taxis at this time of night in their town. He saw how desperate I looked and he talked to his parents in French and for all I could decipher was that he wanted to offer and escort me back to my hotel. After talking to his parents and they gave him their nodding approval, he did offer to walk me back to my quaint hotel, the Grand Hotel Moderne in Lourdes, France.
I had no choice since I don’t know their town and I could get lost in the dark alleys, so I accepted his offer and he told his parents to wait for him until he gets back then they can all go home together. I was delighted by the offer and thanked his parents so we were on our way back to my hotel. When we arrived at the hotel, he opened the door for me and then before he left he politely took my right hand and gave my hand a gentle kiss and then let go of my hand so gently after he gave me a sweet smile and said good night and also said “Au revoir” which means “Goodbye”. I was so impressed by his French manners and the way he showed his traditional custom of hand kissing which I later compared to our respectful “mano po” by placing our elders hand on our foreheads in our own traditions. After I replied “Merci beaucoup” translated as “Thank you very much” few of the French phrases I knew he waved goodbye to me and left to meet with his parents waiting for him patiently at the gates of the shrine. That alone was an unforgettable evening and that unusual encounter with a young Frenchman, and sadly enough I did not even get a chance to know his name then I could have sent him a thank you note later on. With all that said and done I went to get my hotel keys and merrily went up to my room so I can rest and get some sleep before leaving Lourdes the next day. After I checked out the hotel the next day, I took a taxi to the bus station and rode that same bus to Toulouse to fly back to Paris.
When I watched the first video on the next part of my travel blog, all those feelings I had on my first visit came rushing back into my veins again, I felt like I was being transported to the sanctuary and having vigils and attending the candlelight procession with all those pilgrims once more. That memorable experience of being present at the Shrine of Our Lady of Lourdes will always be with me no matter how long ago it had happened and no matter where I am now, when I see those remarkable images, I can still feel that same emotions that I have felt when I first visited that same shrine decades ago. It’s like being back there through the ravages of time and watching myself go back in time standing at the same grotto that I have stood before. Those lasting memories will forever be etched in my mind. The presence of Our Lady of Lourdes will always be with me till the end of time and I consider myself blessed for having the chance to step into the sanctuary of that miraculous shrine.
Will I ever be able to go back there again? I have asked myself that a dozen times, I would really like to go back there sometime in the near future but the next time I try to plan and go back there I will bring with me anyone of my family and friends who wants to experience the miracles at the Shrine of Our Lady of Lourdes. I may not have been lucky enough to witness the blinds that were able to see, the cripples that walked and the sick that were cured of their illnesses but I will always consider myself lucky just by being there in the presence of Our Lady at the Grotto in Lourdes was a miracle in itself enough to last me a lifetime of memories at the shrine. Blessed is the Mother of the Son of God for she will be revered by everyone who had been there and had prayed at her grotto.
Thanks to Our Lady of Lourdes for giving me the great privilege of being able to visit her beloved grotto in the enclave where she first had an apparition and St. Bernadette was the chosen one to witness it. The remains of St. Bernadette lies in the chapel at the Church of St. Gildard in Nevers where she rests in peace inside a glass coffin. If time would have allowed me then I would have been there too, but I didn’t have a chance to visit Nevers in France. With all these happenings indelibly impressed in my memory, all the scenes of unforgettable events that I have experienced and witnessed firsthand, then I bid “Adieu” farewell to Lourdes, France and I will trace back my steps to return to Toulouse Airport and fly back to the City of Paris to start my European vacation holiday.
Photos Courtesy of Travel Bloggers Website