Day 23: 30-Day Ultimate Blog Challenge for April 2014
My Day 23: MY TRAVELS IN EUROPE SERIES #02 My Pilgrimage to Lourdes, France
My Pilgrimage to Lourdes, France (Abridged Version)
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.
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” (translated as Bless me) 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 first hand, 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.