Lourdes is a town and commune situated in the southwest of the
Hautes-Pyrénées department, lying in the first Pyrenean foothills, in southwestern France.
Lourdes was originally a big market town lying in the foothills of the Pyrenees.
At that time the most prominent feature was the fortified castle which rises up from the
centre of the town on a rocky escarpment.
Following the claims that there were apparitions of Our Lady of Lourdes to
Bernadette Soubirous in 1858, Lourdes has developed into a major place of Christian pilgrimage.
2008 is the 150th Jubilee of the apparitions, and larger crowds than usual are expected to visit.
Today Lourdes has a population of around 15,000 inhabitants but is able to take in some
5,000,000 pilgrims and tourists every season.
Lourdes has the second greatest number of hotels in France after Paris with
about 270 establishments.
It is the joint seat of the diocese of Tarbes-et-Lourdes.
read full wikipedia reference about Lourdes, France
LOURDES , about 30km southeast of Pau,
has just one function. Over seven million Catholic pilgrims arrive
here each year, and the town is totally given over to looking
after and exploiting them. Lourdes was hardly more than a village
before 1858, when Bernadette Soubirous, the 14-year-old daughter
of an ex-miller, had the first of eighteen visions of the Virgin
Mary in the so-called Grotte de Massabielle by the Gave de Pau.
Since then, Lourdes has grown a great deal, and it is now one
of the biggest attractions in this part of France, many of its visitors hoping for
a miraculous cure for conventionally intractable ailments.
The first large-scale pilgrimage
took place in 1873, organized by a reactionary Catholic movement
called the Assomptionistes , whose avowed purpose was to stem
the advancing tide of republicanism and rationalism. They took
over the management of Lourdes, shoving aside the local priest
who had wanted to organize the pilgrimages himself. Adroit propagandists
and agitators, they sought to promote their cause by publishing
a cheap mass-circulation paper called La Croix , aimed at the
poor and uneducated, and by organizing these massive pilgrimages.
Practically every shop
is given over to the sale of indescribable religious kitsch:
Bernadette in every shape and size, adorning barometers, thermometers,
plastic tree trunks, key rings, empty bottles that you can fill
with holy Lourdes water, bellows, candles, sweets and illuminated
plastic grottoes. There's even a waxworks museum, the Musée
at 87 rue de la Grotte (daily: April-Oct 9-11.30am & 1.30-6.30pm;
July & Aug also 8.30-10pm), with over a hundred lifesize
figures illustrating the lives of Bernadette and Christ. Clustered
around the miraculous grotto are the churches of the Cité
Réligieuse , an annexe to the town proper that sprang
up last century. The first to be built was the flamboyant Basilique
du Rosaire et de l'Immaculée Conception (1871-1883), swiftly
followed by the massive subterranean Basilique St-Pie-X , which
claims to be able to house 20,000 people at a time. The Grotte
de Massabielle itself, where Bernadette had her visions, is the
focus of the pilgrimages - a moisture-blackened overhang by the
riverside with a statue of the Virgin in waxwork white and baby
Lourdes' only secular attraction
is its castle , poised on a rocky bluff guarding the approaches
to the valleys and passes of the central Pyrenees. Briefly an
English stronghold in the late fourteenth century, it later became
a state prison. Inside, it houses the surprisingly excellent
Musée Pyrénéen (guided visits: April-Sept
daily 9-11.45am & 1.30-6.45pm; rest of year daily except
Tues 9am-noon & 2-6pm; last tour 1hr before closing; 30F/?4.60).
Its collections include Pyrenean fauna, all sorts of fascinating
pastoral and farming gear, and an interesting section on the
history of Pyrenean mountaineering. In the rock garden outside
are some beautiful models of various Pyrenean styles of house,
as well as of the churches of St-Bertrand-de-Comminges and Luz-St-Sauveur.
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