Where do I start? Being so close I decided to make a visit to Lourdes, a small town in the foothills of the Pyrénées. It is perhaps best known as a major Catholic pilgrimage site with millions visiting every year to the Sanctuaires Notre-Dame de Lourdes, or the Domain of Our Lady of Lourdes. This is where in 1858 the Virgin Mary is said to have appeared to Bernadette (later Saint Bernadette), a 14 year old peasant girl. She was commanded by Our Lady to wash and drink the water from a spring. The waters were subsequently declared ‘miraculous’… I will leave you to look up the story if you don’t know it!
This is the Grotto of the Apparitions and the site of the events that took place. The spring is protected by a glass panel and you can’t actually touch the water here, but lines of the faithful, hopeful, or just interested or doubtful file past the spot. Water dripping from the rocks seems to serve as an adequate substitute for the spring water with pilgrims running their hands over the wet rocks and then wiping their heads and faces in the hope of divine intervention. Nearby there are numerous taps where you can fill bottles, wet your face and hands and drink the water.
The crowds gather (between the orange trees) to await their chance to be ‘submerged’ in the miraculous waters. The baths seem to be an integral part of the experience. There is the constant murmering of prayers and the never-ending fumbling of the rosary beads.
The view towards the 1000 year old Chateau.
I have to say that I am not a believer and remain very cynical. But I also appreciate and acknowledge that faith is a huge factor and for millions of people around the world, this gives them great hope and comfort. But the thing that really jarred with me is the commercial aspect. To me it seems that the sick and the vulnerable, the weak and the hopeful are being taken for a major ride. Surrounding the sanctuary are rows and rows of shops with fantastic names; ‘Palace of the Rosary’, ‘Mini-Market Alleluia’, ‘Our Lady of Victories’, and so it goes on, selling everything from china virgins made in China, plastic virgins, luminous statues, resin saints and every form of religious exploitation you can think of. Plastic containers of various sizes can be snapped up for several Euros so that you can have a religious ‘Take-Away’ of the holy water. And don’t forget your candles!
Obviously no environmental concerns here!
Statues and candles of every size (and every price)!
I think that this tops it all. I’m not sure what a 12th century Archbishop of Dublin has to do with Lourdes, but as I said, it seems that everyone is on the religious band-wagon.
My visit was certainly an eye-opener and left me feeling rather sad and depressed at the whole fiasco.