On February 11, 1858, the Blessed Virgin Mary appeared to a poor peasant girl by the name of Bernadette Soubirous near the French village of Lourdes. The Blessed Mother then appeared 17 more times that year and on January 18th, 1862, the local bishop recognized the authenticity of the Apparitions, opening up the devotion to the wider Church. Since then, millions have journeyed to this picturesque town nestled in the foothills of the Pyrenees mountains, to honor Mary and bathe in or drink from the miraculous springs discovered by the young Bernadette at the prompting of the Blessed Mother.
The Church is always cautious when investigating reports of apparitions, and Lourdes was no exception. One of the confirmations they received was when Bernadette revealed that the lady had said “I am the Immaculate Conception” when asked for her name. Bernadette was a young peasant girl, with very little formal education, who didn’t even know her catechism well enough to receive the sacraments. The doctrine of the Immaculate Conception had just been declared dogma less than 4 years prior, and the chance of a girl of Bernadette’s status knowing this name because of this declaration was very slim. This knowledge, combined with the piety of the young visionary, and the miraculous healings of those who touched the spring water all lent credence to the claims that the Blessed Virgin had appeared on that spot.
Today, millions of pilgrims visit Lourdes each year to participate in prayers and celebrations and to bathe in the miraculous waters. One may travel alone or with a pilgrimage group, just in the village of Lourdes, or combined with visits to other holy sites of France and Europe.
Visitors to Lourdes can expect to interact with pilgrims from all over the world, and can take part in prayers and activities in many languages. There are daily Masses and Confessions in English. In addition, the Rosary is prayed in various languages throughout the week in front of the grotto and many nights there is a torchlight procession in the Sanctuary that includes meditating upon the mysteries of the Rosary while following the statue of Our Lady of Lourdes. This is often the most popular and favorite prayer experience at Lourdes.
During the 9th apparition, on February 25th, the Blessed Virgin instructed Bernadette to “Go and drink at the spring and wash there.” At the time, there was no spring, but Bernadette dug at the spot indicated and soon freshwater began to flow. Since then, private baths have been constructed so pilgrims can also follow the Blessed Mother’s instructions. Each pilgrim undresses in privacy and is covered for modesty and accompanied into the baths by helpers of the same gender. The water is chilly, only around 54 degrees Fahrenheit, but many pilgrims are not affected by the chill and instead only speak of the warmth of the grace of the experience. After bathing, pilgrims redress and continue on with their experience of Lourdes.
Many miracles of healing have been attributed to the baths and the experience of Lourdes. Some have been medically verified, others are held only in the hearts of those who experience them. However, the true miracle of a visit to Lourdes, or any other pilgrimage experience is that of conversion – growing closer to Our Lord and deepening in the experience of His Love.
For more information or to explore our upcoming pilgrimages to Marian Shrines visit our website!
For more information about Our Land of Lourdes, visit the Lourdes’ website.