We were about to arrive. Bathtubs of water poured down the coach windows and drenched
the town. In the crisp breeze roofs dripped, streams raced along gutters, trees shaking off showers of raindrops. I offered prayers for a fine day, and others did the same. Gloomily, we donned wet weather gear. The moment we stepped out, the skies cleared, brilliant light glittering from the wet footpath. Our first miracle!
Lourdes is in the foothills of the Pyrenees. It became world famous in 1858 following the visions of a young peasant girl, Marie-Bernadette Soubirous . She claimed the Virgin Mary had appeared and spoken to her on eighteen separate occasions. Nobody took her seriously. Everyone laughed when she claimed the Virgin Mary had told her to dig in a certain spot in the Massabiello Grotto and a spring would burst forth. Drink the water, the vision told her. It will heal the sick.
One day a spring gushed forth. No special qualities were found in the water yet, many cases of healing took place. People stopped laughing. Plaques in the Rosary Basilica attest to grateful patients who had bathed in the waters. Today, a stream of hopefuls are brought on stretchers. Some arrive in wheelchairs. Others hobble on sticks.
This quiet town soon became an important pilgrimage destination. In the Catholic religion, it’s now renowned as a place of miraculous healing. Visitor numbers are second only to Rome and the Holy Land. It’s also the second most important tourism site in France.
Bernadette’s grotto is decorated with lovely flowers. I was expecting some huge cavern, where one could wander at leisure. But an atmosphere of reverence made up for the modest size. The spring site is protected by glass, surrounding rocks worn smooth from the caress of pilgrim fingers. There are lots of places to collect holy water. I filled a small Our Lady bottle. My suitcase didn’t stretch to the litres some folk carried away.
But, having had our miracle, who could complain?