Our recent travels in France haven’t strayed far from the concrete jungles of Paris or the countryside of Bourdeaux, but today we were able to sample all French can offer from its beautiful coastline. The fishing village of St. Jean-de-Luz was where Louis XIV chose to marry the Infanta Maria Theresa of Spain. In honor of the royal marriage they planted the royal tree, the chestnut tree. Now wherever you are in the village you will be able to see rows and rows of chestnut trees. Our break here was relaxing since we were able to smell the ocean breeze and feel the sand of the coast, but after a little breather and time to unwind we went back on the bus to continue our tales in France.
While travelers seem to be in awe by the romantic appeal of France, what with its beautiful scenery to the happy-go-lucky couples strolling down the road side by side, they might turn away from ever looking beyond the boundaries of Paris and learning the lifestyle of the French. Religion plays a major role in France. Since France used to have the state religion as Roman Catholicism, many are still devout to the religion today. Our next destination would take us to one of the most holy sites in France and also give us a very unique experience, Lourdes.
Lourdes is home to the story of Bernadette Soubirous. Bernadette was the daughter of a very poor miller, and her family lived in an unheated one room home. While Bernadette was out one day she happened to have an apparition of Virgin Mary near the grotto. This would be the start of her 18 visions. On the 13th apparition Virgin Mary asked Bernadette to tell the priest to build a church near the location of the grotto. The Priest would only construct the church if the Virgin Mary would perform a miracle. The miracle was a spring that came gushing out of the grotto. People were amazed and even claimed that the water had magical healing powers. Bernadette was then christened as a saint and forever remembered as the girl who transformed that small village into the city of Lourdes today.
The Massabielle Grotto was where Bernadette had her visions and the place where Virgin Mary performed her miracle. Crowds of people were there for pilgrimages to the holy site. Shops and carts were filled with bottles and candles for the daily flow of pilgrims that came to Lourdes. After everyone purchased a few candles and bottles for the trip we went over to the grotto. In order to escape the crowd we decided to go around the grotto earlier before the daily mass. There was a water fountain which held collected water from the grotto, but we decided to wait in line for the real thing coming out of the grotto. As we all walked around, we felt the water seeping out of the grotto and were free to wash our faces, fill the bottles we had recently bought with the water, or even shower in the holy water. I decided to skip the shower until we got to the hotel and just washed my face with the holy water. The trail then led us to the roof of the Rosary Basilica where we could watch the daily mass take place. As we lit our candles, we watched the crowd of people turn into a mass of lights. Now that the whole square was lit up with the candles groups of people started to carry the statue of Mary around the square. Old or sick people were recommended to come forward to have an opportunity to be healed. Once the statue went all the way around the square they left the statue at the feet of the larger statue of Mary on the other side of square. While this was happening people were singing “Ave Maria.” The whole event was truly magical especially with the warm glow of the candles, but with the mass ending and our candles burning down our trip in Lourdes would have to continue the next morning.
The chill of the early morning woke us up as we prepared to return to the “Sanctuary of Our Lady of Lourdes.” The whole grotto and its surrounding areas are now called the “Sanctuary of Our Lady of Lourdes.” The third church and the one we visited was the Rosary Basilica. The square in front of the church is called the Rosary Square and that is where they hold the daily mass. The church was built with Byzantine architecture, which included domes and colorful mosaics that told the story of Bernadette. The other church which was just built was the Basilica Souterraine St-Pie X. It was the world’s largest underground church and was built to accommodate up to 20,000 people, which is more than Lourdes’s population. There is barely any natural light coming in since it is underground, so most of the light is provided with electric lights. That church is where they think Bernadette may have had her visions of Virgin Mary. In order to complete our trip there we took a walk through the Pavilon Notre Dame which houses the Museum Bernadette. It contains mementos of Bernadette’s life and an illustrated history of the pilgrimages. Since we were running a bit late we quickly went back to the tour bus, but it seemed someone was missing. Mrs. Melli had disappeared, but after a search back at the sanctuary and a couple of jokes about Mrs. Melli running off with a French guy she was found. Now that we had everybody we were able to get back on the road to our next adventure in France. See you there.