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Photo © Studio GP Photos The giant candles kept on arriving. The wheelchairs stacked up along the banks of the Gave river. Nuns and nurses kissed the ground. The queues for the baths lengthened. A hunched-up old lady in a black shawl whispered to the wall, petitioning the rockface. “In your heart I place all my anguish and it is there that I gain strength and courage.” Pushed towards the famous Massabeille grotto a frail hollow-cheeked man in a bathchair, a rug over his knees, reading from a small book muttered “Mary you showed yourself to Bernadette in the crevice of the rock in the cold and grey of winter. You are the Immaculate Conception. Come to aid the sinners that we are. Guide us to the source of true life. Teach us to pray for all people.” Some of the faithful walked the steep wooded 15-station “Way of the Cross” up on the hill of Espelugues, above the Sanctuaries. Others held their hands under the stainless-steel taps and sluiced their faces with holy water. Some were at prayer in the underground basilica. Some fed the ducks from the Bridge of Baths. Others sat in deep contemplation on benches and chairs, their eyes closed eyes listening to the outside Mass. Lourdes, also called Doors, in the Hautes- Pyrenees department, 175km west of Toulouse, has 15000 inhabitants but attracts 25000 visitors - every day. They come to see a marble statue in a rock ledge in a cave and to be welcomed by the out-stretched arms of the Basilica Rosarie. 66 masses are said each day in forty places of worship within the 51-hectare sacred complex. In France, only Paris has more hotels than Lourdes. Charter flights and trains bring in six million pilgrims each year. “Everyone is welcome and expected here “ said a young Irish priest. He was holding a two-metre high vigil candle. 750 tonnes of candles are burnt every year at Lourdes. There is a torchlight procession every night at 9pm from April to October. Thousands take part. “The candles represent God’s presence. The flickering flame His illuminating light. The white candles signify a divine pillar of cloud.”
He smiled. “They are a test of faith as they are very heavy”. “The disabled, diseased and marginalized are in the majority here“ said an English pilgrim. He was carrying a 2-litre plastic jerry can of complimentary cave water. “Pope John Paul 11 said Lourdes is the place where heaven and earth pursue a dialogue. “Lourdes is a very special. It has been blessed. Some come for adoration. Or consolation. Or confession. To call for intercession or renew their baptismal vows. Or remember the Beatitudes. Others just to observe. Hope and fraternity are palpable here. Kindness too. You find yourself in a sea of people devoted to the service of others.” 160 years since the first apparation at Lourdes 2018 sees the 160th anniversary of the first apparition when on February 11th the Virgin Mary appeared to fourteen-year-old Bernadette Soubirous while she was collecting firewood. Seventeen apparitions of “Aquero” (the lady) followed until July 16th. You can follow the “Jubilee Walk “and see Bernadette’s birthplace and “le cachot” (or dungeon) in the Rue Petits-Fosses where she lived in poverty after her father lost his mill business and cholera struck the town. You can also visit the church where she received her first Communion and the nearby village of Bartres where she tended sheep. Bernadette described her apparition as 'uo petito damizelo' ("a young girl"). At first, she mistook it for a demonic apparition thinking it a “revenant” or soul returning from purgatory. The apparition did not speak until the third appearance and in Occitan, the local patois. It suggested she used a lighted candle for protection. Thus the torchlight procession. The small figure in the flowing white robe and roses on her feet told Bernadette to build chapels and kiss the ground as penance. On her ninth visitation she showed the shepherd girl a miraculous spring.
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The Secret World of Castles… Not
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