Alright. Lourdes. Here we go.

This past weekend I went to Lourdes, a city southwest of Toulouse and about a 2 hr train ride away. I’m sure most of you have heard of Lourdes in some kind of religious context which I will get to later. So I took the train with 3 other girls (Kathryn, Molly, and Vania) to Lourdes and as we got nearer to Lourdes, the Pyrenees started to appear. And there was snow in the mountains! A few of the towns were covered by snow too. The majestic snowy mountains got me excited because 1) I have never seen the Pyrenees before 2) it gave me an incredibly strong urge to go skiing. Which isn’t possible for me since I don’t have snow pants or under armor. Even though people keep insisting I can rent equipment/buy stuff secondhand… it’s called money and I don’t have an unlimited budget. Though I know people from our group who have gone skiing while we’ve been here.

As we arrived in Lourdes, we literally hit a snow cloud. You could barely see a thing outside the train window as our train arrived at the station. The snow was falling very hard, very thick flakes that were accumulating very quickly. I was a little worried the entire day would be spent walking around in a snowstorm. Though I had known snow was a possibility because I had checked the weather reports.

So under the snow we traipsed off to the tourist office, got a map, and then walked across the street to the Eglise Paroissiale Sacre Coeur (the local church parish). A traditional Catholic church that was cute with beautiful stained glass windows, but well honestly nothing I have never seen before. I’m not trying to sound blase, but I’ve visited a lot of churches in my lifetime. They all tend to blend in after awhile. The only church that stands out from the rest is Resurrection, the local Catholic church back home. I suffered many a mass there. In fact, everybody in our group keeps commenting that the historic monuments in France tend to be churches. Or well, religious buildings. Well I think that’s kind of all over Europe because I visited (too many) churches in Spain as well. Damn Europe and its religious history! It’s funny because I would never consider Resurrection to be a touristy spot hahaha. Whenever French relatives come to visit us, it’s usually to take advantage of our close proximity to Manhattan. They don’t come to visit the local churches. St Patrick’s in NYC must seem like such a joke to Europeans.

After admiring the Eglise Paroissiale de Sacre Coeur and taking some questionable shots of the candles (I still haven’t mastered my new camera’s settings), we exited the church to find it had stopped snowing. Thank God! (Take that either literally or figuratively in this case) We walked into the downtown area towards the sanctuary, getting a glimpse of more snowy peaks and sighting the chateau fort high up on a cliff. This was a surprise! I’m pretty sure most people did not know there was a castle in Lourdes. We also quickly learned there is a ridiculous amount of hotels too. I mean, I suppose they’re necessary with the 5 million pilgrims/tourists that flock to Lourdes every year. According to my Bible Wikipedia (would this be considered blasphemy due to the religious content of this post?), there are 27o hotels, making it the 2nd city in France with the most hotels after Paris. That’s crazy!

Rawr, I’m annoyed with the English entry of Lourdes on Wikipedia. It barely describes the sanctuary. Meh, I guess I will do my best…

So I’m not sure how big the sanctuary is and where it extends to. But the central part constitutes of two churches, a crypt, the grotto, and the bathing pools. When you first enter the sanctuary, you see the three towers of the basilica on the top overlooking the magnificent paintings/frescoes (?) on the ground floor of the structure.

Oh and you know what, I don’t care, I’m just going to copy/paste from Wikipedia in French. I’m sure you English-speaking readers can find translators online. It’s only fair since my French grandfather reads all of this in English. This part is about the basilica on the “first floor” for lack of a better word, la Basilique de Notre Dame du Rosaire de Lourdes:

La basilique Notre-Dame-du-Rosaire est une basilique au cœur des sanctuaires de Lourdes, important centre de pèlerinage des Hautes-Pyrénées. Située sous la basilique de l’Immaculée-Conception, l’ensemble surplombant la grotte de Lourdes où serait apparu la Vierge Marie à sainte Bernadette Soubirous, la basilique a été construite de 1883 à 1889 sur les plans de Léopold Hardy et consacrée en 1901. De style romano-byzantin, elle forme une croix grecque et permet d’accueillir 1500 fidèles.
Autour de la coupole centrale, les deux bras du transept et le chœur sont percés de chapelles rayonnantes ornées de mosaïques qui aident à méditer les quinze Mystères du Rosaire (plus précisément les mystères joyeux, douloureux et glorieux ; les mystères lumineux n’ayant été introduits par le pape Jean-Paul II qu’en 2003).

Yeah I know I’m lazy. But I really suck at describing architecture since I don’t know many technical terms. Ok now for the basilica on the “2nd floor”, la Basilique de l’Immaculee Conception de Lourdes:

La basilique de l’Immaculée-Conception est une basilique au cœur des sanctuaires de Lourdes, important centre de pèlerinage des Hautes-Pyrénées. Située au-dessus de la basilique Notre-Dame-du-Rosaire, l’ensemble surplombant la grotte de Lourdes où serait apparu la Vierge Marie à Sainte Bernadette Soubirous, la basilique a été construite de 1866 à 1871 sur les plans d’Hippolyte Durand et consacrée en 1901.

De style néogothique, elle est formée d’une nef flanquée de chapelles collatérales rayonnantes terminée par un chœur à déambulatoire. L’intérieur est orné de vitraux retraçant la vie de Marie. L’édifice a une capacité de 700 places. L’église est dotée d’un clocher surmonté d’une flèche (hauteur totale de 70 mètres) qui domine l’ensemble des sanctuaires et de l’esplanade.

Ok now to the most exciting/important part of the sanctuary which is the grotto aka la Grotte de Massabielle in French. Which I promise to describe in my own words!

So I was a little disappointed when I first saw the grotto because the French signs in Lourdes had “Grotte” written on them. I was expecting a real cave which would have been just a bit more exciting. The grotto is more like a shallow indentation into the rock. It does look cave-like, it’s all rocky and mossy and looks wet. It’s right underneath the Immaculate Conception basilica. But it’s still cool to look at. There’s a mini tower of white candles and a little altar out of rock has been erected. The exact spot where the spring water flows from is protected by glass with a few random flowers and I suppose some prayer cards strewn across it. I got rather OCD when I saw 2 prayer cards were on the glass. In my mind, the glass should be kept clear because well… I don’t know, that’s just OCD for you. Just looking at the picture on my computer with the stray cards bothers me! I suppose it never really goes away. I think Mom finds it hilarious (and Sandrine finds it annoying) when I randomly arrange things on tables, yet my room manages to stay a mess. Try to figure that one out.

Despite my OCD tendencies, I was able to enjoy the tranquility of the grotto. There is a statue of the Virgin up in a higher recess of the grotto. It’s the same one that’s been there since the 19th century. In front of the grotto, there are a bunch of benches where people either sit to pray silently or during one of the religious ceremonies/processions that take place at the grotto throughout the year. The grotto isn’t very big, I was actually struck at how small it was. If it weren’t for the apparitions, the place would probably still be overlooked today!

Wait what apparitions you ask? Aaaah story time! As you all know I love stories! Ok so this is what happened at the grotto in the Lourdes sanctuary and part of the reason why Lourdes is so famous today:

On Feb. 11th, 1858, Bernadette Soubirous, a poor peasant girl and daughter of a miller (person who owns a mill), was in the vicinity of the grotto collecting firewood with a sister and a friend. Her friend and her sister crossed the Gave de Pau, the river that runs parallel to the grotto and the basilicas today (and right through the sanctuary). They were waiting for her to cross too when she heard a sound and looked up. She saw a girl around her age in a white dress with a blue sash asking her to come closer and to pray. Bernadette was too scared to approach but she recited her rosary. After the apparition disappeared, Bernadette told her friend and sister what had happened but not to tell her parents. However, her tattle tale sister told B’s parents what had happened. And of course, her parents did not believe her, forbidding her to return to the grotto.

The Virgin Mary appeared to B a grand total of 18 times. As the story spread, more and more people began to accompany Bernadette to the grotto to witness the miracle. However, I’m not too sure if anybody else ever saw the apparition besides B… apparently people saw her praying fervently and in a kind of trance. Bernadette relayed the Virgin’s instructions to a priest to build a basilica on the site of the grotto and for people to come in procession to worship her. The priest wanted to know the lady’s name and during one of the last apparitions, the Virgin declared she was the Immaculate Conception. Bernadette was illiterate and very ignorant, or so she claimed and apparently the words “Immaculate Conception” meant nothing to her. Pope Pius IX had affirmed 4 years earlier that Mary had had an immaculate conception and Bernadette was allegedly unaware of this fact.

During one of the apparitions, Bernadette found spring water in the grotto and drank from it, as the Virgin had ordered her to do. This very same spring water still flows freely and is the water that supplies the bathing pools for the sick and injured pilgrims who come to Lourdes every year in hopes of being cured of whatever ailment they happen to have. The bathing houses were built soon after the end of the apparitions and the ones that are there today date from the 1980s. I wasn’t actually able to see an actual bathing pool because they were closed when I was there. I don’t think the bathing pools are heated and I think they close during the winter. However there were people waiting outside the bathing pools, some nuns and random people. I’m not too sure if they were waiting for the pools to open so they could take a look or if they were going to take a dip. In my opinion, it was way too cold to consider getting into that water!

The Catholic Church has officially acknowledged about 50-60 miracle healings at Lourdes. In the basilica of the Immaculate Conception and the crypt, there are plenty of engravings on the walls attesting to the water’s healing properties and thanking the Virgin for curing her humble servants. The most recent date from the 1980s and the oldest from the 19th century.

Bernadette eventually left Lourdes to join a convent in Nevers and became a nun. The attention drawn to Lourdes due to the apparitions became too much and most likely Bernadette wanted to worship in peace. She died in 1879 after a long battle with asthma and tuberculosis at 35 years olds. She eventually became canonized as a saint in 1933.

Before we left the sanctuary, I noticed a Stations of the Cross outdoor passageway, similar to the one in Mt St Anne in Quebec. Basically, you walk along a path that takes you up the mountain to the side of the basilica to follow the different Stations that are portrayed through various statues.
I think some people like to do the Stations of the Cross on their knees, to experience the pain and suffering Jesus Christ went through. Or maybe that’s something some pilgrims do during the prcessions… either way ouch ouch and I would never do that.

While in the Basilica of Immaculee-Conception, I lit a candle for Grandpa and one for Nate (my fellow classmate who drowned in Guatemala). And weirdly enough, I dreamed of Grandpa that very night. Hmm. I am sorry to say I didn’t bring back any water with me. I wasn’t aware you could actually drink the water. For some reason, I thought the water was holy water, like the kind you dip you finger in when you enter church to make a sign of the cross. I didn’t want to desecrate the water or be considered a “sinner.” But no it turns out we are encouraged to drink it. Oops! Well if you ever go to Lourdes, know that you can freely drink from the water in the brand new system of taps right before you hit the grotto.

After we left the sanctuary, we briefly visited the house where Bernadette grew up (the millhouse) and this place called “le cachot”, a cramped residence that used to be a prison. Both these places were free and honestly I’m glad they were because both were very small. I think I was inside of both for barely a minute.

And then it was off to the chateau fort/castle. We had to take an elevator up. The views were spectacular! And again made me want to go skiing very badly. Even though it was overcast the whole day, the view of the white snowy mountains made up for it. I took a bunch of pictures because I was so enthralled by the view. The castle itself was fun and reminded me of the fortified Carcassonne only not as big. I don’t really know the castle’s history too well or when it was built or any of that. Oh but look, I found an entry from French Wikipedia:

Assiégé en 778 par Charlemagne, il devient la résidence des Comtes de Bigorre aux XIe siècle et XIIe siècle. Au XIIIe siècle il passe aux mains des Comtes de Champagne (également rois de Navarre) avant d’entrer dans le domaine des rois de France sous Philippe le Bel. Il est cédé aux Anglais par le Traité de Brétigny en 1360, avant de revenir à la France au début du XVe siècle à l’issu de deux sièges. Au XVIIe siècle le château devient prison royale puis d’Etat après la Révolution, et ce jusqu’au début du XXe siècle où, sous l’impulsion de Louis Le Bondidier et son épouse Margalide, il devient le siège du Musée Pyrénéen (1921) qu’il abrite encore aujourd’hui. C’est le plus grand musée d’arts et de traditions populaires des Pyrénées. Son origine remonte à l’époque romaine. Divers vestiges de cet époque (fragments de sculpture, d’autels votifs, substructions de murs antiques) ont été mis au jour lors des travaux du génie militaire au XIXe siècle. Cependant ces travaux eurent pour conséquence la destruction de la majeure partie des murs antiques. Les pièces découvertes sont exposées sur place.
Aujourd’hui, même s’il reste peut être quelques traces de ces murs antiques, les vestiges les plus anciens remontent aux XIe siècle et XIIe siècle et constituent les fondations des actuelles fortifications. Il fut renforcé aux XIIIe siècle et XIVe siècle (construction du donjon) puis de nouveau du XVIIe siècle au XIXe siècle. La chapelle Notre-Dame-du-Château abrite le mobilier de l’ancienne église paroissiale Saint-Pierre de Lourdes, rasée en 1904. La chapelle actuelle est construite avec des matériaux de réemploi.

So it dates from around the Carcassonne era, no wonder they look kind of similar. Anyways, we went into all the passageways of the castle, including the Tower of Doom (ok not really called that but that’s what I call it) aka the old dungeon. At the bottom of the stairs, there was a room that had a sensor light in it. When I walked in, I didn’t expect a light to turn on and screamed when it did. Then I braved the narrow and claustrophobic stairs to the top of the tower to find a random exhibit on rock minerals? What the heck? And the view wasn’t that great. Everything had been covered up with glass from the narrow lookouts that were available. And then I scared Vania when she came down the Tower of Doom hahaha.

We also briefly visited some old cemetery in the castle and some of the tombs were actually opened leading me wonder where the bodies had gone off to. What is the point of leaving behind an empty casket? I’m not too sure if there were people still buried there at all actually. So much for the faux cemetery. There was also a creepy doll exhibit of all these dolls dressed up as nuns. A few of the dolls suspiciously looked like American Girl dolls. Hmm. The gigantic wax figure of the nun cracked me up just because her expression was so funny. What kind of emotion was she trying to convey? Deer caught in the headlights? In the castle “gardens,” there were these mini replicas of old buildings like monasteries, farmer houses, and chaumieres (my mother’s dream house). I put up all the pictures on Facebook of all this (well not the tombs sorry) so if my descriptions are confusing, go look at the pictures. If you don’t have Facebook, I can send you the link to the pictures.

And then we walked back to the station with an hour to spare and we left at 6:06 PM so I didn’t hang around waiting for the train like in Carcassonne. I also like the Lourdes train station better, it was a lot nicer. Maybe because more people visit Lourdes than Carcassonne? And the bathrooms were free and inside the train station, not in some sketchy area off the platform. It also snowed as we left. We got back to Toulouse around 9 PM and went out for dinner at a place called “Les Americains.” Not too sure why it was called that since it wasn’t very American.

I wasn’t feeling too well last night and not too sure why. I wasn’t very hungry at dinner and I felt very nauseous and my head hurt as I tried to go to sleep. I feel better today though so I don’t know what that was all about. Maybe I am allergic to holy places hahaha.

Last Wednesday, I visited a museum near the Dickinson Center about the French resistance. Interesting museum but I get bored when there’s too much text. Students from St. Francis University (also in PA like Dickinson) joined us. They were visiting Toulouse for the day and they live in a renovated monastery outside of Albi, the first town I visited outside of Toulouse. We actually ran into some of the students from SFU while we were there. I have to say I feel kind of bad for them because they are essentially in the middle of nowhere. Thank god I live in Toulouse, I like the country but not for 5 months!

Afterwards we headed back to the Dickinson Center for a reception. It seems we have a lot of receptions at the Dickinson Center. Or well they feed us a lot which I’m not complaining about! We had crepes last week for La Chandeleur, the reception with SFU, lunch was provided during a visit of a member of the American Consulate in Toulouse today (which I skipped because it wasn’t mandatory but there was still plenty of food left over when I got to the Center), and then cake was provided to celebrate Jan/Feb bdays after class. They definitely were not this generous in Malaga!

After the reception, our directors expected us to take the SFU students out to dinner. Which would have been nice and all if we had been warned ahead of time. I had planned to eat dinner with my family. I and some other girls showed the students how to get to Place du Capitole where there are a lot of restaurants. However I hoped they made their way back to the train station/bus station, wherever it was they were supposed to go. It wasn’t made really clear where they were supposed to rendez-vous at. Well, they had maps so it wasn’t like we left them stranded either.

The Mirail is still on strike. Which means my lit. class tomorrow morning is canceled. I suppose I shouldn’t complain, it is a 8:30 class after all. However, since classes have started, I have been to this class a grand total of one time. I still haven’t met the other professor who teaches the other class on Thursdays. I went last Thurs. afternoon and there was no one there. I actually walked into the wrong class because I was unaware the class met in a different classroom on Thursdays. I have gotten an assignment for the lit. class via email but still… how do you expect me to do work on something we have never discussed in class??And I got a text on my phone telling me the syndicate groups had decided March 19th would be another national go on strike day. Seriously? This is all getting to be too much if you ask me. As usual, I have no idea what it is they are protesting nor do I really care to be honest. I can’t keep track anymore what the French are unhappy about because it seems life in general upsets them. Maybe they should all go to Lourdes, it might cure them of their pessimism.

AND this reminds me: Uncle Pat, you may not read my blog but I know Aunt Sharon does. I know you hate traveling BUT when I learned about the not so great state your knees are in, I decided I’d advise (actually make that order) you go to Lourdes one day. Also it would finally be an excuse for you to come to France. I mean come on, your own brother has beat you to it!! And now that you will soon have two in laws who speak French, you might as well go. According to my great-aunt who had knee problems, bathing in the water worked for her and she hasn’t had problems since. And I know Father Zach at Resurrection has done it too. Maybe the water will heal you if you go there. Et Pape, tu peux y aller pour ton epaule! On ne sait jamais, selon Tati Beatrix ca a marche pour elle. 🙂 Let’s all go this summer! We’ll make it a party! Family reunion in Lourdes anyone?

Alright that is one long post. Sorry guys! Hope all is well on your ends.


PS. I head for Barcelona this Friday and will be there until Sunday. Then I’m in Paris Feb. 18th-22nd so it may be awhile before I get around to updating this.