The following is a list of some of the places connected with Saint Bernadette and the apparitions, as well as those buildings which today are used by people on pilgrimage to Lourdes.
The Grotto marks the spot in the cave of the rock of Massabielle where Saint Bernadette saw the Virgin Mary eighteen times in 1858. It is the most sacred of all the sanctuaries in Lourdes, and has been the natural gathering place for millions of pilgrims who have stood there in silent prayer.
There is an altar for the celebration of the Eucharist and votive candles burn there constantly. But the most striking focal point is the statue of the Immaculate Conception which hovers above in the hollow of the rock. It carries the now famous inscription in the local patois, “I am the Immaculate Conception.” Under it there is a rose bush which serves as a reminder of the Parish Priest’s request that a rose should bloom in February as a sign of the truthfulness of Bernadette’s story.
There is a plaque in the pavement on the left hand side which marks where Bernadette stood when first she saw the “beautiful lady”. Crutches hang there as a sign of graces given. There is a box in which pilgrims put prayer petitions. A walkway allows a constant flow of people to enter into the heart of the Grotto and touch or kiss the rock. Covered by a glass screen and illuminated is the spring which Bernadette uncovered on 25 February 1858. This water is piped from here to the Baths and to the taps. Please observe the SILENCE at the Grotto.
The Crypt was the first church to be built in answer to Mary’s request, and it was blessed on Pentecost Sunday 1866. Bernadette, whose father had worked on its construction, was present for this ceremony but hidden among the Children of Mary. From that day onwards, pilgrimages officially began. Situated underneath what is now the upper Basilica, it is a dark and squat building whose walls, like those of the Upper and Rosary Basilicas, are covered with marble plaques (known as “ex voto” plaques) which express thanks to God for favours received. At the entrance of the corridor can be seen a statue of Saint Peter and one of Pius X who encouraged frequent communion and communion for children.
Known by everyone as the Upper Basilica, its real title is the Basilica of the Immaculate Conception, and over the entrance is a mosaic of Pope Pius IX who in 1854 defined the doctrine of the Immaculate Conception. Built over the Crypt, it was consecrated in 1876.
It is very a striking and ambitious building built on the rock of Massabielle and designed in the Gothic style. A chapel stands on either side of the entrance. Saint Ann to the right and Saint Joan of Arc to the left. The Sanctuary stands over the very spot where Bernadette saw Mary. Beside the “ex voto” plaques, the walls are covered with pilgrimage banners from around the world. A further fifteen side chapels contain stained glass windows which depict the story of Lourdes, and the clerestory windows above the nave portray Mary as the “Second Eve”. Outside it is the 70 metres high spire which dominates the Domaine. A two ton bell is one of the four which chime every quarter of an hour and the clock plays the “Ave” on the hour.
This is the third of the early buildings of Lourdes, opened in 1899 and consecrated in 1901. It is built against the rock of the Grotto on what is almost ground level, and it will hold about 1,500 people. Recently a lot of renovation work has been done to the outside and the roof, including the regilding of the Crown and Cross, in time for the centenary celebrations of its consecration in 2001.
On either side of the entrance façade are two medallions. One is of Pope Pius XII who called the Marian Year of 1954, and the other of Pope Leo XIII, known as the “Rosary Pope”. In between these two, over the central door, is a depiction of Mary offering a rosary to Saint Dominic who is accredited as its founder.
Inside there is an enclosed ecumenical chapel of the Hospitalité with some seats and several Ukrainian icons. Around the church there are fifteen chapels dedicated to the mysteries of the Rosary, beginning on the left. The fifteenth chapel contains mosaics which represent people involved with Saint Bernadette and the apparitions. In the upper wall of the Sanctuary there is a large mosaic of the Virgin Mary with arms outstretched which bears the inscription “Par Marie à Jésus” (through Mary to Jesus).
UNDERGROUND BASILICA OF ST PIUS X
Because of the large crowds expected to descend on Lourdes for the centenary of the apparitions, this underground weather-proof Basilica was built in 1958, and was consecrated by the man who later that year would become Pope John XXIII.
Its starkness is in complete contrast to the other earlier places of worship. Designed by the architect Pierre Vago, it is one of the largest buildings around, being oval shaped with a length of about 200 metres and a width of about 85 metres. Its ceiling is low at about 10 metres and there are 58 pre-stressed concrete pillars which support the structure, creating 29 porticos which offer maximum visibiltiy of the raised sanctuary area and altar in the middle. In the height of the season this building has to be prepared for in excess of 20,000 worshippers.
The Blessed Sacrament is reserved in the Pax Christi Chapel as are some relics of Pope Saint Pius X. To the left of the bishop’s chair is a chapel of Saint Thérèse of Liseux and the red mosaics here were the gift of English pilgirms in 1974.
A fine organ supports the singing of the assembly at the two international Masses held here each week. The walls of the ramps are decorated with Stations of the Cross by Denys de Solère, and a Gemmail (back-lit stained glass) series of the Rosary by Robert Falcucci. At the bottom are scenes of the apparitions of Our Lady to Bernadette.
During one of the apparitions, Our Lady invited Saint Bernadette to drink from the spring and wash herself. As she scratched away at the ground, a spring of water appeared which continues to flow to this day. Since then pilgrims have followed Bernadette’s example of humility and have bathed in the water as a sign of penance. The sick too have bathed in the water and some have been cured. We are all invited to drink the Lourdes Water to remind us of the living water Christ promised, and by going in the baths we are reminded of the cleansing waters of baptism and of our vows to renounce sin and have faith in God.
The present Baths were built in the 1950’s to replace an earlier building. They are to be found beyond the Grotto by the river. Opening times are displayed outside and women in particular are advised to queue early. Sick Pilgrims are taken to the baths from the hospital as a matter of course.
Pilgrims may drink from the taps which are provided near the Grotto. Please note: The ordinary tapwater in Lourdes is not ‘Lourdes Water’ but from the town water supply and is definitely not safe. The water provided in hotels at the dinner table is safe but apart from that pilgrims are advised not to drink the water in France.
CHURCH OF SAINT BERNADETTE
Blessed in 1988, this church faces the Grotto on the opposite side of the river. It is built on the spot in the meadow where Bernadette stood for the last time to see the Virgin Mary.
The church can accommodate more than one pilgrimage at a time by means of huge sliding partitions which allow for a multi-purpose use. Continuing the starkness of the Underground Basilica, Saint Bernadette’s is devoid of the rich decoration of the older churches, even to the point of being designed with heating and air-conditioning pipes as part of the atmosphere. It can hold about 5,000 seated pilgirms and 250 wheelchairs.
This Chapel houses confessionals where priests from all over the world are available for confessions in all the major European languages throughout most of the day.
STATIONS OF THE CROSS
A high set of Stations, inaugurated in 1912 is next to the Upper Basilica and is not suitable for those who have difficulty getting about. Just past the entrance is the memorial to the “Pilgrimage of Sorrow”, 33 French pilgrims who died in a train accident in 1922. At the first Station is the Scala Sancta, a “Holy Stair” similar to that in Rome which purports to come from the house of Pontius Pilate in Jerusalem. Some pilgrims mount these stairs on their knees as a sign of penance.
The 15 Stations, with figures in cast iron overlaid with bronze, follow a track up the Espélugues mountain for about a mile to the Calvary. At the top is the Espélugues cave where prehistoric remains have been found.
A low set of Stations for people in wheelchairs and those with difficulty in walking may be found on the right bank of the River Gave, close to the bridge and on the flat. Almost opposite is a statue of Saint Margaret of Scotland, a gift from the Scottish people in 1929.
The low Stations are marked in coloured lines on the concrete. Unlike the traditional Way of the Cross they have two extra Stations. A 15th Station announces “With certain hope and complete faith, the Virgin awaits the Third Day” and a 16th Station proclaims “He has risen as he said, Alleluia”
STATUE OF THE CROWNED VIRGIN
This stands on the edge of Rosary Square at the crossroads of pilgrim routes through the Domaine and is therefore a good rallying point and a point where the whole pilgrimage often meets before going to the Grotto for Mass. The statue is 2.50m high and cast in bronze. The set of rosary beads held by the Virgin is of the older Brigittine style, and if you look carefully you can see that it contains six decades.
The whole Grotto Domaine, with its sanctuaries, is the heart of Lourdes. It is a special place, hallowed by its association with Our Lady and St. Bernadette; its importance is reinforced by the countless thousands of pilgrims who have visited it since the time of the apparitions. It is a place where we owe respect and consideration to all our fellow pilgrims. People are asked not to smoke in the Domaine, and are requested to preserve silence where possible, particularly within hearing of the Grotto. While you are waiting in the queue to go into the Baths, please take an active part in the prayers being said outside. For those wishing to make Mass offerings, there is a small office under the ramp on the right of the Rosary Square, next to the Hospitalité Office. Beyond this ramp, on the way to the Grotto, can be found the racks in which votive candles are arranged. After selection, the candles are usually placed in the boxes provided adjacent to the Grotto. At the back of the Grotto itself is a small hollow place on the right hand side, in which pilgrims may place their written petitions to Our Lady of Lourdes. Please do not include any offering with your petition.
SAINT MICHAEL’S GATE
Saint Michael’s gate, with its large gate was decorated in 1906 with the three archangels: Raphael on the right, Patron of the travellers, and Gabriel on the left, messenger of the Annunciation. In the centre is Saint Michael (guardian of doors and entrances), given as a gift in 1887, put in place in 1908 and relocated in 1956, beside the building known as Abri Michel. 300 metres separate Saint Michael’s Gate from the Crowned Statue. The Breton Calvary, 12m high, is a gift from the dioceses of Rennes, Quimper, Vannes and Saint Brieuc, and was dedicated on 13 September 1900.
SAINT JOSEPH’S GATE
Saint Joseph’s Gate has a statue of Saint Joseph that is 2.5m high. An inscription declares: “I am placed as a guardian”. It was a gift from the Diocese of Lyon in 1909. From Saint Joseph’s Gate, the path leads towards the Crowned Statue. Travelling this short shaded path, one becomes entangled in the stream of pilgrims and sick people dispersing onto the Rosary Square. One then emerges into the light.
Situated off the Rue Saint Pierre in the old town, the present church is not that which Bernadette knew, since the original parish church was destroyed by fire in 1905. Construction of the new church had begun as long ago as 1875. It contains a number of reminders of Bernadette’s time including the baptismal font in which she was baptized in 1844, a statue of Madonna and child, and the confessional of Abbé Peyramale who was parish priest at the time of the apparitions. In the crypt below is his tomb and white marble monument.
THE OLD PRESBYTERY
The place still stands at 7, Chaussée Mararsin where Bernadette delivered the messages to the priests from Our Lady. The austere looking building is now a public lending library.
BERNADETTE’S BIRTHPLACE (THE BOLY MILL)
Almost hidden by a narrow and twisting road, the Boly Mill (Moulin Boly), on Rue Soubirous, is named after an English doctor who lived there during the XVII century. It was the birthplace of Bernadette and her home for most of her childhood years. The ground floor consists of the kitchen which doubled as a communal living room, and the mill itself where her father worked by using the water from the Lapacca stream. Upstairs, (although if approached from one side this can at first appear to be the ground level) is the room in which Bernadette was born, and second mill room. The rooms have articles which recreate the scene as it would have been during the Soubirous family’s time.
Rather like the Boly Mill, this small place can easily be missed or passed by. It is the tiny disused prison at 15, Rue de Petits-Fossés, where Bernadette and her family were forced to live after they were evicted from the Boly Mill. The cold, unwelcoming cell with its stone sink and small fireplace contains souvenirs of the family including one of Bernadette’s socks and a pair of clogs. There are also some photographs dating from that time and a statue of Our Lady which used to be in the old Parish church. It is possible for a very small group of people to celebrate Mass here.
This is the place which included a hospital and school run by the Sisters of Nevers, on Rue Alexandre Marqui, where Bernadette prepared for her First Holy Communion and where she eventually lodged with the sisters before leaving to become a nun. On view is the Oratory where Bernadette made her First Holy Communion and the Old Parlour where there are several souvenirs of her time there.
the place which included a hospital and school run by the Sisters of Nevers, on Rue Alexandre Marqui, where Bernadette prepared for her First Holy Communion and where she eventually lodged with the sisters before leaving to become a nun. On view is the Oratory where Bernadette made her First Holy Communion and the Old Parlour where there are several souvenirs of her time there.