Monday, February 11, 2008

The Sanctuary of Our Lady of Lourdes in autumn

It was a young girl's visions of the Virgin Mary that put the little town of Lourdes on the map and have attracted millions of pilgrims and tourists to Lourdes ever since.

On February 11, 1858, the Blessed Virgin Mary is said to have appeared to a 14-year-old girl named Bernadette Soubirous (or Soubiroux) as she searched for firewood in the remote Grotto of Massabielle. More visions followed, for a total of 18, with the last occuring on July 16, 1858.

The Virgin Mary appeared as a young and beautiful lady ("lovelier than I have ever seen," Bernadette said) and told the young girl to drink from a natural fountain in the grotto (previously undiscovered) and to tell the priests to build a chapel on the spot and make processions to the grotto.

It was only four years later, in 1862, that the bishop of the diocese declared the faithful "justified in believing the reality of the apparition" and a basilica was built upon the rock of Massabielle by M. Peyramale, the parish priest.

The small French town of Lourdes centers around the Sanctuary of Our Lady of Lourdes, the largest Catholic pilgrimage destination in France and perhaps the most popular Catholic sacred site in the world. The town of only 17,000 inhabitants receives more than 5 million pilgrims and tourists each year.

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