Lourdes and the Grotto

LourdesThe church above the Grotto

GrottoThe Grotto

ProcessionA procession at Lourdes

The town of Lourdes nestles under the majestic Pyrenées, bisected by the fast-running Gave (river) de Pau. Beside the river is the grotto where the 14-year-old Bernadette Subirous experienced visions of the Virgin Mary in 1858.

Since then – and especially since Bernadette was canonised in 1933 – pilgrims have come to Lourdes from all over the world, in search of a cure, to pray for the safety or healing of loved ones, or simply to visit a holy site. The small town of 15,000 inhabitants regularly receives over five million pilgrims annually.

The grotto nestles underneath the crypt of the church built on the site, the Basilica of Our Lady of Lourdes. Within the holy site there are several other churches and missions, including the massive Basilica of Pius X, which can hold 25,000 worshippers. It was Pius X who first declared Bernadette “venerable”.

A visit to the grotto, the holy centre of the site, is an essential element of a visit to the town. The place has a calm simplicity that is reflected in faces of the pilgrims who sit in long, silent contemplation. It is possible to bathe in the “holy water” of the spring and to take bottles of water away. In the church above the grotto hundreds of plaques thank Notre Dame de Lourdes for cures. Of the many cures experienced by visitors to Lourdes medical science has declared 67 recoveries to be inexplicable by physicians and pathologists.

Believers and non-believers alike find the visit to Lourdes a moving experience.