A Lourdes Pilgrimage For the Occasionally Devout Day Tripper

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I’ve had enough education to question blind faith but not nearly enough to give me any answers. Like many others raised Catholic have found, it’s a religion that stays with you once you have been indoctrinated.

Once you’ve started Catholic, frankly, there’s no real way to stop being Catholic. Even not believing in God isn’t regarded as sufficient reason to get out of the Catholic church. You’d think it’d be fairly fundamental to the whole thing, but no. Catholicism: the stickiest, most adhesive religion in the world.

– Dara O’Briain, “Live at the Apollo”, July 6, 2005

When we were in the Gascony region of Southwest France region of Southwest France recently visiting our daughter who is at school in France, we decided to undertake a Lourdes pilgrimage.  We made our Lourdes pilgrimage a day trip but many people spend several days at the shrine.

When you are visiting Lourdes with children, I think a day trip is sufficient. Most of the things to do in Lourdes revolved around the Lourdes pilgrimage sites which makes it hard for children to sustain interest for a longer period.

A Lourdes Pilgrimage For the Occasionally Devout Day Tripper
Tips on how you can make a pilgrimage to Lourdes if you only have one day.

Lourdes Facts

The little town of Lourdes in the middle-of-nowhere Southwest France is one of the most visited pilgrimage sites in the world. Approximately 5 million visitors a year come to pray at the Sanctuary of Our Lady of Lourdes. The sanctuary is built over the rock formation where Mary, the mother of Jesus, appeared to a local girl, Bernadette Soubirous, an amazing 18 times in the middle of the 18th century.

A Lourdes Pilgrimage For the Occasionally Devout Day Tripper
The statue of Mary above the Grotto at Lourdes.

Lourdes Holy Water

There are lots of miracles associated with Lourdes and the water that flows from the spring where Mary appeared. People bathe in the spring’s holy water or take the holy water from Lourdes in containers all over the world.

You can buy water bottles of all sizes in the stores surrounding the shrine. Technically the Lourdes holy water isn’t Holy Water because it hasn’t been blessed by a priest. Pilgrims either anoint themselves with the water or drink it.

A Lourdes Pilgrimage For the Occasionally Devout Day Tripper
People were filling up with the holy water from the spring at the Grotto.

Miracles Associated With Lourdes

The Roman Catholic church has documented 66 miracles associated with Lourdes. These official miracles are thoroughly investigated by the Church. There are countless other people who claim to have been cured at Lourdes that don’t pass the official testing.

According to official estimates, over 80,000 sick and disabled people visit Lourdes annually. They are assisted by 100,000 volunteers. We saw people of all nationalities – both sick and healthy, young and old.

A Lourdes Pilgrimage For the Occasionally Devout Day Tripper
Sick people being wheeled into the line for the Grotto.

Things To Do in Lourdes

Most of the things to do in the city are based around the Lourdes pilgrimage. If you are doing a Lourdes pilgrimage only for the day, you will have plenty to do at the Sanctuary itself (especially if the lines are long!).

The busiest time of year to visit Lourdes is during the spring and summer months. We went in May which is still early in the season so that it wasn’t too crowded. Our line to see the Grotto only took 10 minutes but I’ve heard it can be one hour+ during peak season.

The Sanctuary of Our Lady of Lourdes

The most important thing to do on a Lourdes pilgrimage is to visit the Sanctuary of Our Lady of Lourdes. It is open 24/7 and admission is free. The Sanctuary covers almost 130 acres with 22 places of worship.

The gates to the Sanctuary are impressive with three archangels guarding the enormous gates. It was sad to see concrete bollards in the front of the gates because even a place of pilgrimage filled with the sick and disabled could be subject to terrorism.

These 6 sights are the most important in the Sanctuary of Our Lady of Lourdes:

  • The Basilica of the Immaculate Conception is the upper basilica.
  • The Basilica of Our Lady of the Rosary is the lower basilica. It’s covered with thousands of Venetian mosaics.
  • The Crypt is the most intimate of the prayer spaces. It has room for only 120 people.
  • The Basilica of Saint Pius X is underground in the lawned area in front of the two previous basilicas and the Crypt. You think you are walking into a car park but inside the architecture is marvellous.  This basilica is massive and can hold 25,000 people.
  • The Grotto is where Mary appeared to Bernadette. It has the spring from which the water is diverted for people to take away with them.
  • Underneath the Sanctuary and next door to the grotto are the Pools. They are open in the morning and the afternoon. As is the French custom, they take a couple of hours break in the middle of the day for lunch.

The evening torchlight procession in Lourdes is a famous sight. As day-trippers, we did not stay to see the procession at 9pm.

Visiting the Lourdes Pools

We went to all of the places but skipped the pools because my daughter refused to go inside the pools. No one could answer our question on how often the water in the pool is filtered.

My daughter was convinced she would come down with leprosy (or similar) even if the pools are full of holy water. This fear is probably a side effect of the fact that I am swabbing my kids in hand sanitiser every 10 minutes.

When author Flannery O’Conner balked at going into the pool like my daughter, she said:

I am one of those people who would rather die for my religion, than take a bath for it.

– Flannery O’Connor

There are separate pools for men and women. Even though there were not many people waiting, the wait would have been an hour. The water is supposed to be quite cold (naturally because it is spring water).

The Life of Bernadette

You can also visit sites associated with Bernadette. Her childhood home is open to visitors for a nominal fee. The visions appeared to Bernadette when she was 14 years old. By the age of 22, as the object of constant curiosity, she fled to a quiet life in a convent 500 miles away. She never returned to Lourdes.

A Lourdes Pilgrimage For the Occasionally Devout Day Tripper
The house were Bernadette was born.

The visitor centre at Lourdes has a walking route you can do that follows the life of Bernadette in the town. There is also screenings of the 2011 French movie of the life of Bernadette shown in cinemas around town. The French movie is [easyazon_link identifier=”B01EDAC2XK” locale=”US” tag=”jg20-20″]Je M’appelle Bernadette[/easyazon_link] but the classic English-language movie is [easyazon_link identifier=”B00008LDO7″ locale=”US” tag=”jg20-20″]The Song of Bernadette[/easyazon_link] (1943).

Other Things To Do in Lourdes

There is religious shopping galore. People have said how tacky it is. We didn’t think it was too bad (but I did grow up in an Indian Catholic family where religious paraphernalia in the home was obligatory).  It’s a bit like any tourist town. Instead of shot glasses and hats, the tacky souvenirs are rosary beads and religious figurines.

A Lourdes Pilgrimage For the Occasionally Devout Day Tripper
My son examines one of the biggest rosaries we have ever seen.

A fortress looms above Lourdes on the edge of the city as the one and only secular sightseeing option in the city. If you make it to the top, there are fabulous views.

A Lourdes Pilgrimage For the Occasionally Devout Day Tripper
The chateau fort that looms over Lourdes.

About 20 minutes outside of Lourdes, you will find the popular limestone caves, the Grottes de Betharram. When we went, the line wasn’t long but there was NO staff around at all. We waited for 1/2 hour expecting someone to show up and tell us what to do and where to go. Nope, nothing.

My husband checked the TripAdvisor Reviews which said the caves were fascinating but service was atrocious. The kids were getting antsy and so we bailed on this attraction. We were disappointed because the dioramas of the caves which we examined thoroughly while we were waiting looked very cool!

Photo Gallery For Lourdes

A Lourdes Pilgrimage For the Occasionally Devout Day Tripper
The Pope Piux X basilica is a cavernous underground place of worship.
A Lourdes Pilgrimage For the Occasionally Devout Day Tripper
At the underground basilica of Pius X, pictures of saints line the underpinnings which are made into an architectural feature.
A Lourdes Pilgrimage For the Occasionally Devout Day Tripper
The statue of Mary above the Grotto at Lourdes.
A Lourdes Pilgrimage For the Occasionally Devout Day Tripper
The view form the upper basilica of the giant dome of the Church of Our Lady of the Rosary.
A Lourdes Pilgrimage For the Occasionally Devout Day Tripper
The view of the dome of Our Lady of the Rosary from the inside.
A Lourdes Pilgrimage For the Occasionally Devout Day Tripper
The mosaics of Our Lady of the Rosary were magnificent.
A Lourdes Pilgrimage For the Occasionally Devout Day Tripper
The sweeping arcade of Our Lady of the Rosary is filled with mosaics as well.

Practical Information for A Lourdes Pilgrimage

Tips on how you can make a pilgrimage to Lourdes in France if you only have one day.

Getting To Lourdes

You can take the train from Paris to Lourdes relatively easily. The journey can last anywhere between 6-9 hours depending on the type of train. The TGV trains from Paris Gare-Montparnasse to Lourdes run up to 12x a day. The first train is in the early morning around 6AM and the last one leaves Paris around 9PM. Many of the trains involved 1-2 changes but there are up to 3 trains a day that are a direct service.

My parents did the Lourdes pilgrimage via the high-speed train from Paris several years ago. They speak no French. They also have a tendency to get hopelessly lost because map/sign reading is a skill they have not mastered (as I know from my childhood). If they can do it, you can, too!

We flew into Toulouse from London via EasyJet. British Airways also has flights into Toulouse. It’s a two hour drive from Toulouse to Lourdes.

Accommodation in Lourdes

We stayed an hour away at the Chateau de Projan. The chateau itself was gorgeous and the owners were gracious hosts. They gave us an alternate to the motorway to get to Lourdes which lead us through charming towns and bucolic countryside. We found the Chateau de Projan through [easyazon_link identifier=”B01K3MPNE2″ locale=”US” tag=”jg20-20″]Alistair Sawday[/easyazon_link] which we love for quirky, cool places to stay.

My parents stayed at the Grand Hotel Moderne which is right near the Sanctuary of Our Lady of Lourdes. They loved the location because it allowed them to go to all the different Masses.

There are plenty of other hotels in Lourdes to accommodate the many people from near and far who undertake a Lourdes pilgrimage.

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16 thoughts on “A Lourdes Pilgrimage For the Occasionally Devout Day Tripper”

  1. I have been known to describe myself as a lapsed Anglican, because my upbringing tends to stick with me too, if only in that I have a tendency towards quiche and jumble sales. I can’t say that I would make a special trip to see Lourdes, but if I were in the area I do like a good look round religious sites.

    1. I can’t decide if one of the reasons I visit religious sites is for an insight into how people believe so deeply. I think it would be easier if I had unwavering faith in something.

  2. While I’m not Catholic, I did spend 12 years of my life in Catholic schools (happily!), so the religion and its tenants are deeply woven into my personal background. I can remember being fascinated by the story of the children who first had the visions at Lourdes! I had no idea that people still made the pilgrimage to seek healing, but I love that there is still just deep faith in the world. Adding this to my list of places to visit the next time we’re near!

  3. I’m really glad you wrote this article. Funny thing is, my son actually lived in Tarbes for a few months and visited Lourdes once, while he was serving a mission for the Mormon church. He told us a little about the pilgrimage site and took a few pictures, but he was primarily interested in exploring the castle. Because we’re not Catholic, he didn’t think we’d be interested in the story about Bernadette. But as always, I am very curious. I enjoyed learning the things I didn’t know about Lourdes.

  4. What a fascinating story! I had no idea about Lourdes, nor had I heard of it. So can you tell me what year these visions appeared to Bernadette just to give me a time frame reference? Amazing that she never returned to the area. Thanks for sharing your story. It was a great read.

    1. Bernadette had her visions in 1858. The Church had just announced the important theory of the Immaculate Conception (that Mary was born sinless even though she was born of regular humans who were all supposed to be tainted with sin thanks to Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden). When a peasant girl from the back of beyond rural France started spouting off the theory (which the vision had confirmed to her), people began to take notice.

  5. I grew up Catholic as well, and even though I may not fully practice anymore, I still consider myself Catholic. I like your quote at the beginning because it’s so true! With that being said, I’ve always wanted to go to Lourdes. My mom used to tell me about the appearances of Mary and the area when I was little, so I’ve always thought it’d be really interesting to go. This is a great guide and I love how honest you were about the town itself. Hopefully I’ll be able to visit it one day!

    1. I love Daragh O’Brian – he’s a very popular Irish comedian who has a TV show in England which is one of my favourites. He’s right, it stays with you even if you decide not to continue practicing in later life. At least you made an educated choice knowing what one side of the choice was.

  6. I’m not particularly religious, but love seeing places other people are moved by and seeing religious art. This looks like an incredible experience.

    1. I go to religious places trying to understand faith and what moves people to such devotion. I know I won’t find the answer but that’s my personal issue.

  7. We’re thinking about visiting Toulouse in the next year to check out the food scene there, so we’ll definitely keep this day trip in mind. It look fascinating.

    1. The food and scene in Toulouse and the Occitane is great. They are huge on foie gras so not sure how you feel about that. And, I also found out there are 100+ types of Armagnac! My favourite drink was their local aperitif – a spritzer made with Armagnac and white wine.

  8. As I’m not a big fan of religion, I really need to admit that I loved the time I visited these places. Don’t really know why, I just enjoyed the distinct taste around the place.

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