Friday, August 29, 2014

Enlightenment at Lourdes

Trip to Aude/Midi-Pyrénées: Day 7

At last, about 2 PM, we rolled into Lourdes. We went in search of the hotel where Blandine had stayed every summer as a child, with her parents. Surprisingly, several decades later, it was still around. Or rather, its signboard was. But the hotel itself seemed to have gone bust. No matter. Lourdes was chock-full of hotels, most of them running empty. In fact, other than hotels, restaurants and souvenir shops, there isn't much else in Lourdes. Not counting the Basilica, of course.

We found ourselves a lovely old hotel with thick plush carpets, attractive reproductions of modern masters and a lovely old clanking lift enclosed in an open wrought-iron grill covered in filigree. It was beautiful to look at, but the thought of stepping into it turned the bowels into chilled water. Blandine took one look at it and refused to step in. I bravely took our luggage up to our floor in it. Once out, I swore never to step into it again. Next morning, I lugged our heavy suitcases down six flights of stairs.

We stepped out and headed straight for the central attraction of Lourdes: The Sanctuary of Our Lady of Lourdes, or as it is called in French: Les Sanctuaires Notre-Dame de Lourdes.

Here are the pictures I took of the grounds of the Sanctuary, and the Upper Basilica (The Basilica of the Immaculate Conception).

 Inside the Basilica

 Lovely frescoes on the outside walls of the Basilica.

And then we went over to the center of it all: the miraculous grotto of Bernedette, with its healing waters. Despite my initial skepticism, I was powerfully affected by the atmosphere of the place.

I was rather disappointed that you don't get to drink the holy water at the source: it is enclosed in a bullet-proof glass casing. The spring water is tapped out and made available to pilgrims at a long row of prosaic steel taps. It looks a bit like the holy water dispenser at Indian temples. I strongly suspect an Indian had something to do with the design. I understand there are a lot of Indian functionaries in the administrative body of Lourdes. Anyhow, we drank the holy water, and filled some in a beer bottle for Blandine's mom. Yes, it was the same artisanal beer bottle with the porcelain cap that André had given us at his cave in Lagrass. Beer, wine, holy water. Now it sits on Blandine's mom's sideboard. It is a beer bottle that has seen a bit of life.

Outside the Grotte:

An endless series of candles lighted up from worshipers around the world. This is another scene that looks a bit like an Indian temple.

 The river Gave de Pau flowing past the sanctuary.

Later we went around the town of Lourdes... These hotels outside the sanctuary had all been inundated in the famous flood of Lourdes.

... and looked around for a restaurant to have dinner. Lourdes has an embarrassment of choices. It has restaurants from every part of the world, including Sri Lanka and Tamil Nadu. We plumped for one of the few restaurants that actually serve French food. The one we selected claimed to specialize in the regional cuisine of Midi-Pyrénées. And then I ordered an all-American steak and chips, with beer.

 We killed time drifting about the city...

(Note the poster for a film on the Life of Bernadette. My guess is, this film runs forever in this town.)
... and checking out the castle looking down on Lourdes....

...until it was time for evening mass. We headed back to the Basilica of Immaculate Conception.

Next Post: The Evening Mass at Lourdes.

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