Pilgrim’s Guide To France. How To Travel To Lourdes. Part 2.
June 26, 2018
Places associated with the Marian Apparitions and the life of St. Bernadette can be visited by pilgrims in Lourdes. Pilgrims are also invited to participate in Masses, Adoration, Rosary, Torchlight and Blessed Sacrament processions, celebration of the Sacrament of Reconciliation.
What to see in Lourdes
Sanctuary of Lourdes has four gates that are closed at night and opened every morning. Most people enter the sanctuary area through either St. Joseph’s Gate or St. Michael’s Gate as they are located close to downtown Lourdes and to many hotels. The gate opening and closing times depend on the season of the year; exact times can be found here.
Grotto of Apparitions is at the heart of the Sanctuary. It is located on the right side of Basilica of Our Lady of the Rosary, near the river Gave. All 18 apparitions of Our Lady took place at this Grotto in 1858. Our Lady of Lourdes statue marks the exact spot where Mary was appearing to St. Bernadette.
The spot where St. Bernadette was kneeling during the first apparition is also marked with a special sign on the ground today.
Thousands of people visit Grotto every day so it may be difficult to find a silent and contemplative environment there sometimes. But if you come early in the morning or late in the evening very few (and occasionally even no) people will be present.
Miraculous spring was discovered by St. Bernadette with Our Lady’s guidance during one of the apparitions in 1858. Our Lady encouraged St. Bernadette and all of us to drink this water. Today the spring can be seen inside of the Grotto (covered with a glass).
There is a line of people usually waiting for the entrance into the Grotto. You can drink or splash the water on yourself from the fountains that receive the water from this spring; the fountains are located close to the Grotto (to the left of it).
When people see the “Lourdes Basilica” they often think that there is one huge basilica standing near the Grotto and are often surprised to learn that there are actually three separate churches there: Basilica of the Immaculate Conception (upper church), Basilica of Our Lady of the Rosary (lower church) and the Crypt (located between the two basilicas).
Crypt is the smallest and the oldest of the three churches. It was consecrated on 1866. St. Bernadette’s father participated in its building. Masses are celebrated daily in the Crypt and adoration lasts almost all day here during the winter months.
If you turn right as soon as you go through the entrance into the Crypt, you will find a small chapel with the relics of St. Bernadette (a few fragments taken from her body in 1925; St. Bernadette’s incorrupt body can be seen in her monastery in the town of Nevers, France).
Basilica of the Immaculate Conception was built in Gothic style and consecrated ten years after the Crypt, in 1876. It was built on the top of the same rock where the Grotto of Apparitions is. The clock of the basilica plays Ave Maria every hour. Large portions of the interior walls of the basilica are covered with ex voto plaques donated in thanksgiving for the graces received. The main entrance into this basilica is above the main entrance into the Crypt.
Basilica of Our Lady of the Rosary was consecrated in 1901. It was built in Byzantine style with 15 smaller chapels inside; each chapel is representing the traditional 15 mysteries of the Rosary. Five Luminous mysteries of the Rosary (added by St. Pope John Paul II in 2002) are represented in the mosaics located on the exterior of the basilica.
Basilica of Pius X is a very large underground basilica consecrated during the centennial celebrations of the Apparitions in 1958 by then Papal Nuncio to France Cardinal Angelo Roncalli who a few years later became Pope John XXIII. The basilica can accommodate 25,000 people. The main entrance into this basilica is located near the Visitors Information building.
There are two Stations of the Cross in Lourdes. The high stations are located on the mountain near the Basilica of the Immaculate Conception (entrance into the Stations is across the street from the Crypt Gate which is also called the Basilica of the Immaculate Conception Gate).
A lot of climbing up the mountain will be required if you choose to walk these Stations but you will see a lot of beautiful mountain scenery, too. Smaller (or low) Stations are located not too far from the Grotto, on the other side of the Gave river.
The Bolly Mill is St. Bernadette’s birth place and her first home.
It is located in downtown Lourdes, within a walking distance from Parish Church (where St. Bernadette was baptized and where baptismal font can be seen today) and the Cachot (or old prison, where St. Bernadette lived during the Apparitions when her family experienced financial difficulties).
Directions to Bolly Mill and Cachot are posted on the streets of Lourdes. Sanctuary’s Visitor Information center can also assist you with finding them, if needed.
What to do in Lourdes
Masses are celebrated multiple times every day (in Crypt, Basilicas, Grotto and other locations). Mass times, languages and locations for each day can be found hereor at the Visitors Information center. International Masses are celebrated 9.30am every Sunday and Wednesday April to October and on certain feast days in St. Pius X Basilica.
Confessions are heard in multiple languages (including English, at least a few hours per day) every day in the Chapel of Reconciliation (located in the building to the left of the crowned statue of Virgin Mary).
Rosary in English is prayed (and broadcasted on EWTN) at the Grotto every Monday and Wednesday 2.30pm. Rosaries in other languages are prayed here daily.
Adoration of the Blessed Sacrament during winter season is at the Crypt almost all day and during summer season at the Chapel of Adoration which is located close to the Grotto, on the other side of the river Gave. Short adoration is also held at the Grotto 11.30pm to midnight April to October.
Blessed Sacrament Procession is held daily from Easter to All Saints at 5pm (starts in the Prairie of the Sanctuary). If the weather is rainy, special Adoration will be held in the underground Basilica of Pius X.
Torchlight Marian Procession is held daily at 9pm between Easter and October and less frequently during winter months. Pilgrims carry burning candles and pray Rosary during these processions.
Pilgrims can take a bath filled with the water from the miraculous spring (there are special baths installed in the Sanctuary). Mary encouraged St. Bernadette to not only drink the water from the miraculous spring but also to wash herself with it. The bath takes just a few minutes but waiting for it can take even more than an hour. Sanctuary staff and volunteers are available to assist those taking baths.
Sanctuary schedules change depending on season and are posted here (open the document called Programme Sanctuary of Lourdes). You can also find a detailed map of the Sanctuary by clicking the same link above.
Visitor Information center (located a short walk from St. Joseph’s Gate, on your right) is very helpful in answering any questions pilgrims have. You can also email them or call; contact information can be found on Sanctuary’s official website (at the bottom of the home page).
Marius Z. is writing about travel to holy places in Israel, Italy, Poland, France, Lithuania, Spain, Portugal and other countries. He writes about how to make pilgrimages inexpensive or even free while using credit card rewards points, frequent flyer miles, and hotel rewards points. History and spiritual message of each holy place is presented along with the information on where to eat, shop and stay while on a pilgrimage.