Today our pilgrimage entered into Lourdes, the foremost of the Marian apparition sites in Europe. In 1858, a young Bernadette Soubirous received a vision of Our Lady which led to her uncovering of a spring along side the Pau.
The town of Lourdes attracts hundreds of thousands of visitors each year. Many come in search of healing. Others come out of curiosity. The tradition attached to the visitation to Lourdes is that of bathing in the water of the spring. Our Lady’s instruction to St Bernadette though was to drink.
Being January, Lourdes is practically sans the masses. The Sanctuary is still with only a few people coming to pray at the grotto. Our NZ pilgrim group arrived for Mass at the Crux Gloria, set aside for the care of English speaking pilgrims.
Following the Mass we made our way to past the grotto of Masabielle to the waiting attendants at the baths. Separated into male and female sections, pilgrims present themselves to be admitted. There is a strange mix of fear and joy upon entering the area of the baths. The attendants instruct you to strip down to your underwear and wait to be taken through to the other side of the curtain. It is there that your remaining clothing is removed and a wet sheet wrapped around you. Being led to the baths, you are then invited to pray silently. As you step down into the baths, the cold water immediately sends your senses into overdrive. A couple of steps towards the centre of the knee deep bath you are asked to let yourself be totally guided by the hands of the attendants who have done this hundreds if not thousands of times. As they lower you into the water, your feel yourself letting go. Many things that have been burdening you seem to dissolve into the water.
Once you are raised up out of the water, you feel like you are a new creation. It is reminiscent of our baptism, being made new. As soon as you exit the bath, you notice that you are dry and in no need of a towel. Further to that is the overwhelming feeling of warmth that envelopes you.
Watching our pilgrims exit the bath area, I can see a change in their expression. Some look confused, shocked even about what they have just experienced. All of them though, have a look of joy about them. They look younger!
On the Lourdes Sanctuary website, a description of the water says that the water of Lourdes has no other quality that renders it any different than water anywhere else. There is however something different about what this water does for people. The water of Lourdes provides strength for the mind, the body and especially for the spirit for untold millions who indeed have experienced miracles because of it.