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The Basilica of Lourdes

Listed under Sacred Spaces in Midi-Pyrenees, France.

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The most visited pilgrimage shrine in the Christian world, Lourdes is not an ancient site but of more recent development. The origins of its sanctity begin with the fourteen year old girl Bernadette Soubirous. Between February and July of 1858, Bernadette saw apparitions of a white-robed lady 18 times in a small grotto called Massabiele, near the town of Lourdes. In the apparitions Bernadette was told to instruct the village priest to build a chapel in the grotto, which many people would soon come to visit. On the day of the 16th apparition, March 25, during her ecstatic trance in the grotto, Bernadette began to dig in the earth until a small puddle of water appeared. Over the next few days the puddle enlarged into a pool and eventually became the sacred spring for which Lourdes is now so famous.

Initially only a regional pilgrimage destination, as incidents of healing began to be reported, the spring developed an international reputation for having therapeutic powers. Pilgrims visiting Lourdes for its healing qualities bathe in pools of water from Bernadette's spring. Reports of miracles are thoroughly examined and evidence indicates that there are many cases of verifiable healings at the grotto. The increasing number of pilgrims eventually overcrowded the original church, built above the grotto in 1876, and in 1958 an immense basilica was constructed. The pilgrimage season lasts from April through October, with the main day being August 15, the Marian Feast of Assumption. Four to six million pilgrims visit the shrine each year, from around the world, and it is estimated that more than 200 million pilgrims have come to Lourdes since 1860. Other important Marian apparitions have occurred in La Salette, France in 1846; in Pontmain, France in 1871; in Knock, Ireland in 1879; in Castelpetroso, Italy in 1888; in Fatima, Portugal in 1916-1917; in Garabandal, Spain in 1961-1965; in Zeitoun, Egypt in 1968-1968; and in Medjugorje, Yugoslavia in 1981.

Lourdes on the Sacred Sites Website.

Written by  Martin Gray.

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