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A Day in Lourdes

 

Our Lady of Lourdes

Bayonne is the ideal home base for explorations in the Atlantic southwest of France (Basque country). This town has distinctive architecture characterized by colorful window shutters. It also has an impressive Gothic cathedral with a medieval cloister. Bayonne reminds me of Zürich without the glitz.

From Bayonne, its an easy 15-minute train ride to Biarritz, the surfing capital of France and an elegant seaside resort. Biarritz has a long promenade with breathtaking views of the Atlantic as it crashes into the rocky shores below. St. Jean de Luz is a picturesque village just south of Biarritz. It has a vibrant harbor, ornate iron balconies and a protected beach. And I love its sleepy small town feel that is suddenly transformed after siesta. But my main destination during this trip was Lourdes, the second most visited city in France. I wanted to see the grotto where the Blessed Virgin Mary appeared to the young girl, Bernadette Soubirous (this story was popularized by the movie, Song of Bernadette).

Approaching Lourdes, I could see the majestic Pyrenées mountains extend for miles into the countryside. Arriving in town and walking to the grotto, my attention was drawn toward the hill on which sits the medieval Chateau-Fort de Lourdes. Then to my dismay, I saw shop upon shop selling all kinds of religious articles and souvenirs lining the street leading to the Basilica. Thankfully, as I entered the gate to the pilgrimage grounds, I was welcomed by a long expanse of green lawn and a fast moving river to the right.

The upper Basilica is an impressive three-story structure built above the grotto where Mary appeared to Bernadette. There is also a cavernous underground Basilica named after Pope Pius X.

As I stood in front of the grotto, I felt peace and tranquility wash over me. It was easy to imagine how beautiful and wild it must have been in 1858 when Bernadette was tending her sheep in this setting. Today, people were standing in line to walk under the grotto to touch its walls, to pray and to feel the presence of Mary.

I took my plastic bottles and filled them with water from the spring that Bernadette had once scraped from the earth with her hands. Then I drank the cool, refreshing water, washed my face and dubbed my neck, arms and legs with the holy water. Afterward, I took my candles to the designated area where I lighted them as I prayed for my friends and loved ones. I felt truly blessed.

HotelMercure Agora Bayonne is on the river Nive and within easy walking distance to the old town and Cathedral. Restaurant in premises. Quiet location. For more information check their website: accorhotels.com.

Getting there: It is a five-hour train ride from Paris to Bayonne with direct service by TGV from Montparnasse Station in Paris. To Lourdes from Bayonne is a two-hour train ride. There are several trains per day on this route. 

There are regular bus and train services to Biarritz and St. Jean Luz from Bayonne.

*This article appeared in the Philippines News, December 16, 2002 edition.

*****

Image by TravelswithCharie



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