I’ve just gotten home after doing a Visita Iglesia on a Maundy Thursday and with a happy bowl of ‘binignit’, I slowly drift away to wonderful memories of churches that Steph, my prayer slash travel buddy, and I have been blessed enough to visit.
How timely of this post to go live on Easter Sunday indeed.
There are thousands of churches out there that have yet to be visited. Even more so that are left undiscovered. From the simplest to the most elegantly designed, all stand for the same purpose: prayer and worship.
Let me take you all with me to that one memorable day when we finally got to visit one of the holiest places we have ever set foot on- the Sanctuary of Our Lady of Lourdes.
The Sanctuary is the Holy area surrounding the Grotto where the Virgin Mary appeared to St. Bernadette Soubirous in 1858 in Lourdes, France.
I shall keep the story short and sweet that way. For an in depth read on the amazing history behind this miraculous place, you may visit the Lourdes website here.
People from all over the world visit the Sanctuary everyday, taking part in a pilgrimage, hearing Holy Mass, joining the torchlight procession, and drinking and bathing from the “Sacred Spring” to which miracles have been witnessed. We even walked pass an area where crutches and stretchers were left by those who used them before but have now been healed.
Given only two days and a night before our next flight (we were on a short side trip from Paris before heading to Lisbon), we made sure to list down all the important areas of the Sanctuary and the to do’s that came with it so that everything would be organized and systematic despite being pressed for time.
Here are the things we made sure to tick off our list:
1.The Grotto of Massabielle
She was the reason for our visit and so it was only rightful that we searched for Her the moment we arrived. Could hardly believe our eyes when we saw The Virgin Mary in the exact spot she made an apparition to St. Bernadette. It felt so SURREAL.
2. Bathe in the Sacred Pools
The Lourdes water which comes from the spring flowing from the Grotto of Massabielle is said to be miraculous. Sick pilgrims who drank from the spring and bathed in the Sacred Pools have attested to being healed from several medical conditions. As of this writing, there are 69 verified miracles that have been reported.
– It was a rather cold autumn afternoon in October but Steph and I decided to line up for the Sacred Pools. And this was how our experience went.
After lining up and praying at the Grotto, we then proceeded to the area further down the the river (refer to photo above).
The Sacred Pool area is divided into 2 sections: Male Area and Female Area. They accept 10 persons at a time and while you wait for your turn, you are seated together with others as an incredibly moving rosary is prayed in different languages. Listening to the Hail Mary being recited in Spanish, French and Italian made me want to learn these versions right then and there and that is exactly what I did as soon as I got home from this trip.
I could not explain how a sudden feeling of peace seemed to fill the air as I prayed together with everyone. And how lucky was I to be asked to pray a Hail Mary in my own language too? Truly an experience, yes it was.
The Holy Bath
The entrance you see in the photo above leads to the Sacred Pools. Once it is your turn to enter, a group of nuns some 40-50 years of age, escort you to your designated covered pool (there must have been 10 inside, each with Mama Mary’s statue by the wall). The nuns then assist you and carefully cover you as you start to undress. They wrap you in blue linen and then proceed to tell you to pray for your intentions. As soon as you are done, you should make the Sign of the Cross and with this signal, the nuns prepare you for the bath.
Two nuns held me on each hand while another proceeded to replace the sole blue linen that covered me into a white one. All three then whispered a prayer in French as they carefully led me to dip my feet onto the pool. The water was freezing cold that I could feel a brain freeze coming even when it hasn’t touched my upper body yet. Seconds later, they made me walk a few steps deeper and as soon as I reached the spot, they swiftly dipped my upper body (shoulder down) into the icy cold, spring water.
The entire process was very quick and prayer-filled. It was done in such a private manner too, that before I knew it, another nun assisted me into my clothes and I was ready to go thereafter.
This has remained to be one of the most unforgettable, most surreal and holiest experiences of my life. Truly, NO WORDS could ever explain how I felt that day.
Please excuse our post bath, freezing cold faces but we just had to take a selfie of this amazing experience. And as if that wasn’t enough, we were told that it would take hours to line up for the Sacred Pools. That day, as though it was all planned and willed to happen, the lines were short and everything went very smoothly. (A lady told us earlier that she lined up early in the morning just to take part in the Holy Bath. We arrived late in the afternoon.)
Considering how short our stay was, every second was precious. Steph and I would like to think of the whole visit as “truly meant”. Someone up there has made it all possible for us to experience this blessing and we will forever cherish it for the rest of our days.
3. Drink from the Sacred Spring
There is an area just beside the Grotto which allowed for pilgrims to drink from the spring and that is exactly what we did after the Holy Bath.
Tip: There are little souvenir stores outside the Sanctuary that sell tiny glass jars (and big ones too) for those who would want to bring some Sacred Spring water home. The jars were such a happy “pasalubong” to my loved ones.
I still have mine up to this day, making a rare but sweet appearance each time I pray the Novena to our Lady of Lourdes. And some days when things grow heavy on the chest, i dab a little of the spring water onto the spot where I can feel my heartbeat, pray and right then and there, I know things will get better.
4. Join the Torchlight Procession
Taking part in the solemn Lourdes Torchlight Procession is a definite must when in Lourdes. The amazing showcase of faith as the crowd sang the Ave Maria was truly a moving sight. Steph and I couldn’t help but shed a tear as we walked around the dark Sanctuary grounds, candles at hand, together with what must have been thousands of people from all over the world. We made sure not to miss this important event on the first and only night of our visit.
The procession is held every night at 9 Pm. We highly recommend going there at least 30 minutes earlier to make sure that you are on the right meeting point. People usually meet up by the Marian statue but that night, the procession started by the path just beside the river. We were so glad to have gone there early otherwise we might have missed the procession had we waited in the wrong place.
Don’t forget to bring your candles as well. You can buy some in the souvenir stores outside the Sanctuary grounds along with the glass jars mentioned above.
Below is a collection of short video clips I managed to take to immortalize that memorable experience:
That concludes the must do’s in our list. The other things we managed to do in between were: visit the different churches within the Sanctuary grounds (don’t forget to make a wish for every first visit), climb up to the very top of the Rosary Basilica, light a candle in the Chapel of Lights, visit the Marian Statue and sit by the Gave de Pau river just to take in the view.
If you’ve read this far, hehe yes I can be quite talkative sometimes especially when I truly love the place, I hope this post serves itself useful to you and your travel companions as you visit Lourdes. Remember to write your petitions ahead so that no matter how moved you are just by being there, you won’t forget anything or anyone that you need to pray for. Stock up on those glass jars. I wish I brought home more. Attend the international mass. Most importantly, enjoy the moment and the mere blessing of being there. It will be unlike anything you’ve ever experienced before.
All my love,