Touching the rock represents the embrace of God, solid as a rock. Throughout history, grottos have always served as natural shelters and have stimulated man’s imagination. Here in Massabielle, as in Bethlehem and in the tomb of Gethsemane, the rock of the Grotto has also sheltered the supernatural. Without any education, Bernadette instinctively understood. “It was my heaven”, she said concerning this Grotto. Facing this rocky mass, you too are invited to pass inside; see how the rock is smooth, polished by the touch of billions of loving caresses. As you pass through, take time to look at the ever-flowing spring, at the rear left.
Near the Grotto, millions of candles continuously burn since 25th February 1858. That day, Bernadette arrived at the Grotto with a blessed candle which she held, still burning, in her hand until the end of the apparition. Before she left, the Virgin Mary asked her to leave the candle burning in the Grotto. Since then, the candles offered by the pilgrims remain alight day and night. Each year, 700 tons of candles burn for you and those who cannot come. This sign of the light is omnipresent in sacred history. Pilgrims to Lourdes express their hope in a tangible way by carrying a candle in the procession.
“Go and drink at the Spring and wash yourself there”: this is what the Virgin Mary asked of Bernadette Soubirous on 25th February 1858. Lourdes water is not holy water. It is normal water. It has no thermal virtue or specific property. Lourdes water from the Spring became popular because of the miracles associated with it. The people who are cured either apply it or drink it. Bernadette Soubirous herself said: “This water is being taken as medicine… One must have faith, one must pray: this water would have no virtue without faith!” The water of Lourdes is also the sign of another water: that of baptism.
For over 160 years, the crowds come to Lourdes from all corners of the earth. During the first apparition on 11th February 1858, Bernadette was only accompanied by her sister Toinette and a friend Jeanne Abadie. After only a few weeks, Lourdes gained the reputation of the “city of miracles”. Hundreds and then thousands of the curious flocked from the surrounding countryside. After the official recognition of the Apparitions by the Church in 1862, the first local pilgrimages were organized. The reputation of Lourdes assumed an international dimension in the first years of the XXth century. However, it was only after the Second World War that the statistics show a sharp increase…From April to October, each Wednesday and Sunday at 9.30am, an international Mass is celebrated in the Basilica of Saint Pius X. International Masses adapted for young people also take place in the Sanctuary during the months of July and August.
The sick people and the hospitaliers
What is particularly striking to the casual visitor is the number of sick and disabled people present in the Sanctuary. All those traumatised by life may find a certain degree of comfort in Lourdes. Officially, 80,000 sick and disabled people from many countries come to Lourdes each year. Despite their wounds or disabilities, they feel they are in a haven of peace and joy. The first cures of Lourdes occurred during the Apparitions. At the time, the sheer sight of the Sick moved people to offer their help spontaneously. They became the men and women Hospitaliers. The cure of the body cannot conceal the cure of the heart. The Sick and the so-called able-bodied meet and pray together in front of the Grotto of the Apparitions before the Virgin Mary.