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Ancient Secrets

Published: Sunday September 28, 2014 MYT 12:00:00 AM
Updated: Sunday September 28, 2014 MYT 11:28:00 AM

At long last, Lourdes

The grand church at Lourdes is photographed by thousands of pilgrims and visitors daily.

The grand church at Lourdes is photographed by thousands of pilgrims and visitors daily.

A much-awaited pilgrimage rewards our columnist with blessing and contentment.

ALL sacred sites in the world have certain healing properties and, drawn by the energies of such holy places, I made a trip to Lourdes in France last week.

My journey was to satisfy my wish in primary school Catechism class to set foot in this major place of pilgrimage for the Catholic faith.

I sat in contemplation and silence when I boarded a fast train from Paris to Lourdes and arrived six hours later at the picturesque shelter of hope dotted with a majestic castle, a church and houses.

The fatigue and jet lag from my long journey disappeared immediately at the peaceful sight of the quiet country town, which dates back to Roman times.

The sanctuary emanates peace and there was no hint of the war, conquest, plunder and destruction it had experienced in 406 AD.

1 Devotees stroking the walls of the grotto at Lourdes to receive blessings and capture healing energy.2 The grand church at Lourdes is photographed by thousands of pilgrims and visitors daily.3 Hundreds of devotees taking part in a candlelight procession on the church grounds.4 A devotee lighting a candle at the grotto as a prayer offering.
Devotees stroking the walls of the grotto at Lourdes to receive blessings and capture healing energy.

Goose pimples appeared all over my body the moment I set foot on the sprawling church grounds in the evening; devotees, many wheelchair-bound, were arriving nonstop from all over the world.

Lourdes obtained its reputation as a place of healing in February 1858 after shepherdess Bernadette Soubirous started seeing visions of the Blessed Virgin Mary.

According to the book Lourdes Sanctuary Of Hope, the Virgin Mary entrusted Bernadette with numerous messages over the course of her 18 appearances.

In one apparition, Bernadette was told to build a chapel at the site and have the people come there in a procession.

In another apparition, Bernadette discovered a spring at the spot and was told to drink and wash herself.

Bernadette died at the age of 35 after an asthma attack and her legacy was summarised on a scrap of paper found in her room which read: “To obey is to love! Suffering in silence for Christ is joy! Loving sincerely is giving everything! Above all, suffering.”

Hundreds of devotees taking part in a candlelight procession on the church grounds.
Hundreds of devotees taking part in a candlelight procession on the church grounds.

She was buried in the small chapel in the garden of the Nevers convent.

Thirty years later the official process for her beatification, sanctification and her miracles became necessary to examine the body which was found in a perfect state of preservation.

Her body was later covered by a thin film of wax to ensure its preservation and laid in a bronze and glass-plate casket at the convent where it still lies today.

The first healing recorded in the book was of a mason who was blinded by a stone splinter 20 years earlier.

After he washed his eyes with water from the grotto, his right eye was completely healed on Feb 25, 1858.

On March 1 that year, Catherine Latapie plunged into the spring and her paralysed arm was immediately healed.

In 1948, an International Medical Committee made up of 32 doctors from 11 countries was established to examine the healing instances and concluded that they were of a “scientifically inexplicable character”.

A devotee lighting a candle at the grotto as a prayer offering.
A devotee lighting a candle at the grotto as a prayer offering.

To date, the church has officially recognised 69 miracles attributed directly to Our Lady of Lourdes.

The names of those healed, the dates of healing, nature of disease/affliction, their respective districts and the dates of recognition have been recorded in a book.

Reports of the curative powers at Lourdes started attracting people and the spring water was channelled into a reservoir built below the basilicas to feed 20 taps from which pilgrims draw the water to drink, wash and collect.

According to devotees, whether you are ill or healthy, touching it is an invitation to spiritual purification.

I washed myself and drank some water, which was cold and refreshing.

Before I left the space, I collected some water in several bottles for my family and friends.

A marble statue of the Virgin Mary stands at the grotto. People come by the hundreds daily to seek her grace with the hope of experiencing some form of miracle.

I joined dozens of devotees to walk under the rocky mass, all stroking the wall with our hands, to capture the energy it generated.

When I walked below the statue, a drop of water from the cave fell on my hand and I was elated by this sign of blessing.

Many expressed their devotion with their hands clasped or open in prayer; some knelt, several cried and everyone sat for hours to experience some form of connection through sight and silence.

Calm and tranquillity prevail in the area, where candles burn constantly in a grand cone-shaped candelabra located at the banks of the Gave de Pau River.

Following this, I arrived at a row of candle chambers where there are millions of candles of various sizes and heights; candles have been burned here continuously since 1858. A clergyman informed me that the fire and smoke represents millions of prayer intentions and wishes.

I lit several candles for my family and friends as an offering and a gesture of appreciation.

I also attended a Mass in Spanish at the Upper Basilica, and later observed throngs of visitors taking photographs of the church.

One moving moment was when I participated in the candlelight procession with more than 2,000 devotees at 9pm, singing hymns which transformed the atmosphere into one of bliss.

The church grounds became a luminous wonderland which you would either want to visit regularly or stay at permanently.

Many came to Lourdes with expectations, and left with satisfaction.

As for me, I left in contentment because I had fulfilled my childhood desire to experience the healing powers of the Virgin Mary. I have now added Lourdes as one of the top three must-visit sites in my annual pilgrimage calendar.

T. Selva, senior consulting editor at The Star, is the first disciple of 7th generation Vasthu Sastra master Yuvaraj Sowma from Chennai, India and author of Vasthu Sastra Guide. This column appears on the last Sunday of every month.

Tags / Keywords: Lifestyle, church, Lourdes, Catholic

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