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Fort in Lourdes

Lourdes ( ) is a commune in the Hautes-Pyrénéesmarker department in the Midi-Pyrénéesmarker region in south-western Francemarker.

Lourdes is a small market town lying in the foothills of the Pyreneesmarker, famous for the Marian apparitions of Our Lady of Lourdes that are reported to have occurred in 1858 to Bernadette Soubirous. At that time, the most prominent feature of the town was the fortified castle that rises up from a rocky escarpment at its centre.


Following the reports that Our Lady of Lourdes had appeared to Bernadette Soubirous on several occasions, Lourdes has developed into a major place of Christian pilgrimage and of alleged miraculous healings. The 150th Jubilee of the first apparition took place on 11 February 2008 with an outdoor mass attended by approx 45,000 pilgrims.

Today Lourdes has a population of around 15,000 but is able to take in some 5,000,000 pilgrims and tourists every season. With about 270 hotels, Lourdes has the second greatest number of hotels in France after Paris.

It is the joint seat of the diocese of Tarbes-et-Lourdes and is the largest pilgrimage site in France, the second site being the Basilica of St. Thérèse marker, in Normandie.


Lourdes is located in the area of the prime meridian in France. It is overlooked from the south by the Pyrenean peaks of Anetomarker, Montaigu, and Vignemalemarker (3,298 m), while around the town there are three summits reaching up to 1,000 m which are known as the Béout, the Petit Jer (with its three crosses) and the Grand Jer (with its single cross) which overlook the town. The Grand Jer is accessible via the funicular railway of the Pic du Jermarker. The Béout was once accessible by cable car, although this has fallen into disrepair. A pavilion is still visible on the summit.

Lourdes lies at an altitude of and in a central position through which runs the fast-flowing river Gave de Paumarker from the south coming from its source at Gavarniemarker, into which flow several smaller rivers from Barègesmarker and Cauteretsmarker. The Gave then branches off to the west towards the Béarn, running past the banks of the Grotto and on downstream to Paumarker and then Biarritzmarker.

On land bordered by a loop of the Gave de Pau is an outcrop of rock called Massabielle, (from masse vieille: "old mass"). On the northern aspect of this rock, near the riverbank, is a naturally occurring, irregularly shaped shallow cave or grotto, in which the apparitions of 1858 took place.


During the 8th century, Lourdes and its fortress became the focus of skirmishes between Mirat, the local leader, and Charlemagne, King of the Franks. Charlemagne had been laying siege to Mirat in the fortress for some time, but the Moor had so far refused to surrender. According to legend, an eagle unexpectedly appeared and dropped an enormous trout at the feet of Mirat. It was seen as such a bad omen that Mirat was persuaded to surrender to the Queen of the sky by the local bishop. He visited the Black Virgin of Puy to offer gifts, so he could make sure this was the best course of action and, astounded by its exceptional beauty, he decided to surrender the fort and convert to Christianity. On the day of his baptism, Mirat took on the name of Lorus, which was given to the town, now known as Lourdes.

After being the residency of the Bigorre counts, Lourdes was given to Englandmarker by the Brétigny Treaty which bought a temporary peace to France during the course of the Hundred Years War with the result that the French lost the town to the English, from 1360. In 1405, Charles VI laid siege to the castle during the course of the Hundred Years War and eventually captured the town from the English following the 18-month siege. Later, during the late 16th century, France was ravaged with the Wars of Religion between the Roman Catholics and the Huguenots. In 1569, Count Gabriel de Montgomery attacked the nearby town of Tarbes when Queen Jeanne d’Albret of Navarre established Protestantism there. The town was overrun, in 1592, by forces of the Catholic League and the Catholic faith was re-established in the area. In 1607, Lourdes finally became part of the Kingdom of France.

The castle became a jail under Louis XV but, in 1789, the General Estates Assembly ordered the liberation of prisoners. Following the rise of Napoleon in 1803, he again made the Castle an Estate jail. Towards the end of the Peninsular War between France, Spain, Portugal, and Britain in 1814, British and Allied forces, under the Duke of Wellington, entered France and took control of the region and followed Marshall Soult’s army, defeating the French near the adjoining town of Tarbes before the final battle took place outside Toulousemarker on 10 April 1814 which brought the war to an end.

Up until 1858, Lourdes was a quiet, modest, county-town with a population of only some 4,000 inhabitants. The castle was occupied by an infantry garrison. The town was a place people passed through on their way to the waters at Barègesmarker, Cauteretsmarker, Luz-Saint-Sauveurmarker and Bagnères-de-Bigorremarker, and for the first mountaineers on their way to Gavarnie, when the events which were to change its history took place.

On 11 February 1858, a 14-year-old local girl, Bernadette Soubirous, claimed a beautiful lady appeared to her in the remote Grotto of Massabielle. The lady later identified herself as "the Immaculate Conception" and the faithful believe her to be the Blessed Virgin Mary. The lady appeared 18 times, and by 1859 thousands of pilgrims were visiting Lourdes. A statue of Our Lady of Lourdes was erected at the site in 1864. See Our Lady of Lourdes for more details on the apparitions.

Since the apparitions, Lourdes has become one of the world's leading Catholic Marian shrines and the number of visitors grows each year. It has such an important place within the Roman Catholic church, that Pope John Paul II visited the shrine twice on 15 August 1983 and 14–15 August 2004. In 2007, Pope Benedict XVI authorized special indulgences to mark the 150th anniversary of Our Lady of Lourdes.

Sanctuary of Lourdes

Yearly from March to October the Sanctuary of Our Lady of Lourdes is a place of mass pilgrimage from Europe and other parts of the world. The spring water from the grotto is believed by some to possess healing properties, however there have been skeptics of the miracles from the first reports.

An estimated 200 million people have visited the shrine since 1860, and the Roman Catholic Church has officially recognised 67 miraculous healings which are stringently examined for authenticityand authentic miracle healing with no physical or psychological basis other than the healing power of the water. Especially impressive are candlelight and sacrament processions. Tours from all over the world are organized to visit the Sanctuary. Connected with this pilgrimage is often the consumption of or bathing in the Lourdes water which wells out of the Grotto.

At the time of the apparitions the grotto was on common land which was used by the villagers variously for pasturing animals, collecting firewood and as a garbage dump, and it possessed a reputation for being an unpleasant place.

Ukrainian Church

The five-domed St. Mary's Ukrainian Catholic Church in Lourdes was designed by Myroslav Nimciv, while its Byzantine interior polychrome decorations were executed by famed artist Jerzy Nowosielski. The church is about a 10-minute walk from the basilica and the grotto, on a street named in honor of Ukrainemarker, situated on a narrow piece of property close to the railroad station. Visible from the basilica, the height of the building makes up for its breadth.

The Ukrainian Catholic church is located on 8 Rue de l'Ukraine, 65100 Lourdes, France.

International relations

Twin towns - Sister cities

Lourdes is twinned with:


Although the town is most famous for its shrines it is also notable for its Rugby union team, FC Lourdes, which during the mid-twentieth century was one of the most successful teams in France, winning the national championship 8 times from 1948 to 1968. Their most famous player is Jean Prat who represented his country 51 times.

There is also an amateur association football team called Football Club Lourdais XI.

In popular culture

  • The movie Song of Bernadette, based on a novel by Franz Werfel which tells the occurrences at Lourdes, won 4 Academy Awards in 1944.
  • Comedian George Carlin frequently made references to Lourdes in some Catholic-related skits.
  • Entertainer Madonna named her firstborn daughter Lourdes in 1996.
  • The character Cochepaille from Les Misérables is from Lourdes.
  • Woody Allen in the movie "Annie Hall" tells Annie he has been seeing an analyst for 15 years. She exclaims, "15 years?!" To which he replies, "I'm going to give him one more year, and then I'm going to Lourdes."

Émile Zola (1840–1902) wrote the novel Lourdes that deals with faith and healing, particularly of Marie de Guersaint. It is a major work of literature dealing with the sickness, despair, faith and hope.

Catherine Simon Wrote a book, Where Echoes Meet, capturing the stories of nine pilgrims and their experiences in Lourdes, including that of Jean-Pierre Bély, the last confirmed pilgrim to be healed in Lourdes.

Mireille Mathieu, the famous French singer, in referring to the deficiencies in any human being, has stated that when she goes to Lourdes and sees sick or invalid people around, she considers it a sin to complain.

In Jean-Dominique Bauby's autobiographical account of his life in the book The Diving Bell and the Butterfly, and also the film version of the same name, he depicts a trip he took to Lourdes in the 1970s with a girlfriend.


Lourdes is served by Tarbes-Lourdes-Pyrénées Airportmarker


Lourdes has two main schools, one public and one private. The private school, the "lycee Peyramale St Joseph" was founded just two years before the apparitions by two monks; it is named after the curee peyramale, who was present during the apparitions. It celebrated its 150th anniversary in 2007. The public school, the "Lycee de Sarsan," is a newer, less reputed establishment. It is in constant rivalry with the lycee Peyramale.

See also


External links

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