September 7 2018. Having to go to France, with my arm twisted up my back, (never forgetting the Rainbow Warrior debacle), the only other place I had a desire to see was Lourdes. Having flown from Paris to Biarritz, staying a night at a lovely airbnb, where our hostess Patricia met us at the airport, and picked us up in the morning and took us to the train, we made a train change on the way and landed in Lourdes around 11.30am.
The grotto where Mary appeared to Sister Bernadette is a place of healing and pilgrimage for thousands every year. The town of Lourdes is built entirely around the pilgrims. It felt very touristy to us. We had booked a nice old hotel just 3-4 minutes from the grotto.
We bought a few small bottles to fill with holy water and visited the grotto for the English service in the afternoon. It was stinking hot! Sitting in the sun, listening to the chanting of ‘Hail Mary’, and watching the seemingly endless line of people streaming around the grotto, touching the rock, seeking healing was amazing.
We filled our drink bottles with holy water, lit candles, prayed and then soaked our feet in the river, which we figured the holy spring emptied into.
It was nice, but not the experience I had thought it would be with the endless lines of people. We climbed up the stairs and investigated the chapel which was amazing and on up to the upper chapel. It was beautiful and worth the climb, we spent some time in it.
Leaving there we found our way outside and a sign pointing uphill to the 12 Stations of the Cross. Pilgrim Brenda decided we needed to do the walk (did I say it’s stinking hot?) so up the hill we went. We climbed the hill past the lovely depictions of the life of Christ and wandered down the other side. Near the bottom there was a path off to the side which Brenda and I wandered into. It was a natural cave, a natural chapel with a statue of Mary holding the crucified body of Jesus. It was a chapel for prayer for lost children, lost as in death or lost as in drugs, estrangement or by other means. It was overwhelming, beautiful and an amazing energy space. The tears ran as my heart felt the tenderness of the holy mother watching our children. The people tending the space offered to pray with me, an act of compassion that held us. This was me having a moment or two.
Back in our room it was time to repack and shed some weight. Dumping boarding passes, used papers, receipts, spare underwear, a tshirt and a blanket out of my pack as I tried to hone my weight for the adventure ahead.
Next stop would be St Jean Pier de Port. We had discovered we could get our pilgrims passports from Lourdes and so the next morning we went early to refill water bottles (need as much holy water as we can get), get our passports (not as flash as the fancy Camino ones) our first pilgrim stamps and off to the train. Two train changes later we were at our jumping off point. No more transport but our own feet for the next 5 weeks.