Lourdes - City of miracles - PhMuseum

Lourdes - City of miracles

Jeppe Bøje Nielsen

2012 - 2013

In 1858, when Bernadette Soubirous allegedly saw what many believe to have been the Virgin Mary, Lourdes was nothing but a village of little interest to anyone in a remote corner of the French Pyrénées mountains.

Since then, Lourdes has become the center of economic growth of the entire region. With more than 250 hotels in a city of 15.000 inhabitants, only Paris can accommodate more visitors on a nightly basis.

Today, Lourdes is a town where mass tourism co-exists with a church that has seen better times and is fighting for its financial survival. Pierre Abadias, Head of Fundraising at the Grotto says that the church is directly dependent on the number of pilgrims: "The church makes no money, but survives on people's generosity. The fewer pilgrims, the less money, it's as simple as that, "he says with reference to last years deficit, which he blames on the global financial crisis.

But the international press and the rank and file catholics see it differently. They claim that the crisis is self-inflicted - and that it has nothing to do with money. They say that the problems of the church have to be seen in direct relation to the church's handling of decades of abuse of children and young people.

Those who believe that Bernadette saw the Virgin Mary while she was collecting animal bones by the river banks more than 150 years ago, come to Lourdes to find peace and pray for a cure to the illnesses of their loved ones. Others simply despise the Grotto of Lourdes and the religious tourism that it attracts. But few remain indifferent to it.

Eric Saint-Germier, 52 years old, who died of cancer in October 2012, lived in Lourdes. By his own perspective, in august of 2012, he only had a few months to live. He knew he was going to die. "I respect people's faith," he said. "But I cannot stand the commercial aspect of the town."

During that same month, the church proclaimed the 68th miracle to have taken place at the Grotto. The next day, Eric Saint-Germier died of cancer.

{{ readMoreButton }}

  • The crisis looms in Lourdes and at the Grotto. The sanctuaries have had a steady deficit over the past years. Some attribute the crisis to the global financial recession, that began to roll in 2008; others insist that the Vaticans handling of the worldwide abuse scandals have had a tremendous impact on the loyalty of catholics in general.

  • Éric Saint-Germier, 50 years old, sick with cancer, now deceased. "I'm not here anymore. The person you're looking at is not me anymore. Eric Saint-Germier is gone. It's as simple that. I survive from day to day with a terrible fear of death. And when I succeed in forgetting it, there is always someone who reminds me of it. I no longer believe that I can be cured. My current medication is the only thing that enables me to talk and walk. It is over soon. I tell you this because you are a stranger. I have dreamt my life instead of living it. And I regret it. It's the mistake of my life. I am 52 years old, I have no children. I have cancer. Who am I? What have I done? When I'm gone? There is noone, nothing. My fire is extinguished with me. I get a stomach ache just talking about it. I'm a coward... When I was young, I dreamt that I would get old. But I was sick in my dreams. When I woke up, fortunately I was happy and healthy. Now I dream beautifully at night, but when I open my eyes, I waking up to the real nightmare. It's ironic isn't it?" (interview done in august 2012 - Éric died October 15th 2012)

  • Over 200.000 volunteers travel to the Grotto of Lourdes every year to help the sick and the disabled. Some of them get of them get off a two day train ride to work 12-hour shifts for five days before going back. The Italian organization U.N.I.T.A.L.S.I. is one of the largest catholic associations that travel to Lourdes during all periods of the year.

  • More than 10,000 'travellers' and nomads come to Lourdes every year during the third week of August. "All of a sudden the shops close early and the police is visible everywhere. This happens despite the fact that most gypsy families are in bed by 11pm," says Claude Dumas, 65, the 'travellers' priest.

  • "A woman walks across the yard at midnight, when she suddenly sees, in the moonlight, a werewolf that stands on its huge hind legs and reaches for her with its forelegs. The woman shutters at the sight, and gets cold sweat all over your body. It is impossible for her to scream eventhough she tries. Fortunately, she's strong enough to run to the house and tell her husband, what she has seen. He gets up right away, taking his gun, and loads it with gunpowder and two balls made ​​of wax from holy candles. He goes out, shoots the werewolf, which then lies flat on its stomach. To his astonishment, he sees that the werewolf is not a large animal with a long tail, but a human being. It is his neighbor who looks at him and says: "Thank you my friend, thank you for your help." - Anecdote believed by some to be the inspiration that led to Bernadette Soubirous apparitions.

  • During the summer months, up to 30.000 individuals gather for the night-procession. The atmosphere is one of expectation and attraction to the lit statue of the Virgin Mary, slowly paraded through the thick mass of pilgrims, when the darkness of the night fall over the city of Lourdes.
    One has to be amazed at the organization of the mass-gathering of people: eventhough the pilgrims only stay for a few days, the procession runs smooth every night, as if people know in advance what to do, and where to stand.

  • Mass at the Cité Saint-Pierre at the outskirts of the Grotto of Lourdes. The site is mainly home to pilgrims who do not have the means to stay in one of the city's more than 250 hotels.

  • Ciro and Antoinio Pernice, twins, 10 years old. They have travelled to the Grotto of Lourdes from Italy with their parents. While in Lourdes, they help out during masses, along with a steep increase in the number of young volunteers, that travel to Lourdes every year to help the sick and the disabled.

  • "Have you seen the riches at the Grotto?" says Béatrice, an openly lesbian pilgrim, visiting Lourdes for the first time. "How can there be so much wealth within the gates, and so many homeless people on the outside? It doesn't make sense," she says.

  • Lourdes is a town where mass tourism coexist with a
    church that has seen better times and is fighting for its financial survival.
    Pierre Abadias, Head of Fundraising at the Grotto says that the church is directly dependent on the number of pilgrims: "The church makes no money, but survives on people's generosity. The fewer pilgrims, the less money, it's as simple as that, "he says. "When the Italians suddenly can not afford to travel here, we can feel it," he says
    with reference to last year's deficit, which he blames on the global financial crisis.
    But the international press and the rank and file catholics see it differently. While the church blames the financial problems on the economic crisis, the other side claims that the crisis is self-inflicted - and that it has nothing to do with money. They say that the problems of the church must be seen in direct relation to the church's handling of decades of abuse of children and young people.

  • The sick and the disabled are wheeled back to the hospital after the evening procession. For many pilgrims, the night procession, with all its candles, represent the height of their pilgrimage to Lourdes.

  • Evening procession at the Grotto of Lourdes. Parents do their outmost to have their children blessed by the statue of the Virgin Mary. The space around the statue can be quite tumultuous during the night procession. Everyone either wants to either touch it or photograph it.


Newsletter