Lourdes Evening Mass

Skinny Dipping in the Holy Water of Lourdes

Hi Mee :)

I read about your trip from Barcelona to Lourdes…as I am planning to do the same route this coming April..will be traveling with my mum (71) and daughter (11).
And I am looking into other options…but then since you had been through that…
Could you care to give some advice especially we will be lugging our luggages.
How many days would be sufficient for first time visit if we want to take it easy..and which hotel would you recommend in Lourdes…as we come from the same background…Indonesia..you will have a better idea of how the Indonesians think :) hopefully…since you have some aunts who still live in Indonesia.
Thank you so much for sharing

Regards,
Nany

Thank you Nany for your letter. I love it most when people are benefited from my posts. I’ve sent her a nice reply, but just remembered how I never wrote about Lourdes here.

Lourdes is a small town in South of France that was known for the apparitions of Mary, the Mother of God, in 1858, to this small town girl called Bernadette. Today Lourdes has a population of about 15,000 and takes 5 million visitors per year.

Lourdes Basilica

I’m not sure how well known Lourdes is to the rest of the world, but it is one of, if not the most popular pilgrimage site for Indonesian Catholics, as my mom and aunties happen to be. A trip to France or Europe is less meaningful without a trip to Lourdes. It is the second most important place after Vatican City in Rome.

As I mentioned in my earlier post, I went with train from Barcelona to Lourdes, a route which I would recommend anybody coming from Spain. The details for this is all there, just follow the link.

Lourdes is a small town, and there’s nothing much to see there apart from the Grotto, which is a huge complex including several churches and places of worship. The main sight of it all is the grotto itself, told to be where the apparitions happened (note the multiple – allegedly it happened eighteen times), a spring water running in the cavities that people believe to have healing power, with a large statue of Virgin Mary guarding the grotto.

Grotto in Lourdes

the Grotto, always with queue

How much time to spend depends on how devoted you are, but even for my entourage, a full day was a satisfying amount.

There are two things that I highly recommend for you not to miss:

1) Skinny Dipping in the Holy Water

I love that heading so much I think I’m going to use it as the title of the post. Okay, I just did.
There’s a chance for everyone to bath in the holy water, though this is highly regulated, since the queue of people wanting to do it is quite something. We probably waited in the queue for about an hour for our turn. I was quite surprised to see the wide range of people in the queue that included Indian-looking people.

There are a few tubs available in cubicles, with separate sections for male and female. The female section was accommodated by the nuns, as I assumed the male is taken care of by male version of nuns or male volunteers. There was a small room before each tub, with six chairs – three on each side and hooks to hang your clothes.

Once you get into the small room, the nuns would instruct you swiftly to take off your clothes and to wear this white large thing – I don’t really remember what it was: a plastic, a cloth, or towel, but it wasn’t dry and warm, it was kind of wet and cold. We then had to do all kind of maneuvers to modestly take off our clothes covered only by the plastic thing in the room full of fellow dippers and nuns.

When it’s your turn, you’d be shoved to this tub with two nuns who are ready to hold your hands from two sides while you step into the tub with the holy water. The icy water hit me to the bone as I stepped into the water, one, two, three steps, until the water was up to my waist. There is a small Virgin Mary statue at the head of the tub, which I could hold on to while saying my prayer (inside). It was in summer in July, but the water was so cold, the only thing I did was chanting cold cold cold in my head.

After a few seconds, I gave sign to the nuns that I finished my pray, so they both dipped me in the water up to my neck, without wetting my head – as I assume they want to avoid having women with wet hair and a queue of hair drying session, then it’s over. I couldn’t wait to get off the water, so I stepped happily out.

All the while I was thinking how my mom was going to survive with her extremely low resistance to cold. Maybe her faith would help. She did say afterwards that it was cold as hell (I wonder if that’s the right expression?).

If skinny dipping in holy water is not your thing, there are a lot of taps near the grotto which have the spring water running, so you can wash your hand, feet, and face with it, and fill in bottles with the water. People literally filled in bucket-size containers of the holy water, which I assume to bring home, and possibly to share with people at home who don’t get a chance to go themselves. Small Mary containers are sold as well, which you could fill in with the holy water. They make nice souvenirs.

Holy water in Lourdes

2) The Candle Light Procession

Lourdes Evening Mass

The night procession goes with everyone holding a candle, moving solemnly in a route circling large area of the grotto. I can’t say I am one with big faith, but the mass was one of the most beautiful thing I’ve experienced. On top of that, one of the singers was the best I have ever heard. He literally made me stop dead in my path, just to listen to his singing, and I got goosebumps.

Interestingly, Lourdes was the only place in that entire trip, where we got people randomly took our pictures. There was one old man gleefully took picture of me and my aunts – which he showed to us afterwards. Look, what a nice picture I took! – he meant to say.

There was another event that was so odd and so random it’s still a mystery to me. At the end of a small processing in the morning, we took a picture of our group of about eight people. We asked someone passing by to help us take our picture.

After a couple of clicks, there was a woman, out of nowhere, asked the person to also take a picture with her camera, while she slipped into our group. We all just posed, then she left.

Who is she? I asked around. Nobody knew. Why did she take picture with us? We don’t know. Wha? What just happened?

Something about being in religious place makes you very forgiving about this kind of things though.

mom and aunties in Lourdes

mom and aunties in Lourdes

Lourdes

Looks a bit Disney-like from this side, doesn’t it?

Virgin Mary in Lourdes

 

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mee
The Traveling Reader
I left home when I was 17 and never stop exploring the world since. Most days I'm a digital technician at one of the London's biggest visual effects studio. My alternate persona writes and travels and dreams of doing these as a living. I alternately call myself Indonesian or Australian whichever is more beneficial at the time, and I've been a Londoner since 2011.