On the way into Argeles-Gazost and Pyrenean road biking, we passed through the town of Lourdes. The city’s major attraction and, seemingly, its major industry are the pilgrimage churches of the Sanctuary of Our Lady of Lourdes.
After parking in town, we followed the throng of pilgrims to the religious center. Pilgrims arrive by bus in Lourdes from around Europe. (We’d later seen signs in numerous churches around Europe promoting the Lourdes pilgrimage.) Worn around the neck, brightly colored sashes signify each pilgrim’s church affiliation. Even without a map, it was easy to find Lourdes religious center by following the pilgrim gradient. Just head in the direction of increased density of sashes and soon the Sanctuary of Our Lady of Lourdes or “The Domain” appears.
Entering into the religious complex, a basilica stands at the end of a long carefully landscaped plaza. Consecrated in 1901, the Leopold Hardy-designed Byzantine-style Rosary Basilica is not particularly old. I’d label the basilica’s architectural style as Jules Verne meets Greek Orthodox. It is not your typical church and it is interesting inside and out.
At first we thought that Rosary Basilica was the only church in the complex, but that was not close to being correct. Tucked in above and behind the Rosary Basilica is the neo-Gothic Basilica of Our Lady of the Immaculate Conception, otherwise known as the Upper Basilica. It is smaller, older, and easy to miss, particularly if you don’t see the signs. More traditional in design, this basilica is also worth a look. “Our Lady” sits above the grotto at Massabielle where St Bernadette’s visions took place and the historic Crypt.
Still there was a dilemma. There were so many middle-aged people milling about that it seemed like we were outside a Jimmy Buffett concert. But there were far too many pilgrims to be seated in the churches we just toured. Where were all the people going? This question was soon answered when we followed another stream of scarves. This parade of sashes took us to the Basilica of St. Pius X beneath a large grass-covered mound. When we stepped inside the cavern it felt like we were entering a parking garage, but we were not. Within services were ongoing in the stark modern “Underground Basilica.” And indeed, Jimmy Buffett might have been playing in this arena. The Basilica of St. Pius X accommodates 25,000 pilgrims. It was packed shoulder to shoulder when we peeked in.
When we arrived at the Underground Basilica, religious services were ongoing. It seemed that strains of Margaritaville would not be forthcoming. For us it was a sign to move on down the road. After all, Col du Tourmalet was waiting.
The full set of pictures have been posted to Picasa.