Bringing Lourdes Home- a pilgrim’s story

Goose River Press Anthology 2018, edited by Deb Benner, published my pilgrim’s essay. It’s an honor to have an essay included with the many talented writers and poets who contributed to the anthology.

Bringing Lourdes Home” describes events that happened during a 2001, journey my husband and I made, when we visited the beautiful Lourdes shrine. I am the author.

Grotto at Lourdes

The Grotto of Massabielle in the Lourdes Shrine. This is the location of the apparitions in 1858, with Saint Bernadette Soubirous.

LOURDES, France–  There are two “Lourdes”. One, is a municipal town located in the French Pyrenees Mountains, close to Spain. The other is a religious shrine where healing, cures and miracles have been attributed to those who have made religious pilgrimages. Most of the experiences, whether or not they include “cures”, are rooted in faith. There is evidence about how the human spirit, a desire to achieve a higher level of religious devotion, is strengthened as a result of attending the religious renewals, as they are organized at the Lourdes shrine.  My husband and I were visiting Lourdes as faithful tourists. We did not participate with a tour group.

Our special experience occurred after we returned home.

An unexpected outcome resulting from our visit related to an unusual conversation my husband had with a vendor in the Lourdes’ busy shopping district. Our story demonstrates how there are many ways of experiencing the miracle of Lourdes.

Frankly, we spoke with several people who explained how they had been helped by visiting Lourdes. One was an Irish lady who we spoke with, who was pushing herself in wheelchair. She explained to us how there had been a time when she was unable to physically get herself out of bed.  By pushing her own wheelchair, she felt this physical healing had been the result of her devotion to Lourdes and visiting the shrine. Another healing was described by my next door neighbor, in Maine, who gave me a letter written by her mother in response to our visit to Lourdes. Her mother’s letter described how she had experienced a short remission from her chronic autoimmune disease. She felt this had been a result of giving us her name to submit to the shrine’s grotto, where the faithful pray.

Our personal story was more pragmatic, rooted in a practical experience, than it was about a physical healing.

The Basilica of the Rosary in Lourdes France

Above the entrance to the Basilica of the Rosary at the Lourdes Shrine. The Basilica was opened in 1889 and consecrated in 1901, by Cardinal Benoît-Marie Langénieux.

For those who might be unfamiliar with the shrine in Lourdes, the history of the pilgrimages began in 1858, with a series of apparitions whereby the Virgin Mary appeared to young Bernadette Soubirous, who lived in the town. The series of apparitions began on February 11, 1858 and continued until July 16, 1858. They occurred in a grotto where, today, pilgrims pray and submerge in the healing baths filled with waters that abundantly flow throughout the shrine.

Our personal story was more pragmatic, rooted in practical experience, more than about a physical healing.  We didn’t realize the significance until after we had returned home to Maine.

When we walked the streets in the Town of Lourdes, we visited many of the bustling businesses and restaurants.  At one point, my husband felt like he was experiencing the aroma he was familiar with when his mother was cooking meals in their family’s kitchen. I was unable to share his special olfactory sense, but this experience followed him throughout our Sunday morning stroll, while we walked from our hotel to where we attended Mass, inside one of the shrine’s Sanctuaries. During our time inside the gates of the shrine, we followed a group of German pilgrims and attended the Mass they celebrated with the priest who was leading their group.

Of course, we also did some shopping. Our interest was not in purchasing the typical religious artifacts, so abundant in the merchants’ windows. In fact, we stayed away from items that were easily found in nearly all religious stores. Instead, we wanted to find something special.  We weren’t sure what that something might be.

Eventually, a particularly brilliant decoupage picture caught my husband’s eye.  It’s a popular image of a young woman who is carrying a baby.  She could be any young lady, but not like the kind of picture where halos and angels are floating in clouds.

“Madonna of the Streets” is the title of the picture, by Roterto Ferruzzi. In the image, the young woman is clothed in a blue cape and she wears a loosely fitting gold printed headscarf.  In her arms, she holds a sleeping baby who is dressed in a white gown. Some interpret her to be a homeless mother.

To our dismay, when we tried to purchase the picture, the shop keeper quoted an outrageous price, well beyond the amount we were willing to pay.

Consequently, my husband and the shop keeper engaged in an argument. Moreover, the proprietor was surprised when he found himself arguing with an American who could fluently calculate numbers in French. In my opinion, it’s tough to argue numbers in a foreign language, but the “soixante-dix!” and so forth and so on, rolled off my husband’s tongue with outrage.  Unfortunately, it didn’t take long before the fluctuating prices and the numbers flying back and forth between the two men became quite animated.  As a matter of fact, the shop keeper finally escorted us out of his store and closed the door as we made our exit.  It was an abrupt ending to the negotiations. We did not purchase the picture.

Back home in Maine, I kept thinking about the picture when I was surprised to find another, exactly like the one we wanted to purchase in Lourdes. It was for sale in our parish’s religious goods gift shop. I was pleased when the price tag on the picture was not “soixante-dix”, but, rather, simple to understand nine dollars. A price I could easily afford.

So, I purchased the affordable “Madonna of the Streets”,  the same one we had seen in Lourdes, and gave it to my husband as a gift for Father’s Day.

Yet, there was still more to end this Lourdes story. 

A few years later, we decided to put our house up for sale. Lourdes came back home when the “Madonna of the Streets” became a deciding factor to a family that was looking to purchase our house.

We were worried about finding a buyer, because a contract to move into our brand new home was nearing a closing date. Therefore, we were anxious to sell, as we prepared for the closing on another mortgage.  When the realtor took the prospective buyers through the house for sale, the image of the “Madonna of the Streets”, hanging on a bedroom wall, was perceived as a sign that our house was the right one for them to buy. We sold the home to the family because the wife carried a picture of the same image in her wallet.  Like a holy charm, the house sold and the family still lives there, at this time.

Our Lady of the Streets

This is the image that brought Lourdes home, following our visit to the shrine.

Our experiences in Lourdes were lovely in a spiritual sense and rather ordinary when it came to our interactions as tourists, trying to deal with an unreasonable shop keeper.

And the lesson to be learned is how there are many small and practical ways to experience miracles from a visit to Lourdes. We brought Lourdes home with us. In a spiritual sense, the encounters remain in our hearts as being uplifting and affirming of our faith. Yet, our practical memory about bringing Lourdes home continues to adorn the wall in a bedroom in our house.

Information about the Lourdes shrine is available at this site:

https://www.lourdes-france.org/en/

 

 

Juliana L'Heureux

About Juliana L'Heureux

Juliana L’Heureux is a free lance writer who publishes news, blogs and articles about Franco-Americans and the French culture. She has written about the culture in weekly and bi-weekly articles, for the past 27 years.