Saturday is the feast of Our Lady of Lourdes. The shrine attracts millions of pilgrims, and over the decades this has required more and bigger churches, which can confuse, or even overwhelm the visitor at first. The Domaine, or Sanctuary area, covers 130 acres and while its heart is the simplicity of the Grotto where Our Lady appeared, there are now many places of worship, and three of these are “basilicas”, a name given to a church as an honour, or distinction by the Pope. Entering the Sanctuary through St Michael’s Gate, the pilgrim will find the first two. The first, the Basilica of the Immaculate Conception, overlooks the second, the Basilica of Our Lady of the Rosary. The third basilica is underground and extends along the great esplanade of the processions.
The Basilica of the Immaculate Conception was started in 1866, and is the chapel requested by the Virgin Mary during the 13th apparition: “Go and tell the priests to build a chapel here and that people should come in procession”. It bears the name revealed by the Virgin to Bernadette in the local dialect: “Que soy era Immaculada Concepciou”. It is in a neo-Gothic style, and over 50 metres long, while the spire reaches 70 metres. The stained-glass windows detail the Apparitions, and the history of Lourdes and the Church.
The Basilica of Our Lady of the Rosary is built in a Romano-Byzantine style, on a Greek cross plan, i.e. with four equal arms. It was consecrated in 1901, and features mosaics representing the mysteries of the Rosary covering 2,000 square metres inside, while the Mysteries of Light were added outside in 2008.
The Basilica of St Pius X was inaugurated in 1958 for the 100th anniversary of the Apparitions. The vast underground basilica is an architectural feat by its dimensions, while its design, elliptical in shape and resembling an upturned boat, is unique, thanks to modern means such as pre-stressed concrete. It is the place for the celebration of international Masses, large gatherings, the adoration of the Blessed Sacrament and the blessing of the sick at the end of each Eucharistic procession. It covers 12,000 square metres and has seating for 5,000 but can accommodate 20,000 people in total.
Fr Matthew, edited from the official website www.lourdes-france.org/en