Our Lady of the Holy Waters

Lourdes’ rise to fame came about after the visions of a poorly nourished and sickly teenager in the misty gloom of the Massabielle grotto in 1858. Other towns in the area were already popular tourist destinations, attracting northern Europeans and French visitors in search of healing waters in the Pyrenees region.

Gout, rheumatism and chronic disease, such as eczema and syphilis  drew people to towns like Cauterets, Eaux-Bonnes, Eaux-Chaudes, Luz-Saint-Sauveur and Bagnères-de-Bigorre  which nowadays offer blissful spa retreats.  Is it a surprise that Lourdes wanted its share of the money tourists spend?

Who is to say what Bernadette saw or thought she saw? Who can comment on the intentions of the pilgrims who took the hope cure at these shrines?  Surely the water and fresh air were beneficial.  Perhaps the sense of purpose and community encouraged the chronically ill to carry on. Undoubtedly Bernadette had a tough life and shed many tears.

E. M. Cioran, the Romanian-born French philosopher, writes in Tears and Saints, “The church was wrong to canonize so few women saints. Its misogyny and stinginess made me want to be more generous.  Any woman who sheds tears for love in loneliness is a saint.  The Church has never understood that saintly women are made of God’s tears.”  [Univ. Chicago Press, 1995, page 49].

Lourdes enjoyed rapid ascent of prosperity with the help of the enthusiastic journalist Henri Lasserre who in 1869 produced “Notre-Dame de Lourdes,” described by a reliable 21st century Oxford historian as “the most romantic of stories.” [Lourdes, Body and Spirit in the Secular Age, Ruth Harris, Viking, 1999, p. 19].  The bishop overseeing the diocese steadfastly steered the religious political machine.

Meanwhile the nearby pilgrimage town Lestelle-Bettharam with its own grotto where apparitions of a heavenly woman had been seen by an adolescent girl long before Bernadette’s experiences, fell on hard times. There were no tourists in Lestelle-Bettharam when I arrived on foot in the rain and  sheltered at the Hotel de Touristes.  There was no line of waiting visitors for the local tourist attraction, a little train that chugs through the Bettharam cave.  The shrine and monastery were locked.


About pyreneespilgrimage

Traveler, artist, writer and new media advisor. Author of Travel Writing: See the World, Sell the Story. Author of Pyrenees Pilgrimage, available through Amazon print on demand.
This entry was posted in France, Pilgrimage, Travel in the Pyrénées Mountains and tagged , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to Our Lady of the Holy Waters

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