Monday, June 27, 2016
Wednesday at Lourdes was without any planned activities. Mass was celebrated at 9:00 AM (at the same chapel) and we did the stations of the cross together at the hill beside the basilica. Some of the old ladies had some trepidation about the exertion but we did it slowly enough so that everyone could participate. Every station had life-sized statues. To me, the fourteenth station was the best: "Jesus is laid in the tomb". They actually had a natural cave there. And that wasn't the finale as there was a fifteenth station to represent the resurrection, a round rock that is supposed to be the rock that was rolled over the mouth of the tomb.
A must do in Lourdes is the holy bath so we quickly went for that. Luckily for us, we caught the tail end of the morning session and there wasn't a queue at all. Outside the baths was a row of chairs to wait and we were given a pamphlet with the history of the holy baths. Before I had the chance to finish the first paragraph, I was already invited to enter the first curtained area. The curtain was striped blue and white in the colours of Our Lady. Three wooden chairs lined two sides of the wall and a volunteer inside instructed me to stow my belongings and strop till my underwear. For the occasion I wore a pair of black trunks and not my more skanky stuff. Surprisingly I wasn't shivering in my skivvies while I was sitting there praying for my personal intentions.
Halfway through, an African gentleman appeared from the second curtained area clad in striped seamless trunks. His bubble butt was a temporary distraction from my prayers. Before long, I was instructed to enter the second curtained area where the bath was located. There were two volunteers inside and one of them asked me to face the wall and remove my underwear while he held up a piece of wet cloth. He then tightly wrapped the same cloth around my waist. He asked me my preferred language and directed me to the edge of the water. The holy bath is like a bath tub with steps leading into it. At the other end of the wall is a large statue of Our Lady of Lourdes and a smaller statue at the edge of the tub. There I raised up my intentions to Mother Mary. Once I signaled my readiness, the volunteers started praying and then I was led down into the freezing water. Once I reached the middle I was submerged into the water with the exception of my face. That submersion felt amazing. In a few seconds I was held up again and I continued my praying in front the statue of Our Lady. By that time, I felt that my legs were not my own but I wasn't shivering at all.
Our Lady of Lourdes, Pray for us.
St. Bernadette, Pray for us.
With that, they helped me out. I was brought to the wall again and the volunteer asked me to pull on my underwear and I walked back out to put on my clothes. For some reason, it was not a problem although I did not towel off at all. I just wiped my hair with my handkerchief. When I got out, I felt a warm tingling from the tip of my toes to my torso. A must-do at Lourdes.
We were free to move around by ourselves after that. There was much to see in Lourdes, taking in the sights and sounds. The air is fresh and the sound of birds chirping permeates the air.
Next up was the Rosary Basilica with its beautiful facades and impressive mosaics. Looked very Byzantine. The nave is topped with a dome that is surmounted with a golden crown. The dome is unique with sixteen circular stained glass windows on its perimeter. The Rosary Basilica also has many side chapels that feature detailed mosaics of mysteries from the rosary.
Both sides of the Rosary Basilica have a curved ramp leading up to the Upper Basilica representing the embracing arms of the church, something that is probably copied from St. Peter's Basilica in the Vatican. Beneath the ramps are more chapels, some dedicated to other Marian apparitions and some to saints. At the Upper Basilica, one can get a close up view of the dramatic golden crown and cross adorning the dome of the Rosary Basilica. Also a great vantage point to view the Rosary Square and the Gave de Pau river.
As we exit the grounds, many volunteers were streaming in. Must be a change in shift. Headed back to the hotel for a quick lunch of Maggi Hot Cup before heading out again to visit St. Bernadette's paternal house and the mill that she was born in. It was a long walk not only for the distance but for the fact that the we stopped at nearly every religious artifact shop along the way! If you lose your way in Lourdes, just follow the white lines back to the sanctuary.
Dinner was at the hotel again and it was some kind of sour vegetable soup and grilled chicken breast. Attended the candlelight procession again but I opted to take pictures from a higher vantage point. Rained quite heavily that night and that made things more difficult. Since it was our last night there, we filled up on the holy water for loved ones back home. Local pilgrims brought huge water containers that could fill enough for a bath!
Thursday, June 23, 2016
Just a couple of nights in Barcelona and we left for France in the morning. Switched buses and bus drivers which was for the worse. The previous Frota Azul bus had WiFi, while the replacement didn't. The previous driver was friendlier and more fluent in English while the new guy just gave a few grunts. Worse of all was that he had a jerky style of driving. Oh my.
During our comfort stop, bought some cold cuts and sausages from the supermarket connected to the petrol station. Seemed like 60% of their products were alcohol! Perpignan is a quaint, little city at the South of France some 190 KM away. A beautiful river lined with flowers flows through the city and there's a section behind old city walls. We were a little too early so there was time to explore.
Admired the beautiful Cathedral of St. John the Baptist before heading to lunch at Grand Cafe de La Bourse. Europeans were enjoying al fresco dining but our group asked for the shade. The waiters were at a lost about what to do. Sea bream was the catch of the day, and it came with cream sauce and a slice of Chioggia Beet. Never seen a beet with such beautiful rings before and I must say it beats the regular beets (pardon the pun). Accompanying the main was a duck gizzard salad sprinkled with crutons. Excellent. And of course we had the traditional dessert of creme brulee.
Came to Lourdes in the evening. Ate dinner at our hotel, Chapelle et Parc. The group was so uncharacteristically quiet since it was a French dinner. LOL. The restaurant served up quiche with salad, pork chop, and mixed fruits. With our bellies filled, we rushed to mass at St. Anne Chapel, a humble chapel located at the Basilica of the Immaculate Conception. The priest gave a scathing sermon that day, invoking his ace-- the guilt trip. Since we had time before the candlelight procession, we did the sacrament of reconciliation. Been a long time since my last confession. If not mistaken, it and during a pilgrimage to Tangkak in December 2009.
The candlelight procession started at 9:00 PM. The night was cold and it was drizzling a little. The procession happens every night and starts by the banks of the river that runs beside the Sanctuary of Lourdes. At the head of the procession is a lighted cross and of course a statue of Our Lady of Lourdes. Right behind would be the sick in special rickshaws pulled by volunteers. Those who can walk follow at the back. During the procession, people walk while reciting the rosary and singing hymns of praise to Mother Mary. When "Ave Maria" was sung after each decade of the rosary, everyone held up their candles in praise. Just one large round and they gather in front of the Rosary Basilica to finish the rosary in numerous languages depending on the representatives there that night.
Once the procession ended, the faithful proceeded to the side of the grotto to drink and wash with the holy water (Lourdes water) that flowed from numerous taps. The water was cool and refreshing. Many then proceed to the grotto where Our Lady of Lourdes appeared to St. Bernadette in 1858. The rocks were wet with holy water and the faithful touch the stones and view the original spring through a layer of plexi-glass. Above the grotto is the statue of Our Lady of Lourdes and petitioners pray around the pews to ask for her intercession. At the base of the grotto is a conical candle stand that is always burning with tall votive candles. Believers can also light their own votive candles at large metal stands called brulières. Can't imagine how many candles are expended at the sanctuary daily.
Right after that we went back to the hotel and finally got a good look at room. From the looks of things, it was newly-refurbished and I was glad that they provided a hot water kettle. A peculiar thing was that the toilet and the bathroom was separated into two rooms.