Wednesday, June 29, 2016
Said goodbye to Lourdes early in the morning for a long day of traveling. Stopped for lunch 300 KM away at Restaurant Cote France at Aire-Jardin des Causses du Lot. It was a restaurant attached to a rest stop along the highway. I had duck confit with a coffee cream eclair. Yummy. Continued on for 400 KM to Nevers passing by a couple of villages and a whole bunch of rapeseed fields. Too bad we could not stop to take pictures in the fields. The roads were small and bumpy making for a less comfortable ride (one lady threw up twice). The driver also made a few wrong turns. The GPS wasn't good enough so he had to switch on Google Maps as well.
Eventually we reached Nevers and checked in to Mercure Pont de Loire, a small two-storey hotel. Exchanged the long distance coach for a city bus (I suspect cause it was because the driver had exceeded his time on the road-- EU safety regulations!) to Espace Bernadette for a private mass. In the sanctuary is St. Bernadette's incorrupted body. A layer of wax covers her face and hands, so it looks lifelike. Outside the church is a reproduction of the grotto with an imported stone from Lourdes nailed to a marble plaque. Didn't have much time to explore the place as the staff were waiting to close up.
From there we went for short a city tour where we saw the war monument and Cathedrale Saint-Cyr et Sainte-Julitte. Had a late dinner at 8:30 PM. Chicken breast again, but it came with rice. Does that qualify as French chicken rice? Lol. Powered on the WIFI that night and was bombarded with loads of photos in the group chat. Pengsan. Packed everything up that night for the preparation back to KL on the next day.
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!