Grottos, Basilicas, springs, baths… How do you know what you need to see in Lourdes to get the full spiritual experience?
The Sanctuary at Lourdes is a beautiful religious and historical site visited by around 5 million people each year. To make the most out of your faith journey, check out our guide on how and why to visit Our Lady of Lourdes.
“Go and drink at the spring and wash yourself there!” These are the words the Virgin Mary spoke to Bernadette Soubrious in 1858 that inspired thousands of pilgrimages to Lourdes.
After Bernadette’s first vision of a “lady” in a grotto near the town of Lourdes, her parents interrogated and punished her. However, she returned to the grotto. This time, she brought holy water to test if the woman was a demon in disguise. Satisfied with her findings, Bernadette continued to visit the “lady,” who appeared to her several more times, until her parents forbade her from visiting the spot again.
The next day, Bernadette once again visited the grotto, and was told to dig there until she reached a spring, and to drink from it. Several believers in Bernadette’s visions also drank from the spring, and gave its water to the sick or injured. Some of those who drank the water were miraculously cured.
On March 25th, 1858, the lady revealed herself to Bernadette as “the Immaculate Conception,” or the Virgin Mary.
Despite controversies, Lourdes quickly became one of the most popular Marian Shrines, sites where the Virgin Mary has appeared. A local Catholic bishop verified that “the Virgin Mary did, indeed, appear to Bernadette Soubrious” on January 18, 1860.
Although the Catholic Church has no official stance on drinking and bathing in the spring at Lourdes, it has become a key aspect of most pilgrimages to the site. Local authorities provide the water for free, and it is also possible to bathe in water from the springs.
Each year, millions of people travel to Lourdes to see the incredible historic and religious site. When visiting the Sanctuary, it is important to remember to be respectful of those practicing devotion around you.
The Sanctuary of Our Lady of Lourdes is large, and its property includes 22 places of worship. While the Grotto of Massabielle and the Baths are the most prominent, there are also several beautiful churches and basilicas where you can attend daily masses, and two beautifully sculpted Ways of the Cross.
The Sanctuary at Lourdes offers a guide for new visitors wishing to make the pilgrimage to the Grotto. You can sit outside the Grotto and reflect on an array of benches, or wait your turn to enter the Grotto itself and see the spring that Bernadette dug.
Note: Though the Grotto itself is completely enclosed in rock and protected from the sun, many of the waiting and sitting areas are outdoors. It’s important to prepare for all kinds of weather.
After the Grotto, pilgrims reflect in silence before visiting the taps that release fresh spring water. Here, visitors can drink, wash their hands or faces, and even fill jugs with the water.
Before leaving, it is important to light a candle and say a prayer for yourself or a loved one. Lighting the candles is free, but you should leave an offering if you can.
When visiting the Baths at Lourdes, it is important to arrive early, as you may find yourself waiting for a while. In the waiting area, shaded benches are provided. It should be easy to find a place to sit and rest while you wait.
Once it is your turn to enter the baths, trained assistants will escort you into a changing room. They will ask you to remove all of your clothes. However, you will have a robe or loin cloth to maintain privacy. The assistants will then guide you to a bath, where you will pray and be submerged in water up to your shoulders.
If you wish, you can also request water to be poured over your head. It’s important to note that the water from the springs is very cold, so consider your tolerance for the freezing temperature.
Lourdes is not the only Marian Shrine in Europe, though it may be one of the two most prominent. The other widely known Marian Shrine is located in Fatima, Portugal.
As World War I raged across the continent, the Virgin Mary appeared to three shepherd children in Fatima as “a lady brighter than the sun.” Over a period of five months, on the 13th of each month, Mary appeared again. She promised the children that peace would come, and that they must continue praying to maintain that peace.
Fatima is very welcoming of visitors of all levels of devotion. Two huge churches stand at either end of a large plaza. In the center is a fountain full of holy water, which you may take home. There are masses in both churches, and a place outside where you can light candles and pray for loved ones.
Across the plaza is a long, smooth path, where you can often see pilgrims shuffling to the chapel on their knees. Anyone who wishes may make the kneeling pilgrimage for as much of the way as they choose. Those choosing to walk, however, should respect those who are kneeling. Be sure to give them room to make their journey.
At Fatima, there is also a piece of the Berlin Wall on display. It serves as a reminder of the peace promised by the Virgin Mary in 1917.
The plaza at Fatima is mainly outdoors, and gets very hot during the summer months. Be sure to drink lots of water and wear cool clothing.