To reach the Massabielle grotto, where the Virgin Mary appeared to Bernadette Soubirous, the pilgrims walk across Lourdes' grand esplanade which is dominated by a statue of the Crowned Virgin. In the background one can see the Lourdes fortress where Charlemagne and Duguesclin once passed.
The pilgrims then pass in front of the Rosary Basilica, which was built 30 years after the Marian apparitions. Behind it rises the spire of a second Basilica: the Immaculate Conception Basilica.
IVI pilgrims praying in front of the Rosary Basilica
Pilgrims from all over the world assemble in the grotto where Mary appeared to Bernadette 18 times, between February and July 1858: Bernadette once said "The Holy Virgin chose me because I was the poorest and the most ignorant".
All day long, pilgrims, able-bodied as well the sick and disabled stream silently through the grotto, touching the sacred rock and praying in front of the spring which surged during the 9th apparition: "With Her finger", said Bernadette, "She showed me the spring. I went there but only found some muddy water. I dipped my hand in it but could not manage to get any. Finally, I succeeded after digging a little. I had to throw the water away three times because it was dirty. On my fourth attempt, I was able to drink it."
Candles are a very important symbol in Lourdes. On the 17th apparition, Bernadette was holding a burning candle in her right hand. She was in ecstasy. All the people around witnessed the flame wrapping itself around her left hand, without burning her. Dr. Dozous, who was present and who was previously skeptical concerning the appearances, exclaimed: "I now believe! I have seen with my very own eyes!"
On July 16th 1858, the Lady in White named herself "The Immaculate Conception" and said farewell to Bernadette: "I have never seen her so beautiful", Bernadette later recalled.
Along the embankment of the Gave de Pau River, one passes before the 16 pools in which hundreds of believers come to bathe every day. "Go and drink from the fountain and wash yourself in it", Mary said. From the spring which flowed under Bernadette's hands now pours 5000 liters of water per hour!
The bridge crossing the Gave de Pau River which on this end of May is quite turbulent
The river overflowing is a result of recent storms and thawing of this year's unusually heavy –packed snow.
View of the basilicas from the other bank.
One of Lourdes's many souvenir stores.
On the Saturday afternoon, the IVI pilgrims came together in a field on the outskirts of Lourdes, near the Betharram caves, for a vibrations session.
At night, pilgrims from all countries hold fervent and moving processions around the Massabielle grotto.
On Sunday morning, IVI's 300 pilgrims gather under the pyramid of the Cité Saint-Pierre: the mission of this institution, which is part of the Secours Catholic-Caritas Association, is to accommodate people whose lives have been affected by hardship, suffering, or financial difficulties, who wish to make a pilgrimage to Lourdes.
The Pilgrims listening to the conference of Yvonne Trubert, who founded Invitation to Life in 1983.
On the following morning, the pilgrims prepare for an hour's walk to Gavarnie circus, located in the heart of the Pyrenees chain.
"The most mysterious architecture, by the most mysterious architect, nature's colosseum: it is Gavarnie" (Victor Hugo). The majesty of the place calls for contemplation and meditation. The Gave de Pau River takes its source in the Gavarnie circus, in which is also located Europe's longest waterfall (423 m).
The next day, an outing to the Basque country, with prayer in the Oloron-Sainte-Marie Cathedral. This city was a stop over on the main route to Santiago de Compostela.
After hours of riding in the bus and many rosaries, a moment of farniente to admire the Saint-Jean-de Luz fishing port...
On Wednesday May 27th, the pilgrims' trip back home is preceded by a visit of the splendid Saint-Bertrand de Comminges Cathedral. Surrounded by steep walls, it dominates a fertile basin where the Garonne River runs.
The old Romanesque building, founded by Bishop Saint Bertrand, was completely transformed in the XIV century to make room for an impressive Gothic nave; the roof is 28 meters high. Many pilgrims going to Santiago de Compostela have prayed here in front of the relics of Saint Bertrand.
As of the XIIth century, the cloister was designed by Saint Bertrand as a place for praying, meeting and relaxing for members of his congregation.
The pilgrims have their last meal together before departing to the city of Pau's airport.
At Saint-Bertrand de Comminges the Holy Virgin glances at the pilgrims one last time...