Lourdes, the global centre of Marian pilgrimage in France
Lourdes is a large town in the French Pyrenees. It is a global centre of Marian pilgrimage, receiving hundreds of thousands of visitors each year. Roman Catholics believe that Mary, the Mother of God, appeared 18 times at the Grotto to a young girl, Bernadette Soubirous.
Originally a sleepy market town on the road to the spas of the Pyrenees, Lourdes has grown into the largest Marian pilgrimage centre in the world. The town has two sections: the international portion by the river, consisting of the spiritual area containing the Grotto and churches (known as the Domaine or the Sanctuaries), and the "French" portion, centered around the Marketplace & Hotel de Ville.
WHAT TO DO
Visit the sacred sites, including the Grotto where St Bernadette saw Mary. Attend mass (dozens on offer in almost every language in the world) somewhere in or around the holy sites. Visit one of the many Bernadette attractions (several museums, her former home, etc.) and best of all: watch the astonishing numbers of pilgrims from all over the world. The Underground Basilica of St. Pius X, a church constructed entirely underground, is especially interesting architecturally.
Especially interesting is the International Mass, held in six languages (English, French, Italian, Spanish, German, and Dutch) simultaneously in the Underground Basilica of St. Pius X Sunday mornings. Arrive early to get a seat. One wonderful experience is to arrive about 1 1/2 hours early to be part of the choir (open to anyone who arrives early to rehearse). You get to sing with people of all 6 languages and have a excellent view of the Mass.
Don't miss the nightly candlelight procession (buy your candle beforehand from one of the souvenir shops) in front of the Basilica and around the main square, with singing, prayer and a rosary said in many languages (alternating half-decades in English, French, Italian, etc.). The procession of the sick to the Underground Basilica each afternoon is particularly moving, as well. Other religious activities available include confession (available in French, English, Spanish, Italian, German, Dutch), adoration, stations of the cross (in the underground basilica), candle lighting near the Grotto, and rosary in front of the Grotto each afternoon (in French) and at other times/places in other languages.
If you have a car, spend a day in the wonderful Pyrenees. Roadtrips to Pont d'Espagne, Gavarnie or de Col de Tourmalet offer breathtaking mountain scenery and lots of opportunities for hiking. There is a historic chateau on a hill visible from the town, as well.