Sunday, January 29, 2012

Lourdes: a re-visitation (part 1)

LourdesLourdes is another 20-30 minutes away, passing the Tarbes-Lourdes-Pyrenees airport which mostly trafficks in Catholic pilgrims on charter flights. There is a service from London Stanstedt but despite it being closer than say Bordeaux, the slow roads into the Gers mean it’s a much less practical airport for those making the pilgrimage to see Munson.

2012-01-28 Tarbes - Lourdes1 2012-01-28 Tarbes - Lourdes
By the time we arrived, the Pyrenees had disappeared into clouds and the temperature was dropping quickly. In contrast to the late summer visit that I made with Bondi some years ago, the town was very quiet and most of the cafes and hotels built Vegas-style to accommodate those gambling on a miracle had closed up for the season.

Yes Lourdes has a hospital! We’ve got 4-5 hours to kill before the evening concert, with first priority being to locate the venue and somewhere for dinner. I parked slightly before reaching the town centre, not knowing what the traffic situation would be like. Lourdes gets around five million visitors annually, and doesn’t have the great open road network of Las Vegas: it’s a twisting labyrinth of narrow one-way streets near the main attraction. We walked down past the hospital that does the real curative work here: even the church only admits to 67 “miracles”out of 200 million visits. With the money spent here, a lot of medical aid could have been productively applied.

Even with the off-season closures: the remaining stores around the Sanctuary are just as tacky as ever: glow-in-the-dark Madonnas and Jesuses, plastic jerry-cans and bottles for carting away water from the shrine; from shop to shop, an escalation of kitsch without peer.

Exit through the gift shops

The shroud of grey cloud over the complex of chapels, crypts and basilicas stacked over the grotto made it a very gloomy place away from the neon.

Not having penetrated the area of the Sanctuary on the last visit, the place was slightly easier to take without hordes of pilgrims, nuns with fluorescent bags of trinkets pushing unfortunately wheelchair-bound charges inexorably past the candles and souvenir coin machines.

approaching the sanctuary
Taking note of the sign at the gate warning us that terriers, gelato and synchronised swimmers were forbidden to enter this magical kingdom, we passed a creepy zone of crosses that led up to the grottoplex.  It’s a far cry from the Lithuanian Hill of Crosses, which had the virtue of symbolising a refusal to yield to Soviet domination.

basilica-plex  under the dome
Inside the first chapel there’s an odour of frankincense and damp, like a consecrated swimming pool. Most of the visitors are camera-wielding tourists, but i can’t really say the place was aesthetically noteworthy – most of these structures were knocked together hastily in the last few decades of the 19th century and have no congruity with the time or place.

souvenir medallionP1070984


exterior detail  150th anniversary  Flagellation
… continued in Part 2.

1 comment:

  1. Anita3:24 pm

    I would genuinely enjoy a glow-in-the dark Jesus. If He had a wobbly head then I'd enjoy it even more. It would be my holy treasure.

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