Camino de Frances, Camino de Santiago, Personal stories

Tom’s Beginning

On May 29, 2014, Tom left for a business trip in Toulouse, France. He planned to meet the other pilgrims on June 11th. In the meantime he had a workshop, a conference, and was reviewing some papers for his job. The conference finished on June 6th and then he had work on the research paper reviews on the computer, mostly in the next town, which is Lourdes, France. Here’s his report from June 10th:


Well, I did one more paper review in Toulouse Monday morning before checking out of my hotel and walking to the train station to catch my train to Lourdes. I had packed everything into one big suitcase and my backpack so that I only had two bags. Grunt, the suitcase was heavy. It had my smaller suitcase inside it.

I caught the train and had a pleasant two hour ride to Lourdes. Although I had printed out a map of Lourdes before I left Toulouse, when it came time to check out I could not find it. So I got to Lourdes without a map. I used my cell phone to give me directions to my hotel. It was the first time I had tried to do that. It worked okay, but there was some fumbling around each time I got to a turn in the road. I finally got to my hotel about 30 minutes after leaving the station. According to the phone, it should have been a 20 minute walk.

My hotel room is pretty nice. Much bigger bathroom than I had in Toulouse. Plus this place is a residence hotel, so my room has a kitchenette. I spent an hour or so unpacking everything.

Then I decided to play the pilgrim at Lourdes, even though I still had three papers to review. The forecast said showers for Tuesday, so I figured I’d spend Tuesday indoors reviewing papers. They gave me a rough xeroxed map at the hotel reception, so I knew approximately where I was going. I walked across the river and down the road toward where the “Petit Train” takes off for a sightseeing excursion of Lourdes. As you get closer to the shrine, the street is lined with souvenir shops:

01 Souvenir shops

It goes on and on like that. A [tourist “train”] pulled out right as I arrived and the next one was a half hour wait, so I spent some time in the souvenir shops.

The train ride was interesting, but it mostly took you to sightseeing places like museums where you could spend money. One thing I did not know is that Lourdes has a castle:

02 Castle

Now it is a museum that you can tour for a fee.

After the “train” ride, I went looking for the famous grotto. I thought it might be one way on my map and started walking there. When I turned the corner, I saw:

03 Basilica

Well, it seems I was getting warm. I walked all the way up the quad and went into the basilica. The murals on the walls are the mysteries of the rosary. It is an impressive place. They have mass there in French several times each day.

The grotto [where the Blessed Virgin appeared in 1858] is around to the right of the basilica:

04 Grotto

The basilica is built right on top of the grotto. As close as possible, the main altar of the basilica is directly above the site of the apparition. When I first got to the grotto, priests were there leading a rosary in Italian. [Here is a]
Close up:

05 Grotto close up

They have a rosary procession with candles every evening at 9pm. Many shops sell candles, from 0.50 euro 18″ tapers to 80 euro 5′ Easter-size candles. I got my cheap candle and, after dinner, went over to the grotto to wait for the procession. There was no service taking place at the grotto, so it was open for pilgrims to go into the grotto and touch.

I went through the line. [] there is a spring welling up that you can see through a clear plastic shield. Incidentally, I have seen more different religious habits [“uniforms”] here than I can ever remember.

Well, I guess the procession started further up the line, because I got in near the end. There was an organ and choir with sound piped everywhere. The Creed, Our Father, and Glory Be were sung in Latin. Each mystery of the rosary was announced in French, Italian, Spanish, English, Portuguese, German, and Dutch in different permutations each time (and the different languages did not always have the same expanded reflection; the German one in particular was very short). Then the Hail Mary was said, the first five times in one language and the second five times in another. The we sang a Marian song, usually the Lourdes song. The verses were in different languages, but everyone joined in on the chorus “Ave, Ave, Ave Maria, Ave, Ave, Maria” with candles raised high.

The head of the procession goes by on the way back to the basilica…[]

Making the turn back toward the basilica:

06 Basilica grounds

I finally arrived in front of the basilica. Everyone who was in the procession ahead of me is packed in there. Note people with candles all up the walkways and around on top:

07 Basilica night

The procession took just over an hour. I got to bed about 11pm.

I got up Tuesday morning, had breakfast at the hotel and started in on my remaining three reviews. It was not raining nearly as hard as the forecast said, hardly even at all in fact, but I buckled down. Yay, about 4:30pm I was done. I rewarded myself by composing this email.

Love, Tom


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