jeudi, octobre 18, 2007

07.10.18: Tourisme et Religion

When I was a kid, I went to a school called Our Lady of Lourdes for about six or seven years. We had a grotto out front of the building with a staute of Mary in it, and every year, one afternoon in May for about an hour, we had a religious ceremony of some sort (I seem to have forgotten the details) where I presume we commemorated some sanctity characteristics of Mary the Virgin, and also Bernadette the young woman who had visions and the shakes associated with close encounters of the religious kind in a cave just outside of Lourdes, France.

So, obviously, in heading south and west in France, I was drawn to Lourdes like a little catholic boy to recess.

Drove until it was time to quit for the day; found an interesting chambre d'hôte about 20km from Lourdes in a hamlet called Saint-Pé-de-Bigorre. For the evening, we had dinner with two couples, one French, one South African. The French couple, who lives near Paris, was visiting the husband's hometown, where he had in fact been enrolled in the seminary as a teenager, but thought better of the situation; left; ended up working for an international construction company and lived most of his life in Asia, Africa, and the Mid-East; married a delightful woman with whom he had a few daughters. Said he didn't regret leaving the seminary. The S. Africans were visiting some family in France for a cousin's 60th birthday party and couldn't really get the french concept of terroir (i.e., why Champagne comes only from Champagne, why Roquefort only comes from Roquefort, and, god love us, why Bourbon only comes from gen-u-wine Kentucky sour mash). At any rate, made for some lively and interesting 5-course dinner discussion in a several-hundred-year-old farm house, around the corner from the seminary, in view of the Pyrénées mountains, not that far from Lourdes.

Went to Lourdes in the morning.

There is a lot of opportunities there to purchase rosaries, statues, candles, Jesus bracelets, Mary necklaces, Bernadette postcards, and water bottles. A lot of opportunities. Really. It's transcendantal. Hundreds of little shops in the ville, all with the soul intention of selling you some sort of religious artifact with which you can cherish and mark your moments spent in Lourdes, a place of miracles in the 19th century.

I will say this... walk past the tourist shops (OK, pick up a rosary or two if you like), continue on past the 20th century model of a 18th century gaudy Romanesque sort of church/cathedral and you eventually end up at the spit of land associated with the miralces of Bernadette and Mary. Hallowed ground.

The real grotto.

And for me, I will also say this ... a sense of calm, order and peacefullness reigns at the shrine. Truly. It was very pleasant. I didn't see any miracles.
I did see groups of people who had traveled from Eastern Europe in buses to pray together, a group from Hawaii on a 'greatest religious sites in France' sort of tour, and just regular folks, likely from all over the world, lining up at the water fountains, saying some simple prayers, perhaps hoping for a miracle, but more likely perhaps just looking for some minutes of peace and calmness, and a forget-everything-else for a few minutes sort of tranquility. You can find that there, next to the water fountains, just a few meters from the real grotto, in which, of course, there is a statue of Mary.

I lit a candle for Mom. She would have liked that.

As she always said: "You never know."

The sign next to the candle says: "This flame continues my prayer." I like to think the candle is still burning.

Oh yeah, just so I don't forget ... the Pope (the current one, Benoit XVI) has committed to going to Lourdes in the fall of 2008 to commemorate the 150th anniversary of the visons that Bernadette had of the Virgin Mary near Lourdes. Tourism and Religion and the Pope. Should be something.