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Lourdes Trip 2008

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Lourdes Castle and River

Lourdes trip

 

At Christmas last year, when I went to France, I visited Lourdes.  It was the most spiritual place I had ever been in my entire life.  Everyone who visits Lourdes, including me, will touch the rock face near the grotto, and they drink and bathe from the holy waters.  In doing so they leave their aura behind, so much so that the whole area at Lourdes feels like it is electrically charged from the spirits of millions of people.

 

I have no doubt that the lord Jesus and the virgin Mary have been to the grotto on many occasions - it really is a most wonderful and religious place on earth. From that first visit to Lourdes I knew that one day I would go back.

 

When I returned to Cornwall I told my dear friend Penny what a wonderful experience I had.  I told her that one day I would go back and she said to me that when I did she would love to come with me.

 

So, on the 29th of May 2008, we flew from Bristol airport and headed for Toulouse.  It was a wonderful flight on an airbus 319.  I had a chap in the seat next to me who was in the RAF (he was a great guy), and he told me all about this and all the other aeroplanes that he had flown.  I asked him a thousand and one questions and he gave the answers, in fact, I told him my life story, and he said it was better than reading a book.

 

The flight from Bristol took one hour and forty minutes, and when we arrived we had a ten minute walk to the hire car compound. We did all the paper work and the mechanic fixed up the Tom Tom navigation system and told us that our hotel was about five minutes away.

 

For those of you who don’t know this, in Cornwall we have an expression that we call Pixie Led, in that the little people that live along side us in Cornwall, that we call pixies (also known as piskeys or spriggans) are full of devilment and like to play and tease us.  They will lead us around and around the countryside for hours, just for their own amusement, and the only way to shake them off is to turn your coat inside out!  Well this was what I should have done because we were certainly pixie led in Toulouse!  We drove around and around the same track all the time - we just couldn’t find our way to the hotel.  At one stage the Tom Tom gave up talking to us so Penny pulled in to a siding and reprogrammed the sat nav.  This seamed to do the trick and finally it told us that we had reached our destination 2 hours later. We got to the hotel and went to our rooms; we were both tired after the journey.

 

Morning soon came and we met up in the lobby of the hotel, I said that I didn’t bother changing my clothing as it wasn’t dirty Penny said no neither had she.  I didn’t want to change my clothes as I am superstitious and the clothes were lucky for us and Penny went along with me.  With a little luck we got out of Toulouse and we were on our way to Lourdes, the trip all being well should take us about an hour and a half I said, well I wasn’t far out as after an hour and a quarter we were passing Lourdes airport, we were almost there. I tried to remember what it was like when I came here with the family, then it seemed like there were more snow capped mountains, this time it seemed flatter. We arrived and drove through Lourdes and parked in the railway station, we decided not to go to the hotel straight away, I didn’t want to postpone going to the grotto any longer, I wanted to get there as soon as possible, so that was what we did, we walked along the road towards the castle, the castle was in the centre of Lourdes with all its houses surrounding it and it reminded me of a swan with all her cygnets floating in the water. As we crossed the river I remember standing on the bridge and overlooking the bubbling river, Gave de Pau, that runs through Lourdes town centre. The river’s source is high up in the pyrenean mountains and takes its name from the town Pau which it runs through.  It then meanders all the way to Adour in southwest France.  I looked at the Snow-capped Pyrenean Mountains that glistened in the distance, and I gave a prayer to God and thanked him for bringing me back once more.

 

From there we went on to the grotto.  It was wonderful to go down there once again and I rubbed my hands over the smooth rock face as countless people had done before me over the years. We went from there to the church where we discovered that there was a religious festival in progress.   As the day went on I was getting exhausted and said to Penny lets go to the hotel now.  Penny said that she was going to go back later to watch the candle light parade which I didn’t mind as I wanted to go to bed.

 

We got back to the car and found the hotel (Hotel Comfort Gloria).  The hotel was Located in a quiet street leading to the Gave De Pau, situated just 400 metres from the sanctuaries and a kilometre away from the Train Station.  The hotel blended tranquil ambience with a homely service.  Hotel Comfort Gloria, Lourdes, is an incredible place to stay and it is also a good base from which to discover Lourdes and the surrounding Pyrenees.

 

The next morning Penny and I met in the reception area and as we walked back to the sanctuaries she told me all about the previous night’s experience. She said that she had never seen anything like it in her life, there must have been at least 10,000 people, also there were about 500 nurses in uniforms, they were there to tend to the ailing and disabled, they helped the priest with the candles. She told me that during the season (from March until November) this festival goes on for 24 hours a day.

 

We arrived at the grotto once more. The queue for the grotto was enormous, I wouldn’t like to say how many people were there but I estimate, thirty thousand, I happened to talk to an Italian nurse who spoke very good English, and I asked her how many people are cured here every year?  She replied with shrugged shoulders and said physically I don’t know but spiritually as she put her hand on her heart, I would say everyone. I understood her and knew what she was trying to say. It is difficult to explain, but, when I got into the grotto I got such an overwhelming experience and felt that I was totally in tune with the spiritual aspect of Lourdes.

 

We went into the church and looked around.  There were large blocks of stone that had been cut and polished and inscribed with the names of all the people from around the world who had donated them and Penny pointed out that there was one from Oxford in England.

 

We then spent a lovely afternoon wandering around the shops.  Penny would point out different articles of interest (she was an invaluable asset to have with me) as she would talk me through all of the artefacts on display. I bought a wonderful coat, made from the wool of the Pyrenean sheep, it was 50 and I know it was a lot, but I had to have it!

 

I left Penny looking around the shops as I went off to listen to the choir at one of the many chapels.  I sat at the front and the singing was angelic.

 

I wasn’t impressed with the food at Lourdes, but in the end we found this restaurant that served fantastic trout, they also served these superb apple pies, of which I was addicted!

 

I said to Penny that I wanted to get down to the grotto early the next day, about six o clock, and she replied that it would be fine.

 

The next day we were up around 5.45 am, it was a very damp morning. We arrived at the grotto around 6.30 am and already there must have been 500 people massing around the statue where Saint Bernadette saw the vision of the Virgin Mary. Penny said that she was going to another church nearby and said she would catch up with me later. The priest conducted the service in the entrance of the grotto and spoke; today he said the service will be in English. It was a wonderful service, we said the Lords Prayer, the priest asked is there anyone here who wants to take communion, I decided I would and a helper came around with a basket which I thought had bread in for the communion.  As I reached up to pull the bread out I was like a big earth mover with a grab attached and to my horror I pulled out a handful of money - I didn’t realise it was a collection box!  Well, I had never felt such a fool in all my life, but the people around me could see I had my white cane with me and I was forgiven - but I lost my nerve and didn’t go for communion.

 

Penny and I met up and had a bite to eat and then in the evening we went back to the grotto where this time the service was in French, but there was communion again, Penny asked did I want to go and I replied that I was scared.  Don’t worry, it is easy, she replied, and off I went.  I walked up to the priest, who was wearing a white gown, I made my hands into a cup and he placed a piece of bread into them, I know that that Catholics open their mouth and the priest puts the bread on their tongue, but I did it the way I was taught as a young boy and the priest didn’t mind. There was no prejudice what-so-ever.  It didn’t matter that I was a druid or that I was English, everyone was equal. Then everyone that had gone for communion shook hands, we all stood and looked at each other, and although we were all of different nationalities there seemed to be a bonding between us all.

 

Later that day we were wandering around, not going anywhere in particular and I said lets go this way.  There didn’t seem to be much up in this area, but off we went anyway. We walked up an avenue where the torch light parade would pass, when we got to the end of the path, we found an underground pass with steps leading down.  Penny said she thought it was a shortcut back to the town, so we started to walk through, to our surprise it opened out into the largest auditorium I had ever seen!  It was constructed of rough concrete and was in the shape of a giant egg with a roof about 100 ft high. The structure must have been built and then back filled with earth to cover it over so as to blend in with its surroundings outside.  I’m glad that they never spent millions of euros on making a fancy auditorium with all the starving people in the world. Inside as you walked around there was a 50 metre wide walkway rising up from the floor going all the way around the sides of the interior shell of the chamber and from the top you could look over and watch the service and listen to the choir below.  It wasn’t a grand building, in fact it was very plain - I would go so far as to say rough - but I was impressed with the sound of the choir which sounded so clear, so the building must have been designed with the acoustics in mind.  It was vast inside and there must have been room for 40 to 50 thousand people, it reminded me a little of Wembley stadium with all the people watching. This was one of the highlights of the trip, to find this wondrous auditorium and to think we weren’t going to go that way!  Later I said to Penny that was Gods’ work that he led us that way.

 

Well it came to the final day, and it was time to leave.  I was looking forward to going home as I love England, and especially my home in Cornwall, but there was one thing that I still had to do.  I walked to the bridge and looked at the river.  It’s flow was strong as it bubbled and tumbled over the rocks and boulders, I followed its glistening waters into the distance high up in the Pyrenees Mountains, and I thought to my self this river has been the life giver and healer of the people of the world for centuries, may it always flow strong and clear.  I know it will always flow in my heart - thank you Lord, and thank you Lourdes.

 

We drove to the airport and Penny found the car rental park without any trouble. We had a little wait at the airport before we flew home.

 

Just a little plug for easy jet, this was the first time I had used this company, I have always flown with British Airways, or Virgin, but I must say easy jet your right up there with them.

 

Thank you

 

 

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Auditorium

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Grotto