The current municipal area of Lourdes was inhabited since the prehistoric times. The oppidum hill where today stands the fortress, as it is testified by the numerous finds came to light in the second half of the nineteenth century, remains of walls, fragments of citadel stood a pagan temple dedicated to the gods of water, whose buildings have come partially to light soon after the demolition of the parish of Saint Pierre. In the fifth century the temple was replaced by an early Christian church destroyed later because of a fire.
Little is known of Lourdes in the period from the barbarian invasions to the Carolingian period, when the town was part of the County of Bigorre. The fortress was at times the seat of counts and, during the Albigensian Crusade, it was the subject of disputes between various local lords. Ultimately it came under domination of the Counts of Champagne. In the fourteenth century Lourdes was first occupied by Philip the Fair, then, during the Hundred Years’ War, the English, who controlled it for nearly half a century, from 1360 to 1407, through some local feudal lords to their faithful, as Pierre Arnaud de Béarn and, later, his brother Jean de Béarn. The English were able to take advantage of the excellent strategic situation and the prosperity of a market that was born in the eleventh century, had been increasingly consolidated thanks to its proximity and good communications with Toulouse and Spain.
For 46 years, up until 778, Lourdes was possessed by Muslims of Al-Andalus. However, during the 8th century, Lourdes and its fortress became the focus of skirmishes between Mirat, the Muslim local leader, and Charlemagne, King of the Franks. Charlemagne had been laying siege to Mirat in the fortress for some time, but he had so far refused to surrender.
According to legend, an eagle unexpectedly appeared and dropped an enormous trout at the feet of Mirat. It was seen as such a bad omen that Mirat was persuaded to surrender to the Queen of the sky by the local bishop. He visited the Black Virgin of Puy to offer gifts, so he could make sure this was the best course of action and, astounded by its exceptional beauty, he decided to surrender the fort and converted to Christianity. On the day of his baptism, Mirat took on the name of Lorus, which was given to the town, now known as Lourdes.
During the late 16th century, France was ravaged by the Wars of Religion between the Roman Catholics and the Huguenots. In 1569, Count Gabriel de Montgomery attacked the nearby town of Tarbes when Queen Jeanne d’Albret of Navarre established Protestantism there. The town was overrun, in 1592, by forces of the Catholic League and the Catholic faith was re-established in the area. In 1607, Lourdes finally became part of the Kingdom of France.
The castle became a jail under Louis XV but, in 1789, the General Estates Assembly ordered the liberation of prisoners. Following the rise of Napoleon in 1803, he again made the Castle an Estate jail. Towards the end of the Peninsular War between France, Spain, Portugal, and Britain in 1814, British and Allied forces, under the Duke of Wellington, entered France and took control of the region and followed Marshall Soult’s army, defeating the French near the adjoining town of Tarbes before the final battle took place outside Toulouse on 10 April 1814 brought the war to an end.
Up until 1858, Lourdes was a quiet, modest, county town with a population of only some 4,000 inhabitants. The castle was occupied by an infantry garrison. The town was a place people passed through on their way to the waters at Barèges, Cauterets, Luz-Saint-Sauveur and Bagnères-de-Bigorre, and for the first mountaineers on their way to Gavarnie, when the events which were to change its history took place.
On 11 February 1858, a 14-year-old local girl, Bernadette Soubirous, claimed a beautiful lady appeared to her in the remote Grotto of Massabielle. This lady later identified herself as “the Immaculate Conception” and the faithful believe her to be the Blessed Virgin Mary. The lady appeared 18 times, and by 1859 thousands of pilgrims were visiting Lourdes. A statue of Our Lady of Lourdes was erected at the site in 1864.
Since the apparitions, Lourdes has become one of the world’s leading Catholic Marian shrines and the number of visitors grows each year. It has such an important place within the Roman Catholic church, that Pope John Paul II visited the shrine twice: on 15 August 1983, and 14–15 August 2004. In 2007, Pope Benedict XVI authorized special indulgences to mark the 150th anniversary of Our Lady of Lourdes.
Today Lourdes has a population of around 15,000, but it is able to take in some 5,000,000 pilgrims and tourists every season. With about 270 hotels, Lourdes has the second greatest number of hotels per square kilometre in France after Paris.
Yearly from March to October the Sanctuary of Our Lady of Lourdes is a place of mass pilgrimage from Europe and other parts of the world. The spring water from the grotto is believed by some to possess healing properties.
An estimated 200 million people have visited the shrine since 1860, and the Roman Catholic Church has officially recognized 69 healings considered miraculous. Cures are examined using Church criteria for authenticity and authentic miracle healing with no physical or psychological basis other than the healing power of the water.
Tours from all over the world are organized to visit the Sanctuary. Connected with this pilgrimage is often the consumption of or bathing in the Lourdes water which wells out of the Grotto.
At the time of the apparitions the grotto was on common land which was used by the villagers variously for pasturing animals, collecting firewood and as a garbage dump, and it possessed a reputation for being an unpleasant place.
I’ve been here many times before (not for religious purposes) but I’ve never seen the town this empty of tourists, sick and disabled people. Usually all the religious shops are open, now it seems to be…desolated. Didn’t have time to make lots of pics so here is a video a little longer than usual 7mn.