I spent a tremendous amount of time researching Lourdes, because it was really important to me. When I got there, I was glad I did because it is a little confusing.
We drove to Lourdes from Spain. The mountains were just amazing and the drive is very nice. However, plan for more time than what google maps tells you. You are driving through the mountains, in little towns, etc. It took us a couple hours more than planned. So, we arrived in Lourdes at night. There are signs to follow but they are scattered so you kind of have to hope you did it right.
Arriving in Lourdes, I was surprised that it was a little town. I am not sure what I was expecting, but I guess not a nice little town.
We get to Lourdes, check in the hotel (Best Western – which was a nice place). I read somewhere that there was a night mass in Lourdes. We ask the people at the Best Western and they did not know. So, we just walk over to the church. Now, when you arrive, the church is massive. Kind of overwhelming. I see a priest and ask him where the night mass is. He tells me he has never heard of this, but to “go down to the river and Mary will help me to console my soul”. Now I am confused that the priest doesn’t know about this night mass. The hubs says, maybe we should just do what the priest says, kind of joking. So we walk over to the water, and there it is! The priests have mass BEHIND the church where the water is flowing. There are candles and chanting. It was just a really amazing experience.
So, while there are many masses happening there, I highly recommend you check out the night mass.
Lourdes is probably a bit touristy in the town itself. The streets line with all kinds of shops where you can buy plastic jugs to fill with water and any type of Virgin Mary stuff you would ever want to own.
People go to Lourdes to experience the free flowing holy water. There are many ways this can be done:
- Water fountains are available for you to drink/wash from. The water is cold, so many people enjoy washing their hands and face and drink from the tap. It is basically a water tap in a large rock. This is also where you would take a bottle that you can cheaply purchase at one of the stores, or bring your own. There were not any lines and you just walk up and do your thing.
- Just walk around and breath in the river. The river air is so nice and the land the church is on is beautiful. My husband did not bathe, and he really enjoyed just walking around taking in the sites.
- The big thing to do in Lourdes is to bath in the water. This is a very systematic ritual and the nuns have it down to a science.
Here is how the Bath works:
You get there and there is probably going to be a line. Don’t worry though, the nuns sing for you and there are benches to sit on. People talk while you wait and I met some very wonderful people. Some go just for the experience but many are there with an ailment of some sort wanting to be healed.
You will get to the place where the water is and the nuns will help you to your spot. The water fills up these pools in the ground (they look like mini bathtubs in the ground). The nuns will hold a sheet around you while you undress and then very modestly wrap you in a sheet. At no point does anyone actually see you naked. It is amazing how they do it.
They will walk you to the water and then it becomes personal what you do. Some get in and out (it is FREEZING water). Others dunk. Some have the nun pour water over them. So you don’t want to wear a lot of make up or hair stuff. Then they take you out of the water (you are only in there for like 10 seconds), and redress you (kind of opposite of how they got you undressed. Don’t worry, you are never exposed. I was a little embarrassed when I saw all the people around but it really is okay. There isn’t any place for you to “freshen up” so be prepared for that. I wrapped up my hair in a bun and was done.
Something you should know before going to Lourdes…
I knew that many people with illnesses venture to Lourdes for help. While I thought I was prepared to see it, I was not. With all the beauty and peacefulness also comes the sadness and heartbreak for those in need. If you are visiting Lourdes while on a larger vacation like I was, it can be very difficult to bounce back and enjoy yourself over the guilt of seeing the pain that some people are in are clearly worse that your own demons. There is nothing you can do to prepare yourself, but just know that you may need a day of reflection to process some of the things you may see.
Bottom line it is just sad, and happy all at the same time. I am not trying to discourage you from going but I feel that people should know this before venturing there. It isn’t a “cool” place to go (although it kind of is in a healing sense).
Just have the right state of mind when you go.