|Our Lady of Lourdes, but not as Bernadette saw her|
...today we begin our haul to Lourdes for one week's pilgrimage.
Why is it that Our Lady always chooses off the beaten track places to endow with her presence? (Fatima, La Salette, Akita etc).
We drive to Stansted and then fly to Biarritz and then it's a two and a bit hours train journey to Lourdes.
I note that, in the past four days, the little town of Lourdes has suffered an earthquake, some 4.0 on the Richter scale...enough to tip you out of bed, just.
I know that because a 3.8 earthquake bumped me from my slumbers in Hiroshima some years ago - a rude awakening if ever there was.
It will be our fourth visit and I look forward to visiting the Grotto as soon as we have shaken the dust of Ryannair off our feet.
Of course, the image of Our Lady of Lourdes that we know so well is actually nothing like the Lady that St Bernadette saw.
And if you look at the height of the Grotto you will begin to understand that Our Lady of Lourdes did not have a willowy sort of appearance but was, in fact, rather short; typical of the build of Pyrenean women of the time.
St Bernadette became exceedingly cross with the Church authorities when they presented the town with its first statue showing Our Lady as tall and graceful.
I am certain that her real appearance was not lacking in grace, just grace in a different form to the one that visitors from Paris and beyond would have been used to.
If you read Dr Halliday Sutherland's book 'A Time to Keep' (he who valiantly took on Marie Stopes in the famous court case and tragically lost) there is an interesting account of how a local lass, Jeanne Abadie, who had followed Bernadette to the Grotto area, threw stones in the direction that Bernadette was looking in, hoping to hit the Mother of God.
Before the missiles had even left her grubby, ignorant hands, however, Our Lady had moved so that the stones landed far away from her.
On each occasion, Our Lady reappeared in another spot so that her attacker was constantly confounded.
Sutherland visited the Shrine in 1923 and his account is partly gleaned from the writings of Father Martindale on Lourdes.
Here is a Lourdes poem I found, written by Sr M Therese:-
Like great bell tones the Pontiff's edict rings -
While every heart on earth re-sounds the word,
And all earth sings.
Who tells her Ave, trembling to await
The bright air broken by a word - "I am
Her feet press lightly as they do in dream,
Whence waters brimmed with healing break their source,
And with life, stream.
A troop of pilgrims crowds upon the way:
Some come to kneel in child-eyed wonderment,
Some come to pray.
And pours a draught of grace from prayer-cupped hands,
That each may journey back refreshed and glad
To better lands.
Light up the murky paths we stumble on;
Give us the warmth of thy embrace when earth's
Cold pain is gone.
And to the Christhead (Mary's Only Son!)
With Their swift Spirit winged with love for Both,