1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Lourdes

LOURDES, a town of south-western France in the department of Hautes-Pyrénées, at the foot of the Pyrenees, 12 m. S.S.W. of Tarbes on the main line of the Southern railway between that town and Pau. Pop. (1906) 7228. Lourdes is divided into an old and a new town by the Gave de Pau, which at this point leaves the valley of Argelès and turns abruptly to the west. The old quarter on the right bank surrounds on three sides a scarped rock, on which stands the fortress now used as a prison. Its large square keep of the 14th century is the chief survival of feudal times. Little is left of the old fortifications except a tower of the 13th or 14th century, surmounting a gateway known as the Tour de Garnabie. The old quarter is united with the new town by a bridge which is continued in an esplanade leading to the basilica, the church of the Rosary and the Grotto, with its spring of healing water. The present fame of Lourdes is entirely associated with this grotto, where the Virgin Mary is believed in the Roman Catholic world to have revealed herself repeatedly to a peasant girl named Bernadette Soubirous in 1858. A statue of the Virgin stands on a rock projecting above the grotto, the walls of which are covered with crutches and other votive offerings; the spot, which is resorted to by multitudes of pilgrims from all quarters of the world, is marked by a basilica built above the grotto and consecrated in 1876. In addition the church of the Rosary, a rich building in the Byzantine style, was erected in front of and below the basilica from 1884 to 1889. Not far from the grotto are several other caves, where prehistoric remains have been found. The Hospice de Notre-Dame de Douleurs is the chief of the many establishments provided for the accommodation of pilgrims.

Lourdes is a fortified place of the second class; and is the seat of the tribunal of first instance of the arrondissement of Argelès. There are marble and slate quarries near the town. The pastures of the neighbourhood support a breed of Aquitaine cattle, which is most highly valued in south-western France.

The origin of Lourdes is uncertain. From the 9th century onwards it was the most important place in Bigorre, largely owing to the fortress which is intimately connected with its history. In 1360 it passed by the treaty of Brétigny from French to English hands, and its governor was murdered by Gaston Phoebus viscount of Béarn, for refusing to surrender it to the count of Anjou. Nevertheless the fortress did not fall into the possession of the French till 1406 after a blockade of eighteen months. Again during the wars of religion the castle held out successfully after the town had been occupied by the troops of the Protestant captain Gabriel, count of Montgomery. From the reign of Louis XIV. to the beginning of the 19th century the castle was used as a state prison. Since the visions of Bernadette Soubirous, their authentication by a commission of enquiry appointed by the bishop of Tarbes, and the authorization by the pope of the cult of Our Lady of Lourdes, the quarter on the left bank of the Gave has sprung up and it is estimated that 600,000 pilgrims annually visit the town. The chief of the pilgrimages, known as the national pilgrimage, takes place in August.

Several religious communities have been named after Our Lady of Lourdes. Of these one, consisting of sisters of the third order of St Francis, called the Congregation of Our Lady of Lourdes (founded 1877), has its headquarters in Rochester, Minnesota. Another, the Order of Our Lady of Lourdes, was founded in 1883 for work in the archdiocese of New Orleans.

See G. Marès, Lourdes et ses environs (Bordeaux, 1894); Fourcade, L’Apparition de la grotte de Lourdes (Paris, 1862) and L’Apparition ... considérée au point de vue de l’art chrétien (Bordeaux, 1862); Boissarie, Lourdes, histoire médicale (Paris, 1891); Bertrin, Hist. critique des événements de Lourdes (2nd ed., Paris, 1905), written under authority of the bishop of Tarbes; H. Lasserre, Miraculous Episodes of Lourdes (London, 1884, tr.); R. F. Clarke, Lourdes and its Miracles (ib., 1889) and Medical Testimony to the Miracles (ib., 1892); D. Barbé, Lourdes hier, aujourd’hui, demain (Paris, 1893; Eng. trans. by A. Meynell, London, 1894); J. R. Gasquet, The Cures at Lourdes (London, 1895); Les Pèlerinages de Lourdes. Cantiques, insignes, costumes (Lourdes, 1897); W. Leschner, The Origin of Lourdes (London, 1900). Zola’s Lourdes (Paris, 1894), a criticism from the sceptical point of view, in the form of a realistic novel, has called forth many replies from the Catholic side.