Located in the Pyrenees Mountain region of France, Lourdes is the home of one of the most important shrines in the Catholic Faith: the Grotto of Massabielle. Approximately five million pilgrims, of whom a great number are sick or handicapped, come to Lourdes each year. It may be through curiosity, through a desire for a physical cure, in a movement towards belief, or to be of service to those who suffer, that they come to drink the water from the Holy Spring.
This region of France was a strategic stronghold during medieval times. Situated at the foot of the Pyrenees, the medieval castle of Lourdes provided protection against foreign forces. During the Hundred Years War, the French captured this region from the English in 1406 after an 18-month siege The medieval castle was used as a state prison from the reign of Louis XIV (1643-1715) until the beginning of the 19th century. It was in 1858 when Lourdes’ importance as a military and state stronghold ended and its spiritual importance began.
Between February 11 and July 26, 1858, Bernadette Soubirous, a 14-year-old peasant girl, experienced 18 apparitions of the Virgin Mary in the nearby Massabielle grotto. During the 9th vision, an underground spring with healing powers was revealed. The Holy See recognizes 67 miracles attributable to the water that flows from it.
During the 18 Apparitions the Virgin Mary spoke to Bernadette suggesting the we come here. The response of millions of us to that invitation is made in Lourdes each year, a world center of pilgrimage and a special place of meeting between God and people.