A famous town on the Gave de Pau River in SW France. It gained fame in 1858 when a fourteen-year-old resident, Bernadette Subirous,* reported eighteen visions of the Virgin Mary between 11 February and 16 July. After the first vision, crowds began to accompany her to the grotto of Massabielle on the riverside, but only Bernadette saw the visions. In one of the visions she was instructed to dig for a spring, which gushed forth as she dug, and it now flows at the rate of 32,000 gallons a day. The spring water is used for sacramental baths by pilgrims. In other visions the Virgin told her that she, the Virgin, was the* and instructed Bernadette to have a chapel built and to encourage pilgrims to attend. Bernadette has since been beatified (1925) and canonized (1933) by the Roman Catholic Church.
After a period of opposition, the pilgrimage to Lourdes and the public cult of Our Lady of Lourdes were given official sanction. A Gothic church was constructed immediately, and the magnificent Rosary Basilica was added between 1883 and 1901. In 1891 Leo XIII approved an Office and a Mass of Lourdes for a local province, and Pius X extended it to the universal church in 1907. The pilgrimages reached a peak of six million in the centenary year of 1958, and they still continue at a yearly average of two million. Thousands of cures have been reported at Lourdes; after very careful check by the International Medical Commission in Paris, fifty-eight had been officially designated miracles by 1959.
R.P. Cros, Historie de Notre Dame de Lourdes d'après les documents et les témoins (3 vols., 1925-27); D.C. Sharkey, After Bernadette (1945); R. Laurentin, Lourdes: Histoire authentique des apparitions de Lourdes (6 vols., 1961- 66).