Lourdes's Short History
Lourdes is a town of just over 15,000 inhabitants in the department of Hautes-Pyrénées of south west of France.
The history of Lourdes started 12,000 year ago, in the Upper Paleolithic, when, attracted by the welcoming environment, a human population settled here.
During their occupation of Aquitaine the Romans built on the hill overlooking the nowadays Lourdes a fortification that was later developed by the Visigoths, Franks and Saracens who successively took control of the region.
According to the legend the name Lourdes comes from the name of a Saracen leader who converted to the Christian faith and was given the name Lorus.
Throughout the centuries the former Roman stronghold became the residence of the Counts of Bigorre in the 9th century, later in during Hundred Years’ War was ceded to Edward of Woodstock, the Black Prince, and after the end of English rule of Aquitaine, became the property of the Counts of Foix. In 1607 when the region of Bigorre was united with the French kingdom the castle became a Crown property. During the French Revolution the citadel was used successively as a prison and a garrison.
Today the Castle of Lourdes houses the Museum of the Pyrenees.
Lourdes, the little sleepy town at the feet of the Pyrenean Mountains was to undergo an exceptional transformation starting in 1858 when a 14 years old local girl called Bernadette Soubirous told her confessor that Virgin Mary appeared to her in a Grotto on the banks of the Pau River. These declarations were officially recognized as conform to the reality after 4 years of thorough investigations that included auditions of Bernadette by the police, the imperial legal representative and of course the episcopal enquiry commission.
Today Lourdes is a world renowned Catholic pilgrimage site. Each year more than 5 million pilgrims and visitors from all over the world come here to pray, to seek healing in the holy spring water, or simply to visit the sacred places. For a pilgrimage place one would expect a sober and austere town. Instead Lourdes is a vibrant, lively place where you can hear English, Spanish and Italian spoken more often than you can hear French , where you can drink an ALL’ITALIANA Espresso or a beer at the “New Orleans” Bar & Grill. It is like the very cheerful spirit of Sainte Bernadette passed on to the whole town that, one can actually feel, is engulfed in a spirit of hope and optimism.