By Elizabeth James

Written by on July 25, 2019

CEO/President

Welcome back to my blog.  I apologise for the delay but I did indeed make it to Lourdes (with a stop over at Paris).

So, before I talk about my experience in that wonderful place, let me ask you this.  What do YOU call a miracle?

You see, to me I believe that miracles happen every day.  A baby being born?  The way all the leaves turn brown at the same time and take roughly the same amount of time to drop off the trees? The way the birds know exactly when to head south for the winter?  Aren’t all of those miracles?  I think so!

So many people have said, “It will only be a miracle if you see Mother Mary and are completely healed!”  Really?  That’s news to me.  As far as I’m concerned, getting help with just one health issue (knowing how lucky I am to be alive after the fall) is a Godsend.  I’m in permanent pain with my back and nothing the doctors can do will help that (It’s a small price to pay after the fall I had).  I also have tinnitus and have had since the day I fell.  If either of those were improved, surely THAT would be a miracle as the doctors are unable to help.

So now, what happened in Lourdes?

Well, I warn you, I won’t go into certain details – they a private.  However, that trip was one of the highlights of my life and I hope to return there very soon.  So much so a friend asked me how it compared with my spiritual home, Disney.  Favourably, is the surprising answer to that question.

What’s so special about it?

Well, if you’ve ever been, you will know that there is a special vibe about the place.  I found that there was something in the atmosphere (best way to explain it) which soothed my frazzled emotions, settling over them like a balm.  

We were lucky enough to travel to Lourdes by double decker train.  Now, many of you may have travelled this way – it may be normal for you – but it was certainly a new experience for me.  We don’t have them where I live.  For me, it’s the only way to go there.  I can truthfully say that I don’t want to go any other way (fly or car are our only other two options).

The journey was four hours – from Montparnasse to Lourdes.  I thought it was going to be long, uncomfortable, probably boring.  How wrong I was on every count.

The only criticism (if you can describe it as that) is that the coffee cart had only full fat, vile milk and the coffee was the worst thing I have ever tasted.

Other than that, it was a perfect journey.

So, we started the journey and I was like a child, all wide eyed, excited, “Are we there yet?” type of thing.

Ten minutes into the journey, my eyes closed – something they have a bad habit of doing.  I think I said in a previous blog that I have a couple of conditions which are swiftly robbing me of my sight.  This problem is part of that.

My partner thought I had slept through the entire journey (who could blame me – we had a stupidly early start?)  However, I was wide awake for the whole time.  I could see the tiniest sliver but that was not enough to make out any details.

Eventually, we arrived – I climbed down the stairs (still blind) and out onto the track.  Then something miraculous happened.

With no help from me, no warning – nothing! – my eyes sprang open!  What a beautiful sight met my eyes.  I’ll be forever grateful for that beautiful vision even if nothing else had happened.

For those who don’t know, Lourdes is a little place in the foothills of the Pyranees.  The scenery was nothing short of spectacular.  

It turns out that you can walk most places.  If I went again, I may be tempted to take a gentle stroll into the town to the hotel instead of a very expensive taxi ride.

I have to say that the first taxi driver (who took us to our hotel and looked like an aging rock and roll singer with is mop of dark, curly hair) was awesome.  Although his English was not great, he made the effort and tried his hardest to point out the special places as we passed. 

No sooner had he pointed out ‘Le Sanctuarie’, than we were at our hotel.  

Now, I have to say that when we arrived I was bitterly disappointed in our hotel.  It was clearly old and I had asked for a disabled room – something we had been denied.  Was this all a horrible mistake?

We sat, despondent, and made a cup of coffee – I have to say the hotel DID gain brownie points for the fact that they were the only place that put proper mugs in our rooms – our hotel back in Paris provided us with paper cups to drink from.  Not nice.

Then I wandered to our window and gasped!  I have never seen such a beautiful view.

We were on the third floor and had the most gorgeous scenery to look out on.  If we had been in the next room, we would have seen the Sanctuary itself – instead we could see the steep path leading to the wonderful church (there are three built one on top of the other, I’m told – though some have said there are as many as five.  At any rate, we only saw three).

Feeling like to do anything else would be a waste, we decided to explore.  I fell in love with that area.  

If there are any negatives to the place I have to say two things – if you’re planning to go, it may serve as a warning to you.  Something to think about at least.

First, this is one of the hilliest places I have ever seen.  It is so steep to get up some roads (more on that in a minute) that we were forced to pull ourselves up by rods which had been placed in the pavements for that express purpose!  If you’re not in the best of health (in our case, we had no idea we were coming down with a nasty virus) be prepared to take it slowly.

We took our time but both of us were out of breath by the time we walked to the church at the top of the hill – there was another one we made our way to as well.  

If you go, you must not miss these churches (apparently you are welcome to sit in for the service, as well).  We didn’t do that but it was nice to know you could.  I will try to send Lillian, who is running this blog, some pictures – I can’t see to put them in.

The crown which marks the top of one church is absolutely beautiful and you can see it for miles.

What I will say is, take your time.  There is so much to see, even just inside the churches – the stained glass windows tell the story of what happened there.

Returning to the ‘ground floor’, we discovered a sign for “St Bernadette’ and ‘chervasse’ or something written next to it.  Now, I know that St Bernadette is one of the very few called the Incorruptibles.  People flock in their thousands to pay their respects to her.  I was in two minds whether I wanted to do this because … well, I’m not good with dead bodies.  My partner and I exchanged a look and I took a deep breath as we walked in – to find a tiny glass box – about 4 ft high and perhaps 3 ft wide (I’m not good with things like that).  No dead body!  Even I laughed as I heard myself say, “She must have decomposed and they moved her.”  Nope!  She was never there at all!  St Bernadette is lying in state in Nevers, in France.  We were nearer to her in Paris than we were here apparently.  Bernadette begged to return to her beautiful home town before she died.  We took the opportunity to light some candles while we were there.

We were very confused and, after exploring the area – the stream which runs through the town was burbling softly as we walked.  We saw a church service from the other side of a lake.  

It was a beautiful, candlelit affair and we vowed then to return the following night.

Exhausted but relaxed for the first time in months, we made our way back to the hotel.

The following morning, I asked my partner would we be able to do a beautiful walk?  It looked long and … too steep?  Take it at my pace (i.e. slowly) and I WILL make it.  We did it in batches of 100 steps (though there were times i felt I would have to stop before that) and it took a few hours but we made it – 1, 860 ish feet!  Gazing around, feeling very proud of myself, I realised we could see a castle and yearned to visit it.  If we wanted to look around the sanctuary again, though – and we did – that would be impossible.  I was so sad – it looked like a very interesting place.  The castle  turned out to be a ten minute walk from our hotel and I got up close and personal with it when we tried to find a restaurant that was open.  I so wish we had seen it that morning with the sun beating down on us.  This castle and its fortifications have kept the town of Lourdes safe for many years.

My partner was all for making our way down the way we had come but I had a feeling that the path would bring us out near where we started (I was right).  We saw some amazing things on that walk.  It is called the walk of Christ and has statues every so often depicting the crucifixion.  Apparently it is meant to be taken on your knees – sorry, but I draw the line I that.  I’m sure God will forgive me.  I have too many health problems to enable me to do that!

After a quick refreshment we made our way to our favourite part of Lourdes – have you guessed where it is yet?  

This time, though, we focussed on the grotto – I wanted to see where Mary had appeared to St Bernadette.  As we walked, I heard my partner gasp – water had begun to seep directly above my head!

We took a break, sat on one of he benches provided just in front of the candles.  

Instinctively I moved to the far end, ostensibly so I could see the service (impossible to follow – they should provide sheets to enlightened the new visitors).

The service was beautiful (even if entirely in either Italian or Latin, I couldn’t decide – though it’s possible it was just old French – it’s all Greek to me :D)

I … had a very, very special experience during that service.  One that changed my life forever.

Maybe one day I’ll write about it but not right now.

When it was over, we simply sat together in silence before making our way back to the hotel, stopping only to drink copious amounts of that beautiful fresh water which is said to help cure so many.  The water comes from a stream in the hills and is dispensed by a system of underwater taps.

A couple of nights later I dreamed that I was receiving a blessing from the Virgin Mary – I can still see the colours – the blue and white of her gown, her incredibly gentle eyes which glowed with compassion, the dark of the rocks and the feeling of the water gushing over me.  Green and grey were the two colours which were clearest to me.

Normally dreams fade – this one is still as strong today as it was that night.  

Ever since then, I am delighted to report that one major health problem has been all but eradicated (bar the odd – incredibly rare – episodes)  I am still at the stage where I dare not trust that I will be able to get up in the morning free of pain, no matter what time I am up.  So far so good.  My sight is worse than ever – my trip to Disney, recently, was severely impacted.  

So did a miracle occur?  Without the full facts – which I’m not prepared to reveal in this particular blog – I will do at some future time, I’m sure – it’s difficult for you to decide.

Me?  I am in no doubt.  When we left, we returned to Paris but my eyes remained open for the remainder of the trip.  It was only on the last day that they closed again but I had seen all I would by then.

Oh, the second thing?  The place operates seasonally.  When we went we couldn’t even find a restaurant that was open.  This, I have been led to believe, is due to the fact that we went just a couple of weeks too early.  The inhabitants go into the mountains to work between November and March, returning only in April until October so no wonder the whole place was so quiet.  It was a very long walk to the only supermarket we could find and we basically survived on croissants and continental breakfast (which was delicious)  The French Onion Soup was very nice but they serve literally everything with mozzarella cheese which I’m sensitive too and can’t eat.  My partner had to take one dish back and tried to explain but the waitress stormed off in a huff.

Would I go again?  In a heartbeat!

Will I ever have another experience like that?  Never!  I know and accept that but I’m grateful that I had such a wonderful experience.

Did a miracle occur?  Yes – I would say a couple.

My next blog will be about the joys of cane training.


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