What is now a huge pilgrimage site (and a big business) has humble origins. In February 1858 Bernadette Soubirous, a 14-year-old miller's daughter, claimed she saw the Virgin Mary in the Grotte de Massabielle, near the Gave de Pau (in all, she had 18 visions). Bernadette dug in the grotto, releasing a gush of water from a spot where no spring had flowed before. From then on, pilgrims thronged the Massabielle rock for the water's supposed healing powers, though church authorities reacted skeptically. It took four years for the miracle to be authenticated by Rome and a sanctuary erected over the grotto. In 1864 the first organized procession was held. Today there are six official annual pilgrimages between Easter and All Saints' Day, the most important being on August 15. In fall and winter there are far fewer visitors, but that will be a plus for those in search of peace and tranquility.
Lourdes, 65100, France