The mountain town of Lourdes is arguably the most famous Catholic pilgrimage site in the world, but its origins are decidedly humble and its renown relatively recent. In February 1858, a 14-year-old miller's daughter named Bernadette Soubirous claimed she saw the Virgin Mary in the Grotte de Massabielle (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. Today, more than 6 million visitors come each year from every corner of the globe—not all of them are Christian, but most are bound by their common hope for a miracle cure.


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