If you are new to Lourdes you may often hear certain words or expressions and wonder what they mean. Here is a short glossary of some of the more frequently used ones;
The Domaine is the “real” Lourdes and is the spiritual centre containing the Basilicas, Grotto and Baths. There are three main entrances, St Michael’s Gate, St Joseph’s Gate and then a gate behind the Upper Basilica that is used during the night if the other two are closed. The whole area should be regarded as a Holy Place and treated respectfully i.e. definitely no smoking, no mobile phones, and no loud talking. The guards may turn you away if, in their opinion, you are not dressed correctly.
The Accueil Notre-Dame is situated in the Domaine. It is not a hospital in the usual sense but it is where our sick pilgrims are cared for during the week in Lourdes. Literally, it means Our Lady Welcomes, and this is symbolised by the design of the building depicting welcoming open arms. It is situated on the far side of the River Gave near to St Bernadette’s Church.
The Baths are situated past the Grotto and are visited by pilgrims in response to Our Lady’s invitation to Bernadette on 25th February 1858 “Go and drink at the spring and wash in it.” Directly opposite the Baths across the river on the Prairie is the Water Walk which gives an opportunity to reflect on the waters of Lourdes without going to the Baths.
Brancardier is the title given to male volunteer helpers. It is the French word for stretcher-bearer who in the old days would carry sick pilgrims from the railway station to the hospital. The Chief Brancardier is in charge of the teams of young helpers during the pilgrimage. John Campbell has recently retired from this role after many years of dedicated service and has been succeeded by Richard Emsley.
To support the weight of stretchers brancardiers wore canvas or leather bretelles, a type of shoulder harness which was, until recently, worn as a badge of office whilst on duty. When you enter the Domaine by St Joseph’s Gate you will see, halfway down the path on your left, a statue entitled Salus Infirmorum which was donated by the Diocese of Cambrai in 1912. A kneeling brancardier is shown supporting a sick pilgrim’s stretcher with the aid of his bretelles. The female helpers are known as Handmaids.
The Cachot is situated in the town and is the former prison where St Bernadette’s family lived in impoverished conditions.
The Crowned Virgin Statue is situated at the end of the pathway from St Joseph’s Gate and faces the Rosary Basilica. It is often used as a meeting point because of its prominent position. The square in front of the statue is the Rosary Square which is dominated by three churches built on top of one another. The middle one is the Crypt which is directly over the Grotto and was the first church to be built. The top one is the Basilica of the Immaculate Conception which is due to be refurbished in forthcoming years. The bottom one is the Rosary Basilica which has been renovated in recent years. The walls of the side altars contain mosaic images of the 15 mysteries of the Rosary. The new Mysteries of Light are represented in mosaic on the front façade.
The Grotto is the place where Our Lady appeared to St Bernadette eighteen times in 1858. On the ground, to the left in front of the Grotto, is a stone plaque marking the exact place where Bernadette stood. At the back of the Grotto, to the left of the altar, is the flowing spring that Bernadette uncovered on 25th February 1858.
The Prairie or Meadows is the open space over the River Gave from the Grotto where groups can gather for prayer and reflection.
There are two main areas laid out for the Stations of the Cross. The first is the famous ‘Hillside’ version which as you look towards the three basilicas is on the hill to the left. You reach it by going up the ramp and then cross the road near the Upper Basilica.
The second Way of the Cross is laid out for use by those in wheelchairs and is on the prairie. From the Grotto area you cross the river and turn left and it is beyond the Tent of Adoration.
The Underground Basilica, also known as the St Pius X, is the cavernous basilica to the side of the Rosary Esplanade. It can hold 25,000 pilgrims and was consecrated on 25th March 1958 to celebrate the centenary of the apparitions by Cardinal Roncalli, who later became Pope John XXIII. Each Sunday and Wednesday International Mass is celebrated in spectacular style. The Blessed Sacrament procession ends here each afternoon.