Lourdes: Background information when reading The Loney

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The Loney

by Andrew Hurley

The Loney by Andrew Hurley X
The Loney by Andrew Hurley
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  • First Published:
    May 2016, 304 pages
    Apr 2017, 304 pages

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Book Reviewed by:
James Broderick

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Beyond the Book:

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It might not be surprising to learn that about three million people a year visit the Taj Mahal, the world-famous opulent marble mausoleum in Agra, India. It is often referred to as the world's most beautiful building. But would you be surprised to discover that fully twice as many people a year visit a muddy, rocky cave on the site of a former garbage dump in a tiny town in France?

That town – Lourdes – and that shallow cave, which forms a kind of natural grotto, is the site of one of the most famous religious apparitions in history, the appearance of the Virgin Mary to a 14-year-old French girl named Bernadette Soubirous in 1858. And almost since that first in a series of 18 appearances to the young peasant girl, religious pilgrims have been making their way to Lourdes to pray at the spot of the apparition and to drink or even bathe in the waters from an underground spring that some believe have miraculous healing powers.

In Andrew Michael Hurley's The Loney, the protagonist's family makes an annual religious pilgrimage along the Lancashire coast in England, and as they do, they speak of the more famous pilgrimage many believers make to Lourdes. In fact, so popular has the Lourdes pilgrimage become among the Catholic devout that the town is second only to Paris in terms of the number of tourists to France.

The apparitions at Lourdes, which none but Bernadette could see, occurred between February 11 and July 16 1858. During one of the visitations, Bernadette said she was directed to wash at a spring on the site, though there was no spring there, just mud and weeds. However, after Bernadette began digging with her hands through the dirt, a spring reportedly did issue forth, and it now flows at the rate of 32,000 gallons a day. (In the 1943 film The Song of Bernadette based on a historical fiction novel by Franz Werfel, this incident provides the climactic moment, with villagers taunting Bernadette as she digs in the dirt and rubs the soil on her face, determined to obey the commands of the Virgin Mary, even though no water flows. The taunting of the villagers – who think she's crazy – ceases, of course, when the water begins bubbling forth.)

In 1862, after years of investigations, the Catholic Church confirmed the miracle of the visitations. A church was built on the site, a statue was put up, and additional chapels have been built nearby over the decades. Pope Leo XIII had a Lourdes grotto built in the Vatican gardens. Thousands of miraculous cures have been unofficially attributed to visits to the shrine, though the church has "officially" recognized fewer than 100. The Sanctuary of Our Lady of Lourdes even puts out a monthly magazine.

There are a number of companies that conduct tours of the site and arrange travel packages for pilgrims seeking to experience, in the words of one Lourdes historian, "one of the most famous pilgrimage sites in the Christian world."

For a trailer of the movie, The Song of Bernadette, click on the video below:

Picture of statue of Our Lady of Lourdes in the grotto by Manuel González Olaechea y Franco

Article by James Broderick

This article was originally published in May 2016, and has been updated for the April 2017 paperback release. Click here to go to this issue.

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