The Sanctuary

The building of a sanctuary

In order to welcome the crowd of pilgrims who arrive in Lourdes each year, the Bishops of Tarbes and Lourdes, and the Rectors of Lourdes have bought, constructed and developed the Domain of the Grotto.

The first basilicas

Monseigneur Bertrand-Sévère Laurence took the first step by purchasing, in 1861, the Massabielle rock and the river bank there. At this time too the first “chapels” were built. The Crypt was finished in 1866, and the Basilica of the Immaculate Conception in 1871. The episcopacy of Monseigneur Prospère-Marie Billère saw the construction of the Basilica of Our Lady of the Rosary, completed in 1889.

The Grotto area

In 1875 and 1877 the course of the river Gave was pushed back, allowing the construction of a broad terrace in front of the Grotto of Massabielle. Today pilgrims can gather there to pray. They can also walk around the Grotto. On the left they can see the spring which began to flow when Bernadette Soubirous scrabbled in the ground there, and in the center stands the altar. On the right, in an ogival niche, there is a statue representing the Immaculate Conception.

Three days only after the discovery of the spring, a pool was made. Soon it was necessary to make two more, and then, in 1862, a permanent fountain was erected. Today a row of twenty-nine taps allows pilgrims to come and drink at the spring. These are situated to the left of the Grotto of Massabielle.

The baths

Following on the first miracles, which took place in 1858 and 1862, temporary baths were constructed. In 1891 the wooden construction was replaced by a stone building which housed 9 baths. Today’s building houses 17 baths in which pilgrims can bathe. This building is to be found to the right of the Grotto of Massabielle.

"One of the most important shrines in the world"

In 1958 the construction of the Underground Basilica of Saint Pius X was completed. It was the realization of Monsignor Pierre-Marie Théas’ desire to build a sanctuary, a “Large Shelter”, to house the crowds expected for the centenary of the Apparitions. With a surface area of 12,000 m2 the basilica can hold up to 20,000 pilgrims. This makes it one
of the largest places of worship in the world, alongside St. Peter’s in Rome (Vatican City) and Notre-Dame de Yamoussoukro (Ivory Coast).

The hospices for the sick

In order to allow sick pilgrims to be welcomed in good conditions, two hospices were built, the Accueil Marie Saint-Frai in 1874, and the Asile Notre- Dame in 1877. Today the Accueil Marie Saint-Frai has been renovated and can provide 400 beds. The Asile Notre-Dame has been adapted for other purposes. To replace it the Accueil Notre-Dame was built in 1997. It can accommodate 900 sick or disabled people.

The Sanctuary or Sanctuaries?

For a long time now in Lourdes people have shifted between the singular and the plural when speaking of the sacred area. The term “sanctuary” denotes a building intended for the use of pilgrims. The Crypt, hollowed out in the rock, was the original Sanctuary. Subsequently, the proliferation of places of worship has led to the whole area being referred to as “the Sanctuaries.”

1908 and 1958

1908 and 1958 marked the fiftieth and hundredth anniversaries of the Apparitions.

These two years were characterized by record crowds. In 1908 there were no fewer than 1.1 million pilgrims and visitors, and in 1958 there were 4.9 million.

"The 50th anniversary of the Apparitions"

1908 stands out for another reason: the high number of miracles that were officially recognized that year. Twenty-one people from France and Belgium were considered to have been cured, thanks to the intercession of Our Lady of Lourdes.

These exceptional figures, and the range of countries represented by pilgrims and visitors, underlined the ever-growing attraction of Lourdes. At the end of the celebrations for the hundredth anniversary of the Apparitions, Pope John XXIII highlighted this in a speech made to French notables in Rome. “The spiritual movement towards the Grotto in Lourdes […], far from losing steam, seems to need to grow even greater, in an inspiring crescendo […].”

"The 100th anniversary of the Apparitions"

Two vast projects are linked to the year 1958. The first is architectural: the building of a “Large Shelter”, known today as the Underground Basilica of St. Pius X. It is the fruit of the work and perseverance of the project manager, architects and builders. The second is historical: the publication of the first works of reference on the 1858.

The original document can be found at

Follow us:

Check out Catholic News Agency Polls on LockerDome on LockerDome