The Grotto was opened to the public, on the order of Napoleon III on 5 th. October 1858, the people began to clean it up. At the time of Bernadette, the Grotto was a dirty, hidden, damp and cold place. At Lourdes, the fact that Mary had appeared in a dirty and obscure Grotto, in the place called Massabielle, the Old Rock, tells us that God comes to join us where we are, in the midst of our poverty and failures.
A small wooden statue of Our Lady was placed in the crevice and surrounded by artificial flowers. In 1863, the de Lacour sisters offered to pay for a statue. Joseph Fabish, an artist from Lyon, was commissioned to carry out this work. The Grotto is a plain cavity in the rock and since 11th. February 1858, the date of the first Apparition of the Virgin Mary to Bernadette, the Grotto has become a place of prayer, of gathering and of devotion.
In Lourdes, chapels were built to receive the crowds that came here. But these chapels are only the signs of the communion based on the love to which we are called. The chapel is the "Church" that we want to build where we are, in our family, at our place of work, in our parish, in our diocese. All Christians spend their lives building the Church, living in communion with others.
At the back of the Grotto pilgrims pause in front of the spring that ran through the fingers of Bernadette Soubirous at the instigation of Our Lady. They like to leave flowers there or to take a photograph. Thus in this "shelter for pigs", where there was but dirty water, pure water appeared on 25 th. February 1858. Since then, it has continued to flow.
This internationally known place of pilgrimage welcomes over 5 million people: tourists, visitors and pilgrims during a period of 7 months (1st. April - 31st. October). To cater for this number of people a large number of facilities are available. Many pilgrims use the calm of the winter period to come to the Grotto. This season also has important Feasts such as 8th. December (Feast of the Immaculate Conception) and 11th. February (Anniversary of the 1st. Apparition). Access to the Grotto is available day and night throughout the year.
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