Flooding closes grotto at Lourdes

Heavy flooding in southwest France has forced the closure of the Marian shrine at Lourdes, for the second time in a year.

As hundreds of pilgrims were evacuated from nearby hotels, officials used sandbags and other barriers to minimise damage to the grotto where the Virgin Mary appeared to St Bernadette Soubirous in 1858.

About six million pilgrims visit Lourdes annually, many to bathe in the grotto’s normally tranquil spring waters and pray for healing at its altar, which had to be restored after it was damaged by flash floods in October last year.

The spokesman for the Lourdes pilgrimage complex, Mathias Terrier, said waters reached a height of 1.5 metres in the grotto.

The website for the pilgrimage complex, which includes several buildings and a sanctuary nestled beneath a rocky hillside, carried a dramatic rundown of the rising waters.

Masses were gradually cancelled, Associated Press reported. One by one, entrances to the sanctuary were cordoned off. The live video feed of the grotto went down. Then the electricity was cut off, and then phones.

“A vision of the apocalypse in the Sainte Bernadette Church, where the big movable partition is threatening to fall. The water has risen above the stairs of the choir,” read one announcement.

“We need more reinforcements in the area to face these floods, which are really exceptional,” said Interior Minister Manuel Valls while visiting Lourdes. He said days of sustained rains and sudden snowmelt made the flooding worse, and left some villages isolated.

Two people in the region were reported to have drowned in the floods.


Associated Press


Image: Midi-Pyrenees

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