We started with a guided tour of Notre Dame. It is a beautiful church that took many years to build, and yet I can’t pick out anything to report. In fact, Notre Dame went unused for years, forgotten and beginning to crumble until Victor Hugo wrote his “The Hunchback of Notre Dame,” and Paris returned their attention to it. For me, the artwork, architecture and the like make it remarkable building, and yet it falls short for me when there is no liturgy there.
From there we went to Montmartre, the Mount of the martyr. The martyr they are talking about is St. Dennis, patron of France. Dennis was decapitated/martyred there protecting Paris from the Roman troops. St. Dennis is portrayed in Paris as carrying his head, because he is said to have carried his head several miles to the place where his church was built.
Struggling artists often lived there because of inexpensive housing, such as Van Gogh, Lautrec and Renoir in their early years. Today it is cost prohibitive for artists to live there, but many find their way up there to display their art for tourists. Montmartre has commanding views of Paris. It is also known for the white Basilica that can be seen in many parts of Paris, Sacre Coeur (Sacred Heart).
Today was the feast of our diocesan patron, St. Vincent de Paul. It was an interesting alignment of circumstances that we would be here, in the city where St. Vincent ministered and a few miles where his body lies and is venerated, at a basically that shares the name of our cathedral.
This was a free day for the group, so after Mass we came down the mountain, each to their own. See my photos below of my time at the museum d’Orsay.
It is with mixed emotions that we arrive in Paris. We are excited to spend time here, but also know it signals the end of our pilgrimage.
We began with a bus tour of sites, getting out to look and take photos at the Arc de Triomphe, the Eiffel Tower and Napoleon’s tomb.
I had mentioned to our guide that the patron of our diocese is St. Vincent de Paul, and so she added the chapel that contains his body. St. Vincent dedicated his life to the poor when there was no public safety net. He also established an order of men and, with Louise de Merillac, an order of women to carry on the work. As Vincent lived and ministered in Paris, it is appropriate we be here for his feast day (tomorrow). It is unusual to me that the placement of his body is at the top of the altarpiece. Luckily there was a stairway there so we could get a better look.
From there it was down the block to the Chapel of the Miraculous Medal. Catherine Laboure was a daughter of Charity, the order of women that St. Vincent helped found two centuries earlier. In 1830, and two times later, the Blessed Virgin appeared to the young Catherine and instructed her to promote devotion to the sacred hearts of Jesus and Mary and even gave her a vision of how a medal should look. Catherine was able to get the medal produced and promoted and many miracles were attributed to it. The devotion remains popular. The chapel was busy today. It seemed like the medals were flying off the shelf. I was the only priest and enjoyed talking to people bringing me medals to bless. We had Mass in the chapel and many people not in our group, many not English-speaking, joined us. Catherine’s body is an incorruptible, free of tissue deterioration, and it is displayed in glass case in a side chapel. We have seen a number of these.
It occurred to me with Catherine that there has been a recurring pattern throughout the places we’ve visited. Lucy (Fatima), Bernadette (Lourdes) and Catherine (Paris) where all simple and humble young women with strong faith, through whom God was able to open up a deeper faith to others. They heard the call, were entrusted a message, and bravely faced opposition to spread the message. I would even say that this is the pattern for the Blessed Virgin Mary. She was called at a young age and made decision to dedicate herself totally to what was asked her despite the costs. I would like to think this pattern goes even beyond these examples. They should encourage us, whatever is asked of us, to put our lives and ourselves at the service of God
Our pilgrimage is taking us through beautiful regions, mainly rural and dotted by small villages, each with a lovely church. There is also the occasional castle. The crops are past their prime and seasonal weather is replacing the high temperatures we were experiencing a week ago.
Today we drove to Nevers, the monastery of the Sisters of Charity and Christian Instruction. As the apparitions of Bernadette began to be accepted in Lourdes the notoriety weighed on the shy Bernadette. She found shelter in Nevers, some 300 miles away from Lourdes. Initially she was schooled by the sisters. She was illiterate and didn’t even speak French (she spoke a local pyrenean dialect) when the Blessed Mother appeared to her. In one of the apparitions the Blessed Mother told her she needed to learn to write. Likely this would be to better communicate the experience. Eventually she would join the order as Sr. Mary Bernard. Bernadette remained frail and sickly, her condition exacerbated by her impoverished childhood. Her illness limited her to what she could do. She assisted the nursing sisters, not well enough to nurse the sick. Bernadette’s poor health led to her death at 35 years old.
Today, the body of Bernadette is displayed in a crystal case in a side chapel in the church at the Espace Bernadette. It is incorruptible, meaning the tissue may discolor but does not break down. I included photos, so you decide what you think.
I am happy that Nevers was included on the pilgrimage. It seemed to me that Bernadette gets lost at Lourdes. Pilgrims are focused on the healing waters, on the processions, on the miraculous healing they would like to experience. What seems to get lost is the message of conversion and prayer. I talked to several pilgrims that faith was the most important aspect of healing. Jesus would tell those he healed “your faith has saved you.” The Blessed Virgin told Bernadette to wash in the spring but the healing that followed were secondary. The Lady told Bernadette that she could not promise happiness in this life, but in the life to come. Bernadette, shy and young and poor, was ridiculed by townspeople and civil authorities, and yet was able to stand on the side of truth. Although she suffered physically all her life she never bathed in the waters. Though people would have gladly made her life more financially comfortable, she chose simplicity and humility and service instead. She chose the little way, bearing troubles bravely putting her faith in joy in the life to come. In my opinion, this gets drowned out in Lourdes, but is central in Nevers.
Tomorrow we will end our time with a few days in Paris.
Rocamadour, the Rock of Amadour, in southwest France goes back to the 12th century, to an ancient grave that was believed to contain a 1st century saint, Amadour a contemporary of St Paul, and a missionary to Gaul. He was thought to be married to St. Veronica who had wiped the face of Jesus as he carried his cross. A religious complex was built out of a side of a steep cliff and soon there were reports of miracles and a pilgrimage site began. This is also located on one of the paths of the Camino de Santiago.
The current site is rebuilt after having caved in many years ago. Two medieval churches are on the site, the main upper church of Notre Dame and lower church of St. Sauveur. Notre Dame contains the black madonna, credited to St. Amadour, black due to the age, the wood and its proximity to devotional candles. The madonna was discovered unharmed after the cave in.
The site is impressive and fun to wander around. It is at about the half point of a tall steep cliff. A steep path with stations of the cross winds upward to a chateau. Hundreds of steps descend to a town of medieval buildings that still are a functioning town. It is a charming site but, because of its dubious provenance, is more of a curiosity. Our visit was more of the part it played and, even now, still plays in the devotional life of the faithful.
An interesting detail is a sword that projects high on the cliff above Notre Dame church. It is supposed to be the legendary sword of Roland, a knight of Charlemagne, a defender of France from the saracens. Roland is portrayed as a knight extraordinaire, loyal and brave. The sword, Durandal, was without equal, and as Roland lay dying, rather than have it fall in enemy hands, threw it where it wedged itself in the rock at Rocamadour, where it remains. This story is no longer believed, but in the category of never letting the truth stand in the way of a good story. I must admit, we put in a lot of time trying to locate it.
Mass was difficult in the cramped upper church, with the black madonna looking on, but certainly an experience to remember.
This amazing day began with an international mass in an underground church dedicated to St. Pius X. Pilgrims from throughout the world gathered with priests, bishops and cardinals to offer our praise to God. It was interesting to experience how they included so many languages, but Latin carried the day. I’ve concelebrated my first Latin Mass!
There is a great effort to include the sick here. They are given preferred access to the facilities here. Because of healing properties attributed to the waters Lourdes focuses on this ministry. Nurses, doctors and other volunteers from throughout the world come to Lourdes for this purpose. Bathes are available twice a day to give persons the opportunity to immerse themselves in the waters. There is a hospital on site, as well as retreat houses.
We visited the homes of Bernadette Sobrinous, the saint of Lourdes. Her family had some success running a barley mill, which was also their home. By the time the Blessed Mother appeared to Bernadette they had been reduced to subsistence living, forced by circumstances to live in one room in an abandoned jail building. Again, God chooses the lowly to work his will.
There was a Eucharistic procession, and candlelight rosary procession at night. Each were beautiful.
I had spent time today and last night to pray for the intentions the parish entrusted to me before I left, as I had carried them throughout our time here. Before leaving tonight, I prayed at the grotto and left the pages of intentions among the many offerings from the pilgrims. I hope God will bless all those who are dear to you. It has been my privilege to carry these with me during this time.
It seems unfortunate that this wonderful site is ringed by encroaching commercialism. Souvenir stores, hotels and restaurants abound. Fatima had these things but somehow they cheapen the approaches to Lourdes as they don’t in Fatima. Certainly the visitors are interested in bringing mementos home for their loved ones and themselves, us among them.
Today we had a 7 hour drive to Lourdes, with a 4 hour stop in Burgos, Spain.
If the photos of Burgos look familiar, Fr. Jim Kauffmann and I stayed here four years ago when we walked the Camino of Santiago de Compostella. It was great to be back and to share this lovely city with the group. The Camino is such a wonderful memory and this visit help bring it all back. There were many pilgrims wandering about, easily identifiable from their backpacks and disheveled appearance, and I chatted with a few hearing where they were from and how the walk was going. I wished them Buen Camino as they do on the Camino.
There was some confusion about the time of our tour of the cathedral since there were three weddings scheduled. After Mass we had an early lunch and the women were excited to see the wedding parties arrive. I was happy I wasn’t doing them. We had to sample the Sangria.
As you can see from the photos, the cathedral is a masterpiece. Dedicated to Our Lady of Burgos, it was begun 1n 1441 and completed in its current configuration in 1560. The retablos (altar pieces), even in small chapels, are overwhelming in size and awash with gold leaf. The cathedral was a beauty to behold. Unfortunately, today it is more of a museum than a church, and its age and design makes it expensive to keep up. It is a UNESCO cultural site, as is the Camino itself.
After the ever important bathroom break, we headed north to the sliver of Spain, the Basque region, that is in the foothills that skirt Biscayne Bay and finally delivers you to France via the Pyrenees Mountains. Great views, but many saw them through closed eyelids weary from the journey.
We arrived in Lourdes just in time for a quick dinner and to see the candlelight procession already in progress. More about Lourdes tomorrow.
This was mainly a travel day, about seven hours on the bus with an hour time zone change as we crossed into Spain. Someone told me that the relationship between Portugal and Spain is so tense they can’t even share a time zone, but I can’t say that for sure.
Salamanca was just a couple hours for lunch and Mass. I have been here before when I walked the Camino de Santiago and was delighted to come upon one of the markers that indicate The Way.
We were charmed by the Main Square (the Plaza Mayor). It’s architecture in over 250 years old. Cafes surround the square. We went the tapas, which is famous here, but because there was no service outside, and as you can see it was a glorious day, we settled for salads or sandwiches, which were quite good. The service was a bit slow, and we were late to meet with our guide.
We had Mass in a chapel at the Church of Purity. This is one of many churches we passed in Salamanca, each one beautiful enough to be a cathedral.
Salamanca has no real pilgrimage significance, but it is an ancient city with beautiful old buildings and a bustling city area. The university here is one of the oldest in Europe. Christopher Columbus once was on the faculty.
I am glad to be back on the Camino. It brings back such wonderful memories.