It was June 2013 when the normally placid Gave de Pau River broke its banks, swamping much of southwestern France and leaving the famed pilgrimage site under water for two days. Work crews rushed to clear mud and remove debris after the massive flood; but the grotto had been inundated by floodwaters, causing millions of dollars in damage and making the area unsafe for pilgrims.
One plan for the restoration had called for new baths, which would make it possible for pilgrims to bathe in the healing waters. Instead, Bishop Nicolas Brouwet, bishop of Tarbes and Lourdes, approved a plan incorporating a simpler grotto area which will be a place of prayer and reflection. Repairs are expected to take as long as three years to complete.The Tablet reported on a press conference held today at Lourdes:
The sanctuary said it has received €9.1m in donations after the floods last June and those funds, along with insurance payments and other contributions, should cover the €15m cost of the renovation plan, which should take about three years to complete.
Bishop Brouwet told a news conference that the candle dispensers and faucets for Lourdes water now located near the grotto are distractions that will be moved elsewhere.
The racks of burning candles beyond the grotto will be transferred to the field across the Gave River. The old baths will be renovated, but new ones will not be built across the river.
New fountains distributing water will be erected near the grotto to allow pilgrims to drink it or wash there, following what Bernadette Soubirous said the Virgin Mary instructed her to do, rather than having to take a full bath. Pilgrims will not be allowed to fill bottles with water there.
It was at Lourdes where Our Lady appeared to Bernadette Soubirous, a young peasant girl, and identified herself as the “Immaculate Conception.” After extensive study, the validity of the apparition was confirmed by the Catholic Church in 1862.
I explained the apparition and its significance in a post on the Feast of Our Lady of Lourdes in 2011, here.