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LOURDES

BY

THE VERY REV. MONSIGNOR
ROBERT HUGH BENSON


WITH EIGHT FULL PAGE ILLUSTRATIONS

ST. LOUIS MO.:
B. HERDER, PUBLISHER
17, S. BROADWAY

LONDON:
MANRESA PRESS
ROEHAMPTON, S.W.

1914




Nihil Obstat:

S. GEORGIUS KIERAN HYLAND, S.T.D.,
CENSOR DEPUTATUS

Imprimatur:

GULIELMUS F. BROWN,
VICARIUS GENERALIS,
SOUTHWARCENSI.

_15 Maii, 1914._




PREFACE.


Since writing the following pages six years ago, I have had the
privilege of meeting a famous French scientist--to whom we owe one of
the greatest discoveries of recent years--who has made a special study
of Lourdes and its phenomena, and of hearing him comment upon what takes
place there. He is, himself, at present, not a practising Catholic; and
this fact lends peculiar interest to his opinions. His conclusions, so
far as he has formulated them, are as follows:

(1) That no scientific hypothesis up to the present accounts
satisfactorily for the phenomena. Upon his saying this to me I breathed
the word "suggestion"; and his answer was to laugh in my face, and to
tell me, practically, that this is the most ludicrous hypothesis of all.

(2) That, so far as he can see, the one thing necessary for such cures
as he himself has witnessed or verified, is the atmosphere of prayer.
Where this rises to intensity the number of cures rises with it; where
this sinks, the cures sink too.

(3) That he is inclined to think that there is a transference of
vitalizing force either from the energetic faith of the sufferer, or
from that of the bystanders. He instanced an example in which his wife,
herself a qualified physician, took part. She held in her arms a child,
aged two and a half years, blind from birth, during the procession of
the Blessed Sacrament. As the monstrance came opposite, tears began to
stream from the child's eyes, hitherto closed. When it had passed, the
child's eyes were open and seeing. This Mme. ---- tested by dangling her
bracelet before the child, who immediately clutched at it, but, from the
fact that she had never learned to calculate distance, at first failed
to seize it. At the close of the procession Mme. ----, who herself
related to me the story, was conscious of an extraordinary exhaustion
for which there was no ordinary explanation. I give this suggestion as
the scientist gave it to me--the suggestion of some kind of
_transference_ of vitality; and make no comment upon it, beyond saying
that, superficially at any rate, it does not appear to me to conflict
with the various accounts of miracles given in the Gospel in which the
faith of the bystanders, as well as of sufferers, appeared to be as
integral an element in the miracle as the virtue which worked it.

Owing to the time that has elapsed since the following pages were
written for the _Ave Maria_--by the kindness of whose editor they are
reprinted now--it is impossible for me to verify the spelling of all the
names that occur in the course of the narrative. I made notes while at
Lourdes, and from those notes wrote my account; it is therefore
extremely probable that small errors of spelling may have crept in,
which I am now unable to correct.

ROBERT HUGH BENSON.

_Church of our Lady of Lourdes,
New York,
Lent, 1914_




LIST OF ILLUSTRATIONS.


THE BASILICA. FRONT VIEW _Frontispiece_

DR. BOISSARIE _to face p._ 16

BUREAU DES CONSTATATIONS " 26

THE GROTTO IN 1858 " 36

THE GROTTO IN 1914 " 46

THE BLESSING OF THE SICK " 56

THE BASILICA. SIDE VIEW " 66

BERNADETTE " 78




I.


The first sign of our approach to Lourdes was a vast wooden cross,
crowning a pointed hill. We had been travelling all day, through the
August sunlight, humming along the straight French roads beneath the
endless avenues; now across a rich plain, with the road banked on either
side to avert the spring torrents from the Pyrenees; now again mounting
and descending a sudden shoulder of hill. A few minutes ago we had
passed into Tarbes, the cathedral city of the diocese in which Lourdes
lies; and there, owing to a little accident, we had been obliged to
halt, while the wheels of the car were lifted, with incredible
ingenuity, from the deep gutter into which the chauffeur had, with the
best intentions, steered them. It was here, in the black eyes, the
dominant profiles, the bright colours, the absorbed childish interest of
the crowd, in their comments, their laughter, their seriousness, and
their accent, that the South showed itself almost unmixed. It was
market-day in Tarbes; and when once more we were on our way, we still
went slowly; passing, almost all the way into Lourdes itself, a
long-drawn procession--carts and foot passengers, oxen, horses, dogs,
and children--drawing nearer every minute toward that ring of solemn
blue hills that barred the view to Spain.

It is difficult to describe with what sensations I came to Lourdes. As a
Christian man, I did not dare to deny that miracles happened; as a
reasonably humble man, I did not dare to deny that they happened at
Lourdes; yet, I suppose, my attitude even up to now had been that of a
reverent agnostic--the attitude, in fact, of a majority of Christians on
this particular point--Christians, that is, who resemble the Apostle
Thomas in his less agreeable aspect. I had heard and read a good deal
about psychology, about the effect of mind on matter and of nerves on
tissue; I had reflected upon the infection of an ardent crowd; I had
read Zola's dishonest book;[1] and these things, coupled with the
extreme difficulty which the imagination finds in realizing what it has
never experienced--since, after all, miracles are confessedly
miraculous, and therefore unusual--the effect of all this was to render
my mental state a singularly detached one. I believed? Yes, I suppose
so; but it was a halting act of faith pure and simple; it was not yet
either sight or real conviction.

The cross, then, was the first glimpse of Lourdes' presence; and ten
minutes later we were in the town itself.

Lourdes is not beautiful, though it must once have been. It was once a
little Franco-Spanish town, set in the lap of the hills, with a swift,
broad, shallow stream, the Gave, flowing beneath it. It is now
cosmopolitan, and therefore undistinguished. As we passed slowly through
the crowded streets--for the National Pilgrimage was but now
arriving--we saw endless rows of shops and booths sheltering beneath
tall white blank houses, as correct and as expressionless as a
brainless, well-bred man. Here and there we passed a great hotel. The
crowd about our wheels was almost as cosmopolitan as a Roman crowd. It
was largely French, as that is largely Italian; but the Spaniards were
there, vivid-faced men and women, severe Britons, solemn Teutons; and, I
have no doubt, Italians, Belgians, Flemish and Austrians as well. At
least I heard during my three days' stay all the languages that I could
recognize, and many that I could not. There were many motor-cars there
besides our own, carriages, carts, bell-clanging trams, and the litters
of the sick. Presently we dismounted in a side street, and set out to
walk to the Grotto, through the hot evening sunshine.

The first sign of sanctity that we saw, as we came out at the end of a
street, was the mass of churches built on the rising ground above the
river. Imagine first a great oval of open ground, perhaps two hundred by
three hundred yards in area, crowded now with groups as busy as ants,
partly embraced by two long white curving arms of masonry rising
steadily to their junction; at the point on this side where the ends
should meet if they were prolonged, stands a white stone image of Our
Lady upon a pedestal, crowned, and half surrounded from beneath by some
kind of metallic garland arching upward. At the farther end the two
curves of masonry of which I have spoken, rising all the way by steps,
meet upon a terrace. This terrace is, so to speak, the centre of gravity
of the whole.

For just above it stands the flattened dome of the Rosary Church, of
which the doors are beneath the terrace, placed upon broad flights of
steps. Immediately above the dome is the entrance to the crypt of the
basilica; and, above that again, reached by further flights of steps,
are the doors of the basilica; and, above it, the roof of the church
itself, with its soaring white spire high over all.

Let me be frank. These buildings are not really beautiful. They are
enormous, but they are not impressive; they are elaborate and fine and
white, but they are not graceful. I am not sure what is the matter with
them; but I think it is that they appear to be turned out of a machine.
They are too trim; they are like a well-dressed man who is not quite a
gentleman; they are like a wedding guest; they are _haute-bourgeoise_,
they are not the nobility. It is a terrible pity, but I suppose it could
not be helped, since they were allowed so little time to grow. There is
no sense of reflectiveness about them, no patient growth of character,
as in those glorious cathedrals, Amiens, Chartres, Beauvais, which I had
so lately seen. There is nothing in reserve; they say everything, they
suggest nothing. They have no imaginative vista.

We said not one word to one another. We threaded our way across the
ground, diagonally, seeing as we went the Bureau de Constatations (or
the office where the doctors sit), contrived near the left arm of the
terraced steps; and passed out under the archway, to find ourselves with
the churches on our left, and on our right the flowing Gave, confined on
this side by a terraced walk, with broad fields beyond the stream.

The first thing I noticed were the three roofs of the _piscines_, on the
left side of the road, built under the cliff on which the churches
stand.



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Keywords: suppose, terrace, miracles, little, churches, rising, therefore, ground, either, french
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