by Simon Gallop
At the beginning of December, at the International Reunion of Hospitaliers in Lourdes, the Bishop of Tarbes and Lourdes, Mgr Brouwet, outlined the plans for the repair and development of the Sanctuary. Following the damage caused by the floods of October 2012 and June 2013, it was necessary to spend a large sum of money to return the Sanctuaries to their original state. The authorities have decided to take advantage of this forced expenditure, to try and improve the Sanctuary. In addition, the area around the grotto will be refurbished, courtesy of a significant donation from an anonymous donor for this express purpose.
The first “casualty” of the floods is Project Siloe, the relocation of the baths to the Prairie, proposed by the last Bishop of Tarbes and Lourdes, Mgr Perrier. Initially it had been put on hold for two years, so that the new bishop could get a better understanding of the baths. Now it is to be cancelled.
The thinking behind the proposed changes is twofold. The first aim is to try and bring back the silence and reverence to the grotto. Currently there is too much going on next to the grotto, with the taps and candles, the main route to the baths, which is spilling over and disturbing people who want to pray. The second aim is to return to the message of Our Lady, to wash in the spring. This does not mean the end to the baths, but improving the other ways of fulfilling this message.
The simplest way to picture the changes is to go on a walk starting at the statue of the Crowned Virgin and following the route that we take when we process as the CA to the grotto mass.
The first noticeable change is when we approach the arches to the right of the Rosary basilica. Anything relating to merchandise will be remove: the vending machines for the medals, the sale of candles and water bottles. In addition the taps will also be moved as currently this is loud and busy . The area with trees just before the grotto will now be extended up to the arches. This is to help absorb the noise and to create a sense of calm before entering the grotto.
The area on the other side of the grotto, between the grotto and the baths, will see a lot of changes. The candle burners will be removed, apart from the holders for the large pilgrimage candles, which will stay close to the grotto. The building behind it which currently stores part burnt candles that are then burnt during the winter will become a second sacristy for the grotto. The current sacristy for the grotto was designed pre Vatican II and was therefore intended for only one celebrant. With the large number of concelebrants there is a need for more space. There will be a footpath from the new sacristy to the grotto, hidden by a hedgerow.
Where the candles are currently burnt, will be the new taps. These taps will be designed for people wanting to wash their face and to drink from. Bottle filling, jerry can filling etc will be barred from this area. The design is still under discussion, but it is likely that some sort of pool or bowl arrangement will be put in place. There are plans to have chaplains and/or HNDL members at this new place to help pilgrims understand the message of bathing from Our Lady.
This leads us on to the baths. The waiting area and awning is likely to be changed, but otherwise the existing building will remain with the baths as we know it.
A major problem in keeping the grotto area silent, is the traffic to and from the baths. There is a bridge at the far end, by the Statue of St Margaret of Scotland, but this is rarely used. To help remove passing traffic from the grotto, a new bridge will be built. This will be in front of the current candles area to the prairie. On the prairie side will be the new area for candles as well as the taps for people to fill their containers to take home with them.
As we come back from the prairie towards the Accueil, the main double bridge which was badly damaged will be repaired. Again, to reduce the traffic of pilgrimages in the Accueil wanting to cross for a service in one of the basilicas, there will be a second new bridge. This one will go from the middle of the Accueil, in front of the fountain, to the edge of the old Accueil (foot of the ramps surrounding the rosary basilica square), back to where we started our journey, by the statue of the Crowned Virgin.
These changes will happen over the next few years, so don’t expect it all to be in place this year, though the new bridge from the Accueil is already there!