Grotte de Massabielle

Big Rock - Lourdes Grotto

Useful Information

Grotte de Massabielle, Lourdes, France. Public Domain.
Grotte de Massabielle, Lourdes, France. Public Domain.
Location: Lourdes, below the Basilica of the Immaculate Conception, commonly known as the Upper Basilica, at the riverside.
(43.097589, -0.058707)
Open: All year daily 8-20.
Fee: free, donations welcome.
Classification: SpeleologyKarst Cave. Abri.
Light: n/a
Dimension: L=9.5 m, W=9.85 m, H=3.80 m, A=370 m asl.
Guided tours: V=5.000.000/a [2010] V=6.000.000/a [2019]
Photography: allowed
Accessibility: yes
Bibliography: Franz Werfel (1941): Das Lied von Bernadette, Verlag Bermann-Fischer, Stockholm 1941. Deutsch - German epub
Franz Werfel (1942): The Song Of Bernadette, The Viking Press New York 1942. internet archive
Address: Lourdes Sanctuaire, 1 Avenue Mgr Théas, 65108 Lourdes, Tel: +33-562-427878.
As far as we know this information was accurate when it was published (see years in brackets), but may have changed since then.
Please check rates and details directly with the companies in question if you need more recent info.


11-FEB-1858 Virgin Mary appeared to Bernadette Soubirous.
25-MAR-1858 Virgin Mary identified herself "Que soy era Immaculada Conceptiou".
16-JUL-1858 Virgin Mary appeared the last time.


Grotte de Massabielle, Lourdes, France. Public Domain.
Grotte de Massabielle, Lourdes, France. Public Domain.
La Grotte Miraculeuse a Lourdes 1860, France. Public Domain.
Grotte de Massabielle, Lourdes, France. Public Domain.

A paraplegic comes to Lourdes in a wheelchair and travels through the "Holy Water". The miracle happens. The wheelchair suddenly has new tyres.

The world-famous pilgrimage destination Lourdes is a vast complex of churches and souvenir shops. It is named Sanctuaire Notre-Dame de Lourdes (Sanctuary of Our Lady of Lourdes). The original Grotto of Lourdes is actually named Grotte de Massabielle, quite strange as the only real Lourdes Grotto is the only one which is not named Lourdes Grotto. It is a natural karst cave, partly river cave, located at the foot of a limestone cliff a few meters above the river Gave de Pau. It is called a grotto which means it is not a deep cave, little more than an overhanging rock or shelter, in French such a cave is called abrí. To protect the cave from floods of the river there is now a dam, the square in front of the grotto is paved in a concentric pattern with the grotto in the center. There are church benches and candleholders, and a statue of Virgin Mary of doubtful artistic quality. The scene is sent live into the world by a webcam named Lourdes TV.

At this place, Virgin Mary appeared to the young peasant girl Bernadette Soubirous. She appeared 18 times from 11-FEB-1858 to 16-JUL-1858. After those appearances, the small cave became a pilgrimage destination, and today more than six million people visit the cave every year.

On the 25-MAR-1858 Virgin Mary identified herself to Bernadette saying "Que soy era Immaculada Conceptiou" (I am the Immaculate Conception). After this appearance, Bernadette started to dig at the place of the appearance, and discovered a spring. It is located at the end of the grotto, to the left of the altar, but it is not visible any more. The water is considered to be sacred and have healing powers. People come to Lourdes to drink this water and bring some home with them. The water is canalized into public wells, where the visitors can drink. And there are hollow figurines of Virgin Mary sold, which are filled with the water, a tradition which is probably a hundred years old.

The site is visited by 6 Million people per year, an enormous number of people which must be organized in some way. From the beginning there was an enormous number of visitors, as a result the cave was closed by gates in the late 19th century. The ceiling of the grotto and the grotto on the left side were full of wooden crutches which were supposedly left by healed believers. However, the modern system is different and seems to work quite well. The cave is open again, but there are stainless steel railings for the queue to enter the cave. This seems to work quite well, probably with a number of volunteers who chase away undisciplined visitors and exhort them to silence.

The story of Bernadette is quite well told by Franz Werfel in his book Das Lied von Bernadette. Fleeing from the Nazis he had to stay for some time at Lourdes, waiting for the visa to go on to the U.S.A. Despite being a jew he was quite impressed by the story of Bernadette and he made a vow to tell her story if he ever saw the shores of America. His first novel in the new world was the book Song of Bernadette which became world famous, even a movie was made fromthe book.

The town of Lourdes is located in the valley between karstified limestone mountains at the foot of the Pyrenées. All the mountains around town are riddled with caves. In Lourdes, there are more than 30 known caves. Several caves were used to create cave churches, like the Grottes Les Espélugues in the hill above. It was open as cave church but for some reason, probably vandalism, it is now gated by an iron bar gate and can only be viewed from outside. Other caves, like the Grottes du Loup and the Grottes des Sarrazins were developed as show caves. Only the caves on the Pic du Jer are still open to the public, all other caves are closed for some reason. A place you can visit, for free and often in solitude, is the underground Saint Pie X Basilica. It is located in front of the Notre-Dame de Lourdes Sanctuary and seems to be of very low interest to pilgrims seeking relief from sickness. It is not a natural cave though, it's artificial.