Thursday, May 23, 2019

Gate 1 Day 9 - Carcassonne to Lourdes

May 2019 - Carcassonne to Lourdes

DAY 9, Thursday - Carcassonne, Lourdes, Candlelit Procession



The view from our window.

This morning’s walking tour takes you around Europe's best-restored ancient fortified city with its over fifty towers and turrets, still standing today. 

This is France's second most visited attraction.

As we disembark and get organized and meet our local guide, we have a view of the graveyard, just outside the Citadel's walls.

Inhabited since the Neolithic period, Carcassonne is located in the plain of the river Aude between historic trade routes, linking the Atlantic to the Mediterranean sea and the Massif Central to the Pyrénées. Its strategic importance was quickly recognized by the Romans, who occupied its hilltop until the demise of the Western Roman Empire. In the fifth century, it was taken over by the Visigoths, who founded the city. Its strategic location led successive rulers to expand its fortifications until the Treaty of the Pyrenees in 1659.

The fortified city consists essentially of a concentric design of two outer walls with 53 towers and barbicans to prevent attack by siege engines. The castle itself possesses its own drawbridge and ditch leading to a central keep. The walls consist of towers built over quite a long period. One section is Roman and is notably different from the medieval walls, with the tell-tale red brick layers and the shallow pitch terracotta tile roofs. One of these towers housed the Catholic Inquisition in the 13th century and is still known as "The Inquisition Tower".

Carcassonne was the first fortress to use hoardings in times of siege. Temporary wooden ramparts would be fitted to the upper walls of the fortress through square holes beneath the rampart itself, providing protection to defenders on the wall and allowing defenders to go out past the wall to drop projectiles on attackers at the wall beneath.

Statue of the legendary Lady Carcas at the main entrance.

Here is where myth and reality overlap. The legend goes that, under the Saracens rule, the Frank Army led by Charlemagne laid siege to the city; although the Saracens were short of knights to protect their stronghold, they had been placing fake soldiers in the watchtowers to trick the Franks into thinking it was still impregnable. This was done under the advice of Lady Carcas, the widow of the former Saracens’ chief.

Nevertheless, five years later, the citadel was still surrounded and started to lack food supplies. Lady Carcas asked for an inventory of the resources: she was answered there remained only one pig and a stack of wheat. She decided then to force-feed the former with the latter, and had the massive animal thrown beyond the battlements, at the feet of the Franks’ army.

Charlemagne, convinced that the city was so self-sufficient that it could even waste some food, decided to lift the siege. Witnessing the departing army, Lady Carcas, thrilled, had the bells of the city ringing. Someone then exclaimed: “Carcas sonne!” (Carcas rings) which is said to have given its actual name to the city.

So did the legend start. Well, in reality Charlemagne was not even an adult at the time and it was his father, Pepin the Short, who took back the citadel in 752.
And Carcassonne was already named Carcaso under the Roman Empire. 

Stroll along the cobbled streets to the St. Nazaire Basilica, adorned with magnificent stained glass and intricate carvings. 

Afterward, indulge in a tasting of various medieval beverages, including Hippocras. This spiced wine, was highly prized during the medieval era. 

This turned out to be one sampling with very little information or interest on the presenter's part.

Hippocras sometimes spelled hipocras or hypocras, is a drink made from wine mixed with sugar and spices, usually including cinnamon, and possibly heated. After steeping the spices in the sweetened wine for a day, the spices are strained out through a conical cloth filter bag called a manicum hippocraticum or Hippocratic sleeve (originally devised by the 5th century BC Greek physician Hippocrates to filter water). This is the origin of the name hippocras.

Following the tasting, time at leisure for lunch on your own. 

DEPART - 1:45
Just enough time for all of us to get our bill for lunch.

Your journey continues to Lourdes, in the foothills of the Pyrenees, that rose to international fame in 1858 when visions of the Virgin Mary were described at the Grotto of Massabielle. 

The town is now a major site of Roman Catholic pilgrimage and of reported miraculous healings. 

Originally a sleepy market town on the road to the spas of the Pyrenees, Lourdes has grown into the largest Marian pilgrimage centre in the world. The town has two sections: the international portion by the river, consisting of the spiritual area containing the Grotto and churches (known as the Domaine or the Sanctuaries), and the "French" portion, centered around the marketplace & Hotel de Ville.


The hotel is ideally situated within close proximity of the Sanctuaries in Lourdes. Le Musee de Lourdes, Sanctuary of our Lady of Lourdes and Musee Grevin are no more than a half mile away.

John took some photos as we waited for our keys.

Laura then did a short walking tour which we skipped as we move faster on our own, even though we took the long way to the cathedral!

Neither words nor photos can describe this place. The sheer commercialism is beyond Disney. From plastic bottles to crystal for your Lourdes water.
In pain or despair? Have some holy water in a Virgin Mary-shaped bottle. I even saw a candy shop was called the Immaculate Confection.

Bernadette in a parking lot.

Although we took the long way it was the most impressive entrance.

We could see a procession in the distance and then a sign for the Underground Church which is where they were heading.

The Basilica of Saint Pius X, informally known as the Underground Basilica, is a large Roman Catholic church and minor basilica. It is part of the Sanctuary of Our Lady of Lourdes.

Back in time for dinner.

TIME 7 PM Dinner together.

TIME   9 PM Witness the stirring candlelight procession tonight, which has unfailingly taken place since the 1800s. 

Laura was taking those interested to the procession, since we and B, S and another woman were first she suggested we go ahead. Of course it was raining.

As early as 18th February 1858, the day of the third Apparition, one of the two people accompanying Bernadette had carried a candle. After this, Bernadette herself always came with a candle. The iconic Lourdes Torchlight Procession, known throughout the world, was introduced in Lourdes in 1863 by Father Marie-Antoine, a Capuchin also known as the ‘Saint of Toulouse’. The Marian Procession is the most popular celebration in Lourdes. Pilgrims come with their banners and sick pilgrims are always anxious to attend when they can. You can carry a candle with its paper wind protector on which the traditional Ave Maria of Lourdes is printed recalling the story of the Apparitions.

During the Procession, and depending on the day, the pilgrims recite the Joyful, Luminous, Sorrowful or Glorious Mysteries of the Rosary. At the beginning of each decade, a few words in several languages give direction to the prayer so that it does not become a monotonous repetition. The Ave Maria and other hymns can be heard in many languages. In the serenity of the evening, each pilgrim carries his or her own personal intentions as the prayer gathers the assembly “of all nations, people and languages” with the Virgin Mary, like the disciples in the Cenacle after the Ascension of Christ. The procession takes place regardless of the weather.

S getting her candle lit.

We then went to find the grotto.

The most sacred site at the Sanctuary of Our Lady of Lourdes is the Grotto of Massabielle, also known as the Miraculous Caveor the Cave of Apparitions.

The Grotto of Massabielle is the site of St. Bernadette's visions of the Virgin Mary in 1858. The Blessed Virgin is said to have pointed out a previously undiscovered spring in the grotto and instructed Bernadette to drink from it.

The spring water from the grotto is believed to possess healing properties, and the Roman Catholic Church occasionally officially recognizes miraculous healings.


  1. It's a bit sad about the believers in miracles at Lourdes, but if such a thing gives them some comfort, I guess that is what matters. Rather gorgeous place though and doesn't look as crowded as it might be at times.

  2. Carcassonne is particularly impressive!


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