I returned to the place from whence I had come, there to meet with Paul of Lyon. There were more pilgrims at the gite this time and I was able to give them advice about the road ahead. Once again we stood on the balcony and watched and listened to the procession below.
In the morning I wandered through the town towards the grand avenue which leads up to the church. Beggars were everywhere, troubling the conscience of Christians who passed by on the other side of the road. Nuns were wandering about in pairs, reminding me of the old joke which I won't repeat here.
Always curious, I decided to tag along at the end of a procession. Here I witnessed the sadder aspect of Lourdes, the infirm being wheeled along in their chairs, hoping for a cure to their illness. Inside the entrance to the avenue, they paused for a simple service before making their final approach to the church. Either the hymns were unfamiliar, or the priest had begun in too high a key, for the pilgrims joined in only on the lower refrain. I didn't see any young people among the faithful.
And just across the street from the church was the worst aspect of Lourdes: its blatant commercialism, a long row of shops, all selling religious trinkets, statues, beads, holy pictures, and crosses enough in this one place for all the Christians in Christendom. Bernadette would have been horrified at this commercialism, and as a good communist, so would Jesus, I'm sure. It's a pity that the Church can not retain a monopoly on the sale of its religious products and give the proceeds to the poor.
The town itself was little better. Half the shops were selling religious paraphernalia.Two houses were competing to be the authentic house of Bernadette. One was an old mill, the house where she was born and where her parents had loved her tenderly. But the other was the house where she had lived when had her visions, so clearly this one had the better claim. And of course, you couldn't get in to either without paying.
The hotels had all got into the spirit as well. The first had claimed the most obvious names, Hotel Sainte Bernadette, Hotel Sainte Marie, etc., so that the Johnny-come-latelies had to dig deep into the catalogue of saints to find a religious name. I was puzzled by la Pharmacie de la Grotte. Were their drugs supposed to offer miraculous cures? Sometimes the sigs were quite incongruous.