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Between February and July 1858, the 14 year old daughter of a miller and a laundry worker named Bernadette Soubirous had, she said, a vision of "a small young lady" in a cave near the village of Lourdes in southern France; though her friends said they saw nothing. She returned regularly to the grotto and she described the lady as wearing a white veil, a blue girdle and with a yellow rose on each foot – compatible with "a description of any statue of the Virgin in a village church". Bernadette said the lady pointed to a muddy stream of water coming from the grotto and "to drink of the water of the spring, to wash in it and to eat the herb that grew there". Miraculously the water now ran clear. After investigation, Church authorities confirmed the authenticity of the apparitions in 1862, the main reason was that Bernadette had claimed the apparition had told her she was the 'Immaculate conception" when asked who she was.They assumed a 14yo peasant girl would not be familiar with these terms and so it must be a true miracle. Bernadette's body, which is on display, is alleged to be incorruptible, but the face and hands, which look so lifelike, are made of wax

People soon began flocking to the site and to drink the water in the hope of a miracle cure for whatever ailed them and three massive basilicas have been built over the and around site. Since then, the Church has validated 67 miracles at Lourdes and in 1925 Bernadette was declared a saint. It is estimated that over 200 million people have visited Lourdes since 1860, most in search of a miracle cure for whatever affliction they may have. If you're counting, that's a success rate of .0000335% or 1 out of every 3 million. Though to date, no really miraculous event, such as a limb regrowth or a severe disability being lost overnight has taken place.

Lourdes has a population of around 15,000 and to accommodate the 5 million pilgrims who visit the town each year, there are around 270 hotels and only Paris has more hotels in France. Lourdes has been called the "Disneyland of the Catholic Church". Critics argue that the Lourdes phenomenon is nothing more than a significant money-spinner for the town and the region, which therefore has a strong vested interest in keeping the pilgrims coming.

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