The French city of Lourdes is home to one of the largest pilgrimage centers in Europe. And although here we are basically interested in the outstanding architecture that makes up the sanctuary, the truth is that it is impossible not to talk about it without making references to the beliefs on which its fame is based.
It can be said that we are talking about a constructive complex made up of four spaces. Three of them are basilicas, the Immaculate Conception, the Rosary and Saint Pius X, to which must be added the Grotto of the Apparitions, which is precisely the place where the Virgin appeared to the nun Bernadette, the beginning of the devotion in this place.
According to what is said, that took place in 1858, and since then the first Basylica of the Immaculate Conception was built, located in the space now known as the crypt. Everything else is later.
At its feet the Basilica of the Rosary would later be built, with a historicist aspect that evokes Roman and Byzantine art, it has a Greek cross plan, with the center covered by a Dome. This temple was already conceived with the idea that everything would form a great architectural, monumental and almost scenic ensemble. It seems to function as a kind of pedestal for the upper basilica and the presence of two enormous elliptical ramps that mark what isthe axis of the esplanade where the faithful and the pilgrims of the Marian route meet. A huge space, with capacity for thousands of believers. It can almost be said that that esplanade in the great atrium of the temple, which serves as a backdrop for the great celebrations.
And the latest construction is the Basilica of San Pio X, consecrated in 1958 and designed by the architect Pierre Vago. It has a curious inverted boat keel shape. Although its entire shape is in accordance with Christian rites, since acts such as the Via Crucis or the Mysteries of the Rosary are staged in the ambulatories that surround it and the various ramps.
However, the most striking thing about this Basilica is not its peculiar vision of architecture of the 20th century applied to the construction of churches. Actually, what makes it different is the colossal dimensions with which it was conceived. For example, in its more than 12,000 square meters of surface, it can accommodate up to 25,000 faithful. And we are talking about a work of 190 meters long and more than 60 wide. Undoubtedly something huge, even more so considering that this town in the French Pyrenees was hardly a village of shepherds until the mid-19th century, when tradition recounts the apparitions of the Virgin Mary in the grotto.