Pilgrimage Day 1

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Home Page > Travelogues > France > Lourdes > Pilgrimage Arrival and Day 1

Other Chapters in the Lourdes section: Lourdes Sanctuary ] Pont Vieux ] Fort and City ] [ Pilgrimage Day 1 ] Pilgrimage Day 2 ] Pilgrimage Day 3 ]


47th Military Pilgrimage to Lourdes, Part 1


Welcome to the three-part travelogue on the 47th Military Pilgrimage to Lourdes, also called the Pčlerinage Militaire International, normally held in May each year.  The 47th edition was conveniently held over the American Memorial Day weekend in 2005, which made it easier to plan our attendance at this tremendous event.  I understood that Catholic Soldiers from over 33 nations across Europe, North America, and Africa sent contingents to this event.  It include three intensely event-filled days and nights, including Masses, parades, processions, music, rituals, and partying (oh yes, we had a lot of fun doing this, too).

The travelogue is divided by slices of time -- the arrival/day/night 1, day 2, and night 2/day 3/departure.  The Lourdes travelogue accompanies this one as we had somehow found plenty of time to also visit this gorgeous city and study her history.  We hope you enjoy this travelogue.


Our group was part of the American contingent traveling by train.  We linked up with a French-Army contracted SNCF sleeper train that originated in Strasbourg on the German border and went on a 15-hour journey to Lourdes in the far southwest of France.  French Soldiers manned the train and provided a very cheap continental breakfast in the morning.  (Plenty of beer and wine were available too.)  We pulled in around 8AM and went straight to our hotel to get organized.

We had most of the morning and early afternoon free.  The first event for most contingents was a national Mass.  Some, like the Belgians and French, held their outside.  The American Mass was held indoors in one of the halls, which had several floors of nothing but chapels.  The Mass was a joint effort among the various American military clergymen serving in Europe. 

Late that afternoon was the first official event, the Opening Ceremony.  Each contingent provided units to march in the parade from one end of the sanctuary to the other.  The contingent shown here was from the United Kingdom.  Some countries brought out their special dress uniforms for the parade.

This shot was taken from our vantage point in front of the basilica.  The sunny day brought people out by the thousands to witness the parade and the ceremony.  Good spots were hard to find, from the trees forward it was all reserved for the paraders.

A separate formation was made for the bands and color guards, shown here with the American color guard in center.  The color guards were ordered according to their name in French, so the US was listed under 'E' for États-Unis.

The color guards marched through the center of the mass formation and took positions on the steps around the front of the basilica, as shown here.  Once they were in position, the opening ceremony began.  Unfortunately from as far back as we were, it was difficult to tell what was happening.

I was able to get a better vantage point to catch the departure.  I do not know which band this was, but the eight or so bands came from different nations, and each wore different colored uniforms.  After it was over, Soldiers from all over the world got together for joint photographs.  Getting a photo with an American Soldier seemed to be a prime goal for many foreigners (particularly if the American was female).

Night fell, and the city was filled with music.  After dinner, and probably before the partying, dozens of bands (like this British? one) marched through the streets playing their traditional military songs or Catholic hymns.  Many would march a short distance, stop, and then serenade the café-goers before moving on.

Here is another band (I believe it was the Spanish contingent, but I could be wrong).  These were among my favorite band uniforms, very distinctive and colorful, and of course the music was terrific.

Not all the music came from bands.  This serviceman decided to take out his bagpipes and play solo.  Occasionally he stopped and let a crowd draw around him for a song or two before moving on.

The first day was complete.  Catholic service members from more than 30 nations gathered together for fellowship.  The big day with most of the major events lay ahead.  Click here to go to Day 2.

Trip taken 25-27 May 2005 -- Page Last Updated 04 October 2006 -- (C) 2006 Tom Galvin

Other Chapters in the Lourdes section: Lourdes Sanctuary ] Pont Vieux ] Fort and City ] [ Pilgrimage Day 1 ] Pilgrimage Day 2 ] Pilgrimage Day 3 ]


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