Lourdes is a town of about 15 000 inhabitants, situated at the foothills of the Pyrénées. It has a castle, a market, a small number of shops - and 270 hotels. Out of all the cities in France, only Paris has more. The number of people who visit this town each year is about five millions. And why? Just because of a girl, and some water.

Bernadette Soubirous was her name. She was a peasant's daughter who out of the blue saw an apparition of a lady, not once, but eighteen times in the year 1858. The lady later revealed that she was Virgin Mary, the Immaculate Conception. On her instruction, Bernadette discovered a spring of pure water in the grotto of Massabielle where they had their conversations.

Water had never been found in that grotto before, so surely there must be some miracle afoot. Rumour started spreading and amazing cures were reported. As the years went by and Bernadette began her slow journey towards sainthood, the holiness of the water increased. There arrived more and more pilgrims who believed in its healing power. The number of certified miracles that have happened in connection with this water is about 65.

Around the grotto there was built a basilica, although the Lady of Lourdes had only asked for a chapel. There is a recently built one in town, however, along with two other basilicas, and a church - dedicated to Saint Bernadette. Houses to accommodate sick people and those who merely want to cleanse their souls have also appeared around town.

The name of Lourdes has spread throughout the world as a word for hope and healing, and is given to many hospitals and schools. It is also the name of Madonna's daughter. She must have given that a lot of thought.

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