Pilgrimage site in southwestern France, situated southwest of Toulouse at the foot of the Pyrenees. The town and its fortress formed a strategic stronghold in medieval times, but its modern significance dates from 1858, when a 14-year-old girl had repeated visions of the Virgin Mary (see Bernadette of Lourdes). The visions were declared authentic by Pope Pius IX in 1862. The underground spring in the grotto where Bernadette had her visions was declared to have miraculous qualities, and Lourdes has since become one of the foremost destinations for Roman Catholic pilgrims. Nearly 3 million visit annually, many of them sick or disabled people hoping to be healed. A basilica was built above the grotto in 1876, and a vast underground church was added in 1958.

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