It was on the 11th of February that Bernadette Soubirous, daughter of a desperately poor family in Lourdes, saw at the Grotto of Massabielle the first vision of what she called “aquero,”—that in the local dialect. The rest of the story has gone down in legend and hagiography: multiple visits from what was believed to be the Virgin Mary, the discovery of a spring, the building of the basilica and shrine, pilgrims, healings, and processions. Whether or not you believe in the visions and miracles, there is said to be a mystical aura over the area–there were local legends of White Ladies and ghosts before Aquero put in an appearance–that continues in spite of the commercialization of the town and shrine. One of the pilgrims, psychic researcher and author Violet Tweedale, had a strange, yet uplifting, vision.
THE ANGEL OF LOURDES
One lovely summer evening I was standing in a hotel bedroom, washing my hands. I was in Lourdes, and I was pondering upon a certain long flight of stone steps that I could see quite clearly from my window. At the top of the steps, which were cut in the face of the wooded hillside, stood a great Calvary, and from dawn till darkness pilgrims made the hard ascent upon their knees. The stones were worn and grooved by the stream of human beings making their painful way to the foot of the Cross.
The atmosphere of Lourdes is very impressive to the Psychic. One breathes the concentrated essence of prayer. No one goes there who is not on prayer intent, and in the public streets, gardens and churches one comes across kneeling figures lost in Divine contemplation. No one heeds them; all are on a like mission, and sometimes men and women stand for hours with outstretched arms. Human crosses, oblivious to all, lost in a mystic rapture which takes count of neither time nor place.
I turned my head towards the window. The sun had just set behind the mountains, and the sky was illuminated by a rosy afterglow. Down in the valley the shadows were beginning to lengthen, but I could still see the Calvary on the hillside, and the dark human stream slowly moving up the stony way, the Via Dolorosa of the Cross.
At that moment the sense of a presence swung into my field of consciousness, and contracted my vague faculties to focus. Something moving in the sky above caught my eye.
How shall I describe the sight?
I saw an angel floating above the mountains.
The figure, wingless, yet floating in erect grace, was of great size, and wrapped entirely in cloudy gray. The head was bare and slightly bent, as if looking down on earth. The movements were smooth and gliding, as a feather floats in the wind. The distance was too great — I judged about a quarter of a mile — for me to distinguish the features, but owing to its great size the figure was clearly visible and deeply inspiring.
It was a vision on which none could look intently without feeling the weight of a mighty awe. It gathered up the wandering emotions of the heart, and all a lifetime’s ideals of beauty, grandeur, sublimity, in one serene presentation.
The vision floated on majestically, across the valley and the little town with its praying multitudes. In about three minutes It had passed, and was lost in the pearly mists of the gathering night.
And whilst the vision lasted I was acutely conscious of that innumerable concourse of kneeling forms below, all struggling upwards to the Cross.
It seems to me that the devout, of other faiths than that of Rome, lose much by not taking advantage of Lourdes. For many years, thousands of pilgrims from all corners of the earth have bent their steps towards the shrine, and poured out their souls in a passion of supplication. This tremendous concentration of faith, love and fervent adoration, often ecstatic thanksgiving for answered prayer, must find an echo in the Heaven World to which they are sent.
It is so easy at Lourdes to feel that the Throne of Grace has been actually reached, because one can sense the pathway, the ladder made by human love, praise and faith, down which, I doubt not, the Angels of God are always passing. It is easier to concentrate the mind in a place where religious thought has been poured out for many years, because one insensibly becomes calmed, and tranquilized, and aided by the atmosphere thousands of others have created.
At Lourdes there is nothing to attract the scoffer, and thousands of hearts filled with reverence and devotion reinforce each year the already powerful vibrations, and leave the place the better and richer for their presence.
Ghosts I Have Met: And Other Psychic Experiences, Violet Tweedale, 1919
We (along with Emile Zola) might take issue with Tweedale’s statement that there is “nothing to attract the scoffer” at Lourdes. Yet despite excursion trains and tourist tat like giant luminous rosaries and plastic bottles shaped like Our Lady of Lourdes in which to carry home the waters of the spring, there is undeniably something in the water, both literally and figuratively, that challenges the sceptic.
In opposition to the usual early-20th-century Anglican queasiness about Papist shrines and miracles, we find Tweedale, who claimed psychic powers and was a Theosophist and member of the Order of the Golden Dawn, suggesting, in the tolerant vein of a Spiritualist, that even non-Catholics/non-believers might profit from the calming spiritual atmosphere at Lourdes.
Other non-Virgin visions at Lourdes? I’m particularly intrigued by the oddities the so-called “false visionaries” reported. chriswoodyard8 AT gmail.com
Chris Woodyard is the author of A is for Arsenic: An ABC of Victorian Death, The Victorian Book of the Dead, The Ghost Wore Black, The Headless Horror, The Face in the Window, and the 7-volume Haunted Ohio series. She is also the chronicler of the adventures of that amiable murderess Mrs Daffodil in A Spot of Bother: Four Macabre Tales. The books are available in paperback and for Kindle. Indexes and fact sheets for all of these books may be found by searching hauntedohiobooks.com. Join her on FB at Haunted Ohio by Chris Woodyard or The Victorian Book of the Dead. And visit her newest blog, The Victorian Book of the Dead.