Many years ago I watched a film ‘The Song of Bernadette’ – it was a captivating story, which made me research a little more. Reading first hand accounts, and the words of Bernadette Soubirous herself gave a much deeper insight into the events that took place over 150 years ago.The film was somewhat liberal with the truth, and (in my view) overly sentimental. Still it was interesting to see a spiritual story told in a certain way, but later realise there is a greater spiritual depth to be discovered.
I’m not quite sure why I was so captivated by the image of a 14 year old peasant girl receiving an apparition of a ‘beautiful lady’ To the rational mind, it is the stuff of fanciful visions. Needless to say, when it fist happened, the dignitaries of the day were rather aghast that their town Lourdes was suddenly over-run with ‘miracle-mongers’, hoping to see something out of this world in their small provincial back-water. The authorities were very confident they would be able to expose the uneducated and rather simple peasant girl as a fraud. Yet, under cross-examination, deliberately designed to trip her up, Bernadette retained a directness, simplicity and radiated honesty. Because of her dignity and humility, doubters began to consider the possibility she really was telling the truth and perhaps there was a divine touch to these unusual happenings. News of these happenings spread far and wide, and within a very short time, the town of Lourdes had been transformed into the one of the world’s most visited holy sites.
Inspired by the life of a modern day saint, I had a desire to visit Lourdes; not so much for the supposed healing qualities of the Lourdes water, but because of this inspiring story of a divine vision by the grotto of Massabielle. Another thing which gave confidence to my own understanding, was to come across a book by Sri Chinmoy where he writes briefly about Christian saints. Sri Chinmoy wrote of Bernadette Soubirous .
“When she grew up, the young girl became a nun. She was humility incarnate. Simplicity, sincerity and humility everybody appreciated in her.”
But I never got round to visiting Lourdes, I was too busy elsewhere.
Still, every now and then Lourdes would come back into my mind – not least when the Tour de France sped through the city of Lourdes on the way to the giant Pyrenean climbs like the Col du Tourmalet – this was a part of the world, I had double reason to visit.
When a French joy weekend was organised for this part of the world, I was happy to have three reasons to visit for the price of one.
Firstly, we visited Lourdes on Friday in the pouring rain. I didn’t think too much what to expect of the town. But, I felt an inner peace, and an empathy with many spiritual pilgrims who, although following different religions, still share many spiritual aspirations. It was quite moving to see so many people come for some form of spiritual sustenance. Also, such a giant outer church and people from all over the world – all inspired by the visions and humility of a 14 year old peasant girl.
Lourdes was good, but I have to confess cycling up the Col du Tourmalet was even better! I spend a lot of time cycling up hills. But, in the UK we have nothing like this – 20km roads of constant uphill. At the bottom of the Pyrenees, I was like an excited child, looking forward to Christmas. Finally, after 38 years, I had the the chance to cycle up the Tour de France mountains I’ve seen and read about so often.
My enthusiasm was slightly diminished by the fact that it had snowed the previous day and the road was closed – so only the lower slopes would be open.
To coincide with the joy weekend, the Sri Chinmoy Oneness-Home Peace Run were also there and they had decided to run up the Tourmalet too. I didn’t really plan it, but 5km from the summit I met this group of intrepid runners, climbing through the foggy peaks. To be honest, in this kind of weather, I was rather relieved to meet some fellow travellers – on a bad day, the weather in the Pyrenees is variable, menacing and challenging in equal measure.
By fortuitous timing, we arrived near the peak, just as some special French gendarmes opened the road. It was an unexpected boost allowing us to climb all the way to the top of the 2,100m summit. See also Col du Tormalet at Sri Chinmoy Races.
It just happened to be one of those magic moments, where the sun broke through the menacing dark clouds. It felt like you could be in heaven, with clouds sitting beneath your feet. It was a joyous moment of good fortune – with all the planets aligning. It really meant a lot to climb the Col du Tourmalet and to be able to share it with the spirit of the Peace Run, and a British French joy weekend too.