PILGRIMAGE TO LOURDES
On April 9 th, at 7 p.m., the Boscombe group left Pokesdown Station. The journey to Lourdes had really begun, and we were happy to find that Reverend Mother and Mother d' Alancon were accompanying us to Southampton. At the Docks, the Boscombe group consisting of five Nuns and forty-five children was met by the three Nuns and thirty-one children from Stakes.
We boarded the "Normania" and the younger girls were soon curled up and asleep, while the older ones remained on deck to wave `Goodbye' and to see the ship leave port. The sea was like a millpond, but many were too excited to sleep. At 4 a.m. it was time to get up as we hoped to be in the first group of passengers to leave the boat. Who will grumble at rising at 7 a.m. after this pilgrimage?
The French coast was in sight but everything was shrouded in mist and there was a light, drizzling rain. When we finally disembarked and passed through Customs, the scramble for the coaches at Le Havre began. Most of the party managed to find places, but ten were left behind. These were first in the queue but when the coaches returned people without First Class tickets tried to push in.
After further tribulations they set off, while those who had already reached the station counted the minutes, 6.55, and the train was due to leave at 7 a.m. At last the late-comers were hustled through the barrier - the whistle was being blown continuously, the guard waving and gesticulating violently, as we mounted one by one and only just managed to be on before the train started off. A Pilgrim smiles under all difficulties.
We stood along the corridor breathing hard, realising our narrow escape. However, once settled in the reserved compartments, we were able to take our ease - and some refreshments? - and to enjoy our first glimpse of the French countryside.
It was snowing. Excitement increased as we drew near to Paris and rain did not dampen our spirits as we made our way along the platform of the Gare St. Lazarre. At the barrier, what a surprise awaited us - Mother Keane and Madamoiselle Thomas were there to greet us and eager to have all the latest Boscombe news.
Soon Reverend Mother Viet arrived to conduct us to the coaches, where we were given our Pilgrim's Cards and Badges, which had been blessed that morning. The Soissons party joined us here. Imagine the luggage of approximately 100 people all deposited in one of the Paris thoroughfares! The stalwarts helped to hoist the luggage on to the roof and the two coaches finally set off for a short tour of Paris.
The driver went slowly so that we might get a good view of the main buildings. While admiring the splendours of the city, we were all eager to set out on the journey proper.
We were soon driving through the country - ploughed fields covered with mistletoe. Our first stop was at Fontainebleu, but the weather did not permit us to enjoy the beauties of the forest. However, at a little wayside cafe we introduced ourselves to French coffee and ate our packed lunch. Everyone wanted to send a card home.
There was a rush to buy stamps and the little place, not accustomed to such an invasion, was soon sold out. Later in the afternoon we made another halt to climb a hill covered with large grey boulders called Les Gres.
We thoroughly enjoyed the walk in the crisp cold air, and were delighted to gather rock plants, some of which are now to be found in the Convent garden. Back again in the coach, we made for Nevers.
The Rosary - said together, with the Litany, followed by some of our favourite hymns, kept our thoughts directed to Our Blessed Lady, in whose honour we had come. "Tap your Sabots," was sung lustily and then by special request, the School Song.
About 5 p.m. we started to climb and were eventually brought to the top of a high hill, to a "ghost" town, small twisting deserted streets and a castle crowning all. It was Sancerre. We found the church, and set in a dark, hardly distinguishable building, was a shrine of Our Lady.
The statue was of Our Lady of Victories, standing on clouds, cast in relief, high up in an arch-shaped niche, lit by strip lighting, well hidden. The whole effect was as if a bit of heaven had been dropped, to brighten up the dark church. On one wall was a new statue of St. Bernadette. Then followed a hurried walk to see the view from the castle down into the valley, but the visibility was bad as rain was pouring by this time.
Fields and fields of rows of grape vines became characteristic of the scenery. At 7 p.m. we reached Nevers and went straight to 5t. Bernadette's Convent. The Church was full, but we filed past the glass casket and saw her body. The beauty of her face took our breath away, and we should have liked to stay longer, but there were many other pilgrims following.
The coaches drove us to the Institution Jeanne d'Arc where the Sisters took us to the refectory and afterwards to the dormitories, where we enjoyed the novelty of sleeping together - and were especially amused at the high pillows anal small high eiderdowns.
On Friday morning the sun ;woke us but it was bright too early and rain set in. There was a great deal to be done before Mass; beds to be stripped and everything repacked. We returned to St. Bernadette's Convent for Mass at 7.1.5 and afterwards paid a hurried visit to the Hall of Relics.
Among the exhibits were the chair in which the Saint died, her cloak, personal belongings, the documents of Canonization. Before saying farewell to St. Bernadette we commended our pilgrimage to her, so that it might be all that Our Blessed Lady would wish.
French breakfast is a quick business and we were soon outside loading the luggage once more. The journey to our next destination was to be a long one, as the next night was to be spent at Cahors. Interest in the scenery kept us busy.
The route passed peach orchards, and rows of ,pear and cherry trees all in blossom. Many windmills were to be seen through a veil of snow. Evidently England is not the only country which exFeriences varied and abrupt changes of weather.
Having passed through Montlucoa, ,we stopped for picnic lunch which had to be taken in the coach. What fun it was to break the long French rolls and to pass the various sandwiches down the coach, for we were self-supporting, carrying our supplies on the coach after Mere Grimmer and Mere Gibrin had done the shopping, early in the morning.
In the course of the afternoon we noticed that the scenery was much more interesting and beautiful-woods of silver birches, hills covered with spruce trees, rivers and waterfalls, sunshine on the water and at the same time large snowflakes dancing down from heaven.
The driver got out and picking a sprig of holly, wished us a "Happy Christmas. We stopped to see the ruin Vezere from a great height. We were 18,000 feet up and each one of us admired the care and skill of the drivers and their willingness to explain any interesting facts about the districts through which we passed.
Passing through narrow lanes, and round hairpin bends, we at last reached Rocamador, but too late to see the shrine. We looked across the valley and saw the side of the mountain on which the church and the shrine stood, and all the houses were lit.
There was still a drive of two hours to Cahors and when the younger girls began to weary a little the seniors kept up their spirits by singing every song we could think of, and then organising general games which were so amusing that the time did not seem so long.