Beginning on February 11, 1858, 14-year-old peasant girl Bernadette Soubirous reported 18 apparitions of "a Lady": a girl dressed in white and with a blue belt around her waist, who eventually introduced herself as the Immaculate Conception, a name by which the Virgin Mary was known. At first ridiculed, questioned, and belittled by Church officials and other contemporaries, Soubirous insisted on her vision. Eventually the Church believed her and, following church investigations, a large church was built at the site. Lourdes is now a major Marian pilgrimage site.
On land bordered by the Gave de Pau river is an outcrop of rock called Massabielle, and on the northern aspect of this rock is a naturally occurring, irregularly shaped shallow cave or grotto, in which the apparitions took place. The spring Bernadette is said to have dug can be seen at the rear of the grotto.
Lourdes water is water which flows from the spring. The location of the spring was described to Bernadette Soubirous by an apparition of Our Lady of Lourdes on February 25, 1858. Since that time many thousands of pilgrims to Lourdes have followed the instruction of Our Lady of Lourdes to "drink at the spring and bathe in it."
- The Question Box moderator promotes Sacrosticky, a glue used to repair religious statues, as being made from Lourdes water (Saint Fidgeta and Other Parodies, 40).
The Grotto of Our Lady of Lourdes on the University of Notre Dame campus is one-seventh the size of the famed French shrine. Visiting Lourdes on one of his many trips to his native country, Notre Dame founder Father Edward Sorin vowed to reproduce it on the campus of his new university. A gift from Reverend Thomas Carroll, a former theology student, made it possible in 1896. A small piece of stone from the original grotto in France is located on the right-hand side of the shrine directly below the statue of Mary.