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A French-style shrine in South Florida

Photo essay: Art at Our Lady of Lourdes, Miami

MIAMI | Our Lady of Lourdes Church is named for one of the most prominent Marian sites worldwide, with six million flocking to southwestern France each year since the original in 1858.

The story began with a peasant girl, Bernadette Soubirous. In 1858, the 11-year-old saw a "Lady in white" in a grotto. The girl was frightened, but the figure smiled and made the sign of the cross.

This statue of Mary is carried in monthly outdoor processions at Our Lady of Lourdes Church, Miami.

Photographer: Jim Davis

This statue of Mary is carried in monthly outdoor processions at Our Lady of Lourdes Church, Miami.

Bernadette returned to the site for two weeks, relaying the "Lady's" requests: a procession, a chapel and "penance for the conversion of sinners." The girl even dug a hole that revealed a spring, which many say has the power to heal.

Over the next two weeks, Bernadette's reports of the apparition drew more and more visitors, eventually growing to 8,000. At her last appearance, the Lady finally identified herself — "I am the Immaculate Conception" — a title conferred on Mary four years earlier by Pope Pius IX.

Asked about her experiences, Bernadette simply said: "The Virgin used me as a broom to remove the dust. When the work is done, the broom is put behind the door again."

Bernadette joined the Sisters of Charity as an adult, but developed tuberculosis of the bone and died at the age of 35. She was declared a saint by Pope Pius XI in 1933.

Her feast day is April 16, the day she died in 1879; however, the feast of Our Lady of Lourdes is Feb. 11, the day in 1858 when she first saw Mary.

Her namesake church in Miami was founded in 1985 for the fast-growing West Kendall area. Five years later, the congregation dedicated a home, then rebuilt after extensive damage in 1992 by Hurricane Andrew.

The current Mediterranean-style church, which can seat up to 1,200, was built in 2002. A decade later, the church began leading pilgrimages to France for physical and emotional healings.

The Miami church campus seems to resemble a Marian shrine. A grotto, lagoon and small waterfall stand beside the main church building, with a live webcam trained on it.

Statues of Mary greet worshipers around the church office building. There's even a statuette of the adult Bernadette, who conveyed visions and messages from Mary as a girl.

A statuette of St. Bernadette kneels at a grotto and waterfall meant to evoke the shrine at Lourdes, France.

Photographer: Jim Davis

A statuette of St. Bernadette kneels at a grotto and waterfall meant to evoke the shrine at Lourdes, France.


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