Times of crisis require hope found in the margins.
1858, Lourdes, extreme south of France. Cholera epidemics ravage. Bernadette Soubirous, suffering from asthma after having caught cholera, has visions of the Virgin Mary in a grotto. A cult with Lourdes grotto replicas will spread across Europe.
1915, behind the Yser river, extreme west of Belgium. The First World War came unannounced and took country after country. But Belgian troops withstand the enemy on a small territory. In occupied Belgium, people pray for these soldiers. In Jette, a Lourdes grotto replica is erected for this purpose. The original rock curves and cracks are carefully emulated. On top, on a Calvary Hill copy, a crucified Jesus promises salvation. 20.000 people attend the inauguration. After the war, a park with 14 Stations of the Cross, 15 Rosary Chapels and a second Calvary Hill is added.
2020, Jette, extreme northwest of Brussels-Capital Region. Corona tightens its grip across the globe. More than 1000 Lourdes grottos are strewn across Belgium. I enter the Jette Our Lady of Lourdes domain. Before me, a blue neon ‘Ave Maria’ flickers in the dying day. It reminds me of Bruce Naumann’s art, just a little less profane. I touch the piece of real Lourdes rock, smoothened over the years by many hands and hopes that spring eternal. I read requests, thank-you notes and death cards.
An apparition. My late grandmother, Maria, and her Lourdes water on the windowsill after my grandfather died.
When all this is over, I’ll come back here. To hope in the margins.