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February 2005

11 February: Feast of Our Lady of Lourdes.

From The Life of St. Bernadette by Abbé Trouchou.

Lourdes

- The Islamic Connection -

Lourdes already existed in the earliest days of the Christian era. Originally a large village inhabited by peaceable Bigaurdans but perilously set on the threshold of the Pyrenean valleys, it knew many a foreign occupation. After Ceasarís conquest of Gaul, the Roman eagles were set up there; Pont-Vieux across the Gave dates from that time. There followed Visigoths, Saracens, Franks… It is with the Saracen occupation that the story of Lourdes begins to merge into the story of Our Lady on French soil.

In 732, Charles Martel, by his victory over the Saracens, halted the advance of Islam upon Christian civilization. The enemy fled toward Spain. Nevertheless, some groups of the conquered held out in the fortress of Aquitaine, of which one was the castle of Mirambel on the rock overhanging Lourdes.

In 778, Charlemagne, wearily returning from his expedition to Spain, attacked the garrison whose commander, the implacable Mirat, had sworn by Mahomet that he would not surrender to any mortal man.

The fortress seemed absolutely impregnable; it could only be starved into surrender. The siege was desperately prolonged. Then one day an eagle, carrying a trout caught in the Gave, let it fall inside the Saracen walls. Immediately, the cunning Mirat sent off the still floundering trout to the besieger, as though it were merely an unwanted addition to the plentiful rations of his soldiers. So it seemed, the supplies of the fortress were inexhaustible! Charlemagne began to despair of victory and spoke of raising the siege.

But so the story runs, Roracius, Bishop of Le Puy and chaplain to the Frankish army, had scented the trick. He obtained an audience with Mirat and saw for himself that the Saracens were at the end of their resources. Mirat insisted on his oath.

"Brave prince," replied the bishop, "you have sworn never to yield to any mortal man. Could you not with honour make your surrender to an immortal Lady? Mary, Queen of Heaven, has her throne at Le Puy, and I am her humble minister there."

Thus freed from his oath, the Saracen chief came to terms. In token of his vassalage, he agreed to bring to the sanctuary of his Queen some handfuls of grass plucked on the bank of the Gave. Baptized under the name of "LORUS", Mirat was knighted by Charlemagne and received from him the command of the fort of MIRAMBEL.

It is from "LORUS", so the learned assert, that is derived the name LOURDES.

But over a thousand years were to pass before the sovereignty of the Blessed Virgin was proclaimed in humility, yet with divine power, over the impregnable fortress and the old grey-roofed country town.

And that is where the story of St. Bernadette begins.

* * *

ISLAM AND FATIMA

Precisely as with Lourdes, the Islamic connection with Fatima not only involves the name of the town but, crucially, conversion.

American writer Christopher Ferrara explains:

"The village of Fatima was named after the Muslim princess who, following her capture by Christian forces during the Moorish occupation of Portugal, was betrothed to the Count of Ourem, converted to Catholicism, and was baptised before marrying the Count in 1158. Her baptismal name was Oureana, but her birth name had been Fatima, after Mohammedís daughter. Thus, the naming of the village of Fatima is a testament, not to "ecumenism" or to the false prophet Mohammed, but to the triumph of Christendom over the Muslim occupiers of Portugal; it is a testament to precisely what Our Lady of Fatima came to proclaim: the conversion of non-Catholics to the one true religion, beginning with the Russian people."