By MARIAN CURD SHAPED like a fish, or a grain of wheat symbolising Christ and Life —the giant Basilica of St.
Pius X, at Lourdes, among the greatest churches in the world. but having no archi tectural style. is beginning at last to take shape from vast masses of steel and concrete.
Although on this 10,000 square yard site—twice as large as Notre Dame de Paris, three-quarters the size of St. Peter's, Rome— there was as recently as last January, only a giant pond, a forest of metal tubes and girders is being woven into what the architect, Mr. Vigo, prefers to call a " giant shelter."
And, Bishop Theas with energy and determination backed by faith, has fixed the consecration date for March 25, anniversary of the day 100 years ago when Our Lady announced to St. Bernadette " 1 am the Immaculate Conception."
A PROBLEM NO architecture ? — No. None was intended. A problem had to he solved, How to gather 20,000 people Ili one place without any separation and with shelter from the rain and the heat of the sun.
The three churches built in the past are clearly insufficient. The largest of these, the Basilica of • the Rosary, can hold only 3,000 people; larger assemblies have to meet on the Esplanade—weather permitting. It was decided not to "raise" anything, and to build something as near as possible to nature rocks, water, fields, trees.
And so the solution came. To build the world's largest pillarless building. To build in the slope of the ground (on the left of the processional path as you look towards the Rosary Church) a hall, using mainly the technique of prestressed concrete.
SETTLED IN A HOLLOW
SO the simple church does not really rise. Without the majesty of the Roman style, the purity of Gothic, or even the daring of the modern exhibition style, it is being settled in a hollow—could you also call it ship-like ? — certainly it is a worthy addition to the barque of Peter. Imagine a giant hand scooping out earth and then covering the hollow with a slightly mounded roof and you will understand the appearance.
The central arch of one span is 650ft. long, the smaller axis 260ft. Some 5,5(X) tons of cement and clay were poured into the hollow to prevent earth subsidence, water infiltration etc.. after 97,000 cubic yards of earth had been removed. The building will be 39 feet high at the centre.
It has been described as one of the most daring and revolutionary buildings of modern times but at the same time one of the most harmonious. The roof and ground meet like the earth and the sky on the horizon.
ALTAR THERE are no columns and no pillars. In the centre great gatherings of pilgrims will be able to assemble all around one main altar.
Smaller altars at either end of the church will be cut off from the main altar by a "sound barrier," a form of acoustics devised by Philips Electrical Co. Ltd. of France. This "sound barrier." believed to he a new
step in the acoustics line, will cnable.groups of people to hear Mass at the small end altars without hearing what is going on at the main altar—and vice versa of course.
Ventilation is a vast problem. Vent holes are in the angles of the roof and in addition huge quantities of air will be pumped in.
Outside there will be no steeple. no facade, but a peaceful grass lawn slightly humped and pierced here and there by ramps sloping, without steps, to make easy the wheeling of the sick into the church for the Blessing and Procession of the Blessed Sacrament—a ceremony now only too often cancelled on account of bad weather.
A Pax Christi Chapel built at one end of the Church will remind us of the dead of the wars and invite pilgrims to pray and work for peace among nations.
There has been no delay over this church. The idea was that of Bishop Theas of Tarbes and Lourdes who presented his plans to the Holy Father early last year.
THREE months later, a letter in the name of the Holy Father told him:
" To provide the pilgrims to Lourdes, and especially the sick, with an improvement in conditions at the sanctuary . . . is a task which beyond the confines
of your diocese and France itself is of interest to the numerous faithful who crowd from all parts of the world to the holy grotto every year.
WHO PAYS ?
WHO is paying 7 The Catholics of the world. Only a few weeks ago Bishop Theas said that work could not possibly have progressed so quickly had not the faithful responded as they did. He spoke with particular gratitude of a gift of $5,000 from the poor islanders of Wallis and Futuna, near Samoa, who sent their generous gift
because it is for the Blessed Virgin ". Will Lourdes keep up its reputation of being self-suppor ting ? Surely the Centenary Year will not leave a debt ?
OUR Lady's request for a chapel was first answered in 1866 when the Crypt Church was opened with Pontifical High Mass. St. Bernadette was there, among the Children of Mary— hoping to remain unobserved.
But after the ceremony the crowds recognised her. " The Saint ! The Saint ! " they cried—and the nuns with Bernadette had to form a bodyguard to prevent her from being crushed.
'Immediately afterwards work started on the Basilica church, above, with its tall spire. It was completed in 1870 and consecrated in 1876—in the presence of one Cardinal, 35 Bishops, 3,000 priests, and 100,000 other pilgrims. Bernadette had by this time been in the convent some years. She was_ to die three years later.
The Rosary Church, below the other two, was started in 1883, the 25th anniversary of the apparitions, and consecrated in 1901.