Bottle of medicinal water from Lourdes, France, collected in 1928
What’s your favourite holiday souvenir? A tacky key ring, that stuffed camel, or a pebble you picked up from the beach? For centuries, pilgrims visiting healing shrines have also wanted to take home a reminder of their visit.
Preparing to depart, they might leave a gift, or votive offering. Why? To give thanks for the healing they hoped to have received. But at the same time, pilgrims often wanted to take a memento or keepsake, in the belief that the healing power of the shrine would continue on their return home.
Medicinal water from the shrine of St Bernadette at Lourdes is said to be inside this bottle. Why was the water so special? In 1858, peasant girl Bernadette claimed to have seen repeated visions of the Virgin Mary at a remote grotto, or cave, near the French town of Lourdes. Pilgrims began to visit the site and were encouraged to drink and bathe in water from the grotto’s spring.
Did they pay for this keepsake? The design of the bottle suggests that when it was collected in 1928 the water was being commercially bottled and sold. But whether free or bought, it was the belief in the healing powers of the water that made it such a popular souvenir.