Italian pilgrimsPilgrim season is well and truly upon us. Our new pilgrim accommodation (finished with only hours to go and still needing a floor!) was christened by 14 Italian pilgrims. The jolly group, led by ‘The Boss’, Franco Stagni (pictured with Chris), left their confraternity in Rome last August and are still nearly 900km from their destination in Spain.

Since then, we have had a steady stream of pilgrims from various countries, including France, Belgium, England, Australia, Holland, Germany and Japan. They are all pilgrims of St James (in France, St Jacques) and are following one of four ancient pilgrim paths that cross France. The route that Happy Coulson lies on is the Voie d’Arles (GR653).

Each ‘Way of St James’ leads over the Pyrenean mountains to Santiago de Compostela in Spain, where the remains of the apostle James were discovered in the ninth century and are now entombed in a huge cathedral. When the pilgrims arrive, they present their pilgrim passports (stamped along the route at all the places they stay, including us!) and are invited to a ceremony in the cathedral.

Sanctuary of LourdesHappy Coulson is also at the start of another pilgrim route (GR101) that heads south to the holy city of Lourdes, made famous in the 19th century after a peasant girl saw a vision of Virgin Mary. This weekend, we visited for the first time the cave where Bernadette saw ‘Our Lady of Lourdes’, now beneath an impressive three-level church. The whole city was thronged with pilgrims, many of them sick, in wheelchairs or even beds. They come to pray and be bathed in the Lourdes water, which flows freely from taps all around the sanctuary. The feeling of faith was tangible. I fully recommend that any visitor to Happy Coulson fits in a visit.


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