The Basilica of St. Pius X, known as the Underground Basilica, is a large Roman Catholic church and minor basilica, located in the town of Lourdes, France. It is part of the Sanctuary of Our Lady of Lourdes. Lourdes is a major Catholic pilgrimage site and the Catholic Church endorses the belief that the Virgin Mary appeared to Saint Bernadette Soubirous there. The Basilica of St. Pius X is the largest and most controversial of the Domain‘s churches. It was completed in 1958 in anticipation of the enormous crowds expected in Lourdes for the centenary of the Apparitions. A modern, concrete building, it is almost entirely underground (part of the building lies beneath the Boulevard Père Rémi Sempé above).
The Basilica was designed by the architect Pierre Vago. The nave is oval, 191 metres (627 ft) long and 61 metres (200 ft) wide, and slopes gently upwards from the centre, where the sanctuary is situated on a raised platform. The ceiling is low, at only 10 metres (33 ft) high, and is supported by 58 pre-stressed concrete pillars which meet 29 concrete beams which cross the ceiling, giving it the impression of an upturned ship. This design creates a very large open space, of 12,000 square metres (130,000 sq ft), for maximum visibility from any part of the nave. When full it can accommodate up to 25,000 worshipers.
The walls are decorated with the Stations of the Cross, a depiction of the Rosary, and a depiction of the Apparitions, making a total of 52 images, all in the gemmail style of overlapping stained glass. On the Eastern ramp are the fifteen station of the Path of Burning Love. This Bernadette Soubirous’s Way of Light is based on sketches by René Margotton. It depicts the eighteen apparitions and scenes from Bernadette Soubirous’s life. The Underground Basilica is stylistically very different from its predecessors in the Domain. There is almost no natural light inside. The concrete of its construction has been left bare throughout, making it gloomy and uninviting, and it draws comparisons with an underground carpark. Therefore, although it provided a practical solution to the problem of accommodating very large numbers, it remains unpopular with many visitors to Lourdes.
The consecration of the basilica was on March 25th 1958 by Angelo Cardinal Roncalli, who was earlier the Papal Nuncio to France, then Patriarch of Venezia, and who later became Pope John XXIII. The consecration year was selected to celebrate the centenary of the 18 visions of the Virgin Mary by Saint Bernadette. This basilica is one of the largest churches inspired by Visions of Jesus and Mary.
Pope Saint Pius X was born Giuseppe Melchiorre Sarto on the 2nd June 1835 and was head of the Catholic Church from August 1903 to his death on 20th August 1914. He was canonized on 29th May 1954.
Pius X was particularly devoted to the Blessed Virgin Mary and was considered a holy person by many.
St. Peter’s Basilica holds a monumental statue of him and the town of his birth Riese was renamed after his canonization (Riese Pio X).
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