Basilica of St. Pius X
|Basilica of Saint Pius X
Basilique Saint Pie X (French)
View along the nave towards the central sanctuary.
|Ecclesiastical or organizational status||Minor basilica|
|Architect(s)||Pierre Vago, Eugene Freyssinet|
|Construction cost||$ 5.6 million|
|Length||191 metres (627 ft)|
|Width||61 metres (200 ft)|
The Basilica of Saint Pius X, informally 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).
Dimensions and capacity
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 worshippers.
On the walls there are 52 images in the gemmail style of overlapping stained glass. On the west ramp are the 15 traditional Mysteries of the Rosary, and on the east ramp are the 15 Stations of the Cross, designed by Denys de Solère. On the lower part of the east side is the series "Bernadette's Way of Light", based on sketches by René Margotton, which depict the eighteen apparitions together with two scenes from her life. There are two further images, one on each side of the entrance to the sacristy.
The consecration of the basilica was on March 25, 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.
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A church of these dimensions poses several practical problems, some more easily dealt with than others. Firstly, it tends to be very cold and draughty, and radiant heaters have been installed to help keep worshippers warm. Secondly, although visibility is unobstructed in most of the nave, worshippers at the back see very little because they are so far away from the sanctuary. To remedy this, large screens have been installed on which are projected live camera images of the ceremony, in a similar manner to concerts and sports events. An additional benefit of this technique is the ability to provide real-time translation of different languages.
Finally, a structure with solid concrete walls and floors creates many unavoidable echoes, and the acoustics of the building are very poor. Even though many loudspeakers are installed throughout, the sound in many parts of the basilica is often fuzzy and indistinct. This can make it difficult to follow the ceremony, and to join in with singing.
- Official website of the sanctuary, accessed 15 December 2013
- Chaudesaigues, Jean (1959), The Basilica of St Pius X at Lourdes, Cement and Concrete Association
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