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A miraculous shrine of the Blessed Virgin, and place of pilgrimage from Belgium, Holland, and Northern France. It takes its name from a little hamlet two miles from Ghent in the Province of East Flanders, Belgium. Its origin as a centre of pilgrimage is comparatively recent, dating from 1873. In 1871 the Marquise de Calonne de Courtebourne had built in the park of her estate at Oostacker an aquarium in the form of an artificial cave or grotto. One day, while on a visit to the park, M. l'abbé Moreels, the parish priest, suggested that a statue of Our Lady of Lourdes be placed among the rocks. For two years the grotto remained simply an aquarium, but gradually the members of the family formed the habit of stopping there to recite a Hail Mary. Soon it was decided to bless the statue publicly. The ceremony took place on 23 June, 1873, and was attended by nearly all the inhabitants of the village. The pious Flemish peasants asked permission of the owner to come frequently to the park to give vent to their devotion. Accordingly, access was allowed them on Sunday afternoon. At that time the world was ringing with the fame of Lourdes, and the shrine at Oostacker soon became popular; marvellous graces and wonderful cures were reported. Before long Sunday afternoon no longer sufficed to receive the throngs of pilgrims, and the park was thrown open to the public by the generous owner. Then a large Gothic church was built, the corner-stone being laid on 22 May, 1875, by Mgr Bracq. A priest's house followed, and the marchioness in memory of her son, a deceased Jesuit, confided shrine, church, and house to the Society of Jesus. The fathers took possession on 8 April, 1877, and on 11 September of the same year the Apostolic nuncio , Seraphino Vannutelli, consecrated the church. That part of the estate, in which the grotto was, was now definitively given over to the service of Our Lady, a long avenue being built from the road to the shrine and a Way of the Cross erected. Fully 60,000 pilgrims come annually from Belgium, Holland, and Northern France, in about 450 organized pilgrimages.


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