Visitation cloisters, Carmel and Espace Bernadette-Soubirous: take a spiritual break in Nevers

“Take a time of rest, reflection and prayer with Saint Bernadette”, “a few days of silence and prayer to ‘take stock’ or ‘fill up’, to better face the ‘difficult daily life’ in the world”, at . Visitation monastery: it’s in Nevers, it’s happening. Without going so far as total isolation in a monastery or monastery, the spiritual break is a peaceful and inexpensive holiday formula, so little that you are not looking for four-star comfort.

Remodeled beginner rooms

In the heart of the city, the gigantic Sainte Bernadette sanctuary, mother house of the Congregation of the Sisters of Charity, converted the rooms for the many novices trained in religious life in the 19th and 20th centuries. Among them arrived on July 7, 1866, a certain Bernadette Soubirous.

She stayed there for 13 years, until her death. With a view to his beatification, his body was exhumed, in 1909 and then in 1919 and 1925, in an unusual state of preservation, almost miraculously. It is then displayed in a glass and bronze shrine in the Saint-Gildard chapel, still visible today to visitors and pilgrims.

“Few people know this,” laments Grégoire Boucher, head of communications and commercial development at Espace Bernadette, the association that manages the premises. Communication campaigns and a strong presence at the fairs are trying more than ever to encourage some of the millions of visitors who are attracted to Lourdes by the grotto where Bernadette is said to have seen the Virgin. The main advertising banner sums up the state of mind: “Come see Bernadette Soubirous in Nevers”

Espace Bernadette in Nevers will diversify its activities to cope with the lack of visitors

Because if the Sainte-Bernadette sanctuary attracted up to a million visitors in 2008, for the 150th anniversary of the Lourdes apparitions, the attendance has fallen since another apparition, Covidens: 50,000 visitors only in 2021 and “without a doubt 100,2020 ” estimates Grégoire Boucher.

This significant drop in attendance caused by the health crisis has led to financial difficulties which have had an impact on the workforce. A total of 16 employees had to leave the site in 2021, out of the 34 who worked there. Eight were dismissed, some retirees were not replaced.

“We are working to bring people back, but we are still in a climate of restraint. Many retirees do not resume group travel,” notes Grégoire Boucher. The goal for Espace Bernadette to “balance its costs” is to increase to 300,000 visitors per year. The centenary of Bernadette’s beatification, in 2025, could contribute to this.

A quest for healing

The audience has evolved. “There may be fewer pilgrims, but more spiritual tourists. They do not go on retreats, but visit places of significance. This search for healing was exacerbated by illness and the lack of human relationships. And in a turbulent world they find peace and serenity here,” remarked Christophe Goubier, director of Espace Bernadette, last year.

For these as for the pilgrims of Santiago de Compostela who travel from Vézelay, in Yonne, the sanctuary of Saint Bernadette has 200 beds. The feast of the Ascension, planned for August 15, with the social prayer service Hozana, should also fill them. Rooms with 1, 2, 3, 4 or 5 beds, with or without bathroom, start at €43.25 (breakfast included), with a special price for pilgrims. A real restaurant is also open to everyone, for lunch and dinner.

It is completely open and it is the call of the Sisters of Charity to welcome everyone.

“It is completely open and it is the call of the Sisters of Charity to welcome everyone,” insists Grégoire Boucher. Between the workspace and the auditorium, Espace Bernadette also hosts business seminars. Only political parties are not welcome.Espace Bernadette has 90 rooms and 200 beds, as well as three dining rooms with space for up to 200 people.

At the convent of the visitation, located in the green and close to the Loire, the doors of the sisters are also slightly open to the outside world for a spiritual break of no more than 8 days. Here, daily life is shared in its simplicity, especially in the dining room, where retreatants are provided with facilities to serve themselves according to their needs.

The rooms are reserved for them and they must respect silence; “they can, if they want, meet a nun”.

Finally, at the Carmel of Nevers, where eight nuns live in retirement, the reception is also “open to those who seek for a few days a retreat far from the noise and stress of their working days… to breathe, reflect, pray, taste true silence “…

Alain Gavriloff

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