Sunday, September 14, 2008

Business could be better

Lourdes, as everybody knows, is one of the most visited sites in France. Recent statistics published by French tourism authorities place the basilica of Notre-Dame-du-Rosaire in 12th position... well ahead of marvels such as the Mont Saint-Michel and the splendors of Provence, but behind the Paris flea market and the Eiffel Tower.

Throughout the planet, countless Catholic homes are surely adorned with colorful objects of beauty purchased at the sanctuary where a peasant child named Bernadette Soubirous once claimed to have encountered and conversed with the mother of Jesus.

Let it never be said that such souvenirs serve no useful purpose. A virginal barometer, for example, could warn pious people of an approaching tornado, and save the lives of entire families.

Be that as it may, business has apparently not been good at Lourdes over the last few days. An article in the newspaper Le Parisien reveals that sales of flags, caps, T-shirts and backpacks with photos of Benedict XVI are feeble when compared with commerce back in the days of John-Paul II. Marketing experts, noticing that objects featuring the deceased pope are still selling well, thought it might be a good idea to produce postcards and medals containing images of both John-Paul II and Benedict XVI, but it's not at all certain that this strategy will be successful from a business viewpoint.

There's a marvelous French term for the merchandise sold to pilgrims in places such as Lourdes. It's referred to as bondieuseries, which might be translated as "good God stuff ".

Two imaginative fellows from Bordeaux obtained an authorization from the Vatican to market wine in bottles with an image of Benedict XVI. It's fine wine, and not expensive: 8 euros a bottle. But the latest news is pessimistic: they're unlikely to make a fortune in this field.

Since I've never personally set foot in Lourdes, and have no immediate plans to do so, I'm not aware of all the business ideas that have been tried out there. In particular, I ignore whether the temple merchants have got around to dreaming up souvenirs evoking the most macabre aspect of this whole sick Soubirous affair.

I'm referring, of course, to the fact that authorities of the Catholic church in France have dug up her body no less than three times—in 1909, 1919 and 1925—in order to verify that it hadn't rotted away! What ghastly archaic behavior, whose major purpose consisted of lending weight to the crazy notion of Bernadette's sanctity, since the corpses of saints are not supposed to decay in the same way as those of ordinary mortals. Today, what remains of Bernadette's corpse is housed far away from Lourdes, in the convent of the Sisters of Charity in Nevers, where pilgrims with a taste for viewing human remains can feast their eyes upon the relic.

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