Police in France have evacuated some 30,000 Roman Catholic pilgrims from Lourdes after receiving a bomb warning by phone from an anonymous source. Bomb disposal experts are on the scene.
The bomb scare hit the shrine on one of its busiest days
Thousands of Roman Catholic pilgrims were rushed out of the French shrine in Lourdes on Sunday after authorities received an anonymous bomb threat.
"A bomb warning was received at the police station, announcing that four bombs were going to go off at around 3:00 pm in the sanctuaries," Lourdes press officer Pierre Adias told the AFP news agency just before 2.00 pm local time.
"We're trying to evacuate the shrines and to prevent those people who have left to have lunch from coming back in."
Adias said the shrine would reopen, but only when police were satisfied that it was safe.
Speaking to Reuters, a local police spokesman said it was still too early to ascertain whether the call was genuine or just a hoax.
The anonymous phone call came as roughly 30,000 people had flocked to the southwestern French site to celebrate the annual Feast of the Assumption, one of the busiest days of the year for the shrine.
The August 15 festival celebrates the Virgin Mary's supposed ascent to heaven, and the Lourdes site is closely associated with her.
She is said to have appeared to a young shepherdess in the town, Bernadette Soubirous, in the 19th century, with one Lourdes shrine referring not to the Virgin Mary, but to "Our Lady of Lourdes."
Among 22 places of worship at the Sanctuary in Lourdes is the Basilica of Immaculate Conception, which marks the spot where pilgrims believe the Virgin Mary appeared.
Author: Mark Hallam (AFP/Reuters)
Editor: Kyle James