Some 30,000 pilgrims had to be evacuated from the Roman Catholic sanctuaries in Lourdes on a major religious holiday after police received a bomb scare that turned out to be an empty threat. The site has now reopened.
The hoax bomb scare coincided with a major Catholic festival
A hoax bomb threat forced the temporary evacuation of the shrine at Lourdes in southern France on Sunday after a man called local police and said four explosive devices had been planted at the religious site.
"The call came in around noon from a telephone box from a man with a strong Mediterranean accent," the regional prefect, a state representative and police chief, Rene Bidal told the AFP news agency. "We had to take the threat seriously."
Local police say they will investigate the tip off itself only after sniffer dogs and disposal experts have finished their work.
The site was reopened for a procession at 5:00 pm local time after bomb squad officers searched the various shrines and found no signs of explosives. Some 30,000 worshippers had flocked to Lourdes on one of the busiest days of the year for the pilgrimage site.
"The doors are reopening," a Lourdes spokesman told Reuters. "A lovely day of celebration has descended into a day of confusion."
August 15 is Assumption Day, when Roman Catholics celebrate the Virgin Mary's supposed ascension to heaven. Mary is closely tied to the site at Lourdes, where it is said she appeared to a 19th century serving girl, Bernadette Soubirous.
There are 22 places of worship at Lourdes, including the Basilica of Immaculate Conception, where the Virgin Mary is believed to have appeared.
A freshwater spring was found in a cave at the site of the visions, and its water is said to have healing powers. Many pilgrims travel to Lourdes to bathe and hope for a cure to their ailments.
The small village of just 16,000 permanent residents plays host to around six million visitors every year.
Author: Mark Hallam (AFP/AP/Reuters)
Editor: Kyle James