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A man and his donkey make a pilgrimage to Lourdes … 19th-century-style


©Photo SNDL / Pierre Vincent

On August 10, 2022, after 70 days of walking, Celeste Grant reached the Shrine of Lourdes with his faithful donkey, Cyndel

Anna Ashkova - published on 09/13/22

It was a strange-looking pilgrim who passed through the St. Michael's Gate of the shrine of Lourdes this past August.

It was a strange pilgrim who passed through the St. Michael’s Gate of the shrine of Lourdes on August 10, 2022. First of all, because he was wearing pants in a style dating from the 19th century and a shirt from the same period, with leather shoes and a beret. But above all because he was accompanied by a donkey (more precisely by a donkey named Cyndel, which means “path” in old Germanic). 

A 19th-century-style pilgrimage 

“I started my pilgrimage on May 10,” explains Céleste Grant. This hiking enthusiast, originally from Occitania (in southwestern France), covered more than 600 miles in 70 days in the company of his faithful donkey. “It wasn’t planned! On May 10, I left telling myself that I would do the Stevenson Trail, a name given to long-distance path #70, in reference to the route taken through the Cevennes, in the company of a donkey, by the Scottish writer Robert Louis Stevenson in the autumn of 1878,″ explains the young man to Aleteia. “A hike that lasts two weeks. I enjoyed walking with a donkey so much that I decided to continue my journey and walk to Lourdes. That’s how my journey lasted several months instead of 14 days.”

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A post shared by Céleste Grant (@celeste_grant_)

And the former student of the Toulouse School of Fine Arts took his pilgrimage very seriously, making it under 19th-century conditions: no modern tools (apart from his cell phone to share his adventure on social networks), period clothing, a leather and glass water bottle, a tent made of wool cloth, a sheepskin as a mattress. While the two companions traveled some distance along several existing hiking trails (the Arles Trail, then the Via Garona, a path that runs along the Garonne from Toulouse, and then the Pyrenean Piedmont Path), they mostly improvised and lengthened their route by taking different trails, peaks, and passes to reach Lourdes. 

The spring of Lourdes, symbol of a return to oneself and to faith 

“I am 33 years old, the age of Christ,” says Céleste with a smile. “Perhaps that’s why I chose Lourdes as my final destination. Water was also the unifying theme of my journey, and Lourdes is known for its spring. Throughout my adventure, water was also the source of my concerns because I traveled without stopping in hotels, whether it was windy, rainy or hot. I was delighted to arrive in Lourdes at this source of water. A symbol that took me back to the source of myself, of my faith, to the Virgin Mary and also to St. Bernadette,” he tells Aleteia. 

His choice to travel with a donkey was not insignificant either: “It was on a donkey that Jesus entered Jerusalem. It was also on a donkey that Mary arrived in Bethlehem. And that donkey was also present in the manger where Jesus was born,” explains Celeste, who also wanted to show people that a donkey is a very good animal. “I bought her the day I left. At first, she didn’t listen to me and didn’t really like me,” says the young man with humor. During their journey, the two got to know each other, learned to live together, and when they arrived in Lourdes, they became real “friends.” “It was a real consecration. I no longer need to hold Cyndel by a leash. She walks by herself next to me and follows me nicely.”

“Faith exists and human beings are good”

This journey allowed Céleste, a videographer, to meet many people – as people often willingly opened their doors to him – and especially to deepen his faith. “I didn’t just want to walk, I wanted to have an objective: to focus on the spiritual side,” he explains. He talks about this questioning regarding life, faith and society, on his YouTube survivalist channel, Wild Bunker, in a video diary called The Messenger. “Crossing heritage sites, visiting churches, showing the historical but also human side of France … I wanted to prove to people that faith exists and that human beings are good,” says Celeste. After celebrating the Assumption in Lourdes, the young man left for other adventures, always in the company of his faithful Cyndel.

AnimalsInspiring storiesPilgrimages
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