Holy Days
The pilgrimage to Lourdes in the era of Pope Francis



Following the election of Pope Francis religious tourism has been dramatically boosted. Italy has a well established tradition of “white trains” that transport the infirm to holy places for the chance of a miracle. These journeys often begin for pilgrims in small villages and remote places across the country, the trains offer a rare opportunity to hundreds of bedridden people to escape their reclusive lives and take a religious vacation. Pilgrims travel on these specially commissioned trains, some from the furthest reaches of the south of Italy, to Lourdes, in France, a journey of some 35 hours.      

There are two special carriages on the trains specially equipped for patients confined to bed, one for women and one for men. At the center of the train is the chapel-car where Mass is performed. Many sick and disabled devotees take part in the annual pilgrimage to Lourdes every year. The journey and their stay in Lourdes offers hope and prayer but also it is a much anticipated time of recreation and friendship.

Strong enthusiasm, a feeling of being part of a shared adventure and a desire to reach the sanctuary of Lourdes sets the mood as the train embarks on its journey across the country. We experienced the sense of harmony between patients and volunteers on the outward leg of their round-trip journey. On the return trip, however, the mood is melancholy, miracles have not materialised, the week of travel and prayer in Lourdes has been intense and tiring. Many of the pilgrims are also sad because they know they’ll soon be separated from new-found friends. It will be another year until they embark with them again, on this journey of hope.




The celebration of the Madonna Dell’Arco



Every Easter hundreds of thousands of pilgrims descend on the small village of Sant’Anastasia in the Vesuvian region around the city of Naples. They have come to celebrate the miracle of the statue of “Madonna Dell’Arco” who, as the 15th Century legend goes, was witnessed bleeding from her cheek.

Children, families and the sick and infirm gather for this annual event. Many come to ask something of the Madonna:  healing from illness; happiness; financial certainty. Others make the pilgrimage to give thanks for “grazia ricevuta”, grace received. People of all ages and from all social classes attend: the workers; the bourgeois; the intellectuals; the “mafioso”. In the eyes of the Madonna everybody is equal and a sentiment of shared bliss is experienced by the crowd.

Pilgrims make their way to the village walking from neighbouring villages and from Naples. Some walk for more than 35 miles bringing their whole family in tow. Others still follow the age-old tradition of covering the distance with bare feet.

We went there to catch the unique atmosphere of this mass gathering. To see the faces, experience the rituals, and witness the intensity.

We initially just wanted to take some good portraits of people, or use a simple, street photography  approach, as a parenthesis from our other long-term documentary projects. We were soon seduced however by the intensity of the moment. We found ourselves in amongst the throng of people, the closeness of our photographs dictated by the intimacy of the crowd. Despite the mass of people it was surprisingly easy to have a personal, direct approach, a kind of full immersion in the parade and festival. In a way, we experienced the moment of bliss as well.



About Jean-Marc Caimi and Valentina Piccinni
We have been working together, as a team, on specific projects for the past year. and find, for some topics, that having different ideas on the same subject as well as the time to exchange views is professionally enriching. Teaming up with a partner who you respect and share principles of documentary photography with, gives you the freedom to focus on your own particular aspects of the story whilst the other person covers others angles in line with their own sensitivities. This result, we find, in the creation of a broader picture for the story, and a more varied language of photography tell it. The final edit is an organic work that blends our constant interactions but the individuality of our styles and authorship in the project remains present and a separate series of photographs by either one of us can also be complete on its own. 

During long term projects we find that collaborating in this way is particularly effective in boosting each others’ morale. We support and encourage each other, building the confidence needed to feel we are on the right track and our story can be achieved. A lot of the time this is the essential ingredient to completing a successful photographic project.