The world's most visited religious shrine as seen by a debonair conservative Catholic: a witty, informative, and opinionated private tour. Yes, Lourdes is #1. It regularly draws over 4,000,000 pilgrims a year, almost three times as many as Mecca. But then one doesn't go to Mecca hoping to be cured of Hodgkin's disease or multiple sclerosis. Actually the Church has given official recognition to only 64 Lourdes miracles in the 123 years since a teenage girl named Bernadette Soubirous had her vision of the ""Immaculate Conception"" in a grotto near the little town in the Pyrenees. But the Church has very stringent standards, and some people, like Marnham, think the real number of ""miraculees"" (his term) is much higher. Marnham makes no bones about blasting the crass commercialism that reigns all around the shrine, from the hideous souvenir shops to the dismal overcrowded hotels. He seems, in fact, to take a positive delight in describing, for instance, the inane ""reconsecration ceremony"" held when a Dublin travel agent buys a hotel from a distinguished pair of Lourdais (who look on with ""granite features faintly illuminated by an expression of decorous rapacity""). But though Mammon may have Lourdes in its frigid grip, it can't stifle the pilgrims' simple faith. This faith, Marnham argues, views sickness honestly and realistically--unlike secular society, which tries to minimize the agonies of life or sweep them under the rug. The pilgrims generally don't expect a cure (most of them aren't even sick); they're simply responding to the (well-documented if ultimately mysterious) powers working at Lourdes. Fine, but suppose we accept all of Marnham's highly interesting evidence at face value, what then? What exactly does Lourdes prove? Marnham doesn't answer that one, but he does shed light on every conceivable aspect of the Lourdes phenomenon.