Performance artist fined for nude stroll through Lourdes pilgrimage site

Grotto of the Apparitions at Lourdes, France
Grotto of the Apparitions at Lourdes, France © wikipedia

Franco-luxembourgeois performance artist Deborah de Robertis was fined 2000 euros by a court in the south western French town of Tarbes on Thursday, with a further 1000 euros suspended, for walking naked through the Grotto of the Apparitions in Lourdes in 2018.


On 18 August 2018, De Robertis stripped naked at Lourdes, in the southwest of France. With her hands clasped over her head, and wearing a blue veil, she walked to the entrance of the Holy Grotto, where according to Catholic tradition, the Virgin Mary appeared to Bernadette Soubirous, a local miller's daughter, in 1858.

She was quickly approached by people nearby who attempted to cover her and alert the police.

The Lourdes sanctuary subsequently pressed charges against the artist for "an act of exhibitionism that shocked the faithful that were present" denouncing the "supposedly artistic" incident.

The court in Tarbes on Thursday fined the artist 2000 euros.

The 36 year old artist has been given several warnings and was discharged for misconduct in the past following similar performances, notably one occasion where she exposed her vagina in front of the Mona Lisa at the Louvre museum in 2017.

Artist will appeal the court's decision

According to de Robertis' lawyer, Thursday's ruling will be appealed as it was her client's first criminal conviction.

"This decision goes against jurisprudence and has been built around allegations of sexual exhibition," said lawyer Marie Dosé, who added that a recent case in a French final appeals court (cour de cassation) definitively decided that topless protests by feminist group Femen should be thrown out of court. 

According to de Robertis, "the judicial consequences [of this ruling] are significant, it's important that we can debate, and then we can bring up these issues that are political."

"From a feminists point of view, emancipation comes from the body. It's only normal that women use their bodies as a means of expression. It's a turnaround", she added, underlining that she will continue to use her style of performance as means of expression. 

Our Lady of Lourdes.
Our Lady of Lourdes. © wikipedia

Artistic recidivist

Déborah de Robertis has been in court several times on sexual exhibition charges, which were thrown out by judges on every occasion.

In 2014 and 2016, the artist was given court warnings (but not charges) for two incidents of nudity. One at the Musée d'Orsay gallery where she imitated the famous painting of a vagina entitled "Origin of the World" by Gustave Courbet and "Olympia" by Edouard Manet.

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