Tag Archives: Apparitions

Our Lady of Mercy, Valmala, Italy, 1834

“Our Lady of Mercy”
VALMALA, ITALY  (1834) 

On August 2, a bright summer morning, four shepherdesses push their herd of cows at daybreak out onto the road that climbs the mountain.  Maria Pittavino (12), Margherita Pittavino (12), Maria Chiotti (12), and Maria Boschero (10) were out of breath when they came to a beautiful basin at an altitude of 1,378 meters.  Some testify that Margherita’s younger brother Chiaffredo (8) may have been with them that day, also.  In the middle of the green valley of Chiotti, there is a large rough stone where they like to stop and rest.

Suddenly, they were astonished to see before them, standing on the stone slab, a beautiful lady of majestic appearance.  She was a young woman of ordinary stature about twenty years old.  She wore a long dress with a reddish belt tied to the sides.  From the head draped a long, celestial blue veil, held to her neck with a bright yellow button.  It covered her head, hair, forehead, and sides of her head, only leaving her face and neck uncovered.  Under the mantle is a dark red color all over with a beautiful yellow belt encircling her hips.  Her feet fit into simple sandals.  On her head is a crown of beautiful high-gloss gems adorned in dazzling beauty.

She does not speak, but her eyes are rich with expression, shedding tears that flow down her cheeks and fall to the ground.  She alternates her tearful gaze from one shepherdess to the next.  Her arms were outstretched with open hands, a traditional pose of the Virgin Mary.  But they were not sure who she was – maybe Saint Anna, perhaps the Madonna.  The only words they recall hearing were a request for a chapel to be built on this site.

The four young girls fell into an ecstasy, partly from fear, and remained silent.  The Lady disappeared as quickly as she had appeared.  The girls returned home – too upset to talk about what they had seen.  Despite their reluctance to return to that area, their parents urged them to fulfill their duties with the herd.

Our Lady of Mercy statue in Valmala, Italy in 1834.
Our Lady of Mercy statue in Valmala, Italy in 1834.

The girls admitted that they too fearful to return to that area “because every now and then the same great Lady – who always cries – appears before the four of us.”  Mary Pittavino’s father, Joseph, knowing the innocence and honesty of his daughter, decided to accompany the girls to see about this matter, personally.

On August 6 at 10:00 a.m., the four girls, the father, and other people from the village climb the mountain to the Chiotti basin or valley.  As they approach the rock boulder, the four milkmaids cry out together, full of wonder,

“There she is, standing on the stone – the beautiful lady.  She keeps crying, wears the same clothes and has the same features as all the other times.”

But the people all around them see nothing.  One of the girls approaches the boulder, takes one hand and raises the hem of the coat of Blessed Mary.  The spectators see the girl’s hand with fingers closed as if she is grasping something – but see nothing else.  Joseph Pittavino invites all to kneel and pray.  He vows that if he could learn the apparition’s identity, he would build a chapel in that place.

However, one of the villagers present, Bartholomew Valmala Chiotti, turns with confidence toward the invisible Madonna and offers a promise.  If she will heal him from his two-year ailment of acute kidney pain, he promises Mary a “gift.”  The pain had caused him to walk with great difficulty, hunched over, and with his forehead toward the ground.  Instantly, he receives that grace and is able to walk upright with no pain and no further ailment!  Everyone observes this miracle! (And he kept his promise to Mary …)

On August 15, the Feast of the Assumption of Mary, Joseph Pittavino feels inwardly compelled to return to the site of the apparition.  He joined other people who had the similar desire to possibly see her and confirm her identity as the Blessed Virgin.  As the party of people arrive at the stone in Chiotti, the four shepherdesses all exclaim,

            “Here, here she is – the Lady!  She is more beautiful than ever!  The same crown!”

Although still invisible to the others, they are more certain from the girls’ description that this is most likely the Blessed Virgin Mary.  Without speaking, they all kneel.  Joseph lights a blessed candle, makes the sign of the Holy Cross, and prays the Holy Rosary.  During the fervent recitation of the Rosary, the four shepherdesses are enraptured in ecstasy, holding their gaze upon the boulder and just above it (where she stands).  Bystanders witness the illuminating joy and happiness upon their faces, transfigured by their heavenly experience.

After the recitation of the Rosary, Joseph asks the shepherd girls if they still see the Lady.  They are amazed that others cannot see her.  They respond that the Lady is still there, standing where she always does, her eyes dripping with tears that glisten on her face.  Then the girls add some new details,

“We hear voices singing religious songs … what beautiful voices! … I sing pretty … a song that resembles that of the Solemn Mass of the Dead …”

They describe seeing “people moving in the blue sky, passing across the sun” which casts such large shadows that the whole cowherd is in darkness.  Then they state that the “beautiful Lady” has gone from the rock.

Appearances of the Blessed Virgin continued for fifty days.  Our Lady would appear either standing on the rock, sitting on the rock, or walking on the ground surrounding the rock.  But she would always have tears in her eyes.  She would make “amorous glances” toward the girls as she walked to and fro over the surface of the rock.  Then she actually spoke to Mary Pittavino in the dialect of Occitan during one appearance:

“When returning home tonight, tell your father (Joseph) that I want him to erect a mast in this place where I am.  Tell him that under these clods where you and your classmates have seen me walking, he will find sand and stones in abundance, a quantity not only to erect the mast, but enough for still other factories.”

Joseph Pittavino began construction at once – but he still wants to be certain to whom he is dedicating this structure.  The girls reply that the Lady is “just an extraordinary beauty” who becomes more beautiful with each appearance and each recitation of the Rosary.  Others still argue that this is St. Anna.  However, the most common opinion is that this is really the Blessed Virgin.

To solve this mystery, Joseph Pittavino leads the four girls to explore many pictures and depictions of the saints and Madonna that are located in the district of Valmala.  None of these images looks familiar to the girls.  Finally, one day, in the marketplace of Venasca, there were many paintings on display from a stranger.  All eyes of the four girls fixated upon one painting with wonder and joy, exclaiming,

“Here it is!  Here is the image that resembles in all respects the Lady whom we have seen so many times on the rock of Chiotti.”

It is the Madonna as she appeared to Anthony Botta on March 18, 1536.  This image hangs in the great shrine of Savona with the title, “Blessed Virgin Mary, Mother of Mercy.”  Joseph Pittavino immediately buys that image so that the painter Giuseppe Gauteri of Saluzzo can add it to the constructed pylon or mast.

From that day, the apparitions ceased entirely – as if to signify that Mary wanted to make sure that the right image and title, “Mother of Mercy” would be assigned before she departed.  Buildings were added around the pylon “marker” – with a Sanctuary eventually added.

On the first Sunday of August in 1946, Our Lady Queen of Valmala was solemnly crowned by Archbishop Luigi Lanzo Gile, Bishop of Saluzzo in the Diocese.  From March 19 to July 30, 1949, the statue of the Mother of Mercy, worshipped at the shrine, was chosen for the Pilgrimage of Mary, and brought into all the parishes of the diocese.  In August of 1949, in memory of Pilgrimage, and artistic marble statue of the Heavenly Queen was placed in the forecourt of the Shrine.

 

Our Lady of the Miraculous Medal, Paris, France, 1830

“Our Lady of the Miraculous Medal”
PARIS, FRANCE  (1830)

When Catherine Laboure, an unsophisticated country girl, was barely 19 years old, she had a dream that she was in her Parish Church at Fain-Les-Moutiers.  An old priest, whom she had never seen before, was celebrating Mass.  After it was over, he beckoned Catherine to come to him.  She panicked, although she didn’t know why.  In her dream she ran away from the Church and the old priest.  Next, in her dream, she found herself in a room beside the bed of a sick person.  The old priest was standing next to her, saying,

“My child, it is good to care for the sick.  You run away from me now, but one day you will be glad to come to me.  God has His designs on you!  Do not forget it.”

Catherine yearned to become a nun, but her father was opposed for the longest time.  Finally, she made her way to Paris because her father thought that life in the big city would change her mind.  As she was visiting her aunt in nearby Chatillon, she stopped in at the convent of the Sisters of Charity.  As she was ushered into the parlor, she froze in her tracks.  There on the wall was a painting of an old priest – the very same old priest from her unforgettable dream!  She was told that it was Saint Vincent de Paul.

Catherine Laboure at Rue du Bac convent in Paris, France.
Catherine Laboure at Rue du Bac convent in Paris, France.

On April 21, 1830, she entered the convent of the Sisters of Charity at 140 Rue du Bac in Paris.  On the eve of the Feast of St. Vincent de Paul, Catherine worked hard to prepare the chapel and convent for the next day’s events.  Exhausted, she fell into a deep sleep on this night of July 18, 1830.

“At 11:30 in the evening I heard someone calling me, ‘Sister, Sister, Sister.’  I awoke and looked in the direction that I heard the voice coming from.  I saw a little child dressed in white who appeared to be about 4 or 5 years old.  The child said to me, ‘Let us go to the Chapel.  Get up quickly and go to the chapel.  The Blessed Virgin is waiting for you.’  The thought came to me ‘but someone will hear me.’  The child told me, ‘Do not worry, it is 11:30 in the evening and everyone is asleep.  Come, I am waiting for you.”

“I arose and dressed quickly while the child waited for me at the foot of the bed.  I followed him; he was always on my left.  He shone brightly and illuminated the path we were taking.  This astonished me greatly.  But I was even more surprised as I entered the chapel and found that the door opened at the child’s touch.  My amazement was made complete when I saw that all the candles and lights in the chapel were illuminated as if for midnight mass.  I did not yet see the Blessed Virgin.  The child led me into the sanctuary to the chair where the sisters’ director always sat.”

“I fell to my knees, and the child remained with me.  I thought a long time had passed, and looked to see if the sisters on the night watch passed by.  Finally the time had come.  The child sensed this and told me, ‘Here is the Blessed Virgin,  She is here.’  I heard a rustling like the sound of a silk dress.  This sound was coming from the Gospel side of the altar … I doubted at first that this was the Blessed Virgin.”

“Meanwhile, the child said to me, ‘Here is the Blessed Virgin.’  After this, it was impossible for me to describe what I was feeling or what was going on around me.  It seemed that I still could not recognize the Blessed Virgin … Now the child no longer spoke to me in a child’s voice but in a man’s strong voice.”

Catherine is led by a "glowing child-angel" to meet the Virgin Mary in 1830.
Catherine is led by a “glowing child-angel” to meet the Virgin Mary in 1830.

Catherine’s heart pounded furiously.  From out of nowhere, the most beautiful lady she had ever seen, appeared before her.  Mary appeared so young and exuberant.  The Blessed Virgin sat in the priest’s chair.  A wave of emotion swept through Catherine.  She paused, then rushed forward, kneeling and placing her hands on Mary’s knees.

“Then I recognized the Blessed Virgin.  I quickly knelt before her on the steps of the altar and put my hand on her knees.  Then, I spent the greatest moments of my life.  It would be impossible for me to describe how I felt.  She told me how I must conduct myself during the struggles that would come to me in the future.  She pointed to the foot of the altar with her left hand and said that it was there I was to open my heart, there I would receive all the consolation that I needed … There I should ask for the explanation of all things that I had seen.  Oh!  She explained everything to me!”

Catherine is stunned by the appearance and words of the Blessed Virgin.
Catherine is stunned by the appearance and words of the Blessed Virgin.

Mary sat with her for what seemed like an eternity.  She instructed Catherine in the proper behavior of a nun.  She also gave her private secrets, many of which were revealed towards the end of Catherine’s life.  Other secrets were never revealed.

“My child, rely on prayer when your heart is troubled.  God wishes to entrust a mission to you.  It will be the cause of great suffering to you, but you will surmount it with the thought that it will work to God’s glory.  You will be contradicted, but do not fear.  Grace will be given to help you.  In your prayers inspiration will be given to you.  The times are very evil.  Great misfortune will come to France.  Her throne will be over   thrown.  There will also be victims among the clergy.  The archbishop himself will die.

The cross will be insulted; blood will flow in the streets.  But come to the foot of this altar.  Here, great graces will be poured upon all those who ask for them with confidence and fervor.  Graces will be bestowed upon the great and the small.”

The glowing angel stands by while Mary instructs Catherine for two hours.
The glowing angel stands by while Mary instructs Catherine for two hours.

Mary finally broke down in tears after revealing all the misfortunes and outrages that France would suffer.

“I do not know how long I stayed there.  All I know is that when she left she suddenly was gone in the same way that she arrived.  I found myself on the steps of the altar and I saw that the child was where I had last seen him.  He told me, ‘She is gone.’  We returned the same way we had come with the path illuminated before us.  The child was always on my left.  I believe that this child was my guardian angel who had become visible to guide me to the Blessed Virgin.  Because I had prayed so hard he obtained this grace for me.  He was dressed in white and was miraculously illuminated.  I returned to my bed.  I heard the clock sound the time; it was 2:00 a.m.  I could not get back to sleep.”

Catherine pondered all that had been said, wondering what her mission was to be.  The angel boy faded away as she got back into bed.  She was so excited that she could not fall back asleep.

The first image that the Virgin Mary wanted Catherine to remember.
The first image that the Virgin Mary wanted Catherine to remember.

Within one week, Mary’s predictions began to happen as riots broke out on the streets.  Paris became a “bloodbath for three days” and then the king was deposed and fled the country.  The revolutionary forces slaughtered priests and religious.  But, as Mary had promised, no harm came to the sisters of the Rue du Bac convent.

In the chapel, on November 27, 1830, she heard the rustling of the silk dress again.  Standing right by the altar in a white robe of silk was Mary with her eyes raised upward.  Her hair was covered under a white veil. “Her face was quite beautiful.”  She was holding a golden ball at arm’s length while standing on a green snake, coiled upon the white globe beneath her.  Her fingers had three rings on each one, which emitted brilliant rays of light downward.  The Virgin Mary explained the images:

“The ball which you see (in my hands) represents the whole world, especially France and each person in particular.  These rays symbolize the graces I shed upon those who ask for them.  The gems from which rays do not fall are the graces for which souls forget to ask.”    

Rays of light stream from Mary's hands as graces are dispensed.
Rays of light stream from Mary’s hands as graces are dispensed.

Mary emphasized how many graces lie unclaimed because nobody asks for them.  Then the golden ball vanished from Her hands, and her arms dropped downward — hands held outward as if to welcome. The rays of light focused downward on the globe beneath Her.

An oval frame appeared around her with these words:  “O Mary, conceived without sin, pray for us who have recourse to thee.”  Mary said to have a medal made in this image with these words, and all who wear it around their neck with confidence will be blessed with abundant graces and enjoy the special protection of the Mother.

The Virgin Mary gives Catherine the images for the medal she wants struck.
The Virgin Mary gives Catherine the images for the medal she wants struck.

The image turned and Our Lady disappeared.  The back side of the medal was to contain these images: a large M with a bar through it and a cross extending from it, two hearts below the M – one surrounded by thorns (Sacred Heart of Jesus), one pierced by a knife with droplets of blood dripping from it (Immaculate Heart of Mary), and twelve stars surrounding these images on an oval border.  Then, it all faded away slowly.

Catherine felt a great urgency to have this medal created.  But her confessor, Father Aladel, did not share the same urgency and had many other important matters to attend.

The actual Miraculous Medal as designed precisely by the Virgin Mary.
The actual Miraculous Medal as designed precisely by the Virgin Mary.

The Blessed Mother appeared again on five more occasions at key times to keep Catherine inspired to keep pushing the priest to take action.  But the refusals disheartened Catherine to the point that she asked Mary to get someone else for this job.  But one last conversation, when repeated to the priest, may have made all the difference:

Cath:  “But, my good Mother, you see that he (the priest) doesn’t believe me.”

Mary:  “Never mind. He is My servant, and HE WOULD FEAR TO DISPLEASE ME.”

Mary knew that this would greatly disturb the priest – who actually trembled at the thought of displeasing the Mother of God.  He used as his justification for the medal that the reported predictions by Mary HAD COME TRUE.  The medal struck in 1832 was originally called the “Medal of the Immaculate Conception.”  But what was to follow led to the popular change in its name to the “Miraculous Medal.”  Reports started pouring in from those who wore the new medal: physical cures, conversions, and miracles of every sort.  Even the Archbishop of Paris, who had finally authorized the medal’s production, was one of the first to wear it and experience a miracle.

The incorrupt (non-decaying) body of Catherine Laboure in Paris, France.
The incorrupt (non-decaying) body of Catherine Laboure in Paris, France.

Two million were distributed worldwide by 1836.  Reports came in of miraculous healings of those who had been hopelessly incurable.  Some of the worst enemies of the Church experienced unlikely and amazing conversions.  By the 21st century more than a billion medals had been reproduced and spread worldwide.

Catherine downplayed her own importance, wanting others to focus on Mary, not her.  She went to work for the next 45 years at a hospital for old people on the outskirts of Paris, taking care of the sick – as St. Vincent de Paul had predicted in Catherine’s dream at age 19.

Catherine Laboure quietly died on December 31, 1876.  On May 28, 1933, she was beatified in St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome.  As part of the Canonization process, the body of the saint had to be identified.  In a solemn procession, her coffin was removed from the vault under the convent’s chapel and brought to the Mother house at Rue du Bac.  In the presence of the Archbishop of Paris, civil officials, and various doctors, the coffin was opened.  They were stunned at what they witnessed.  The body of Catherine Laboure had been in this coffin for 57 years – and yet, she had not decayed in the slightest.  It was as if she were still alive and simply sleeping peacefully.  She was canonized in 1947.

Today, some 139 years later, she is still perfectly preserved by supernatural means as a “totally incorrupt” body – and can be viewed, enclosed by glass, in the little chapel at 140  Rue du Bac in Paris, France.

 

Our Lady of Lichen, Lichen, Poland, 1813 and 1850

“Our Lady of Lichen”
LICHEN, POLAND(1813, 1850)

The first apparition appeared to Tomasz Klossowski in 1813 while he was away at war, fighting with the Polish soldiers under Napoleon in Leipzig, Germany.  He became gravely injured and feared dying in a foreign country, so he prayed and asked the Holy Virgin to allow him to come back to Poland to die in his own homeland.  The Holy Mother appeared to him in the light of the crimson setting sun.  She was wearing the crown, an amaranth dress and a gold mantle.  She was hugging a white eagle – the symbol of Poland. She comforted him and informed him that he would be healed and would return safely to Poland.  But, she had a request.  He was to find a picture of Mary, place it in a public area and worship it.  When he returned to Poland, he searched for a picture of Mary – and finally found one in 1836 on the way back from a pilgrimage to Czestochowa.  He took the picture and hung it on an old pine tree in the Grablin forest near his house.  Soon after, he died.

Tomasz Klossowski is saved by the Virgin Mary in wartime of 1813.
Tomasz Klossowski is saved by the Virgin Mary in wartime of 1813.

Our Lady appeared in 1850 to Mikolaj Sikatka, who was pasturing his cattle near the area where the picture was hanging in the forest.  She called for people to come to conversion, penance, and prayer.  She informed about the punishment which would come – predicting wars and an epidemic of cholera.  But she gave hope and promised:

Mikolaj Sikatka is given directions by the Virgin Mary in 1850.
Mikolaj Sikatka is given directions by the Virgin Mary in 1850.IF

“When hard days will come, those people who will come in front of this picture and will pray and do penance, will not die.  Whenever this nation will come to Me and ask for   help, I will never leave this nation, and I will protect this nation, and I clasp this nation to My heart like I did with this White Eagle.  The picture should be placed in a better,  more proper place and should be publicly worshipped.  The pilgrims from all of Poland will come to this picture, and they will find consolation in their distresses.  I reign for My nation forever.  On this place will be built a magnificent church for My veneration.  If people will not build this church, the angels will build it.”

The tiny little picture of Our Lady of Lichen, framed and hung.
The tiny little picture of Our Lady of Lichen, framed and hung.

The Holy Virgin predicted the formation of the sanctuary and the monastery in Lichen from which her glory would flow.  The shepherd Mikolaj started to expound Our Lady’s message, but he was persecuted and imprisoned by Russian authorities.

But, just as the Virgin had predicted, two years later in 1852, the epidemic of cholera began.  That

The miraculous healings occurred in front of Our Lady of Lichen.
The miraculous healings occurred in front of Our Lady of Lichen.

same year, the picture was placed in the parish church in Lichen.  People remembered the Virgin’s prophecy and thronged to her portrait to kneel and pray. Whoever prayed in front of this picture received graces and did not become ill or die.  Those who were already ill or dying recuperated.

The sanctuary in Poland that houses the miraculous healing image.
The sanctuary in Poland that houses the miraculous healing image.

A special Episcopal committee of the Roman Catholic Church investigated these claims and by 1939 had documented around 3,000 recorded acts of grace, including many miraculous recoveries and cures.

The old part of the sanctuary in Lichen, Poland.
The old part of the sanctuary in Lichen, Poland.

The miraculous painting survived many incidents over the years.  Thanks to the generosity of visiting pilgrims, a new Sanctuary of Our Lady of Lichen was built, modeled after St. Peter’s Basilica at the Vatican.  Pope John Paul II consecrated this church – Poland’s largest – on June 7, 1999.  It is the 7th largest church in Europe.

Our Lady of La Vang, Vietnam, 1798

“Our Lady of La Vang”
LA VANG, VIETNAM (1798)

The persecution of Catholics in Vietnam began in 1640 and escalated into 1798 when the Nguyen Dynasty decreed Catholicism as “a religious sect introduced by foreigners to rally the working class to revolt against the ruling dynasty.”  All 37 parishes in Dinh Cat were attacked and churches were destroyed, and more than 100,000 Vietnamese Catholics died as martyrs.

More than 100,000 martyrs for the Catholic faith in Vietnam 1640-1798.
More than 100,000 martyrs for the Catholic faith in Vietnam 1640-1798.

Many Catholics took refuge in the deep jungle of La Vang near Quang Tri, but they experienced hunger, sickness, dangerous animals, starvation, and bitterly cold weather.  They prepared themselves for martyrdom.  But, they would still pray the rosary every night, huddled together at the foot of a large banyan tree.

One night in the jungle in 1798, they were unexpectedly visited by an apparition of a beautiful Lady among the branches of the tree.  She appeared in a long cape, wearing a traditional Vietnamese long dress (“ao dai”), and holding a child in her arms.  There were also two angels –“like bright lights” — at her sides.  She comforted and reassured the sick and weary refugees.  She told them to boil the leaves from the surrounding trees to use as medicine.  She stated that all who would come to this place would have their prayers heard and answered.  This all took place on the grassy area near the big ancient banyan tree where the refugees had been praying.  All those who were present witnessed the miracle. The sick were healed. By 1802 they could return to their villages.

The Virgin Mary appears in a banyan tree in the jungle of Vietnam in 1798.
The Virgin Mary appears in a banyan tree in the jungle of Vietnam in 1798.

They erected a small and desolate chapel in her honor in 1820.  Despite its isolated location in the high mountains, groups of people continued to find ways to penetrate the deep and dangerous jungle to pray to the Lady of La Vang.  Many prayers have been validated as having been answered.  Gradually, the pilgrims that came with axes, spears, canes, and drums to scare away wild animals were replaced by those holding flags, flowers, and rosaries.  Despite the ongoing persecution campaign, pilgrimages continued every year.

 The Virgin gives directions for boiling ferns and leaves as medicine for the ill.
The Virgin gives directions for boiling ferns and leaves as medicine for the ill.

Another wave of persecutions from 1830-1885 decimated the Christian population and destroyed the chapel.  With the persecution ending in 1885, Bishop Gaspar ordered a new church to be built on that location to the Lady of La Vang in 1886.  Because of limited funding and its remote and difficult location, it took 15 years to complete.  On August 6-8, 1901, Bishop Gaspar inaugurated the new church in a solemn ceremony attended by 12,000 people!  By 1928 a much larger church was needed and replaced the old one.

Statue of Our Lady of La Vang, today, as part of the shrine.
Statue of Our Lady of La Vang, today, as part of the shrine.IF

In August of 1962, Pope John XXIII elevated the church of La Vang to the Basilica of La Vang.  On June 19, 1988, Pope John Paul II held a canonizing ceremony for 117 Vietnamese martyrs.  He proposed rebuilding the Basilica in August of 1998 to commemorate the 200th anniversary of the first apparition.  The Vatican cannot officially recognize this apparition because the country of Viet Nam does not recognize the Vatican State and still opposes the Vatican’s appointments of cardinals, etc. (Politics!)

In 2013, there was a report acquired from a Vietnamese pilgrim that Mary’s statue at the shrine had been weeping tears in recent years.

 

Our Lady of Las Lajas, Colombia, 1754

“Our Lady of Las Lajas”
GUAITARA CANYON, COLOMBIA  (1754) 

Back in the eighteenth century, María Mueses de Quiñones, a local woman from the village of Potosi, Colombia, often walked the six miles between her village and the neighboring one of Ipiales. One day in 1754 as she was making the journey with her daughter Rosa, they approached the place called Las Lajas (the Rocks), where the trail passes through a deep gorge of the Guaitara River. Maria never liked this part of the trail because there were rumors that a cave in Las Lajas was haunted.  Such superstitions remained among the converted Christian Indians.

Unexpectedly, a rainstorm started, and spying a cave ahead, Maria anxiously entered it.  While invoking the protection of the Virgin of the Rosary, she suddenly felt someone touching her shoulder – as though to gain her attention.  Without looking back to see who it was, Maria fled back into the storm with Rosa protected and sheltered by her mother’s tight embrace.

Maria and daughter Rosa hike through the canyon boulders in 1754 (actors).
Maria and daughter Rosa hike through the canyon boulders in 1754 (actors).

Days later, needing to follow this same route again, Maria was carrying her deaf-mute daughter, Rosa, on her back.  By the time she had climbed to Las Lajas she was weary and sat on a rock to rest.  The child got down from her back to play.  The next thing Maria knew Rosa was at the cave shouting:

“Mommy, there is a woman in here with a boy in her arms!”

Maria became very frightened. This was the first time she had ever heard her daughter speak!  She didn’t see the figures that the girl was talking about, nor did she want to.  She grabbed the child and ran on to Ipiales.  When she told people what happened, nobody at first took her seriously. However, as the news spread some asked if maybe it was true. After all, the child was now able to speak!

The miraculous image appears as the natural cave rocks change colors.
The miraculous image appears as the natural cave rocks change colors.

A few days later Rosa disappeared from home. After looking everywhere the anguished Maria realized that her daughter must have gone to the cave.  Little Rosa often said that the woman was calling her.  Maria ran to Las Lajas and found her daughter, kneeling in front of a splendid woman and playing affectionately with a child who had come down from His mother’s arms to let the girl enjoy His divine tenderness.  Maria fell to her knees before this beautiful spectacle in reverence and admiration. She knew now that she was seeing the Blessed Virgin and Jesus.

Fearful of ridicule, Maria kept quiet about the event.  But, frequently, she and Rosa went to the cave to place wild flowers and candles in the cracks of the rocks.   The months went by with María and Rosa keeping their secret. However, one day the girl fell gravely ill — and died.  A distraught Maria decided to take her daughter’s body to Las Lajas to ask Our Lady to restore Rosa to life.

Crowns were attached later to this miraculous image in Colombia.
Crowns were attached later to this miraculous image in Colombia.

Pressed by the sadness of Maria’s unrelenting supplications, the Blessed Virgin obtained Rosa’s resurrection from Her Divine Son.  Young Rosa awoke in perfect health.  Overflowing with joy, Maria went home.  It didn’t take long for a crowd to gather.  Friends and neighbors who had seen the child without life were now overwhelmed with awe at this latest miracle.  Early the next morning everyone went to Las Lajas – each one wanting to check the details for themselves.

That was when the marvelous picture of Our Lady on the wall of the grotto was discovered.  Maria Muese de Quinones could not recall ever noticing it until then.  Her delicate and regal features are those of a Latin American, perhaps an Indian. Her abundant black hair covers her like a mantle (The two-dimensional crown is metal and was added by devotees much later on). Her eyes sparkle with a pure and friendly glow. She looks about fourteen years old.  The Indians had no doubt: this was their Queen.

An altar was constructed with the miraculous cave image as the backdrop.
An altar was constructed with the miraculous cave image as the backdrop.

The child Jesus is in Our Lady’s arms.  On the right side of Our Lady is Saint Francis; on the left side is Saint Dominic. St. Dominic is receiving a rosary from Our Lady; St. Francis is receiving the Franciscan cord from the Child Jesus.  These two orders, the Franciscans and the Dominicans, are the founders of the two Orders that first evangelized Colombia, South America.

The ensemble of colors in the picture gives an undeniable ambience of majesty.  The colors behind Our Lady’s head create a splendid background.  The burgundy of her dress is a warm, rich red embroidered with a golden flower pattern, giving the impression of the garment of a Queen. Her long hair flows freely in such a way that it appears to be a royal mantle. There is extraordinary good taste in the way the hair is arranged, which reinforces the notion of majesty. Our Lady’s face watches us from on high with a serious probing gaze.  She is not smiling. She has the royal countenance of a person who imposes respect with confident strength.

A grand cathedral is built outward from the cave image.
A grand cathedral is built outward from the cave image.

In contrast, the Divine Infant is very amiable and turned toward the supplicant. Thus, instead of having the classic picture of a serious Child and a smiling Mother, here we have the opposite. One could say that He is distributing the gifts while she appears as a Queen.  In reality, there is something profound in this contrast. It is the idea that He is merciful because He is seated in Our Lady’s arm. He communicates to the person who prays a little of His happiness to be with her.  Our Lady’s image expresses motherhood.  She is not looking at Him directly, but she has an enormous intimacy with Him. She extends this maternity to the sinner who kneels before her. She is also his Mother.  This image is a masterpiece reflecting both the majesty and the maternity of Our Lady.

As devotion to the image grew, a good road replaced the old trail. In the early 20th century a tasteful gothic church was built over the cave.  But who put this magnificent image there?  Tests done when the church was built show how stupendous this image actually is.  Geologists from Germany bored core samples from several spots in the image. There is no paint, no dye, nor any other pigment on the surface of the rock.  No brush strokes are visible despite meticulous inspections.  The colors are the colors of the rock itself. Even more incredible, the rock is perfectly colored to a depth of several feet! The picture penetrates the rock miraculously.  It is not painted, but mysteriously imprinted in the rock. The colors are not applied in a surface layer of paint or other material, but penetrate deep into the rock. Certainly it has no natural geological cause.  There is no known place in the world where nature reproduced human faces with such perfection. These circumstances seem to indicate that it is an akeropita image – akeropita in Greek means not made by human hands, i.e., made by the Angels.

The great Guaitara Canyon church is built on pillars.
The great Guaitara Canyon church is built on pillars.

The mystery remains unsolved. Historians and scientists cannot explain this mysterious and beautiful work of art.  Were the angels instructed to craft it?  Was it by the hand of God?

The church is of Gothic revival architecture and was built from January 1, 1916 to August 20, 1949, with donations from local churchgoers, replacing an old nineteenth-century chapel. The name Laja comes from the name of a type of flat sedimentary rock similar to floor tiles found in the Andes Mountains. The miraculous image on the cave wall can still be seen today, found behind the main altar.  The church was literally built around the image with most of the church extending out over the gorge and supported by decorative pilings. A bridge from the church touches the adjacent hillside which makes it easier for the approach of pilgrims. Custodians of the church boast that it has more turrets and spires than Notre Dame in Paris.

The minor basilica had to be built out over the canyon on giant pillars.
The minor basilica had to be built out over the canyon on giant pillars.

Pope Pius XII granted a canonical crowning of Our Lady of Las Lajas in 1952 in the presence of the entire Colombian episcopate.  The Gothic church was elevated to the dignity of a minor basilica.

 It is a marvelous wonder visited by many tourists today.
It is a marvelous wonder visited by many tourists today.

Our Lady of Laus, Laus, France, 1664-1718

“Our Lady of Laus”
LAUS, FRANCE  (1664-1718) 

At the foot of the Alps in southern France is the village of Laus.  In 1666 the hamlet held twenty households, scattered in little huts.  The inhabitants had built a chapel dedicated to Our Lady of the Annunciation.  A humble, unschooled shepherdess, Benoite Rencurel, was born into extreme poverty – complicated by the death of her father when she was only seven years old.  Benoite was protective of her mother, who trained them well in religious prayers, while Benoite had to take a job as a shepherdess for two different masters to help support the family.

In May of 1664, 17-year old Benoite was watching her flock of sheep while praying the Rosary.  Suddenly, an old man, clothed in the vestments of a bishop of the early Church, approached her and asked her what she was doing in this place.  She replied that she was tending her sheep, praying, and looking for water.  He offered to get her some water and went to a well that she had not seen before.

B:         “You’re so beautiful!  Are you an Angel, or Jesus?

M:        “I am Maurice, to whom the nearby chapel is dedicated.  My daughter, do not come back to this place.  It is part of a different territory, and the guards would take your flock if they found it here.  Go to the valley above Saint-Etienne.  That is where you will see the Mother of God.”

B:         “But Sir, She is in Heaven.  How can I see Her there?

M:        “Yes, She is in Heaven – and on earth, too, when She wants.”

Benoite Rencurel is entranced by visits from the Virgin Mary.
Benoite Rencurel is entranced by visits from the Virgin Mary.

Very early the next morning, Benoite led her flock quickly to the designated area in the Valley of Kilns.  As Benoite arrived in front of a small grotto on that site, a lady of incomparable beauty appeared, holding the hand of an equally beautiful child.  Despite St. Maurice’s prediction, the naïve shepherd girl just could not believe that she was actually in the presence of the Mother of God.

“Lovely lady, what are you doing here?  Did you come to buy some plaster? (local product)  Would you be so kind as to lend us this child?  He would delight us all!”

The beautiful lady just smiled without answering.  Benoite invited her to eat something with her.  She just smiled again.  She would go in and out of the cavity in the rock grotto, approaching at times, moving away at other times from Benoite.  When evening came, she took the child in her arms, entered the grotto and disappeared.

Every day for the next four months, Benoite would come to this place and enjoy the beautiful lady’s presence.  She never dared to ask who she was, but the villagers began to seriously wonder if it could be the Virgin Mary – just from the amazing transformation in the face, mood, and spirit of this young shepherdess.  After two months of silence, Mary finally spoke – in order to teach, test, and encourage her.  One day, Mary invited Benoite to rest by her side and to peacefully fall asleep on the hem of the Virgin’s mantle.

Portrait of visionary Benoite Rencurel
Portrait of visionary Benoite Rencurel

She taught Benoite the Litany of Loreto, and then asked her to teach it to the girls of Saint-Etienne and go with them to sing it in church every evening.  Mary displayed the sweetness and patience of a loving mother in dealing with Benoite’s stubbornness and frequent impatience.  She told Benoite that she wanted her role to be that of working for the conversion of sinners through prayer, sacrifice, and exhortation.  Mary said that God had granted Benoite the “charism of reading in hearts.”  This means that she could discern the good or bad condition of one’s soul.  She would work with sinners to help them admit to and confess their issues.

Benoite’s employer, Mrs. Rolland – a woman who had no interest whatsoever in religion, wanted to see for herself what was going on at the site of these apparitions.  One day before dawn Mrs. Rolland entered the grotto and hid behind a rock.  Shortly afterwards, Benoite arrived and Mary appeared to her.

“Your mistress is over there, hiding behind the rock.  Tell her not to curse with the name of Jesus, because if she keeps it up, there will be no paradise for her.  Her conscience is in a very bad state; she should do penance.”

Mrs. Rolland heard every word clearly — and tearfully promised to amend her ways – which she did, faithfully, after that day.

Benoite's doubting employer is shocked by Mary's words directed at her.
Benoite’s doubting employer is shocked by Mary’s words directed at her.

News of these apparitions spread quickly; everybody was talking about them.  Many believed in them; others treated Benoite as a “false mystic.”  Francois Grimaud, the magistrate of Avancon Valley and a good Catholic and man of integrity, decided to conduct an investigation.  After a serious examination, he concluded that Benoite was not deceiving anyone, nor was she an impostor, or was she mentally ill.  But, since Benoite had never asked the identity of the beautiful lady, the magistrate requested that Benoite at least ask her who she really is.

“My good Lady, I and all the people in this place are hard put to know who You are.  Might You not be the Mother of our good God?  Please be so kind as to tell me, and we will build a chapel here to honor You.”

“I am Mary, the mother of Jesus.  There is no need to build anything here because I have chosen a more pleasant spot.  You will not see me here anymore, nor for some time.”

Benoite did not see Mary for an entire month and became profoundly depressed.  But on September 29, 1664, halfway up the hill that leads to Laus, on the other side of a stream, Benoite caught sight of the Virgin.  Crossing the stream, she threw herself at Her feet.

“Oh, good Mother!  Why did you deprive me of the joy of seeing you for so long?”

“From now on, you will only see me in the chapel that is in Laus.”

The Laus apparitions lasted a record-long 54 years from 1664 through 1718.
The Laus apparitions lasted a record-long 54 years from 1664 through 1718.

The little chapel in Laus was nothing more than a small, thatch-roofed structure just over two meters square.  Its plaster altar only had ornaments of two wooden candlesticks and a pewter ciborium.  The chapel appeared to look like all the other small houses in the village, so Benoite had a terrible time the next day trying to locate it in a town she had never travelled to.  She stopped at the entrance to every poor dwelling, trying to detect that “sweet fragrance” that she associated with the Blessed Virgin.  Finally, she detected the fragrance at a doorway where the door had been left ajar.  Inside, she found the beautiful Lady standing on the dust-covered altar.

“My daughter, you have searched diligently for Me, and you should not have wept.  Even so, you pleased Me by not being impatient.”

Honorable Lady,” Benoite replied, “would you like me to spread my apron under Your feet? It is very white.

“No, … soon nothing will be lacking here – neither vestments nor altar linens nor candles.  I want a large church built on this spot, along with a building for a few resident priests.  The church will be built in honor of my dear Son and Myself.  Here, many sinners will be converted.  I will appear to you often here.”

Benoite: “Build a church? There’s no money for that here!”

“Do not worry.  When the time comes to build, you will find all that you need, and it will not be long.  The pennies of the poor will provide for everything.  Nothing will be lacking.”

Benoite travelled the four kilometers to Laus every day, even through the entire winter, praying as Mary instructed for the conversion of sinners.  In 1665, Mary asked her to stop tending her flocks of sheep in order to devote herself to her mission.

“I asked My Son for Laus for the conversion of sinners, and He granted it to Me.”

As news of the continuing apparitions spread, the number of visitors to Laus increased.  Graces and blessings poured down upon souls; people came by the hundreds and then thousands to pray in the poor little chapel.  Cures of all kinds abounded, and sinners were converted in great numbers.  By March 25, 1665, an immense crowd had come to the once-deserted chapel.  On May 3, 1665, thirty-five parishes converged in a ceremonial procession, and then several priests heard many confessions.  Although the Catholic authorities had not pronounced any decision regarding these apparitions, they did permit Mass to be held at the chapel.

Statues located at the Laus apparition site commemorate the apparitions.
Statues located at the Laus apparition site commemorate the apparitions.

That is when the Vicar General, Rev. Pierre Gaillard, entered the scene.  Out of curiosity he arrived in August of 1665 and asked for graces.  He obtained such great graces there that he was immediately convinced of the authenticity of the apparitions. But Laus was not in his diocese, so he wrote to the Vicar General of the Diocese of Embrun, Father Antoine Lambert, and suggested he make an official inquiry.  Father Lambert was unsympathetic and convinced that Benoite’s apparitions were diabolical.  He arrived at Laus on September 14, 1665 to put an end to “this sorcery” by proving Benoite to be a fake and shut down the chapel.

Benoite became frightened and wanted to run away, but Mary intervened:

“No, my daughter, you must not run away.  You must remain, for you must do justice to churchmen.  They will question you one by one and try to catch you with your own words.  But do not be afraid.  Tell the Vicar General that he can very well make God come down from Heaven by the power he received when he became a priest, but he has no commands to give the Mother of God.”

Benoite remained unruffled during the tricky interrogation, answering him with simplicity and calm assurance.  But Father Lambert already had his mind made up.

“It is my conviction, as it is of everyone with any common sense, that your visions are false.  Consequently, I am going to close down this chapel and prohibit the devotion.”

Benoite:  “Sire, although you command God each morning and make Him come down to the altar by the power you received when you became a priest, you have no commands to give His holy Mother, who does as She pleases here.”

(Impressed by her words:) “Well, if what people are saying is true, then pray to Her to show me the truth by a sign or miracle, and I will do all that I can to accomplish Her will.  But, once again, be careful that these not be illusions and effects of your imagination to delude the people, or I will punish you severely to undeceive those who believe you.  I will stamp out abuses with every means in my power.”

Heavy rains prevented the Vicar from leaving too quickly, delaying his departure for two days.  A well-known cripple in the area, Catherine Vial, was praying a novena with her mother at the chapel.  Her nerve contraction disorder was declared incurable by two eminent surgeons.  Around midnight of the last day of her novena, she suddenly felt her legs relax, and she was able to walk.  The next morning she entered the chapel under her own power, totally cured, as the Vicar General was saying Mass.  Quite a stir was created as many shouted, “Miracle, miracle!”  Moved to tears, Father Lambert had a hard time finishing Mass.  The Vicar General declared,

“There is something extraordinary occurring in that chapel. Yes, the hand of God is    here!”

Although there were no resources at all, construction of a much-needed, larger church was undertaken with great enthusiasm.  It was the poor who took up the challenge.  Many of the pilgrims as well as the local people would carry one or more stones from the streams to the construction site.  Thanks to Father Gaillard’s tenacity, the construction was built according to the indications Our Lady had given to Benoite.  On October 7, 1666, Father Gaillard laid the first stone of the building at the Feast of the Holy Rosary.  At the same occasion Benoite became a Dominican Tertiary.

Within four years, the church was completed.  The hands of the poor had gathered its materials; donations had dug its foundations.  The earliest historians of Laus are unanimous in reporting the sweet, heavenly fragrance of the place.  A great number of people attested to the strong fragrances coming from the church.  It was so intense that it spread from the church all over the valley.  Judge Francois Grimaud claimed,

“During the Easter season of 1666, I smelled a very sweet fragrance for around seven minutes.  I had never smelled anything like it in my life, and it gave me such deep satisfaction that I was enraptured.”

From March 24th until the end of May, 1690, the Laus church was so pervaded with this fragrance that all the pilgrims attested to it.  This phenomenon is still experienced today.  To avoid any possibility or claim of deception, flowers are not usually allowed at the shrine.  The manuscripts of Laus report:

“Every time the Blessed Virgin honored her with Her visit, people smelled a heavenly fragrance that pervaded the entire church.  Sometimes the shepherd girl’s clothing was deeply permeated with the heavenly scent for up to eight days.  These supernatural fragrances were so sweet and delightful that they uplifted many souls.”

One day in the winter of 1665, Benoite was advised by the Virgin Mary to invite those with illnesses to take oil from the lamp in the chapel and apply it to themselves, and if they have recourse to Her intercession and have faith, they will be healed.  Physical and moral cures were granted in great number by means of the oil applied with faith.

Mary appeared to Benoite  at least once a month for 54 years!  The Virgin Mary gave Benoite the exceptional privilege of reading onto souls.  She could “see consciences the way we see in a mirror, all at once.”  She revealed faults, grievous and lesser sins, hidden motives, hypocrisy, and errors often committed unconsciously.  She would even take away from the Communion rail those people who were not in the state of grace.  She would often have to share her painful observations, but her kindness and compassion generally led to grateful responses.

To priests, she revealed their indiscretion, their lack of prudence in their manner of questioning penitents, their neglectful behavior, and their grudges.  She would see priests at the altar either shining with light or tarnished, according to the state of their conscience.  She would warn them if they appeared “tarnished.”  A young priest claimed,  “You cannot be in that chapel without trembling if your conscience is not clear.”

Mary counseled and corrected Benoite closely in her mission:

“Take heart, My daughter!  Have patience.  Do your duty cheerfully.  Bear no hatred towards the enemies of Laus.  Do not be troubled and sick over it if people do not profit from your advice.  Do not be disturbed by temptations, visible or invisible spirits, or temporal affairs.  Strive never to forsake the presence of God, for whoever has any faith will not dare to offend Him.”

On Friday, July 7, 1673, a vision of the bleeding Christ on the cross was the beginning of a weekly “mystical crucifixion” that started on Thursday evening and ended on Saturday morning.  This lasted every week for 15 years!

Politics and personalities brought turmoil, controversy, persecution, and threats to close the church over some 20 years.  But Benoite always remained faithful until her death on December 28, 1718.   (Approved by the Church: May 4, 2008.)

 

Our Lady of Eternal Aid, Querrien, France, 1652

“Our Lady of Eternal Aid”
QUERRIEN, LA PRENESSAYE, FRANCE  (1652) 

Querrien is a small village in the northwestern part of France known as Brittany.  On August 15, 1652, Jeanne Courtel, age 12, was a poor shepherdess tending her father’s flock of sheep.  She had been both deaf and mute ever since her birth.  She was reciting her prayers when she was surprised by the sudden appearance of the Blessed Virgin.  Our Lady was holding the Child Jesus on one arm and holding a stalk of lilies in the other.

Blessed Mary had only spoken a few words when Jeanne suddenly realized that she could actually hear her!  The twelve-year old had been miraculously healed.  Our Lady spoke in a sweet voice,

“I choose this place to be honored.  Build for me a chapel in the middle of this village and many people will come.”

Then a dialogue began between the Holy Virgin and the shepherdess.  Mary continued,

“Charming shepherdess, give me one of your lambs.”

Jeanne would have willingly given one to the Lady, but she replied,

“These sheep are not mine; they are my father’s.”

Then Mary replied with these directions,

“Return to your parents and tell them that I require a lamb.”

Jeanne turned to leave, but then turned back and asked Our Lady,

“But who will keep my herd?”

Blessed Mary replied,

“Myself.  I will keep your sheep!”

The little girl returned to her parents quickly – and they were astonished to hear her speak!  Jeanne excitedly told them,

“A Lady came to see me, and she asked me for one of your lambs.”

The father was overjoyed at his daughter’s miraculous recovery and replied,

“Ah, my daughter.  Because this Lady has made you speak, we will give her all the flock.”

Jeanne also related that her father should dig in the nearby pond to find a statue of this Lady that had been buried there for centuries – according to Our Lady.  The father asked his daughter if the Lady had stated who she was?

“She said that she was the Virgin Mary, and we need to build a chapel in the village so many pilgrims will go there to honor her.”

The father responded,

“If this is true, we will ask the bishop to allow us to build a shrine to the Virgin Mary.”

Jeanne Courtel is healed so that the Virgin Mary can complete her mission.
Jeanne Courtel is healed so that the Virgin Mary can complete her mission.

In the days that followed, the Virgin appeared again and repeated her request for a chapel. History states that in the year 610 A.D., St. Gall had visited the region to erect a hermitage.  He had sculpted a statue of the Virgin Mary.  During a disastrous time in the region, the chapel that he had built was destroyed, and the statue was lost.

But, on August 20, having been divinely directed by Our Lady to search the pond for the statue, it was duly found and proved to be in excellent condition – despite having been buried in water for centuries.

During that same year of 1652, Msgr. Denis de La Barde, bishop of that region, made an appearance on September 11 and was informed about all that had taken place.  Several days later on September 20, after conducting his investigations, he formally recognized the validity of the apparitions and blessed the first stone of the future chapel.  The chapel was begun that year in 1652 and was completed four years later.  It was enlarged in 1779 because of the large crowds that visited the shrine.  The body of visionary Jeanne Courtel was entombed within the shrine after her death in 1703 at the age of 63.

On August 14, 1950, some 20,000 pilgrims visited Querrien for the coronation of the miraculous statue by the local bishop — who did so in the presence of many ecclesiastics.  One of the most splendid ceremonies to take place at the shrine was that in honor of Cardinal Lustiger, Archbishop of Paris, who paid homage to the Madonna and then blessed the new buildings on September 10, 2000.  The shrine of Our Lady of Eternal Aid is proud to announce that it is the only one in Brittany that has been authenticated by the Catholic Church.

 

Our Lady of the Willow Tree, Vinay, France, 1649

“Our Lady of the Willow Tree”
VINAY, FRANCE  (1649)

The village of Plantees, France, was Catholic in 1649.  A farmer in the area, Pierre Port-Combet, had abandoned the Catholic Faith for the heresy known as Calvinism.  He refused to allow his devout wife to raise their six children in the Catholic Faith – and instead, drew them into heresy.  Pierre delighted in disobeying church directives by working on Sundays and feast days dedicated to Our Lady.

It was on March 25, 1649, the Feast of the Annunciation, when a miraculous event occurred.  Pierre decided to flaunt his disdain for the feast day by pretending to prune a willow tree with his knife alongside the road that others would be taking to Mass.  He stabbed the trunk of the tree and then drew back in horror.  The tree bled – so much so that it splashed on Pierre’s hands and arms.  There was so much blood that for a moment he thought that maybe he was wounded.  Puzzled, he stabbed the tree again, and it bled even more.

At this moment, his wife was passing by on her way to church – and hurried to see if he had any wounds, but could find no injury.  After hearing his story, the wife took the knife and stabbed the tree, but nothing happened.  Frustrated, Pierre took the knife from her and stabbed the tree again.  Once again, the tree spurted blood.

The altar with a piece of the willow tree preserved within.
The altar with a piece of the willow tree preserved within.

A neighbor, Louis Caillet, was passing by and tried to produce the same effect, but nothing happened.  Other neighbors passing by tried to make the tree bleed with repeated attempts, but nothing would happen.  Only when Pierre struck the tree, would it bleed.  The crowd that had gathered all agreed that the miracle only took place at the hand of the heretic, and that the prodigy was a stern warning for Pierre to convert and observe the laws of the Church.  The bishop ordered an inquiry, and a tribunal of churchmen finally declared that Pierre had indeed received a severe warning from Heaven.

Pierre began profound prayers at the willow tree, but disapproving Calvinists threatened him with bodily harm.  His actual conversion was thereby stalled for the next seven years.

On the Feast of the Annunciation in March of 1656, Pierre was working in his field when he saw a woman in the distance.  She was clothed in white, wearing a blue mantle.  Over her head was a black veil that partially hid her face.  As she came toward him, he thought she was lost and about to ask for directions.  Displaying amazing speed, she was suddenly standing next to him!  In a sweet voice, the Lady greeted Pierre,

“A Dieu-sois-tu, mon ami!” (“God be with you, my friend!”)

Pierre hesitated — hearing the sweet sound of the voice and seeing the incredible beauty of the woman.  Again, she spoke,

“What is being said about this devotion?  Do many people come?”

Pierre nervously answered, “Yes, many people come.”  Our Lady continued,

“Where does that heretic live who cut the willow tree?  Does he not want to be converted?”

Embarrassed by her question, he could only mumble a response.  After a moment, the Lady asked Pierre,

“Do you think I do not know that you are the heretic? … Realize that your end is at hand.  If you do not return to the True Faith, you will be cast into Hell.  But, if you change your beliefs, I shall protect you before God.  Tell people to pray to advantage, not to neglect the source of graces which God in His mercy has made available to them.”

Overwhelmed with remorse, Pierre ran after Our Lady as she began moving away.  But then he saw her suspended several feet in the air and slowly fading from sight. He realized that he had been granted a vision of the Blessed Virgin and fell to his knees, sobbing uncontrollably, and pledged a complete reform.

One month later, on the eve of the Assumption, Pierre contracted a serious illness.  A priest of Vinay heard his confession and welcomed him back into the Church.  He completed his conversion by receiving the Holy Eucharist the next day on the Feast of the Assumption.  His conversion inspired many others to also convert – including his son and five daughters, as well as many Protestants and Calvinists.  Our Lady’s words, “Realize that your end is at hand,” were confirmed with his death just weeks later.  In accordance with his final wish, he was buried at the bottom of the willow tree.

The Propagation of the Faith in Grenoble gave its approval for the purchase of the field of the apparition and to build a chapel there.  Unfortunately, during the French Revolution, terrorists pillaged and desecrated the sanctuary and hacked to pieces a statue of Our Lady that had been sculpted according to Pierre’s description.  Luckily, a valiant woman hid the pieces until peace was restored.  Following the Revolution, devotion to Our Lady of the Willow was restored by the Oblates of Mary Immaculate.

In 1856, Pope Pius IX decreed a solemn jubilee and a papal crowning of the restored statue.  Another crowning was ordered by the same pope in 1873.  The church was raised to the dignity of a small basilica by Pope Pius XI on March 17, 1924.  The once-mutilated statue of Our Lady is found here.  Beneath her altar is a decorative box containing the piece of the willow tree.  Pierre’s tomb is at the foot of this altar.

Prayers said before this altar have led to more than one hundred miraculous cures.  These miraculous healings are said to be “undoubtedly genuine” due to the sworn testimonies of reliable witnesses.

 

Our Lady, Comforter of the Afflicted, Kevelaer

“Our Lady, Comforter of the Afflicted”
KEVELAER, GERMANY  (1641-1642) 

Around 1640 the small village of Kevelaer had suffered greatly from a tragic fire and the ravages of the Thirty Years war.  It was considered a vast moorland and a place where few ventured.

Hendrik Busman, a pious traveling salesman, was on his journey from Weeze to Geldern when he stopped at a cross on the heath of Kevelaer to pray for a few minutes.

“At Christmas in 1641, I was making my way when I came to the region around Kevelaer.  There was a cross by the roadside, and I heard a voice coming from that direction say to me,

‘Here thou shalt build me a chapel.’

I looked around me — but saw no one.  I resolved to press on and put all thoughts of the phenomenon out of my head.  About a week later, I passed the place again and there heard the same voice speaking the same words as before.  Then I heard it again a third time.  I was sad because I was poor, and I had no means by which I might build a shrine.  Nevertheless, I saved regularly from my petty cash in the distant hope that one day I should have a fund to fit the purpose.

Our Lady, Comforter of the Afflicted, with baby Jesus
Our Lady, Comforter of the Afflicted, with baby Jesus

Then, four weeks before Whitsunday, my wife, Mechel Schouse, received a vision by night.  She saw a great light, and in the midst of it a shrine.  And in that shrine was a picture of Our Lady of Luxembourg – like one she had been shown some time earlier by two soldiers passing through our village.  The soldiers had offered to sell Mechel the picture, but, upon asking the price, she realized that she could not afford it. (A night watchman, making his usual rounds, saw a strange light in the home of the Busmans, confirming their supernatural visitation that night.)

When Mechel told me of her vision, I connected it with my own experience near Kevelaer.  I urged her to find the soldiers and the picture.  She discovered that the picture was now in the possession of a lieutenant presently in prison in Kemen.  Mechel obtained the picture from him.”

Convinced that the vision experienced by his wife was a confirmation of his Heavenly assignment, Hendrick used the little money that he had saved and began to construct a shrine according to Mechel’s description.  This was supported by the parish priest of Kevelaer, Rev. Johannes Schink.

The portrait was a copper-printed picture measuring only twelve centimeters tall and eight centimeters wide. “Our Lady of Luxemburg” was known as the “Comforter of the Sad and Depressed” whom everyone had worshipped during the Pest Epidemic of 1623.  The text on the picture said, “A faithful portrayal of the Mother of Jesus, The Comforter of the Sad and Depressed renowned for miracles and worshipped by many people.”   At first, Carmelite nuns of Geldern offered to keep it safe during the construction.  After that, during a temporary period of caring for the image in his own home, Hendrick appealed to the Capuchin priests to house it safely in their chapel because so many pilgrims were already traveling to venerate the image.  The crowds became so great that monks soon asked for him to please take it back as soon as he could for placement in the shrine.

On June 1, 1642, Rev. Schink officially brought the image in great ceremony to the new shrine where large crowds awaited.  Miracles were soon reported.  On September 8th, feast day for the birth of Our Lady, Reinier and Margaretha van Volbroek traveled with their invalid son, Peter, who had been paralyzed for five years – unable to walk or stand.  Although his case had been declared hopeless by physicians, just two days after their visit to Our Lady of Luxembourg, Peter was totally cured and able to walk again without any difficulty.

A woman suffering open wounds on her legs that no treatments had helped for years was healed miraculously after just two visits. Her healing was so dramatic and profound that it was reported by the Mayor of Huissen, Holland for official documentation on August 13, 1643.  Many other miraculous cures were documented at the shrine.

Five years after Hendrick’s death, the old chapel was replaced by a new one in 1654.  A basilica was built between 1858 and 1864.  Today it is a huge and beautiful complex with multiple buildings, bubbling fountains, and an outdoor Stations of the Cross.  The little picture of Our Lady, Comforter of the Afflicted, has been decorated through the years with golden angels, golden roses, golden medals, and jeweled ornaments – donated by grateful pilgrims.

In 1892, the 250th anniversary of the shrine’s inauguration was celebrated with a papal coronation – a crown studded with diamonds and jewels, placed above the picture.

On May 2, 1987, Pope John Paul II visited and worshipped the miraculous image.

Our Lady of Manaoag, Manaoag, Philippines, 1610

“Our Lady of Manaoag”
MANAOAG, PANGASINAN, PHILIPPINES  (1610) 

In 1610, a man was walking home along a lonely road in the Pangasinan region when he happened to hear a lady’s mysterious voice. Turning around, he was greatly surprised to see a radiant lady holding a small child on one arm while a rosary was suspended from her right hand.  The vision appeared to be standing on a bright cloud over a small bush.  Saying nothing, the Virgin looked sweetly at the man – who was now on his knees in profound reverence.

When the villagers heard of the vision, they hastily journeyed there and soon built a small church over the place of the apparition.  A town soon flourished near it and was named “Manaoag” — which means “to call.”

The Blessed Virgin seems to have protected this region ever since then from numerous threats.  There was a time in which mountain tribes were accustomed to burning Christian villages.  One day, when Manaoag was destined to be torched, flaming arrows were shot into the little church.  Not a single flame set it on fire.

On an even greater scale, during World War II, four bombs were dropped.  Three landed on the patio and only damaged the facade of the church. One bomb crashed through the roof of the church, but it failed to explode inside.  The church was miraculously saved.

Our Lady of Manaoag, Philippines with baby Jesus
Our Lady of Manaoag, Philippines with baby Jesus

In 1698, huge swarms of locusts began to ravage the rice fields.  They came in swarms so vast that the sky was darkened.  An image of the Blessed Virgin (that had been brought to the Philippines by Padre Juan de San Jacinto of Spain in the early 17th century) was taken out to the fields.  Desperate for help, they placed the small image on the ground and then watched in amazement as the locusts began to destroy each other in a totally unexpected manner that had never been witnessed before.  The carnage continued until not a single locust could be found alive.

Another miracle took place during the drought of 1706.  The fields had been scorched by the drought, and the seedlings were shriveled from the heat.  As days passed with more sun, heat, and no rainclouds, the people began praying to Our Lady for help and took her image once more out to the fields.  During the first day of a novena, and after a procession with the miraculous statue, Our Lady showed her compassion again for this region by gathering rain clouds as soon as her image was returned to the church.  The sky dimmed and a downpour of much-needed rain soon fell.  This rainfall continued for many days until the ground was refreshed and the crops were saved.

Another spectacular miracle was documented in 1698.  It was on Easter Sunday when a fire of unknown origin devoured the whole town and crept steadily toward the church.  The parish priest was notified of the danger and rushed to the scene.  He grabbed the statue of Our Lady from inside the church and took it out to protect it from harm.  He prayed and pleaded with Blessed Mary, saying,

“Dear Lady, if you do not spare the church from fire, I will hurl myself into the flames with you so that the two of us may be consumed by it.”

After he pleaded with Our Lady of Manaoag, the flames immediately died down and were extinguished.  Once again , the church was miraculously saved.

Many pilgrims visit the shrine of Our Lady of Manaoag every year – but, especially during the months of April and May when annual, worldwide pilgrimages occur.  Many other miracles attributed to Our Lady are depicted in giant wall paintings in the church.  The crowds were huge on April 21, 1926, when the Papal Nuncio canonically crowned the image of Our Lady of Manaoag.

Allegedly, Our Lady visits all the barrios of Manaoag and all the towns in the district of Pangasinan every twenty-five years.