Over 150 years ago, on September 19, 1846, that Our Lady Mary appeared to two small children on the mountain of LaSalette in the French Alps. There, she gave them a message for the world to hear and follow.
It was the first Marian apparition of modern times, outside of a cloistered religious environment, to attract widespread attention, and to be "recognized" by Roman Catholic authorities.
On Saturday, September 19, 1846, a "Beautiful Lady" appeared to two children from the town of Corps near the city of Grenoble in the French Alps. Their names were Maximin Giraud, eleven years old, and Mlanie Calvat, almost fifteen. They were watching their herds on the slope of Mt. Planeau (alt. 6,000 feet), not far from the village of LaSalette.
In a little hollow, they suddenly noticed a globe of fire "as though the sun had fallen on that spot." Within the dazzling light they gradually perceived a woman seated on a stone, her elbows resting on her knees and her face buried in her hands.
The Beautiful Lady rose and said to the children, in French:
Come near, my children, do not be afraid. I am here to tell you great
She took a few steps towards them. Maximin and Mlanie, reassured, ran down and stood very close to her.
The Beautiful Lady wept all the time she spoke. She was tall, and everything about her radiated light, she wore the typical garb of the women of the area: a long dress, an apron around her waist, a shawl crossed over her breast and tied behind her back and a close-fitting bonnet.
Along the hem of her shawl she wore a broad, flat chain, and from a smaller chain around her neck there hung a large crucifix. Beneath the arms of the cross there were, to the left of the figure of Christ, a hammer, and, to the right pincers. The radiance of the entire apparition seemed to emanate from this crucifix. Light also shone like a brilliant crown upon the Beautiful Lady's head. She wore garlands of roses on her head, around the edge of her shawl, and around her feet.
The beautiful Lady spoke to the two shepherds in these words:
If my people refuse to submit I will be forced to let go the arm of my Son. It is so strong and so heavy, I can no longer hold it back. How long a time I have suffered for you! If I want my Son not to abandon you, I am obliged to plead with him constantly.
And as for you, you pay no heed! However much you pray, however much you do, you will never be able to recompense the pains I have taken for you. I gave you six days to work; I kept the seventh for myself, and no one will give it to me. This is what makes the arm of my Son so heavy. And then, those who drive the carts cannot swear without using my Son's name. These are the two things that make the arm of my Son so heavy. If the harvest is ruined, it is only on account of yourselves. I warned you last year with the potatoes. You paid no heed. Instead, when you found the potatoes spoiled, you swore, and used my Son's name. They're going to continue to spoil, and by Christmas this year there will be none left.
Mlanie was intrigued by the expression pommes de terre. In the local dialect, potatoes were called las truffas. She looked inquiringly at Maximin, but the Beautiful Lady anticipated her question:
Don't you understand, my children? Let me find another way to say it. If you have wheat, you must not sow it. Anything you sow the vermin will eat, and whatever does grow will fall into dust when you thresh it. A great famine is coming. Before the famine comes, children under seven will be seized with trembling and die in the arms of those who hold them. The rest will do penance through the famine. The walnuts will become worm-eaten; the grapes will rot.
At this point the Beautiful Lady confided a secret to Maximin, and then to Mlanie. Then she went on:
If they are converted, rocks and stones will turn into heaps of wheat, and potatoes will be self-sown in the fields.
Do you say your prayers well, my children?
"Hardly ever, Madam," the two shepherds answered candidly.
Ah, my children, you should say them well, at night and in the morning, even if you say only an Our Father and a Hail Mary when you can't do better. When you can do better, say more.
In the summer, only a few elderly women go to Mass. The rest work on Sundays all summer long. In the winter, when they don't know what to do, they go to Mass just to make fun of religion. In Lent they go to the butcher shops like dogs. Have you never seen wheat gone bad, my children? They answered, "No, Madam." The Beautiful Lady then spoke to Maximin: But you, my child, surely you must have seen some once, at (the field of)Coin, with your father. The owner of the field told your father to go and see his spoiled wheat. And then you went, and you took two or three ears of wheat in your hands, you rubbed them together, and it all crumbled into dust.
While you were on your way back and were no more than a half hour away from (the town of) Corps, your father gave you a piece of bread and said to you: "Here, my child, eat some bread while we still have it this year; I don't know who will eat any next year if the wheat keeps up like that."
"Oh, yes," answered Maximin, "now I remember. Just then, I didn't remember it."
The Beautiful Lady then concluded, not in dialect but in French: Well, my children, you will make this known to all my people. Then, she moved forward, stepped over a stream, and without turning back she gave this instruction: Very well, my children, make this known to all my people.
She climbed up the steep path out of the hollow and rose into the air as the children caught up to her. She looked up at the sky, then down to the earth. Facing southeast, she "melted into light". The light itself then disappeared.
At dusk, a little earlier than usual, the children brought back their herds to the hamlet of Ablandins nestling on the mountains below. Pierre Selme had been impatiently awaiting Maximin's return to the farm house. "Well, Memin", he asked him, "why did you not come back to me in my field as I told you?" "Oh", Maximin replied, "You do not know what happened? We found by the spring a beautiful lady who entertained us a long time and talked with Mlanie and myself. At first I was afraid and did not dare to go and fetch my bread which was near her, but she said to us: "Come near, my children, do not be afraid, I am here to tell you great news".
The boy then related the story of the Apparition, hardly pausing for breath. He was very surprised that the people of the valley had not noticed the bright light in the ravine. He then scampered lightheartedly over to the home of Mlanie's master, Baptiste Pra. The girl, busy in the stable, had as yet said nothing.
Maximin, more communicative, spoke at once to the assembled Pra family about the Beautiful Lady. He was immediately surrounded and questioned. On hearing the story, the old mother of Baptiste Pra began to cry, and with the intuition her simple faith gave her exclaimed: "This beautiful Lady can be none other than the Blessed Virgin".
The others were not so sure and waited for Mlanie. As she did not hurry, her mistress, old Mother Pra, ran to the cowbarn to fetch her. "Come quickly and tell us what you saw with Maximin".
"I saw as he did", the girl replied, "and since he has told you, you must know it by now."
But all insisted, so back in the kitchen of the humble cottage she stood before them and related, for the first time, the wonderful event. All were amazed to hear both children, while reciting the Lady's discourse, speaking French fluently, for that same morning neither of them knew anything or very little of that language.
The pious old grandmother, more and more moved, repeated her conviction: "She is certainly the Blessed Virgin, for there is no other person in heaven whose Son governs". Then she turned reproachfully to her young son James: "You have heard what the Blessed Virgin said go now and work again on Sunday!" - "Bah", came the retort, "you will make me believe that this little one has seen the Blessed Virgin, she who does not even say her prayers!"
"But that night", declared Mlanie later, "I remained a long time on my knees although I hardly knew any prayers by heart".
It was eventually decided that this affair was something to be submitted to the Church. Hence, first thing in the morning, the two children descended to the village of LaSalette to tell their story to the pastor, Father Jacques Perrin. A knock at the rectory door brought the priest's housekeeper, a kind but inquisitive spinster. They said they must see the priest. Must they, indeed? And why? They had something of great importance to tell him. They could tell it to her, Francoise insisted; it was the same thing. Seeing that she was immovable, the children began their recital.
Father Perrin, in the next room, heard them and as they continued, he lay down his pen (he was writing his sermon). For a while he sat motionless, then moved noiselessly toward the kitchen. When the account was complete, he stepped into the kitchen and with tears in his eyes said to the children: "How fortunate you are, my children, for it must have been the Blessed Virgin whom you saw!"
It was time for Mass and when Father Perrin mounted the pulpit he began telling the people of the children's strange experience on the mountain. But his voice was choked with emotion and his words were unintelligible save by someone who already knew the story. The people looked at each other, mystified. But there was one who understood him Monsieur Peytard, the mayor of LaSalette.
In the afternoon Peytard was on his way to the hamlet of Ablandins. He did not advertise his real purpose but would casually drop in at the Pra's house for a friendly visit. He spoke to Mlanie and asked to hear again the story she had been telling (by this time Maximin was already back in Corps). When she was through, he said: "Be careful, my child, to add or suppress nothing." "I have said everything the beautiful lady told me to say", was her reply. Then he began to cross-examine her mercilessly, passing back and forth from threats to bribes. It was fruitless. He could not shake Mlanie or get her to vary her account by a word or persuade her to say no more about it. The lengthy interview, however, did induce Pra to abandon his attitude of disbelief. There must be something to this affair. He must put the story down on paper, with the help of his friends Selme and Moussier. So, that evening Mlanie was made to tell the story one more time, but now very slowly so that Pra could get every word down on paper. How right was his instinct in giving documentary form, as quickly as possible, to what the unforgettable voice had said on the mountain just the day before!
Monday morning M. Paytard descended to Corps to question Maximin. He returned to LaSalette, won over by the amazing self-assurance, candor and tenacity of the boy. His account accorded perfectly, down to the last detail, with that of Mlanie.
Now the news spread rapidly. Pilgrims, unbelievers, skeptics, took turn in questioning the two young witnesses, trying in every way to cause them to contradict each other. Among them were journalists, delegates from the civil authorities, but most importantly ecclesiastics commissioned by Monseigneur de Bruillard, the bishop of Grenoble. For, according to Canon Law, the ultimate decision rested with the bishop in whose diocese a reported miracle or apparition had taken place.
After five long years of diligent inquiries, Bishop Philibert de Bruillard of Grenoble, published his long-awaited decision, on September 19, 1851:
"We judge that the Apparition of the Blessed Virgin to the two cowherds on the 19th of September, 1846, on a mountain of the chain of Alps, situated in the parish of LaSalette, in the archpresbytery of Corps, bears within Itself all the characteristics of truth, and that the faithful have grounds for believing it Indubitable and certain."
The mission assigned by Our Lady to Maximin and Mlanie was now ended. On September 19, 1855, Monseigneur Ginoulhiac, the new bishop of Grenoble, thus assessed the situation: "The mission of the children is now ended, that of the Church begins." Innumerable today are the men and women of all races and countries who have found in the message of LaSalette the road to conversion, a deepening of their faith, the needed dynamism for their everyday lives, and the motives for their commitment with and in Christ to the service of all peoples.