Apparition of Our Lady of La Salette
Excerpt from book:
Account of the Event
Late on the evening of Saturday, the 19th of September, 1846, two children, servants of two of these farmers, returned from the mountain where they had been engaged all day in keeping cows, and told their masters a very wonderful story. The eldest of the children was a girl of fifteen years of age, who had been out at service ever since she was nine or ten years old, and had been with her present master for the last six months. We have seen and conversed with this girl, and shall have occasion to speak more particularly of her by and by.
The other child was a boy of eleven, who was quite a stranger in the village, having been brought from the town of Corps, a distance of three or four miles, only on the previous Monday, as a temporary substitute for a cowherd that was ill. These two children, then, told the following tale:
— They said that about midday they had driven their cows, according to their usual practice, to a certain rivulet to drink; that they had at the same time consumed the store of provisions which had been given them when they left home in the morning, and that after wandering about a little, they lay down on the grass and fell asleep near a fountain which was at that time dry; that the girl, Francoise Melanie Mathieu, was the first to awake, and seeing that the cows had strayed, she immediately awoke her companion, Pierre Maximin Giraud; that they went together to look for their cattle, and from the brow of the hill almost immediately discovered where they were ; but before going to reclaim them and drive them to their proper pastures, they turned back to the place where they had slept to fetch their empty provision bags; that their eyes were at once arrested by the appearance of a very extraordinary brilliance, dazzling as the sun, yet not of the same colour; and that this was presently succeeded by the more distinct vision of a lady radiant with light, sitting on the stones at the head of this dry fountain, in an attitude of the most profound grief.
She was clothed in a white robe studded with pearls, and a gold-coloured apron; white shoes, and roses of every variety of colour about her feet; a wreath of roses around her head-dress, which was high and a little bent in front; upon her breast was a crucifix, suspended by a small chain from her neck ; on the left of the crucifix was a hammer, and on the right the pincers; another and larger chain encircled all these instruments of the Passion, and this again was within a still larger wreath of roses. When she stood upright, she was of a tall and majestic appearance, — so tall, Melanie assured us, that she had never seen any one of equal height; the children, however, were unable to gaze steadfastly upon her countenance because of its brightness. At present her elbows rested on her knees, and her face was buried in her hands, whilst tears flowed copiously from her eyes.
The girl was frightened, and dropped her stick; but the boy bade her pick it up again, adding that he should take care of his, for that if it (meaning the figure which they saw) offered to do them any harm, he would give it a good blow.
The lady then rose, crossed her arms, and in a gentle voice bade the children not be afraid, but to come forward, for that she had great news to tell them. The children obeyed the summons, and the lady advanced to meet them. Presently she stood between them, and addressed the following words to them, weeping as she spoke:
"If my people will not submit themselves, I must let the hand of my Son fall upon them; it is so strong, so heavy, that I can keep it up no longer.
How long a time have I suffered for you! If I wish my Son not to abandon you, I am obliged to pray to Him without ceasing; and yet you pay no regard to all this.
However much you may pray, whatever you may do, yet you never can recompense all the trouble that I have taken in your behalf.
I have given you six days to labour in, I have reserved the seventh for myself; yet they will not give it me. - It is this which makes the hand of my Son so heavy.
Wagoners cannot swear without introducing the name of my Son. These two things are what make the hand of my Son so heavy.
If the harvest is spoilt, you yourselves are the only cause of it. I made you feel this last year in the potatoes, but you took no account of it; on the contrary, when you found the potatoes were spoiled, you swore, and you took the name of my Son in vain. They will go on as they have begun, and by Christmas there will be none left."
Thus far the lady had spoken in French, and the girl had not understood what she was speaking of in this last sentence, because in the patois of that country potatoes are not called pommes de terre, but truffes. Melanie, therefore, was going to ask Maximin what was the meaning of this word, pommes de terre; but she had not yet spoken, and the lady knowing her thoughts, anticipated her words by saying, "Ah, my children, you do not understand me, I will speak differently;" and she then went on to repeat the very same sentence — beginning with the words, "If the harvest is spoilt,—" using the patois of the neighbourhood.
This she also continued to use in the following: "If you have corn, you must not sow it; all that you sow the beasts will eat; any that comes up will fall to powder when you thresh it. There will come a great famine; and before the famine the children under the age of seven years will be seized with a trembling, and will fall in the hands of those that hold them; the rest will do penance by the famine. The nuts will become bad, the grapes will rot; but if they be converted, the stones and the rocks will change into heaps of corn, and the potatoes shall be self-sown in the earth."
Here the lady paused, and it seemed to Melanie that she was speaking to the boy, but she heard nothing of what was said; then, in like manner, she spoke to Melanie, and the boy saw that she was speaking, or seeming to speak, but could not hear what was said, or whether any thing was really being said at all. Only afterwards, when the vision had disappeared, the children spoke to one another about this mysterious silence, and each declared to the other that the lady had at this juncture confided to them a secret, which they were on no account to reveal to any one until the time came for so doing. Neither knew any thing about the secret of the other, whether it was the same as his own or different.
The lady then resumed her discourse to the two children together, asking, in the patois of the country, "Do you say your prayers well, my children?" "Not very well, ma'am." The lady replied, "Take care always to say your prayers, my children, every night and morning. When you can do nothing else, say only a Pater and an Ave Maria; but when you have time, say more. Only a few old women go to Mass, the others work on Sundays during the summer; and in the winter, when they know not what to do, the youths go to Mass only to make a mockery of religion. In Lent they go to the shambles (butcher shops) like dogs. Did you ever see corn that was spoiled, my child?" Maximin answered, "No, ma'am." Melanie too gave the same answer, but in a gentle tone, for she was not sure whether or not the question had been addressed to her as well as to her companion.
The lady then spoke to Maximin, and said, "You have seen it, my child, once when you were with your father at Coire. The owner of a piece of ground there told your father to go and see his wheat that was spoilt. You went, both of you, and you took two or three ears of corn in your hands; you rubbed them, and they crumbled into dust. Then you went home; and whilst you were about half an hour's walk from Corps, your father gave you a piece of bread, and said, 'Take this, my child, let us eat it this year whilst we can get it; I don't know who will be able to eat any next year, if the wheat goes on like that.'" Maximin answered, " Oh, yes, ma'am, I remember now; just now I had forgotten all about it."
Then the lady spoke once more in French, and said, "Well, my children, you will cause this to be told to all my people;" and with these words, she passed on before the children and crossed the rivulet, and ascended the short but steep side of the opposite slope; then she turned back again and repeated the very same words; and again she walked forward to the spot where the children had gone when they were in quest of the cattle. She did not touch the ground as she walked, but moved along on the tops of the grass; the boy and girl followed in her track. Then the girl moved forward a little in advance, and the boy walked on one side of the lady; and presently the lady seemed to rise in the air about three or four feet from the ground, after which the children lost sight of her head, then of her arms and body, and lastly of her feet, and there was nothing left but a great brilliance; by and by even this too was gone...
And Melanie and Maximin began to speculate as to who this stranger could have been. Hearing her speak of the weight of her Son's arm, they had at first imagined that it was some woman who had been ill-treated by her son; but now Melanie said that she thought it must be some great saint, and Maximin said, that if he had known this, he would have asked her to take them along with her; and both wished that they could bring her back again. Maximin stretched out his hand to catch some of the bright light and of the roses which had seemed to surround her feet, but he found he had grasped nothing. Still they gazed and gazed, hoping they might see something more, but nothing returned; whereupon they came to the conclusion that the lady had made herself invisible on purpose that they might not see whither she went. So they gave up the search and went to look after their cows.
There were other boys and girls on different parts of the mountain engaged in the same occupation as themselves; but the children had not exactly understood who 'mon peuple' were of whom the lady had spoken, and to whom she had desired them to communicate what she had said; so they thought it their duty to hold their tongues, and they told nobody what they had seen until they got down into the village, when they immediately told it to their respective masters. They came first to the house of Melanie's master, and both went in together and told it to him; then the boy alone went on to the farm to which he belonged, and as soon as his master came home, he communicated to him the same story.
We must not omit to mention another circumstance also which tended greatly to give credibility to the children's words, viz. that an intermittent fountain at the spot where this "lady" first appeared, and which on that day and for some time previously had undoubtedly been dry, was found to be flowing copiously on the following morning, and had never since ceased; nor has it ceased up to the present day, though previously to the apparition it flowed only at rare intervals, after a heavy fall of rain or the melting of snow upon the mountains.
James Spencer Northcote,
A Pilgrimage to La Salette, ...