|The shrine of Our Lady of La Salette, built on the very spot of the Apparition, in the French Alps.|
Throughout the centuries, the Blessed Virgin has appeared on many occasions with messages of warning, hope and consolation for mankind, but these apparitions have occurred much more frequently in modern times. One of the most notable of these appearances was made at La Salette in France in 1846.
La Salette is a parish in the Diocese of Grenoble made up of a few tiny hamlets in the French Alps. It was not the first visit of Our Lady to the Alps, for about forty miles from La Salette, at Laus, the Blessed Virgin had appeared more than six hundred times to Venerable Benoite Rencurel, between 1664 and 1718.
One of the hamlets in the parish of La Salette is that of Ablandins, which was made up of only about twelve families. This hamlet is situated five thousand four hundred feet above sea level, between two mountain peaks, one eleven thousand and the other twelve thousand feet high. The highest peak is Mount Obiou, where some forty Canadians, returning from a pilgrimage to Rome to attend the beatification of Marguerite Bourgeois, in 1950, were killed in a plane crash. Their bodies are buried in the cemetery at. La Salette.
In relaying her messages to the world, the Blessed Virgin has, in most cases, selected children to be the recipients of these messages. No doubt this is because children are more natural, more innocent and more candid than adults. There were many children to whom the Blessed Virgin appeared, two at La Salette, one at Lourdes, four at Pontmain, three at Fatima.
The two at La Salette were Melanie Calvat and Maximin Giraud. Melanie, who was fifteen years old, was the eldest of a very poor family, who lived on the outskirts of Corps (Corps is the central seat of the district comprising a dozen parishes, among which is La Salette.) The family, which consisted of the father, the mother and several small children, were crowded together in a small, dilapidated dwelling. In order to help with the family expenses, the children were sent to work on neighbouring farms soon after they were seven years old. Melanie herself, had been working for farmers in the surrounding area, from the time she was ten years old. In September, 1846, she, had been in service for six months at a farm, owned by the Pla family, situated high in the mountains, at a place called Ablandins.
Melanie lived a life which was rigorous and full of hardships. She had no family life, and made no friends in the various places where she worked. She was thus driven into an interior solitude, an isolation, which she preferred to the company of people. She had never been to school, and was unable either to read or to write. She, knew few prayers, but she lived an innocent and stainless life, and her thoughts were often directed toward God and Heaven.
Maximin, who was eleven years old, was also not yet spoiled by his life. He was only one when his mother died. His father, a wheelwright, lived in a decrepit building on the outskirts of the Village of Corps, in a dirty winding alley. When he was not at his forge, this man spent most of his time at the local tavern, on Sundays as well as other days. He had remarried and his second wife made life difficult for Maximin, or “Memin” as he was called.
Memin had a pleasant, open face. He was lively and loved to play games. He, like Melanie, had never been to school, and he did not know A from B. He was almost completely ignorant of prayer, catechism, and even the Mass itself. But he, in spite of this surroundings, and the lack of good example, had managed to retain his youthful innocence.
|The two seers: Maximin Giraud and Melanie Calvat|
These were the two poor and ignorant children whom the Queen of Heaven had selected as her ambassadors to convey to the world an urgent message of conversion, prayer and penance.
Although Melanie and Maximin were both brought up in the parish of Corps, they did not know each other. Nevertheless, it was to the two of them together that, according to God’s plan, Mary was to manifest herself. And even though Maximin was at Corps, while Melanie was tending sheep at Ablandins, it was God’s plan that the two should be together when the time arrived to receive His Mother’s message.
On September 13, Pierre Selme, another farmer from Ablandins, arrived in the Village of Corps. His shepherd was sick, and. Selme had come to ask the wheelwright Giraud to let him have the services of Memin for a few days, until the shepherd was able to resume his work.
Maximin knew nothing about tending sheep and less about cattle. But he was overjoyed at the prospect of what promised to be a welcome diversion. This is how he too went to Ablandins.
On September 18, Melanie decided to take four cattle belonging to her master, to a plateau in the mountain, called, “Le Planeau”. At the same time, Pierre Selme directed Maximin saying, “Take the cattle to Le Planeau. I am going to cut hay in the next field and if you have any trouble, you can call me. But you will not be alone, because you will have the company of a shepherdess, who is also from your own Village of Corps, and who is watching cattle at Le Planeau.”
Thus is was that Melanie, who was inclined to silence and solitude, and Maximin, who was her exact opposite in temperament, were about to meet for the first time. The only thing they had in common was their innocence of the world, and natural goodness given them by God. About eleven o’clock in the morning, Melanie heard someone call to her, “Can I come over and talk to you? I, too, am from Corps.” Surprised and annoyed at having her solitude invaded by another, she said to him, “I don’t want to talk to you, I don’t want to be bothered.” And she moved away from him. But Maximin followed her saying, “Wait, I would like to go with you. My master told me to graze my cattle with yours,” and he repeated, “I am from Corps.”
She rebuked him again, drew still further away from him and sat down on the grass. A moment later, the annoying youngster caught up with her and pleaded, “Listen, I am tired of being alone, I will stay quiet and I will not speak to you if you will only let me stay here with you.” Feeling sorry for him, she made a sign for him to be seated beside her. But Memin did not remain silent for long. He talked, he asked questions and laughed, and full of high spirits, he frolicked about. The silence was soon broken and they engaged in conversation.
Melanie, who at first shunned Maximin’s friendship became so accustomed to his presence, that when the two shepherds were returning their cattle to their masters at the end of the afternoon, she made plans to meet him again on the following day.
|“I have given you six days
in which to work, the seventh I have reserved for myself. And no one will give it to me. This is what causes the weight of my Son’s arm to be so crushing.”
The following day, which was September 19th, the two shepherds met in the ravine, and climbed the mountain together, driving their cattle towards “Le Planeau”. The first reading for the Mass of that day reads in part, “You shall do no servile work in the time of this day, because it is a day of penance, that the Lord your God may be merciful unto you. Every soul that is not afflicted on this day, shall perish from among his people.” (Book of Leviticus, Chapter 23.)
It was also the day before the third Sunday in September, the Feast of the Seven Sorrows of the Blessed Virgin. In the Holy Office for this Feast, we find these words: “To whom can I liken or compare you, O daughter of Jerusalem? What example can I show you to comfort you, O virgin daughter of Sion? For great as the sea is your downfall, who can heal you?”
The two children, going up the mountain towards the Planeau did not know anything about all this, but before evening they were destined to see that same Virgin in tears; and when they came down from the mountain, they would still be children, but very special children who carried a heavenly message with instructions to make it known to the whole world.
The morning of that day passed the same as that of the day before. They meditated during the ringing of the Angelus. After having eaten their lunch, the two shepherds decided to construct what they called in their dialect a “paradis”. They gathered stones to make the four walls, put a large stone for the first floor, built the walls up, and ended with a second stone which was large enough for a roof. Below, they said, would be their living quarters, and the upper part was Heaven. They decorated it with flowers, and tired out but happy with their work, they laid down on the grass and went to sleep.
Melanie wakened first, looked around, and could no longer see the cattle. She jumped up and cried out, “Memin, Memin, where are our cattle?” And grasping her staff, she rapidly climbed to the top of the ravine. The cattle were dozing peacefully on the other side of the ravine. Melanie counted them. “They are all there,” she said to Memin, who was following her a few paces behind.
The two of them came towards their “paradis”. They were still about twenty feet away from it, when suddenly Melanie, thunderstruck and overcome with awe, let her staff fall to the ground, and with her heart pounding said, “Memin, do you see that? O my God!”
Memin saw it too. A globe of dazzling, supernatural light, which seemed to become more intense and brighter than the sun rested on top of their “paradis”. It opened slowly, revealing a woman seated, with her head in her hands, as though she were overcome by a great sorrow.
Maximin said to Melanie, “Hold on to your staff!” and brandishing his in a threatening way, said, “If she does anything to us, I will hit her a good whack.”
The Lady lifted her head, and with her arms folded on her breast, arose and looked tenderly at the two shepherds. She was weeping quietly, and her tears were like drops of light. A brilliant white headdress covered the woman’s hair, clung to her cheeks and hid her neck. A beautiful crown rested on her head, edged with roses of many colours, each giving off rays of light. She wore a long white dress with full sleeves, sprinkled with bursts of light, like pearls. Upon her shoulders she wore a shawl, crossed at the breast, blindingly white and also trimmed with roses. The lady’s feet were shod with shoes which were also resplendent with the same sort of roses as those on her crown and on her shawl.
|Statues of the Virgin Mary and the seers on the Apparition site.|
The woman continued to weep gently, but she hastened to reassure the two shepherds, “Come, my children,” the woman said, “do not be afraid, I am here to tell you something of the greatest importance.”
And the Blessed Virgin (for it was she) gently began to tell the children and through them the entire world, the cause of her sadness, and the threat to men if they did not change their ways. She began to speak in French.
“If my people will not obey”, she said, “I shall be compelled to loose my Son’s arm. It is so heavy, so pressing, that I can no longer restrain it. How long have I suffered for you! If my Son is not to cast you off, I am obliged to entreat Him without ceasing, but you do not take the least notice of that. No matter how well you pray in the future, no matter how well you behave, you will never be able to make up to me what I have endured on your behalf."
Then the Virgin Mary spoke on behalf of her Son Jesus: “I have given you six days in which to work, the seventh I have reserved for myself. And no one will give it to me.”
And she continued: “This is what causes the weight of my Son’s arm to be so crushing. The cart drivers cannot speak without bringing my Son’s name into it. These are the two things which make my Son’s arm so burdensome. If, the harvest is spoiled, it will be your own fault. I warned you last year, by means of the potatoes. You paid no attention. Quite the reverse, when you discovered that the potatoes were rotten, you cursed and abused my Son’s name. They will continue to spoil, and by ‘Christmas this year, there will be none left.”
When Mary spoke of the potatoes, Melanie looked perplexed and turned enquiringly to Maximin. This was because the word “potatoes” was unfamiliar to her. The two shepherds were not able to speak French very well, and understood only the local patois. In their dialect, there was another word for potatoes. But the Blessed Virgin understood their difficulty, and she said,
“Ah, it is true, you do not understand French, my children. I will speak to you in your own language.” And then she repeated in the local patois all that she had already said to them in French, and then she continued,
“If you have grain, it will do no good to sow it, for what you sow the beasts will devour, and any part of it that springs up will crumble when you thresh it. A great famine is coming, but before that happens, the children under seven years of age will be seized with trembling and will die in their parents’ arms. The grownups will pay for their sins by hunger. The grapes will rot and the walnuts will turn bad.”
After that, Melanie was unable to hear any longer, although the lips of the Blessed Virgin continued to move, and she was looking more closely at the little boy. She was giving a rather short secret to Maximin, which he would never reveal to anyone. Then it was Maximin who could no longer hear, and it was to Melanie that Mary spoke, entrusting to her a secret much longer than that given to Maximin, and which she told her not to make public until the year 1858.
When the Blessed Virgin had finished conveying these two secrets, she continued her main discourse:
“If sinners are converted, the rocks will become piles of wheat, and it will be found that the potatoes have sown themselves."
Then she asked, “Do you say your prayers well my children?” Maximin kicked at a stone; “No Madame,” he joined Melanie in saying, “hardly at all.”
“Ah, my children, it is very important to do so at night and in the morning. When you do not have time, say at least an Our Father and a Hail Mary. And when you do have the opportunity say more.”
She continued on the main theme,
“Only a few old women go to Mass in the summer, and all the rest work every day even on Sundays. And in the winter, when they don’t know what to do with themselves, they go to Mass only to poke fun at religion. During Lent, they flock to the butcher shops like dogs.”
Then she asked another question, “My children, have you ever seen spoiled wheat?” “Oh no, Madame, never.”
“But you, my child (turning to Maximin) you must, have seen it once, near Coin, with your father. The owner of the field said to your father, ‘Come and see my spoiled. wheat’. You both went, and you took some grain between your fingers and it crumbled into dust. Then you came back from Coin. When you were about a half an hour away from Corps, your father gave you a piece of bread and said, `Well my son, eat this year anyway. I don’t know who’ll be eating next year if the wheat goes on spoiling like that’.”
(Maximin) “It is true indeed, Madame. But I did not remember it.”
The beautiful Lady changed from patois, which she had been speaking, to French,
“Now, my children, you will make this known to all my people.”
Then she began to move away, crossing the dry brook near which the children had constructed their “paradis”, and without looking back, she said to them a second time,
“Now, my children, you will make this known to all my people.”
The beautiful Lady then headed toward the top of the plateau. Without the least change in position, she moved gracefully up the slope, which led to higher ground. Her feet did not touch the ground and she seemed to glide over the grass so that it did not even bend when she passed over it. The children accompanied her, and when she reached the top of the ravine, she paused. Melanie moved in front of her so as to see her better; Maximin, who was behind and a little to the right, also moved in front of her. The Lady said nothing more, but raised herself slowly about three feet from the ground, turned her eyes toward Heaven, gave a solicitous glance out over the world, and after a final tender look at the enraptured children, slowly disappeared. When only her feet remained visible, the little boy stretched out his hand in an attempt to retrieve one of the roses which surrounded her feet, but he touched nothing but the air.
As if waking from a dream, the two shepherds looked at one another. Then they began to discuss the Vision. “Memin”, said Melanie, “Perhaps it was the Blessed Virgin or some great Saint.” And Maximin replied, “Ah if I had only known that, I would have asked her to take us with her.”
“You will make this known to my people.” were the instructions given by Our Lady to the children with regard to the message which she wished to convey to the world. This mission was to be begun by the children on that very evening by repeating all the Lady had said very clearly (except the secrets) to their elders.
They brought the cattle down the mountain earlier than usual, which was understandable after such an extraordinary event. As soon as Melanie arrived at the Pla farm, she began her work in the stables. When Maximin reached the Selme Farm, he found nobody at home, because, they were still at work in the fields, and this small boy, because he could keep quiet no longer and because he had to tell someone, tied the cattle, in their places, and took off for the Pla home, where he breathlessly told Madame Pla what he had seen and heard at the Planeau. Melanie was still in the stable and had begun to milk the cows, when she saw her mistress coming towards her in tears.
“Why have you not told me what happened to you on the mountain?” she asked, “I wanted to tell you,” said Melanie, “but I had to finish my work first.”
In a few moments, Melanie was inside the house telling everything to her mistress. Madame Pla was a widow with two sons who were working the farm for her. One of her sons, named Baptiste was married. The two men were still working in the fields when Melanie began to, tell Madame Pla of what happened, and was about half finished with her story, when the men arrived in from the fields: to find their mother in tears over the complaints the Blessed Virgin had conveyed to Melanie, and she said to them, “I suppose you intend to bring in the wheat tomorrow (which was Sunday) so listen carefully to this. Come and hear what has happened to this child and the shepherd who was working for Selme today.” And so Melanie had to begin to tell the story all over again for them.
When she was finished, Baptiste Pla said, “This was the Blessed Virgin, or some great Saint who came on behalf of God. You must do what she said. How are you going to make this known to all the people?” Melanie replied, “If you will tell me how to do it, I will do as you say.”
The news went from door to door, and before the end of the Vigil, every person in Ablandins had heard the news. Some believed it and others did not. But even the most skeptical were greatly troubled. It was impossible that these uneducated children could put together a fabrication like this, and everyone was impressed by the fact that although they told the story over many times, there was never the slightest variation or contradiction in what they said from one time to the next. It was considered impossible that they could have memorized anything as lengthy as the message which the Blessed Virgin had given them.
After discussion and reflection, Baptiste Pla said to the children, “Do you know what you have to do? Tomorrow morning, get up early and go together to the parish priest at La Salette; tell him all that you saw and, heard and ask him to advise you as to what he thinks would be the best way to pass along the message. He will know what to do.”
The following day, Sunday, September 20th, the two little children knocked on the presbytery door and asked the housekeeper if they could see the parish priest. “Impossible”, she said, “he has no time to talk to anyone before Mass. But why do you want to see him? Perhaps I could give him the message.” They answered, “We were sent here by our masters, because we have some very important news to tell him.” She then said, “He cannot see you now because he is working on his sermon. What is it that you have to tell him?”
The two children then began to re-tell the story to the priest’s housekeeper, and had recounted most of their conversation with the woman, when the bell rang for Mass. The priest, who had overheard it all, opened the door to the kitchen. He was in tears, and striking his breast, he said to them, “My children, we are lost, the Good God will punish us surely. Indeed it was the Blessed Virgin whom you saw.” And the good priest, who was then sixty-three years of age, left them to say his Mass in the Church.
After the Gospel, the priest went up into the pulpit. He tried to tell of the apparition which had taken place the day before in the parish up on the mountain at Ablandins. He exhorted his parishioners not to work on Sundays. His voice broke from time to time with sobs, and everyone in the congregation was deeply moved by his sincerity.
The first people to visit the site of the Apparition on Tuesday, September 22nd, were greatly surprised with what they saw there. It was discovered that the spring on the site, which ordinarily was dry at that time of year, where the Blessed Virgin’s foot had rested when she was seated on the stone, was noisily gurgling forth water. According to the knowledge of persons who had previously visited the spot, this spring ran only in times of flood or when the snow was thawing in the spring. Since Our Lady’s appearance to the two children, however, the spring has never dried up even to this day, and the people of the area soon came to regard it as the Miraculous Fountain.
|Mary crying at La Salette|
Pilgrims then began to climb the holy mountain. At first there were between one hundred and two hundred per day. On November 17th there were eight hundred. On November 27th, fourteen hundred persons went in procession up to the holy mountain. Neither the parish priest nor his curate were among their number, but the mayor himself, his council and five policemen were present to lead the procession. On their return they saw the baker’s wife, a woman whom they all knew to be paralyzed for over twenty years, join in the procession, and someone cried out, “Mrs. Laurent has drunk from the miraculous fountain and she has been cured.” The crowd was overjoyed, and in a spontaneous burst of thanksgiving and devotion, they chanted the Magnificat followed by the Te Deum. When they arrived once again at Corps, they paraded twice around the village, and Marie Laurent, who was with them in the procession, was not the least bit tired from this long march.
On the first anniversary of the La Salette Apparition of the Blessed Virgin Mary, fifty thousand persons, of whom one hundred were priests, came to pray and to give honour to the Queen of Heaven, who had chosen this place to manifest herself, and who had entrusted them with the awesome responsibility of making her message of prayer and penance known to all mankind.
On the fifth Anniversary of the Apparition at La Salette, September 19, 1851, the Bishop of Grenoble after having received a report from the Commission of Enquiry which was entirely favourable, considered himself to be in a position to issue the following directive:
“This Apparition has in itself all the characteristics of truth and veracity, and the faithful are quite safe in believing in it. It is for this reason and also because we believe that Almighty God has made known a message through His Mother, that we authorize the cult of Our Lady of La Salette.”
As at Lourdes and Fatima, a persistent flow of pilgrims, increasing daily in numbers and fervour, together with the favours and miracles which accompany such pilgrimages, cannot fail to exercise a persuasive force in bringing about a favourable judgment from ecclesiastical authorities. This was the case at La Salette. In the directive of the Bishop of Grenoble, Article 2 reads as follows:
“We believe that this (Apparition) acquires a further degree of certitute from the immense and spontaneous flocking of the faithful to the scene of the Apparition, as well as from the abundance of marvels which have followed in the wake of this event. A great number of these marvels cannot be doubted without violating the rules of human testimony.”
On several occasions, when the Blessed Virgin has appeared to men, she has confided secrets to those to whom she appeared. These secrets were either to remain unknown to the world at large or were to be made public at times specified by Our Lady herself.
At La Salette, each of the two children received such a secret. The one entrusted to Maximin was short, while it took almost twenty minutes for Our Lady to convey the secret to Melanie. Maximin was told never to reveal his secret, except perhaps to the Pope, and then only if the Pope requested him to do so. Maximin remained faithful throughout his life to Our Lady’s instructions. On the other hand, in the case of Melanie, the Blessed Virgin told her that she might make her secret known twelve years later in the year 1858.
In the year 1851, Pope Pius IX expressed a desire to obtain the texts of both secrets. Maximin and Melanie, who in the meantime had both learned to read and write were commanded by the Archbishop of Lyon to commit the secrets to writing. It is surprising that they were able, after five years, to remember ‘the exact words of Our Lady, but no less surprising that they could remember them all their lives, and as they themselves said, “When Mary said something to us, that was it, we could never forget it, not even one single word of it.”
The two scripts were placed in an envelope and sealed by the children themselves in the presence of the witnesses, then enclosed in another envelope and resealed with the episcopal seal. Two priests were sent to Rome to deliver this envelope personally to the Pope.
It was much later, not until July 1857, that Pope Pius IX took notice of the contents. His lips drew into a thin line, his cheeks distended, but all he said was that Maximin was as candid and simple as a child, and so his secret remains a secret; he said that Melanie mentioned plagues which were threatening France and added that Germany, Italy and some other countries were also guilty and corrupt, and would have to submit to chastisement from God. The envelope was then resealed and nothing has transpired since in connection with it. On another occasion, the Pope said to the priests of La Salette, “What then were the secrets of La Salette? They were the words of the Gospel: `Unless you do penance you will all likewise perish’.”
Maximin did not even know what success in this life on earth meant. He seemed incapable at settling down, a probable result of impressions made upon his character by the terrible privations of his infancy. But he always remained good, chaste, very pious and full of gratitude and love for the Queen of Heaven who had come down to him on the mountain.
By the time he was forty years old, his health had begun to decline, and on November 4th, 1874, Maximin returned to the scene of the Apparition. There he went to Confession, assisted at Mass and Holy Communion, drank water from the miraculous fountain, and requested shelter for the night at a nearby convent. When he left he had the feeling he had seen this holy place for the last time, and on March 1st, 1875, he died strengthened by the last sacraments of the Church. He left a will in which he re-affirmed his faith in God and in Our Lady of La Salette, adding, “I have never at any time in my whole life denied even the slightest detail concerning the great events of La Salette, and if anyone should say that I did, after my death, you can be sure that it is a lie.”
Melanie lived much longer than Maximin did, but her life too was erratic and full of many difficulties and vicissitudes. After the Apparition on September 19, 1846, Melanie remained at the Pla farm at Ablandins till the Feast of All Saints. After that she was received into the order of the Sister of Providence at Corenc. In 1851 she received the habit of the order, and took the name of Sister Mary of the Cross. After moving to various places, she finally settled to Altamura, Italy, where from then on she lived incognito. There she devoted herself entirely to prayer and penance, and wept to Mass daily.
On the morning of December 15, 1904, when she failed to show up for Mass as was her habit, the priest missed her and investigated her absence. She was found lying dead on the floor at the foot of her bed, fully clothed, her arms crossed on her breast. She was seventy-three years and one month old.
On November 7, 1905, Canon Annibale Maria di Francia (who died in 1927, and was declared a saint in 2004), during an anniversary service at the Cathedral of Altamura, paid tribute to Melanie Calvat, in a long funeral oration. He pointed out her mortifications and her holy death, and the trials she endured in bringing the urgent message to the world which Our Lady had entrusted to her on the mountain so long ago.
Our Lady of La Salette, pray for us.