The Blessed Virgin in the nineteenth century. Pontmain part 1.

Notre Dame Our Lady Pontmain
WE are in January, 1871. Paris was besieged; two-thirds of the country were in the enemy's power ; the battle of Le Mans had laid Mayenne and Brittany open to the invaders. Brittany as yet remained intact; but the irruption of the invaders into the neighbouring Mayenne made the movement westward appear imminent. Then would France have been swept by German soldiery from the Rhine to her extremest ocean frontier. This is the historic background against which the Apparition of Pontmain must be seen. But there is another background to our subject: it is that of prayer rising from different parts of France as from one heart and from one voice. The voice of sup plication grew more intense and more piteous at and towards that spot where the invader's next attack was expected. This spot was Laval, chief town of the Mayenne.
There priests and people had besieged Heaven with their prayers, praying especially at the shrine of Notre-Dame d'Avenieres. Rennes was not behindhand in the movement ; nor Saint-Brieux, which was a very stronghold of prayer in the pre sent emergency* There, on the memorable January 17th with which we have to do, supplications under exceptional circumstances rose for France, and a solemn promise was made. The hour was between five and six in the evening. The spot where this patriotic and religious manifestation took place was the well-known chapel of Notre-Dame dEsperance (Our Lady of Hope), the seat of the Archconfraternity founded under that name.
With the background of prayer thus faintly limned before us, we will glance on this same evening of January 17th, 1871, from Saint-Brieux in Brittany to Pontmain in the Mayenne—forty leagues off.
Pontmain, a hamlet of some five hundred inhabitants, was to become for ever memorable because of the page of its history to be written that night. Even its geographical position on the borderland between Brittany and Mayenne was to assume historical importance. Seen by the light of the celestial drama about to be enacted above it, it was to appear as a sentinel guarding Brittany and driving back the invader.
Belonging to the diocese of Laval, Pontmain was sharing in the fear and desolation reigning through out that city, which the Germans were hourly expected to besiege. On that night, when it was about to pass into history, we see it beneath a star lit sky and with the whitened roofs of its houses and homesteads showing- against a carpet of frost and snow. The air was intensely cold.. The hour was between five and six. From this scene, already becoming wrapped in night gloom, we will single out a barn in which, beneath the eye of their father, Cesar Barbedette, two boys were busy breaking up gorse as food for cattle. The lads, Eugene and Joseph, were aged respectively ten and twelve. They were interrupted in their work by the entrance of a woman of the locality, Jeannette Detais by name. This person had that day heard tidings calculated to console the Barbedette family, and it was to convey these tidings that she looked into the barn that evening. The news was concerning a young soldier, Auguste Friteau, who was the son of Cesar Barbedette's wife by a former marriage, and, consequently, half-brother to the boys, Eugene and Joseph.
The father and the younger boy, seated on the furze which they had been breaking up, listened to what Jeannette had to say. Not so the elder boy, who, almost at once, went to the open door and stood there looking up at the sky. This conduct was the more noticeable on his part for the reason that he was particularly fond of the absent Auguste Friteau, who was moreover his godfather.
Joseph Barbedette, later on, alluding to this circumstance, says : " Humanly speaking, I have never been able to understand why Eugene left us just as we were hearing news of his godfather, of whom he was so fond." Eugene's reason, as given afterwards, was that he went to see what the weather was like. During the quarter-of-an-hour that followed he remained standing by the open door looking up at the sky. At first he looked at the stars, which appeared to him unusually bright and numerous. Suddenly his sight became rivetted. Above the house in front of him, and a little behind it, high in the air, though near enough to be distinctly seen, he saw what he took to be a beauteous human figure. The words that after wards framed themselves in his mind to express what he then saw were : " Une grande belle dame." He was not frightened. On the contrary, he felt happy, and, though moved to the soul, continued to gaze.
The conversation within had come to an end, and Jeanette Detais was about to leave. As the woman stood by the door Eugene said to her : "Jeannette, look above Augustin Guidecoq's house and tell me if you see anything."
Jeannette looked. " I see nothing at all, Eugene," was the reply.
Cesar Barbedette and his younger son, hearing these words, came to the door and looked out. The father was the first to look up. All he could see was a blue starlit sky. Then Eugene said to his brother : " Can you see anything, Joseph ? "
" Oh, yes ! " exclaimed the latter, " I see a tall, beautiful lady ! " (Une grande belle dame)
" How is she dressed? " asked Eugene.
" She has a blue dress and blue chaussons," said the other.
"Has she a crown on her head?" was next asked.
"Yes," was the reply; " a gold crown getting wider towards the top, and with a red line round the middle ; and she wears a black veil."
The younger boy's description exactly corresponded with what the elder one had seen and continued to see.
The father listened to the boys, looking up at the sky all the time. After a few seconds, he said : "My poor little boys, you see nothing at all. If there were anything to be seen, I should see it as well as you. Go in and finish breaking up the gorse. Supper will soon be ready."
Then, turning to Jeannette Detais, he added : "Say nothing about this to anyone, as it might cause talk. The children are mistaken."
"You need have no fear that I shall say any thing," replied the woman, and she went her way.
The boys went back to their work in the barn. Needless to say their thoughts were not with what they were doing, but with what they had seen.
The father's thoughts appeared to be in the same direction, for after^a few moments he stopped short and said : " Eugene, go and see if the same thing is to be seen."
The boy was at the barn door in a second. "Oh yes, father!" he exclaimed joyfully; "it is just the same as before."
"In that case," said the father, " go and fetch your mother. If there is anything to be seen, she will see it ; but say nothing to Louise " (Louise was the servant). " You have only," continued Cesar Barbedette, "to tell your mother that I want to speak to her."
The elder boy ran off, the younger one the while taking advantage of the break in the work to slip outside the door. There he continued looking up at the figure in the firmament that had so rivetted his gaze a few minutes before.
Before going further it will be well to give a description of this figure in the night sky. Presently, on that spot, every detail concerning it was to be told again and again to a little crowd assembled. And later on, able pens and enlightened minds were to scatter to the four quarters of the globe the facts put forth that evening. But for our purpose of conveying to the reader in human words something of the sublime picture which the children saw, we prefer quoting from Recit d’un Voyant of the Rev. Joseph Barbedette, now a priest and member of the Congregation of the Oblates of Mary Immaculate. What Joseph Barbedette said on this subject as a child he has written as a man ; and, to use the words of the Rev. Jean-Baptiste Lemins, O.M.I., his testimony " is a priestly one — an oath, so to speak, renewed each day on the altar and over the chalice, and signed with the blood of Christ." His description is as follows :— "In the air, seven or eight metres above Augustin Guidecoq's house, I saw a woman of extraordinary beauty. She appeared to be young — about eighteen or twenty years of age—and tall of stature. She was clad in a garment of deep blue. When we were told to describe exactly the shade of this blue, we could only do so by comparing it to balls of indigo such as laundresses use for rinsing linen. Her dress was covered with gold stars, pentagonal in form, all of the same size, and brilliant, but without emitting rays. They were not very numerous, and seemed to be scattered over the blue without regard to method. The blue garment was ample, showing certain strongly-marked folds, and without girdle or compression of any kind from the neck to the feet. The sleeves were ample and long, falling over the hands. On the feet, which the dress left uncovered, were chaussons of the same blue as the dress and ornamented with gold bows. On the head was a black veil half covering the forehead, concealing the hair and ears, and falling over the shoulders. Above this was a gold crown resembling a diadem, higher in front than elsewhere, and widening out at the sides. A red line, from five to six millimetres wide, encircled the crown at about the middle. The hands were small, and extended towards us as in the * miraculous medal,' but without emitting rays. The face was slightly oval. To the freshness of youth was added the most exquisite delicacy of feature and of tint, the complexion being pale rather than otherwise. Smiles of ineffable sweet ness played about the mouth. The eyes, of unutterable tenderness, were fixed on us. I give up further attempting to describe the beautiful figure of her who looked down upon us and smiled. Like a true mother, she seemed happier in looking at us than we in contemplating her."
The writer continues : " Notwithstanding that it was night, and that we were separated from the beautiful Apparition by a distance of about a hundred metres, we could see every detail of the face as distinctly as if it had been in full daylight and we had been close by."
He who, as a priest and a religious, gives us this description, was, as a lad of ten, still looking up into the night sky, when his mother, Victoire Barbedette, arrived on the scene on the memorable January evening in question. More than this, the little boy was not only looking up into the heavens, but clapping his hands with delight, and exclaiming : " Oh, how beautiful ! how beautiful ! " The father meanwhile was looking on in silence. The mother, in presence of this ebullition on the part of her youngest son, went up to the little lad, and giving him a smart slap on the arm, said : " Will you be quiet? Do you not see that the neighbours are looking at us? "
" I cared little what the neighbours were doing," said Joseph afterwards, " but this smart admonition from my mother made me understand that my raptures were out of place."
" Mother," said Eugene, the elder boy, " look up yonder above the house. Do you not see some thing?" The mother looked in the direction pointed to, and then said that she saw nothing.
On this, both boys said together : " Do you not see a tall, beautiful lady with a blue dress, and a black veil and a crown on her head ?"
" I see nothing at all," was the reply.
The father continued to look and to listen in silence, but moved to the extent that his eyes were full of tears.
His wife, noticing this, and knowing, moreover, that her boys were not in the habit of lying, began to ask questions. After listening to what the two had to say, her first impression was that it was an Apparition of the Blessed Virgin they had seen.
By this time the sound of voices and the exclamations of the younger boy had attracted the attention of neighbours, and people were seen looking out at their doors.
" What is the matter?" asked one from a little distance.
" Nothing," said Victoire Barbedette ; " the children say they see something, but we see nothing at all." On this, carrying out a previous idea, she gathered her family round her in the barn and shut the door. There, the little party fell on their knees, and with faces turned in the direction of the Apparition, they recited five times the Lord's Prayer and five times the Hail Mary.
This done, the boys, with their mother's leave, again opened the barn door.
" Do you still see the same thing?" asked Victoire.
“Oh yes, just the same, mother," was the reply. " I shall go and fetch my spectacles," said the good woman, "and then I shall see as well as you." She quickly came back, followed by Louise the servant. " Now," said she, adjusting her spectacles, " I too shall be able to see. In what direction is it?"
" Yonder, mother, yonder," said the two boys pointing with their finger.
" Mother Victoire," as she was familiarly called in the burgh, began looking as intently as she was able. Louise, the servant, did the same, but neither she nor her mistress could see anything but the stars.
At this juncture, according to the testimony of the two boys, the smile on the face of the Apparition became more marked than heretofore.
Balked in her attempt to see what her sons saw, the mother's action assumed a shade of asperity. Turning to the lads, she said : "The truth is, you see nothing- at all, and you are two little story tellers. Go in at once and finish your work. Supper will be ready."
" Though not in the habit of humouring us, our mother had never spoken to us so harshly before," said Joseph Barbedette, alluding long afterwards to this incident.
Compelled to return to their work in the barn, the two boys had quickly finished. They then went home, walking backwards all the way, in order not to lose sight for a moment of the beauteous figure in the sky.
" I would stay there all the time if I could," said Eugene to his father. Almost the first words of the youngest boy on entering his home were : " Mother, may we go back to the barn when we have finished supper? "
The mother consented. " Let us make haste then," said Eugene.
“ Do not let us even sit down," said the other.
The two having quickly despatched their food, were about to set forth again when their mother said to them : "Since you arc going back there, if you still see the same thing, say again five times the ' Our Father ' and the ' Hail Mary ; ' but do not kneel down because of the cold. Then come back."
The boys, on reaching the spot, in their joy at seeing the Apparition as before, forgot their mother's injunction not to kneel down. They instinctively fell on their knees at once and began saying five times the Pater and the Ave.
The father, watching them from his house door, said : " They must see the same thing, for they are on their knees saying, no doubt, the prayers you told them to say."
The prayers ended, they returned home as they had been told to do.
The mother, more interested than she wished to appear, began asking questions as to the size of the figure in the sky.
"She is about the size of Sister Vitaline," was the reply. Sister Vitaline was the nun who taught the boys at school. An idea flashed through Victoire Barbedette's mind which she lost no time in carrying into effect. Accompanied by her son Eugene, she at once set forth in quest of Sister Vitaline, saying to herself that nuns were better than other people, and that if there was anything in the sky to be seen, this nun would see it.
She found the good sister in the schoolroom saying her office, and asked her to accompany her at once to the barn. " The children see something in the sky," she said. " I have not been able to see anything, nor has Louise, but that is, I suppose, because our eyes are not good enough."
"My eyes are excellent," said Sister Vitaline, "and if there is anything to be seen, I do not doubt but that I shall be able to see it."
The little party of three set off. When they had reached the barn door, Eugene, pointing to the spot where the Apparition was, said : " Now, do you see it, Sister Vitaline? "
“ It is of no use for me to open my eyes wide," was the nun's reply after a moment or two, “ for I can see nothing at all."
“ Not see it," exclaimed the boy energetically. “ Do you not," he continued, “ see those three stars forming like a triangle?"
“ Yes," she replied, “I see them."
“Well then," pursued the other, " the highest of those stars is just above the head of the beautiful lady (belle dame)"
Sister Vitaline looked again, but could not see more than at first. Under the circumstances she decided on returning home at once. Victoire Barbedette accompanied her back to the community house, which at the time sheltered but three nuns in all, and when about to leave, exacted from her a promise to say nothing to anyone of the subject which had just brought them together.
The nun gave the promise, and quickly broke it, for on entering and seeing three little pupils warming themselves by the fire, she said to them : 44 Little girls, go with Victoire ; she has something to show you."
“What is it?" they asked.
“I cannot tell you," said Victoire, “ as I have not seen it myself; but the boys say there is some thing to be seen."
The little girls were Fran9oise Richer, Jeanne-Marie Lebosse, and Augustine Mouton. They set forth with Victoire at their head, and having no idea of the nature of the unusual sight there was to be seen.
On drawing near the spot for which they were making, Francoise Richer, looking up, exclaimed : “ I see something above the house of Augustin Guidecoq, but I cannot tell what it is." In truth, she was getting a side and confused view of what was about to break on her sight in its full beauty and splendour.
Eugene Barbedette was calling to them from before the barn door. As soon as they had joined him, and before they had heard a word of what he had to say, Fran9oise and Jeanne-Marie cried out together: "Oh, the beautiful lady in a blue dress with gold stars! " They then gave a detailed description of the Apparition, which exactly corresponded with that previously given by the two boys.
It may be mentioned here that the third little girl, Augustine Mouton, on looking up, saw nothing but the blue, starlit sky.
By this time Joseph Barbedette and his father were on the scene, as well as a few neighbours drawn thither by curiosity. Then Sister Vitaline and her companion nun, Sister Marie-Edouard, made their appearance. Sister Vitaline quickly asked whether the same thing was still to be seen.
"Oh, yes," cried the four children together; "we see a tall, beautiful lady in a blue dress covered with stars."
Sister Marie-Edouard tried to see, as Sister Vitaline had done, but with no better success. " Since it is only the children that see," said she, " we must go and fetch other children and younger ones."
She at once started off in quest of others, and intending to bring back with her, if she could, the venerable parish priest of Pontmain, Abbe Guerin.
Meanwhile, the little group of people by the barn door increased. While the three great stars forming a triangle could be distinctly seen by all, the sublime picture in part enframed within remained invisible except to the four voyants.
A note of prayer was struck by Sister Vitaline, who began reciting aloud, in union with the bystanders, the Rosary of the Japanese Martyrs, while the little crowd around continued to increase.
As Sister Marie-Edouard came back accompanied by Abbe Guerin and others, she called out, while still at a little distance : "Do you see it still ? "
"Oh, yes," was the reply.
One of the new-comers was a woman, carrying in her arms, well-wrapped up, a delicate boy of between six and seven. It was her grandson, Auguste Friteau. The child, on arriving on the scene, uttered a cry of delight. He, too, on looking up, had seen the Apparition, and was able to describe it as the others had done. And all he then said concerning it he solemnly reiterated three months later when dying, and just before making his First Communion, which, in spite of his but seven years, he was allowed to do on his death-bed.
There was a sixth child on the scene, the two-year-old daughter of a shoemaker of Pontmain, Boitin by name, who, in her mother's arms, gave every sign of seeing the celestial picture in the night sky.
All the good Abbe Guerin could see was the starlit heavens, the snow-clad earth, and his little flock around him. In his humility and emotion he remained silent. Meanwhile Sister Vitaline continued to lead the way with her Rosary of the Japanese Martyrs, all the bystanders responding.
" Now there is something else ! " exclaimed, as in one breath, the four children—Eugene, Joseph, Francoise, and Jeanne-Marie.
u What is it you see. dear children? " asked the priest.
They quickly described what the " something else" was. It was a red cross of from seven to eight centimetres in length, appearing instantaneously on the breast of the Apparition, and at about the place of the heart. At the same time, and as instantaneously, an oval circlet could be seen taking form and enframing the aerial figure at a distance of about fifty centimetres above the head and below the feet. The oval band seemed to be about from ten to twelve centimetres wide, of a deeper blue than the dress, and came just within the three great stars forming the triangle.
Respecting the signs to be wrought on the piece of background enframed within the oval circlet, and respecting the play of stars, or of seeming stars, in connection with the sublime phenomenon of Pontmain, we refer the reader to fully detailed accounts of the Apparition. It may be mentioned here, however, that the three great stars forming a triangle, the topmost one of which was just above the head of the Apparition, and which were seen by all present that evening, could be seen by no one the following evening. Astronomical science can throw no light on this point. According to the calculations of Abbe Ricard, to whose pen we owe the earliest and most authenticated account of the event of Pontmain, the Apparition must have been at about six o'clock in the constellation of the Great Bear, the stars of which in no way correspond with those forming the triangle in question.
As what they saw was put forth by the children in its every detail, the majority of persons present believed, while a few seemed to take pleasure in appearing incredulous. Altercations going on in the throng, the children seemed for a moment to be forgotten. " Look ! " exclaimed Eugene Barbedette ; "she has become sad."
The four voyants here testified that the smile of ineffable sweetness on the face of the Apparition had .suddenly given place to an expression of extreme sadness.
Again doubts and differences of opinion began to prevail, and the tension of mind of the little assembly became relaxed.
Here Abbe Guerin interfered. " If," said he, "it is only the children who see, it is because they are more worthy of seeing than we."
“ If you were to speak to the Blessed Virgin, Monsieur le Cure," suggested Sister Marie-Edouard.
" But I do not see her," replied the priest, simply and humbly.
u If you were to tell the children to speak to her," gently persisted the nun.
" Let us pray—let us say the Rosary," was Abbe Guerin's answer.
To those present their priest's words were a command. All went on their knees excepting the two boys and the two girls, who continued erect, looking up at the sky. Probably never had the angels' salutation to Mary, fifty times repeated, proceeded from a chorus of voices under circumstances so exceptional. As the collective prayer proceeded, full of ardour and intensity, the Apparition increased in size before the eyes of the astonished children, and to such a degree that, at the end of the recitation of the five decades, bystanders learnt from the lips of the voyants that the figure was twice the size of Sister Vitaline.
Everything going to form this incomparable night picture had increased in size, together with the centre figure. And with this the stars had increased in numbers on the dress to the extent that the children, delighted, cried out : " Oh, what a lot! what i\ lot! I low they swarm ! She will soon be all gold."
Prayer was resumed. Abbe Guerin gave the word of command, and Sister Marie-Edouard began intoning the Magnificat. The strains of the full-voiced anthem rose.
These sounds of earth were quickly answered by the luminous figure in the sky. At the end of the first verse of the Magnificat, the children joyfully exclaimed : " There is something else ! "
What they saw was as a band of white linen, about a yard wide, appearing beneath the feet of the Apparition and extending in a straight line high above the house of Augustin Guidecoq.
They described it. Then the Magnificat was resumed ; but only to be interrupted again and again, for letters of gold were about to appear, one by one, on that white band, and to be spelt aloud by the children as they appeared.
On seeing the first sign, the voyants cried out : " It's a stroke ! " — then, " It's a letter — it's an M ! " The M remained alone for some seconds ; then it was followed by another letter. " It's an A ! " ex claimed the little interpreters. It was a contest as to which should speak first. The A was quickly followed by an I, and the I by an S. The word mais (but) was spelt out with delight and triumph. No other letter followed for some ten minutes.
The little crowd was thrilled and, at the same time, a prey to religious curiosity of the intensest kind. The children were requested to spell out the letters again and again. They were questioned and cross-questioned, and put to the test in every possible way.
Here an interruption occurred. A man of the locality happening to pass by, and not knowing what was going on, said : " You have nothing for it but to pray, for the Prussians are at Laval."
A woman of the throng replied : " Were they at Pontmain we should not fear ! "
As the singing of the Magnificat continued other letters appeared and were spelt out as before. As the last strains of Mary's canticle of praise died away, the following words in gold on the white band could be distinctly seen: " Mais priez mes enfants" The voyants repeated them again and again. There was no punctuation ; each letter was a capital, and each from about twenty to twenty-five centimetres in length. According to the children's account, the exquisitely beautiful smile had not ceased playing on the face of the Apparition during the whole of the singing of the Magnificat, with the exception of a few moments when altercation had been going on in the throng below.
With this, the first line of Heaven's message to France in her hour of need still ringing in their ears, some wept, while others prayed. Indeed, at that juncture, prayer seemed the most natural vehicle for expressing the strong emotion that was moving the little band.
The increasing coldness of the air caused Cesar Barbedette to propose that the persons assembled should take shelter within the barn. Accordingly, the barn doors were thrown wide open and the greater number of those present went inside. The four children remained at the open doorway looking up at the sky, with the nuns and a few others round them. Something of what they saw was to be seen reflected in their faces and in their animated gestures.
On a sign from Abbe Guerin, Sister Marie-Edouard struck the first notes of the Litany of Loretto. All then sang as with one voice.
" We must beg the Blessed Virgin to make her wishes known," had said the priest.
The Apparition in the air was not long in responding.
"Now there is something fresh," exclaimed the children ; "there's a D—and an I—and an E—and a U."
In this manner were slowly spelt out the letters forming the following words : "Dieu vous exaucera en peu de temps" ("God will soon answer your prayers").
At the end of the last word there \vas a round spot like a great full-stop in gold. These words, coming after the previous ones, formed in all one line.
When the meaning of them had made its way into the minds and hearts of those around, all were borne up and thrilled with an indescribable feeling of hope. " It is over ! it is over ! " they exclaimed. “ The war is over ; we shall have peace !
“ Yes ; but let us go on praying," said Eugene Barbedette.
Just before this the four had joyfully ex claimed : "She's smiling at us ! she's smiling at us ! "
Prayer was resumed. All began singing the Inmolata. Hardly had the first strains begun when the children cried out : " There's something else ! It's a stroke—an M."
On seeing another letter M, little Jeanne Marie Lebosse, one of the voyants, began thinking that the word mats (but) was about to be repeated. She expressed her thought, adding naively : " Perhaps the Blessed Virgin thinks that we did not under stand it the first time."
“ No, no," they exclaimed directly afterwards; “ there's an O and an N : it's Mon (my)."
The letters forming the word Fils (Son) followed. The singing of the Inmolata continuing, the refrain at this moment was : O Mater alma Christi caris-sima. May we not see a probably Divine coinci dence between the last word on the scroll in the sky
and the words, "O sweet and beloved Mother of Christ " rising from the throng?
A pause followed. When the children had repeated again and again the words Mon Fils, when they had been plied with questions on all sides, there was a general outburst of emotion. " it was indeed the Blessed Virgin," said all. There could be no longer any doubt on the subject.
" Up to that time," says Joseph Barbedette later on, "the question as to whether it was the Blessed Virgin that we saw had not much troubled us ; but the words Mon Fils dispelled all doubts on the subject.
“ It is the Holy Virgin ! it is the Holy Virgin ! " exclaimed, with joy at heart and tears in their eyes, the simple peasants around. The same ineffable smile continued to play on the face of the Apparition, say the children.
The words Mon Fits commenced a fresh line of the aerial inscription. During the singing of the rest of the Inviolata, and also of the Salve Regina, fresh letters appeared one after the other.
“There's an S," exclaimed the four children; “and an E!" The word se (himself) was pronounced. “There's an L," they continued, 44 and an O."
This went on until the word laisse (allows) was spelt out and pronounced.
Sister Vitaline, who, though she could not see, attempted to judge, thought the children were making a mistake in reading the words as se laisse (allows himself), and that these words in reality were se lasse (is weary). She had no doubt in her mind, as many others had at that time, in connection with the war, something of the burden of the message of La Salette, and was thinking that God might indeed be wearying of waiting for His guilty people. She therefore began correcting, as she thought, the little interpreters.
" No," they cried out together ; " it's an I. It's Mon Fits se laisse (my Son allows himself)."
" Read it again," said the nun. " It must surely be se lasse (is weary)."
" But, Sister Vitaline, wait," was the rebuke that came from one of the youthful mouths; "there's more to come. There's another letter forming." " It's a T," they continued ; " now there's an O." This went on until the word toucher (to touch) was spelt out. Then the meaning was clear to Sister Vitaline as to the rest. At the end of the singing of the Salve Regina the Divine message was complete : "Mais priez mes enfants, Dieu votes exaucera en pen de temps. Monjils se laisse toucher " (" But pray, my children, God will soon answer your prayers. My Son allows Himself to be moved by compassion ").
The last sentence was underlined by a broad gold stroke. The whole was read out again and again while the full meaning of the message was being engraved in the minds and hearts of those who heard. Intense emotion prevailed. Joy, gratitude, and silent prayer did their part. The four children were besieged by questions. Meanwhile, the inscription was still in the sky.
After a few moments the cure said to Sister Marie-Edouard: "Sing a hymn to the Blessed Virgin."
The hymn chosen was a French one of sweet cadence, beginning: "O Mother of hope ". The following strophe was sung, the nun's voice leading the others :—
" Mere de lEsperance Dont le nom est si doux, Proteiez la France, Priex, priez pour nous !
Hardly was the singing resumed than the revelation in the sky was resumed also. What then took place had to be described in another way than by spelling out letters. The Apparition spoke to the children by smiles and movements. For a description of this exquisite page of the story of Pontmain, we again quote from the Rev. Joseph Barbedette. In his Recit dun Voyant, in reference to this part of our subject, he says : " Up to that time the Blessed Virgin's hands had been extended towards us. She then raised them to the height of her shoulders. Her elbows were turned slightly inwards, and her hands slightly back with the palms towards us. The fact of her left arm being thus raised did not prevent us from seeing the little red cross near her heart. She smiled as she looked at us, and that smile was more beautiful than any thing I had until then seen. So beautiful was it that we could not refrain from clapping our hands and crying out in delight: 'She is smiling! she is smiling ! Oh, how beautiful she is ! how beautiful !' The same witness continues: "Our emotion was contagious, for those around laughed and wept with us."
In truth, the joy and the smiles on the faces of the children looking up must have reflected to the eyes of lookers-on something of the beauty and radiance of the celestial picture in the sky.
The inscription in gold at the feet of the Apparition remained during the singing of the hymn, Mere de l’Esperance, but suddenly disappeared at the end.
The hymn of mournful cadence beginning, Mon doux Jesus, followed by order of Abbe Guerin. As this prayer in song, mournful and pathetic, and alternating with the strains of the Parce Domine, was to proceed from the voices below, a scene was to be enacted in the sky, com parable to which in the history of phenomena of the kind, nothing can be pointed to since the appearance of Constantine's fiery cross in the heavens.
There was a burden of penance and a plea for pardon in the words as they rose plaintive and full-voiced :—
" Mon doux Jesus, enfin voici le temps De pardonner a nos coeurs penitents ; Nous n'oftenserons janiais plus V r otre bonte supreme, O doux Jesus."
Hardly had the first strains risen when one of the four children exclaimed: "She has become sad again ! " They, too, became sad, their childish faces expressing extreme sadness. They were reflecting on their faces something of the sublime picture they were looking on.
"Now there's something else!" was the next exclamation.
What they saw was a crucifix, the colour of blood, being held towards them by the beauteous figure in the sky, whose smiles just before had called forth their own. We will here quote again from Joseph Barbedette, O.M.I.:—
"A red cross of about fifty centimetres long appeared suddenly in front of the Blessed Virgin, who lowered her hands to take hold of it, and then held it before her. There was upon it the figure of Jesus Christ, also red, but of a brighter hue. The head of the Crucified was neither thrown back nor thrown forward, but slightly leaning to the left. Near the top of the cross there was a second cross-bar, smaller than the one to which the arms were fastened ; it was from seven to eight centimetres wide, and white ; upon it, in capital letters of bright red, were the words : Jesus Christ. The Blessed Virgin clasped the cross a little below the feet of the Crucified. She held it with both hands,
these being at about the height of the waist, and the left higher than the right. The lower extremity of the cross could hardly be seen. The top of it was slightly bent forward."
The people knew that the ensanguined sign of their redemption was in the sky, bending towards them. The four children then told what they saw, the testimony of each agreeing even to minutest details. It was a supreme moment. Tears fell. The singing continued ; the French refrain, Void le temps de pardonner a nos coeurs penitents, alternating with the Church's accents : Ne in cetermim irascaris nobis.
If at Lourdes the Parce Domine sung by assembled thousands is sublime and sweet, on this night at Pontmain it was grand, pathetic, poignant and intense. No words could have been more suit able to the occasion than those beginning, " Spare, O Lord, Thy people," just as the proud nation of Charlemagne and of St. Louis was being humbled to the dust.
The figure that held the crucifix, and which all present by this time regarded as representing be yond a doubt the mother of the Crucified, seemed to be joining in the supplications rising from below. Her eyes, cast down, were fixed upon the cross, and the children could see her lips move as if in entreaty. Her countenance, which during the greater part of the time that the Apparition had lasted had been irradiated by the most beautiful of smiles, now wore an expression of poignant sadness. On this subject the Rev. Joseph Barbedette says: ''She shed no tears” , but the sadness depicted on her face was such as to defy description. When, a few months later, my father was stricken by death, I saw my mother under the influence of an all-absorbing sorrow. It is easy to conceive the impression that such a sight was calculated to make on a child. Nevertheless, I remember that my mother's sorrow seemed to me as nothing compared with that I had seen depicted on the face of the Blessed Virgin (on the night of January 17th 1871), the remembrance of which came naturally to my mind at that time."
The singing of the hymn, Mon doux Jesus and of the Parce Dominc, was followed by that of the Ave Mans Stella. As the strains rose, the picture in the sky changed.
The red crucifix disappeared, and the hands that had held it, descending, resumed their former position. These were extended as if in the act of bestowing. With this the face of the heavenly visitant changed also, its look of poignant, unutterable sadness giving place to an expression of joy.
The children then saw the same smile that had so delighted them at an earlier stage.
"She's smiling! she's smiling!" they cried in delight. Just before they had noticed and notified another change. It was that two white crosses had suddenly appeared, one on each shoulder of the Apparition, each seeming to be about twenty centimetres in length.
When the last strains of the Ave Maris Stella had risen into the crisp, clear air, Abbe Guerin said: " We will now say the night prayers. If, after that, the Apparition continues, we will continue praying."
It fell to Sister Vitaline to recite these night prayers. As they proceeded the four children, with their eyes constantly fixed on the sky, saw as a white sheet or veil suddenly appear beneath the feet of the Apparition. It seemed as a roll slowly un folding as it ascended. When it reached about the waist of the celestial figure it stopped for a few seconds. Then the upward movement continued, to stop again, this time at just below the head, and for fewer seconds than before. A last glimpse of the face with its radiant smile was vouchsafed to the four children below. Then the obliterating veil continued to unroll upward, stopping for a moment at the base of the crown. Another moment and all was over.
This complete blotting out of the picture was just as the night prayers were coming to an end.
" Is there still anything to be seen ?" asked Abbe Guerin.
" No," replied the children, " it is all over."
It was about a quarter to nine o'clock.

From - The Blessed Virgin in the nineteenth century (1904) by Bernard St John