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


FRANCE was coming to herself after the war of 1870, followed by the Commune, and there was a spirit of hope abroad. God, who would not have destroyed Sodom could He have found ten just men within it, looked down and found more than ten just men in France. These just ones believed that in the vicissitudes that had lately befallen their country, there might have been Divine retribution at work, and, so believing, from their heart came a full-voiced promise of repentance and expiation. The promise found expression at once in the movement known as that of the National Vow. The first act of the National Vow was to lay on the hill of Montmartre the foundation of the church in honour of the Sacred Heart, which church was to tell to future ages the reason of its origin by the inscription on its facade : Sacratissimo Cordi Christi Jesu Gallia paenitens et devota.

The fresh impetus thus given to devotion to the Heart of Our Lord coincided with, or rather included, a fresh impetus to the pilgrimage movement throughout the country. In 1873, upwards of three million persons went to different sites of pilgrimage in France.

If to the war, the Commune, and the consequent prostration of a people, the cause, whole or partial, of this devotional outburst on the part of the best portion of French Catholics is to be attributed, it is but fair to say that the ground for the outburst had been in course of preparation long before.

In the religious revival in France in honour of the Virgin-Mother, which commenced in 1830, and which continued to be fed by such centres of spiritual life as those of Notre-Dame des Victoires, La Salette, and Lourdes, there had been a modest rill of devotion to Our Lady percolating through the great oasis. The rill had had a special work to do. Up to that time, so well had it done this work that it was possible for a writer a few years later to say concerning it that, through its action, devotion to the Heart of Jesus had made more progress in thirty years than it had previously made in two hundred. We here allude to devotion to Our Lady of the Sacred Heart having its source at Issoudun.

With such fruitful effort under the Second Empire on the part of this devotion, it is easy to see how the ground had been prepared for the splendid manifestation in honour of the Heart of Jesus, which took place among French Catholics immediately after the Franco-German war.

In order that the reader may see Heaven's action in the first welling forth of this rill of Marian devotion, we will look back.

In 1849, three young students of the Bourges Seminary bound themselves by a vow to the task of honouring in an especial manner the Heart of Jesus and the Blessed Virgin. They received Holy Orders and went different ways. In 1854 two of them met at Issoudun as priests attached to the same church. The old idea was found germinating in the minds of both. Their scheme was to found an association of missionaries, but there were difficulties in the way, as they possessed neither money nor influence.

At length an idea occurred to them. It being close upon the time of the promulgation of the dogma of the Immaculate Conception, they said between themselves : " Let us make a novena to the Blessed Virgin and ask her, as the first fruits of the definition of the dogma of her Immaculate Conception, to let us know whether it be the will of God that our project be carried out."

The novena was begun. The answer came on December 8th, 1854, at the exact time when the dogma of Mary's Immaculate Conception was being proclaimed in Rome. In the course of that hour, ever memorable in religious annals, because of what was going on in the capital of Christendom, one of the young priests with whom we have to do was summoned to the presbytery.

A visitor awaited him there, who said : " Monsieur F Abbe, a gentleman unknown in these parts, and who wishes to remain so, offers you 20,000 francs for the founding of some good work at Issoudun."

" What good work?" asked the priest.

" Anyone you like," was the answer; " nevertheless, an institution of missionaries would best correspond with the donor's wish."

The benefactor in question was Abbe de Champ-grand, of Paris, priest of Saint-Sulpice.

The young priest, who had just heard what to him was joyful news, went to seek his fellow priest, and found him praying before a statue of the Blessed Virgin. " Come quickly," he said; "I have something to tell you."

“ And I," said the other, " have something to tell you. The Blessed Virgin has just made me understand that our prayer is answered."

Thus was a new work born—thus was the world to be made acquainted with a fresh form of Marian devotion, that of Our Lady of the Sacred Heart having its seat at Issoudun.

The young priest who had been summoned to the presbytery to receive the visitor, was afterwards to be known to the world as the Rev. Pere Chevalier, founder and Superior of the Congregation of Missionaries of Our Lady of the Sacred Heart of Issoudun.

The work, which we have just seen so evidently born of prayer, had prospered not only spiritually but materially also, to the extent that, at the time when the foundations of the Church of the National Vow were being laid at Montmartre, it could look on a splendid church of its own, already raised to the dignity of a Roman basilica, and with a hundred lamps burning before its high altar. Already its missionaries were spreading in different parts of the world under a single invocation — devotion to the Blessed Virgin and to the Sacred Heart.

We purposely dwell here on this particular form of devotion to Mary, because the same seems to us to have an especial place in the great devotional movement of the time. Moreover, judging from subsequent events, it seems to us to point in the direction of a more concrete and tangible expression of its own great leading idea. Up to that time it had familiarised the Catholic world with an invocation, that of Our Lady of the Sacred Heart, which embodies more perfectly than does any other the idea of Mary's empire over the heart of Jesus, and which consequently may be said to express better than does any other the spirit of the Church's teaching respecting the intercessory power of the Blessed Virgin. The idea thus embodied and expressed was about to receive confirmation from actual events.

This brings us to the Apparitions of Pellevoisin. An association was to arise, at first a Confraternity and then an Archconfraternity, the distinctive sign of which was to be a scapular of the Sacred Heart, claiming to be of revealed origin. The association was to be enriched by indulgences. It was to spread over the world and mark its way by fruitful action with respect to souls, as well as by certain remarkable physical cures, and, twenty-four years after its coming into being, Rome was to take its scapular in hand, and canonically approve of the same as the first complete scapular of the Sacred Heart existing up to that time. And Rome, in doing this, without mentioning in its official act the name of Pellevoisin, specified 1876 as the date of this first complete scapular of the Sacred Heart coming into existence.

What was the origin of this scapular, dating from 1876, may be asked. The answer is that it was given to the world by a humble servant, Estelle Faguette, as having been revealed to her in one of the fifteen Apparitions of the Blessed Virgin, with which she claimed to have been favoured.

The Church, by the voice of the ecclesiastical authority of the diocese, has not yet formally pronounced on the subject of these Apparitions, doing in this matter as she did for the space of sixty years in the case of Sister Catherine and the " Miraculous Medal."

But from then till now she has not ceased favour ing the new devotion, which was the direct and almost immediate consequence of the events at Pellevoisin in 1876.

We say advisedly that the Church has from the beginning favoured this devotion, firstly, by giving it every opportunity of proving its right to live ; secondly, by showering upon it important indulgences ; and lastly, by the signal act of the canonical approbation of the scapular in 1900. Two Sovereign Pontiffs, Pius IX. and Leo XIII., have in turn looked upon it and, by acts, approved. Two Archbishops of Bourges have made it their own by their influence and their protection. The first of these was Mgr. de la Tour d'Auvergne, who launched the association into being and who, in the autumn of the year in which he did so, standing at the door of the room of the Apparitions, by that time a chapel, and addressing the inhabitants of three parishes assembled without, thanked Heaven for having chosen the diocese of Bourges as the scene of this latest manifestation of the Blessed Virgin Mary in France. Mgr. de la Tour d'Auvergne's successor, Mgr. Marchal, contented him self with allowing the new devotion a "salutary liberty," to use the words of Mgr. Servonet, the present occupant of the archiepiscopal see of Bourges. Mgr. Boyer, the next Archbishop of Bourses, did more. He obtained from Rome the raising of the Confraternity to the dignity of an Archconfraternity, together with the granting of the important indulgences to which we have referred. At the present time, that is, at the beginning of the twentieth century, the Archconfraternity numbers more than 400,000 members.

We will now look at the events in 1876, known as the Apparitions of Pellevoisin.

In treating of the facts of this portion of our narrative, we will draw considerably from a little manual entitled Notre-Dame de Pellevoisin, com piled by Abbe Salmon, cure of Pellevoisin, and published in 1877 with the consent of the Ordinary of Bourges. It has received the approbation of successive Archbishops of Bourges. In his letter of approbation, dated August 3Oth, 1895, Monseigneur Boyer, Archbishop of Bourges, says :—" This notice is destined to make more and more known the grounds on which devotion to Notre-Dame de Pellevoisin is based." Monseigneur Servonnet, the present occupant of the See of Bourges, says October i4th, 1897 : —" We approve and recommend the present Opuscule in the same terms and for the same reasons as our eminent predecessor, Cardinal Boyer." All quotations given here from Estelle's written account of the Apparitions will be taken from this little book, although it may be mentioned that the present writer has lived at Pellevoisin and been in close intercourse with the voyante, with the express object of gaining from its primitive source information concerning the subject.

Pellevoisin, a small burgh in the department of the Indre, looks down from a gentle acclivity upon a magnificent sweep of country round. Its parish church of purest Gothic, dedicated to St. Martin, possesses an apse of exquisite beauty dating from the twelfth century. But it is not to this building of perfect proportions that the feet of pilgrims turn on entering Pellevoisin. These seek at once a miniature chapel with a statue of the Blessed Virgin wreathed with roses and lying at a stone's throw from the parish church. Shutting our eyes to the present, we will endeavour to see this spot as it was in the spring of 1876. Then it was a bedroom in which a woman lay to all appearance dying. The woman was Estelle Faguette. She was at that time thirty-two years of age. She had been for twelve years a servant in the family of the Comte Arthur de la Rochefoucauld, and had proved indefatigable in her duties, until a serious illness in the preceding spring had laid her low.

Her master and mistress, before leaving their country seat, the Chateau of Poiriers, for Paris, in January, 1876, had placed her under good attendance in a house of theirs at Pellevoisin. They had left her, as they thought, to die.

Apart from an internal tumour, from which she had been suffering for twelve years, Estelle Faguette was, at the time of which we write, in the last stage of pulmonary consumption. Her condition was, moreover, complicated by acute peritonitis.

A Paris medical man, Dr. Bucquois, of the Rue de l’Universite, had told her mistress some months before that her case was hopeless, and that she was slowly dying of consumption. In the previous December she had been given over by Dr. Benard, of Bazancais, who had been in the habit of attending her at intervals for years. She had then received the last Sacraments.

We are on the 10th of the following February.

On the evening of that day, her ordinary medical man of Bazancais, refusing to go and see her on the ground that he could do her no good, and, when remonstrated with, saying—though not un kindly—that he had something else to do than to go on journeys with the sole object of consoling patients, Dr. Hubert, of the same town, was summoned to Pellevoisin in his stead.

This practitioner, on seeing Estelle for the first time, expressed surprise that he should have been summoned from a distance for a person who was evidently beyond the reach of his skill. Having examined her, he pronounced her lungs to be caver nous, and said, moreover, that it was useless to torture her further with medicine as she had but a few hours to live. He consented, nevertheless, to write out a prescription. On handing this to the nun in attendance, no other than Sister Marie-Theodosie, Superior of the religious community of Sainte-Anne de la Providence de Saumur, located at Pellevoisin, he said : "There are doses here for five hours ; but after the next two or three hours there will be no further need of any."

Instead of dying that night as predicted, Estelle Faguette was to linger apparently between life and death for nine days longer, and then be the object of a cure as distinctly inexplicable, according to the known laws of nature, as is any one of the miraculous cures on record. Moreover, this cure was to be preceded and followed by circumstances which give it a place of mark among the most noteworthy phenomena of the kind.

Estelle had heard the doctor say that she had but two or three hours to live. She was perfectly re signed to die.

It may not be out of place here to glance at the past, as well as at the inner life, of this woman about to become the object of a direct intervention on the part of Providence.

Simplicity of character, a strong sense of filial duty and steadfast piety had distinguished Estelle Faguette from her youth upwards. Her parents, who were very poor, had early migrated from Champagne to Paris ; and we see Estelle, though still a child, at once taking part in the arduous task of bread-winning in the capital. By coming under the influence of the Sisters of Charity of St. Vincent of Paul, of the parish of St. Thomas d'Aquin, her natural piety became fostered, and she soon joined the Association of Children of Mary.

A little later on, she showed signs of having a religious vocation. On her seventeenth birthday, with her parents' consent, hardly wrung, with an outfit, the gift of Abbe Le Rebours, then of the church of St. Thomas d'Aquin and afterwards cure of the Madeleine, she entered the noviciate of the Augustinian nuns of the Paris IIotel-Dieu. There for three years she zealously served her apprentice ship to the religious life. At the end of that time, her health breaking down, and the fact of her sustaining a serious injury to her leg, put an obstacle in the way of her religious profession.

She left the IIotel-Dieu walking with crutches. Shortly afterwards, owing to the good offices of the Sisters of St. Vincent of Paul, whom she knew so well, she entered the service of the Comte and Comtesse Arthur de la Rochefoucauld, but still walking with crutches. Her leg got well in time, but her ill-health remained, taking the form of chronic peritonitis, which laid her low at intervals. Between whiles, she was able to perform, in an excellent manner, the duties of a servant, her ordinary work being that of a lady's maid. She was at that time a fair, comely young woman, with expressive blue eyes and a pleasant mouth. Possessed of good common sense and being practical in character, there was nothing of the visionary about her, and the little reading she was able to indulge in was certainly not of the mystical kind. Her earnings went to support her aged parents, who had ended by becoming entirely dependent upon her.

When, in the summer of 1875, mortal illness had laid its grip upon her, her keenest anguish had been on her parents' account. Something of what she had felt on this subject had been committed by her to writing, the following autumn, at the Chateau of Poiriers near Pellevoisin, whither she had gone with the Comte and Comtesse de la Rochefoucauld. What she then wrote was in the form of a letter. Being unable to walk, she could not, as she wished to do, place the little missive beneath a stone at the foot of a statue of Our Lady of Lourdes in a miniature Lourdes Grotto which had lately been erected in the chateau grounds ; but another person placed it there for her.

We will glance at what Estelle thus wrote in her hours of anguish. It is worth while mentioning that before this, novena after novena had been made by the same petitioner to her whom the Church calls the Help of Christians and the Consolation of the afflicted.

In the little document in question we read : " You know that I am your child and that I love you ; therefore, obtain for me, I beseech you, from your Divine Son, my restoration to health. It is for His glory that I ask it.

" Behold, my parents* sorrow ! O Mary, you know that I am their all. If, because of my sins, I cannot be completely cured, you can at least obtain for me a little strength of body, so that I may be able to earn my living and provide for the wants of my father and mother, who, as you see, are on the eve of being obliged to beg their bread. The thought of this causes me intense suffering. Think, good Mother, of what you endured the night of our Saviour's birth, when you went from door to door asking to be taken in. Think, too, of what you suffered when Jesus was stretched on the cross. I put my trust in you, my Mother ; I know that if you wish it, your Son will cure me. He knows how much I wished to be of the number of His spouses. Deign to listen to my supplications and to inter cede for me with your Divine Son. May He re store me to health, if such be His good pleasure. If not, may His holy will be done. May He at least grant me perfect resignation, and may that resignation contribute to my salvation and to that of my parents. My heart is yours, holy Virgin ; keep it always, and may it be a pledge of my love and of my gratitude for your maternal goodness."

It is in this state of resignation, which had had time to become perfected in the following weeks, that we find Estelle on that night of February, when the doctor said that she had but two or three hours to live.

Three days later, February 13th, she asked the cure of Pellevoisin to write to her mistress, the Comtesse Arthur de la Rochefoucauld, then in Paris, and to beg that lady to have two tapers lighted for her, one at Notre-Dame des Victoires and the other in the chapel of Our Lady of Lourdes, in the church of the Jesuit Fathers, Rue de Sevres. The next day the tapers were lighted for her at the two shrines as requested.

The following night occurred the first of the series of Apparitions, which have already given Pellevoisin a place in the religious history of the time. The first five were on five successive nights.

We will recur to them in detail later on. Suffice it for the moment to say that their leading purport was to convey to Estelle Faguette the prediction of the cure of which she was about to be the object.

Each morning Estelle put Abbe Salmon, cure of Pellevoisin, who was at the same time her spiritual director, in possession of the details of her vision of the preceding night. On Thursday morning she told him that she would either be dead or restored to health on the following Saturday.

The priest at first believed the sick woman, in thus speaking, to be the victim of an illusion. He was still further of this opinion the following morning, when she informed him that she had again seen the Blessed Virgin, who had told her that she would be cured on the Saturday. His reply was : " Yester day you told me that you were to be dead or cured on Saturday next ; to-day you tell me that you are to be cured ; what will you tell me to-morrow?"

Evidently Abbe Salmon was sceptical, and, allowing for all kindness and consideration on his part called forth by the state of the patient, he was to remain so for a little while longer. In the mean time, so startling were the revelations he listened to, that he thought it advisable, for prudence sake, to confide these to certain persons, including the nuns of Pellevoisin. Thus, several were in possession of Estelle's statement respecting her predicted cure.

Friday night came. Those around believed the sufferer to be entering on her death agony. The priest was one of these, and left her, not expecting to find her alive the next morning.

The next morning found her not only alive but presenting in her person the realization of the predicted cure.

On entering her room at an early hour, the first words Abbe Salmon heard were : “ I am cured ! " (Je suis guerie.)

As yet, Estelle's words were the only authority for the truth she put forward. She was in bed, and her right arm still lay helpless by her side, paralyzed and swollen to double its natural size, as it had been for some days previously. The priest remained sceptical as before. He was about to say Mass at the parish church close by, and had promised to return at half-past seven to administer Holy Communion to Estelle. Before leaving, he said to her: "The Blessed Virgin can obtain your cure if she will. As soon as you have received the Blessed Sacrament try to make the sign of the cross with your right hand. If you succeed, it will be a sign that what you say is true."

At the specified hour, Abbe Salmon came back, and Estelle communicated in presence of about a dozen persons. The priest then told her to make the sign of the cross with her right hand. She drew forth the swollen, helpless member, and, to the astonishment of all, made with it the sign of the cross. " I am cured ; I feel that I am cured !" she said. She became at once able to use her arm freely, and it was noticed directly afterwards that it had come back to its normal size.

It was found, too, about the same time, that the tumour in her side—from which she had been suffering for the previous twelve years and which had considerably increased of late—had disappeared also. But the radical cure had taken place in the night. At the exact moment when it was being effected, the sick woman had known what was taking place. All pain had suddenly ceased, the emaciated and disorganized body had received an influx of fresh life ; and the lungs which, according to two-fold medical testimony, had little of their substance left, had heard the command to become sound once more.

That day Estelle Faguette rose and dressed her self without help, laughed and talked gaily, and ate solid food with a good appetite. For weeks past she had been able to take nothing but liquid, and that only in spoonsful.

"What struck us most," said Sister Theodosie,” was the change that took place in her appearance, her face, from being as that of a corpse, becoming at once expressive of life and health."

To the extraordinary character of Estelle Faguette's cure, the two doctors of Bazancais who had attended her bore witness. Dr. Benard affirmed that it was of a nature to upset all medical prognostics. Dr. Hubert went farther, and said that it was not to be explained by natural laws. He who thus spoke was, and is, a pronounced freethinker.

In presence of this physical fact, the sudden cure of Estelle Faguette, when in the last stage of pulmonary consumption, we will pause. So complete was the cure that Estelle has never had the slightest return of the disease, and is in the possession of sound, healthy lungs at the present day. The fact we are considering, which, according to natural laws, defies explication, was at the same time the accomplishment of a prediction. The parish priest of Pellevoisin, as we have seen, knew of the prediction as it was reiterated on successive nights between February I4th and February 19th, and certain others knew of it through him, as we have also seen. On the Saturday morning, February 2Oth, these different persons saw with their own eyes the accomplishment of the prediction. This case is one in which hypnotism and suggestion, even in the way of stretching an argument, can claim no part, since the foremost believers in imagination as a therapeutic agent do not claim for it the power of healing lung cavities or of instantaneously forming fresh flesh tissues. Dr. Boissarie's remarks on the well-known case of Sister Julienne, the Ursuline of Brive, apply with equal force to that of Estelle Faguette. On the question of the possible cure of pulmonary consumption in an advanced stage, this high medical authority in his Histoire Medicate dc Lounies says: "If, owing to modern discoveries, science succeeds in being able to ward off or to cure phthisis, the remedy found will be neither infallible nor instantaneous in its action : never will it be able to bring back suddenly to health a consumptive patient in the death-agony." The suddenness of Estelle Faguette's cure was one of its most striking features.

The sublime message at Pellevoisin commenced with the prediction of the miraculous cure, and culminated in the revelation of the scapular of the Sacred Heart, seven months later. For the moment we have to do with the first five Apparitions, those of the month of February.

On five successive nights, Estelle Faguette, according to her account, gazed upon a figure of surpassing loveliness, surrounded by a halo of soft light.

The figure appeared first at the foot of her bed. She could only see it to a little below the waist. As she describes it, it was clad in a white flowing garment, with white girdle and white veil. The face was of indescribable beauty.

The garment, as adequately as human words can portray it, resembled fine white flannel. The veil, which was of a more silvery whiteness, slightly shaded the forehead of the Apparition and fell in folds over the back. As the sufferer gazed, she listened to words of consoling sweetness, which were at the same time of celestial import. Only a few of these can be given here. Among the most striking were :

" Have courage and patience." " You will have to suffer five days longer in honour of my Son's Five Wounds." "On Saturday you will be either dead or restored to health." ** If my Son grants you life, I wish you to proclaim my glory."

When the sufferer was favoured with a similar vision the next night, she was told that she would be restored to health the following Saturday.

Then, among other words which she listened to, were : "In being restored to life, do not think you will be exempt from suffering. No ; you will have to suffer. It is in that that the merit of life consists." Then she listened to words that she was not to divulge.

It is in connection with the vision of the next night that the words : " I am all-merciful " occur.

Concerning the fifth Apparition, Estelle Faguette says: "She remained a long time silent and motionless, standing- in the midst of the soft light. She was smiling.

"When she spoke she reminded me of my promises : * If you wish to serve me,' she said, 'be simple and let your actions correspond with your words. Snares will be laid for you ; you will be treated as a visionary ; but pay no attention to all that. Be faithful to me and I will help you.'"

To quote from Estelle's account, written immediately after her recovery and as an act of religious obedience : “ I gazed upon her for a long time. Never had I seen anything so beautiful. By degrees she vanished, till only the soft light surrounding her remained. This, too, soon faded away. I was in great pain, but I remember that I was holding my rosary in my left hand, as I had lost the use of my right. I offered my sufferings to God, not knowing that they were to be the last of my illness."

The voyante tells us that almost immediately afterwards she suddenly felt quite well. She asked what o'clock it was, and was told that it was half-past twelve.

" I felt that I was restored to health," she says,  “with the exception of my right arm, the use of which I did not recover until I had received Holy Communion the following morning."

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