The Blessed Virgin in the nineteenth century. La Salette. part 3.

WHILE cures reputed to be miraculous in connection with La Salette were being talked of far and near, and while the number of visitors to the "holy mountain " was continually increasing, the burden of the message delivered on that mountain was being preached from the pulpit by priests and even by bishops. At the same time facts were confirming the truth of the message.
The Apparition had foretold the total failing of the potato crops, and had said : "By Christmas there will be none." In order to see the fulfilment of these words we have only to look at two ordinances of the French Government, dated January 19th, 1847. One of these was to prevent the exportation of potatoes from France, and the other to facilitate their importation into France.
The voice at La Salette that had predicted the total failure of the potato crops had also said : " Let him who has wheat sow it not. The birds will eat what is sown, and, should a few blades spring up, the grain from them will become dust in the threshing."
For fulfilment of these words we have to look to a form of wheat disease, before unknown, which suddenly came into notice early in the fifties under the name of Pictin, or maladie des chaumes. According* to official documents, the new scourge caused considerable damage to the wheat crops as early as 1850. On this subject a correspondent of the Unvoers, writing from the Pas de Calais in 1856, says: "You have only to go into the first wheat field you see, pick a few ears of wheat, open the corolla of those marked with a black spot at the bottom, and you will see animalculce swarm forth like yellow powder."
The prophetic page unfolded at Mount Gargas had foretold a great famine in France, which was to be preceded by great mortality among children under the age of seven. The words of the Apparition were : " They will be seized by trembling and die in the arms of those who hold them. Grown up people will do penance by hunger."
We will look to facts. Early in the year following that of the Apparition children died in great numbers in the department of the Isere. The disease that carried them off was known as the Suette. A little later this malady became complicated by cholera, and caused, far and wide through out France, immense mortality to infant life. The children about to fall victims to it were first seized with icy coldness, then with trembling, and generally died about two hours after being first attacked.
With respect to the famine predicted we have only to look to statistics. According to the Constitutionnel, an official organ of the Government, as many as 60,000 persons died of hunger in 1854, and as many as 80,000 the following year. The scarcity of food continuing, it was afterwards computed from official documents that in the years 1854, 1855 and 1856 famine made more than 30,000 victims in France.
The prediction at La Salette, that the grapes would rot and that the walnuts would turn bad, were also to have their fulfilment. In 1851 the walnut disease made its appearance. In 1857 a form of vine disease known as oidium had shown itself, and this was followed by other scourges of the viti-culturist, including the phylloxera.
The fulfilment of these prophecies must ever form a strong material argument in favour of the apparition of La Salette.
The new devotion was about to meet with a storm of opposition. Contradictors of every kind were to try to crush it. In this we are justified in seeing one of the surest signs of its being Heaven-born.
MELANIE and Maximin had been under careful religious training for four years, when in 1850 circumstances led to the one-time cowherd lad going in company with others to see the cure of Ars. It was hoped that the far-famed man of God would throw some light upon Maximin's destiny, for hitherto the boy had proved a puzzle to those concerned in him. He remained restless, wayward, and though not without good instincts and a certain quickness of intelligence, and a certainly good heart, seemed incapable of steady application. At times he wished to be a priest and even a missionary, and at other times a soldier.
It was evening when the little party reached Ars. They were at once told by a young priest, Raymond by name, acting as the cure of Ars' vicaire, that Abbe Vianney could not be seen by them until the following day. In the short conversation that ensued between Maximin and the vicaire, about as much harm was done to a holy cause as it was possible to do in the course of a few minutes. This is judging from a merely human standpoint. In reality good was to come out of an apparent evil.
Abbe Raymond happened to be an unbeliever in the Apparition of La Salette, and with as little tact as politeness, he managed to let his views be known at once. After letting the boy explain himself with respect to the event of La Salette, he said abruptly : " I am no believer in that story."
"Very well," said the other hotly; 'Met it be granted then that I am a liar, and that I saw nothing at all on the mountain."
The young priest needed no more than this in order to set the story afloat, which he quickly did, that Maximin had retracted concerning the Apparition. It is, moreover, more than probable that before retiring to rest that night the cure heard the vicaire's version of what had occurred.
During the hours that followed Maximin did not sleep. Having been told that the curd of Ars knew everything, he said to himself: " He will know whether it was the Blessed Virgin I saw or only a phantom." Early the next morning he was kneeling at the cure's feet.
One of the first questions put to him was as to whether he had seen the Blessed Virgin.
"I do not know whether I have seen her," was the reply.  I saw someone—a lady (Une dame.)" "If you know that it was the Blessed Virgin, tell the people so, in order that they may believe in La Salette."
Abbe Vianney took these words to be a retractation on Maximin's part of his statements concerning the Apparition. He did not kno\v, as so many others did, that Melanie and Maximin, when questioned on this subject, had never made any other reply than that they had seen a " beautiful lady." For years this remained their favourite term for expressing  what they had seen. Left to themselves, they would probably never have dared come to a formal conclusion that the " beautiful lady" was the Blessed Virgin. Thus on a track of misunderstanding, the boy and the priest were to continue so for the moment. Whether or not this interview had a sacramental character, Abbe Vianney refused to divulge anything concerning it until later on when he had Maximin's permission to do so.
Maximin, on his side, denied all retractation, adding that the cure of Ars had not been able to hear him well through being deaf, and that he had spoken indistinctly through want of teeth. Almost his first words on returning to Grenoble were :—"Now they speak contemptuously of La Salette; but La Salette is like a flower, which in winter is covered up with dung and rubbish, but which in summer springs forth more beautiful than ever."
We find Maximin shortly afterwards a pupil at the Little Seminary of Grenoble, placed there by his bishop, Mgr. Brouillard. In the meantime, Abbe Raymond, the young vicaire of Ars, with the object of throwing- discredit on the Apparition of La Salette, published an account of Maximin's visit, and sent copies of his pamphlet to numerous members of the clergy. On this the Bishop of Grenoble wrote to the cure of Ars, who, however, refused to discuss the subject of Maximin's interview with him until, as has been said, he had received the boy's permission to do so. The permission was readily given, and M. Melun, arch-priest of Corps, and Abbe Rousselot, of Grenoble, became bearers of the same in written form to Ars, delegated to that effect by their bishop. In his letter Maximin said that M. Vianney must have misunderstood him, if the latter had taken any words of his to mean a retractation of his statements concerning the Apparition.
In his conversation with the two priests, the cure of Ars admitted that he might have been mistaken in his interpretation of the boy's answer to the question as to whether he had seen the Blessed Virgin. A few days afterwards he wrote as follows to the Bishop of Grenoble :—" Monseigneur, I have blessed and distributed a great many pictures representing the event of La Salette ; I have distributed bits of the stone on which the Blessed Virgin was seen seated ; I have often spoken of the Apparition in my sermons. I think, Monseigneur, there are few priests in your diocese who have done more for the devotion than I have. When the little cowherd told me he had not seen the Blessed Virgin, I was ill for two days. After all, Monseigneur, there is no great harm done, for if the affair of La Salette be of God, man will be powerless against it."
About this time, or shortly afterwards, that is, in 1850, Canon Bez, of Lyons, writing to Abbe Rousselot, asked whether it was true that Maximin had retracted in presence of the cure of Ars. In the same letter he said:—" So convinced am I of the truth of the Apparition, that I should be pre pared to defend it even in the case of Maximin's denial. Such a prodigy of falsehood on the part of the two voyants would be more astounding than the miracle of the Apparition, against which all hell is raging." Abbe Rousselot wrote in reply:— "Maximin told M. Vianney exactly what he has been telling us for the last four years, and what you and I after our long and minute enquiries have both written. When questioned, he said that he had seen someone on the mountain—that is, the * belle dame?
"By the words 'someone' he means just what your account and mine mean ; but when the question is put to him as to whether he saw the Blessed Virgin he hesitates in replying 'Yes."
To undo still further the ill effects of this misunderstanding, the Bishop of Grenoble wrote to Mgr. Divie, Bishop of Belley, asking him to interfere in the matter. There were at Belley at the time as guests of Mgr. Divie, Mgr. Chatrousse, Bishop of Valence, and another prelate. These helped to throw light on the question. The result of their deliberations in common was given by Mgr. Divie as follows, in a letter to the Bishop of Grenoble : " We look upon it as certain that the two children (Melanie and Maximin) had not agreed together to deceive the public, and that they really saw someone on the mountain who spoke to them. Was it the Blessed Virgin? Everything points to the conclusion that it was." Mgr. Divie went on to advise the Bishop of Grenoble to build a chapel on the site of the Apparition, in the case of the pilgrimage movement thither continuing.
We will here dwell for a few moments on the cure of Ars' attitude with respect to Maximin. That the evident misunderstanding between him and the lad caused him to have doubts concerning the reality of the Apparition is certain, though not to the extent that enemies pretended. For the following eight years, however, the holy man was at times more or less troubled on the subject. He was known to say in reference to it: "When doubt leaves me, peace returns ; but when the devil casts me back on my doubt, then am I as one dragged along among stones and brambles."
In October of 1858 it began to be said in different quarters that the cure of Ars had quite come back to his former belief in the Apparition of La Salette. It appears that for some little time previously M. Vianney had been subject to great mental distress and interior suffering, from which he had earnestly prayed to be delivered, and that perfect peace arid calm had suddenly come to him on making an act of faith in the Apparition by Mount Gargas. It was, to use his own words, as if his back had been delivered of a sack of lead.
About this time M. Guillemin, Vicar-General of Belley, delegated to this effect, went to see the cure of Ars, with the object of eliciting from him details concerning the change that had come over him relative to La Salette. From his report of the interview we gather the following details: M. Vianney, suffering more intensely one night than usual, and praying more intensely than usual for his deliverance, the thought occurred to him of making an act of faith in the Apparition of La Salette. He said the word Credo, and the effect was instantaneous, his mental anguish ceasing at once. He then asked Heaven to send in his way a priest of the diocese of Grenoble, his object in making the request being no doubt to be able to undo to a certain extent the effect created by his previous state of doubt. The following day a priest of the diocese of Grenoble called on the cure of Ars in his sacristy, and asked him what he thought of the Apparition of La Salette. The cure replied “Not only may it be believed in, but it ought to be believed in.”
M. Vianney afterwards considered himself to be the object of a signal favour on Heaven's part, due to the intervention of Notre-Dame de la Salette.
To return to the body of our subject. Owing to the increase of opposition to the devotion of La Salette, consequent on Maximin's visit to Ars, Cardinal Bonald, Archbishop of Lyons, thought it time to interfere. He proposed that the secrets of which the two voyanls claimed to be in possession should be laid before Pius IX. The Pope having been communicated with on the subject, Cardinal Bonald wrote shortly afterwards to M. Rousselot to the effect that the reputed secrets of La Salette should be revealed to His Holiness.
When Melanie and Maximin, hitherto impervious to all arguments on the subject, understood that the Church had a right to command in such matters, they consented to reveal their respective secrets to the Pope, but to him only, stipulating at the same time that the letters containing these secrets should be sealed by them and given into the hands of His Holiness by the persons whose task it would be to convey the missives to Rome. Accordingly, shortly afterwards, on a day in July, 1851, Melanie and Maximin were to be seen writing at separate tables in a room in the Bishop's palace at Grenoble. Four witnesses were present, but at a distance from the writers, two of these being vicars-general of the diocese.
The girl, by this time nineteen, while writing, asked the meaning of the word infailliblement. She was told that the sense of the word depended on that of other words going before it. Arrivera infailliblement, she said. Presently she asked the meaning of the word souille. The sense of that, too, she was told, depended on the context. Ville souillee, she replied. Her last question was as to the spelling of the word antichrist.
The boy, as he wrote, asked how to spell the word Pontiff. His letter was divided into paragraphs, each numbered. All we know of it is that it began thus :—" Very Holy Father, September 19th, 1846, there appeared to me a lady (Une dame). People say it was the Blessed Virgin. You will judge from what follows."
Of Melanie's letter nothing is known. The Bishop entered, spoke a few words to the boy and the maiden, and blessed them both.
The letters being by this time finished and closed, Mgr. Brouillard sealed them with his arms and gave them into the hands of his vicars-general, M. Melin and M. Rousselot, who were about to proceed to Rome as his delegates in order to lay the documents in question before the Holy Father.
M. Rousselot's account of what took place in Rome relative to this subject is of historic value. He said that Pius IX., before perusing the letters, said :—" I must read these with a clear head," and that the Pontiff then went towards the window to have more light.
"They write with the candour and simplicity of children," were His Holiness' next words.
According to M. Rousselot, as the Pope read, his lips became contracted and his cheeks as if inflated. Having read to the end, he exclaimed : " It is question of calamities that threaten France. But France is not the only culprit. Germany, Italy, and the whole of Europe are likewise deserving of chastisement. I fear open impiety less than I do indifference and human respect. It is not without cause that the Church is called militant. You see here her captain." Pointing to his breast, the Holy Father thus designated himself. He continued, addressing M. Rousselot and alluding to that priest's recent work on La Salette :—"I have had your work read by Mgr. Frattini, Promoter of the Faith, who tells me that he is pleased with it, that it is a good book, and that it breathes truth through out."
Alluding to Mgr. Frattini, M. Rousselot says :— " On my first visit to him he told me that, having attentively read my books on La Salette from beginning to end, as it was his duty to do, he saw no drawback to the Bishop of Grenoble's erecting a chapel of imposing dimensions on the site of the Apparition, or to as many ex voto offerings of gratitude being affixed to the walls of the building thus erected, as there are miracles recorded in my books."
About the same time, Cardinal Lambruschini, Prefect of the Congregation of Rites and Minister of his Holiness, said to M. Rousselot: " For some time past I have been familiar with the affair of La Salette, and as a bishop, I believe in it. Moreover, I know the secrets of Melanie and Maximin, the Pope having made me acquainted with them."
Thus the journey to Ars, which had at first seemed fraught with evil, was already productive of good. The fact of the secrets of La Salette not having been revealed, had up to that time deterred the Bishop of Grenoble from formally pronouncing on the question of the Apparition. Now, this canonical decision of his was not to be long in forthcoming. In the form of a pastoral letter, which had been submitted to Rome for approval, it was read for the first time from the pulpits of the diocese of Grenoble, November loth, 1851. In it Mgr. Brouillard declared that the Apparition of the Blessed Virgin to the two little cowherds at La Salette, a mountain of the Alpine chain, was characterized by all the conditions of truth. He consequently authorized devotion to Notre-Dame de la Salette, and forbade in his diocese any protest against it by word or act.
Five prelates, including the Bishop of Belley, wrote at once to Mgr. Brouillard to congratulate him on the step he had taken, and to promise him their warmest support.
A few months later, Mgr. Bruillard took a further step. In May, 1852, he issued a pastoral letter relative to the laying of the foundation stone of the commemorative building on the site of the Apparition, which in the beginning had been alluded to as a chapel, and which in the end was to assume the proportions of an imposing church. After tracing in brief lines the history of the Apparition, the bishop said that henceforward La Salette, as a site of pilgrimage, would be to the Christian world a " Sion's fortress" —"a city of refuge." He said too that a body of missionaries was about to be instituted, who were to be known as Missionaries of Notre-Dame de la Salette, whose very existence, as well as the building, with the erection of which they were then concerned, would serve as a perpetual remembrance of the merciful Apparition of the Blessed Virgin on the spot. The Bishop of Grenoble was, at that time, eighty-live years of age.
The ceremony of laying the foundation stone of the new building took place on the 25th of the same month, and drew together some twenty thousand persons. Numbers of women were in white, and numbers of men in the garb of penitents. All the previous night crowds had been gathering to the spot. Bands of pilgrims sang as they drew near. Masses at Mount Gargas commenced at one o'clock in the morning and continued, so that by the time the rising sun had flushed the Alpine heights around, three thousand persons had communicated at improvised altars. When day light shed splendour on the scene, the Bishops of Grenoble and Valence, in presence of a reverent multitude, laid the foundation stone of the future church of Notre-Dame de la Salette.
In a pastoral letter relative to the occasion Mgr. Bruillard said: " Seldom since the beginning of Christianity has a bishop been called upon to pro claim the truth of an Apparition of the august Mother of God. Happiness of this kind has been granted us by Heaven."
It had been known in certain circles that Pius IX. was favourable to the cause of La Salette. A succession of Papal Briefs and Rescripts was about to make this truth public. By a Rescript of August 24th, 1852, His Holiness declares the High Altar of the church of La Salette a privileged one in perpetuity ; and by another, dated two days later, he grants permission to all priests who go to La Salette to say a votive Mass of the Blessed Virgin on any day of the year, great festival days and those of the privileged feriae excepted. By a Brief of the same date the Sovereign Pontiff grants to members of the Confraternity of La Salette three plenary indulgences on certain conditions ; by another Brief, dated September 3rd, 1852, a plenary indulgence once a year to all who shall visit the church of La Salette ; and by another, also dated September 3rd, 1852, a plenary indulgence on certain conditions to the faithful who take part in the exercises of the missions preached by the missionaries of La Salette.
There were three more Papal Briefs in the same month, two conferring spiritual powers on the missionaries of La Salette, and one raising the Con fraternity, founded by Mgr. Bruillard soon after the Apparition, to an Arch confraternity, under the title of that of Our Lady of Reconciliation of La Salette.
A great and crowning favour on the part of Rome had yet to come. It came in the form of an Indult of December 2nd, 1852, granting permission to solemnize each year September 19th, the anniversary of the Apparition, in all the churches of the dioceses of Grenoble ; or to celebrate the same the following Sunday by a solemn Mass and the singing of the Vespers of the Blessed Virgin.

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