The Blessed Virgin in the nineteenth century. La Salette. part 4

THESE marks of Rome's approval, together with the manifestation that had recently taken place on the mountain, were not calculated to act as a sedative on opponents of the new devotion. Adverse pens were already busy. Almost immediately the first part of a work known as La Salette-Fallwaux appeared, having for object to discredit and falsify everything connected with La Salette, and the author of which was supposed to be a priest, Delion by name, writing under that of " Donadier."
The Bishop of Grenoble lost no time in condemning the work and in passing on the author of it, in the case of the latter's being a priest, sentence of excommunication. He, moreover, on the occasion, addressed a letter to the Univers, which that newspaper published, in which he stated that La Salette-Fallivaux contained as many lies as words.
Shortly afterwards the aged and much-revered prelate resigned his see of Grenoble, and was succeeded by Mgr. Ginoulhiac, who in the matter of La Salette was to tread exactly in his predecessor's footsteps.
The following year the second part of La Salette-Fallivaux appeared. The first part had dealt principally with Maximin's visit to Ars ; the second proved even more imaginative in the matter of falsification and lies. It took for its principal personage Mademoiselle Lamerliere, a lady of good family living at Saint-Marcellin, in the diocese of Grenoble. This person, who was not only elderly, but stout and unwieldy to the last degree, was made to perform the part of the Apparition. She was represented as travelling with extraordinary alacrity from Saint-Marcellin to La Salette, carrying a band-box containing the aerial costume which she was presently to don ; of appearing before the dazzled eyes of the cowherd children, and of speak ing to them in the sublime words of the Apparition which we know ; and then of disappearing slowly from these children's sight, helped in her disappearance by a timely cloud.
This grotesque comedy had grown out of a few inadvertent words spoken by Abbe Lacroix, cure of the Albeve, near Saint-Marcellin, and bitterly regretted by him afterwards, for he happened to be a firm believer in the Apparition of La Salette. Being one day at a social gathering composed of believers in and of opponents of the Apparition, he had proposed that the whole affair should be laid to the charge of Mademoiselle Lamerliere. He had fixed upon this lady as being the person in the world the least able to play the part of an Apparition. At that time Mademoiselle Lamerliere was between fifty and sixty years of age, and so corpulent that when sitting down she had to be helped to rise from her chair. She quickly brought against the priest, Abbe Delion, and others acting with him, an action for defamation of character. The case was given against her on the ground that those against whom she brought the charge had not attempted to injure her reputation. She after wards brought the matter before the Court of Appeal, and with like result. Mademoiselle Lamerliere ended by proving an alibi, showing by legal documents that on the day on which she was said to be on the mountain of La Salette she was in reality at Saint-Marcellin, retained there by important business.
The Bishop of Grenoble on this subject said : " You may say openly, as coming from me, that the story concerning Mademoiselle Lamerliere is the stupidest, coarsest, and most openly contradicted by facts that has ever been invented by human malignity and bad faith."
In the year in which the second part of La Salettc-Fallivaux appeared, ecclesiastical authority refrained from noticing it. The next year another book of similar bearing made its appearance, from the pen of Abbe Cartellier, cure of St. Joseph's, Grenoble, and was entitled, La Salette devant le Pape.
The Bishop now thought fit to speak. In a pastoral letter, dated September 3oth, 1854, he condemned La Salette devant le Pape, on the ground that it contained propositions erroneous, rash, and scandalous, subversive of order and of ecclesiastical government, favouring Presbyterianism, and already condemned explicitly or implicitly by two Popes. The faithful were for bidden to read the book under pain of excommunication. The two volumes of La Salette-Fallivaitx were included in the same condemnation.
A month later Mgr. Ginoulhiac issued another pastoral letter, having for object the refutation of another work from the mischievous pen of Abbe Delion. In the meantime the Bishop had written to Rome for advice. Pius IX., in reply, said that as Mgr. Ginoulhiac was in possession of the documents and facts, on the strength of which his predecessor in the see of Grenoble had pronounced in favour of the reality of the Apparition, there was no objection to the present prelate examining the subject afresh, and proving it a second time to the public.
Accordingly in a document in the form of a pastoral letter, dated November 4th, 1854, the Bishop of Grenoble put forth in battle array the proofs on which the Apparition at La Salette had been recognised as true by ecclesiastic authority, and then, in the most convincing and masterly manner possible, refuted all the arguments brought against it. He even dealt with the oft-repeated objection respecting the failings, real or imaginary,
of the cowherd children, Melanie and Maximin. On the supposition that these two might be less humanly perfect than the world would have them, he said : " Who does not know that, according to the testimony of the Gospel and of all theologians, graces of this kind may be granted to persons totally unworthy of them, and that this may be more especially the case when the immediate object in the bestowal of these graces is not so much to sanctify the recipients of them as to serve as warning and instruction to others?" "Who does not know, too," continued the Bishop, " that we may make an evil use of Divine revelations, and even of those that concern us personally?" In conclusion, Mgr. Ginoulhiac condemned the Memoire du Pape sur VAffaire de la Salette as injurious to the Holy See and contrary to the canons of the Church, to the decrees of the Council of Lyons, and to the statutes of the diocese.
Shortly afterwards, at the ceremony of the opening of the first chapel of the Missionaries of La Salette, at Grenoble, Mgr. Ginoulhiac, after alluding to the many marks of approval which his predecessor, Mgr. Bruillard, had received from the Holy See, respecting devotion to Notre-Dame de la Salette, said that he too had had many and striking proofs from Rome to the same effect. "In the letters which the Sovereign Pontiff has written to us on the subject," he continued, " he strongly urges us to maintain this devotion, which flourishes so happily amongst us, to spread it more and more, and above all to defend it against the attacks of its enemies.
On the 19th of the following September, which was the ninth anniversary of the Apparition, Mgr. Ginoulhiac said in presence of an immense assembly of pilgrims on the mountain : — " Go back to your homes and proclaim everywhere the truth of the Apparition. Assert your belief in it. Let all know your conviction on the subject. Fear nothing. The Blessed Virgin will be with you." It was on this occasion that the Bishop of Grenoble said in reference to Melanie and Maximin : " The mission of the cowherd children is at an end, and that of the Church begins. They (Melanie and Maximin) may go their way and be lost sight of ; they may even prove unfaithful to a great grace received; but the fact of the Apparition will not be shaken on that account. It is certain, undeniable, and nothing henceforward will be able to militate against it."
IN May, 1854, Dr. Ullathorne, Bishop of Birmingham, paid a visit to La Salette, in the company of two other Englishmen, and remained there four days. He tells us that on an average about sixty pilgrims a day arrived on the spot, and on Sundays more than a thousand. The meaning, sweetness, and simple grandeur of the religious ceremonies there seem to have been borne in upon his inmost soul. On the evening of his arrival, grouped with pilgrims and clergy around the by this time famous spring, he was induced to give, in French, expression to his feelings. He calls his mode of utterance on the occasion uncouth. Whether it was so or not, it caused some near him to shed tears. The following day, the Feast of the Ascension, when the pilgrims were gathered in the ravine of the Sezia, the men on one side of the Fountain and the women on the other, and singing verses, to which the hills responded, the effect was sufficiently impressive to cause one of Dr. Ullathorne's English companions to exclaim : "Oh, that the English could see what takes place here ! Protestantism is a cruel unbelief!"
The great petition, voiced shortly before by Bishop Wiseman, for prayers on the continent for England's conversion, had made its way to this remote spot,and on this occasion our three English pilgrims not only heard their country prayed for at La Salette, but heard also the mountains around distinctly echo the words, " Prions pour la conversion de lAngleterre"
The Bishop of Birmingham had previously had, at Corps, an interview with Melanie, who though not yet twenty-three years of age, was already a professed nun under the name Sister Marie de la Croix. Dr. Ullathorne was favourably impressed by her, and seems especially to have been struck by her modest religious demeanour. He noticed the gleam in her lustrous dark eyes, and something in her face which told of interior suffering, as if, to use his own words, she had tasted of the Cross.
The echo of a remarkable cure which had taken place at La Salette not long before, still lingered on the mountain at the time when the three English visitors were there. It was that of Mademoiselle Marie Lau/Air, of the town of St. Cere, in the department of the Lot, who at the time of which we write was a pupil of the Visitation Convent of Valence. She was then eighteen years of age. She had from childhood been troubled by weak and short sight, but had nevertheless, by the help of strong glasses, been able to do much as others did, until April i7th, 1852.
On that day she suddenly lost the power of sight in one eye, and on the following day became quite blind. Dr. Dupre de Loire, her medical attendant, declared her to be suffering from amaurosis, and held out no hope of recovery. So complete was the paralysis that the open eyeballs proved perfectly insensible to light and touch.
Mademoiselle Lauzur struggled bravely against her state for two months, learning in the meantime to guide her movements by the sense of touch as do the totally blind. Hope was not dead within her, however, for she had been turning her thoughts towards the mountain of La Salette. She wished to go there on a pilgrimage, and, moreover, to perform the pilgrimage, not only as an act of faith and hope, but also as one of penance. In short, she wished to go there on foot. This was impossible ; but what she did do was to walk from the town of Saint-Marcellin to La Salette, a distance of about 75 miles. She arrived at her destination July 1st, accompanied by two nuns and drenched to the skin, having encountered rain, wind, and fatigue of every kind in her toilsome ascent of the mountain. In her strong and child-like faith she believed that she was about to recover her sight the following day, the Feast of the Visitation. Instead of stopping to take food and change her clothes, she went at once into the temporary chapel, and a few minutes afterwards received the Blessed Eucharist at the hand of the Rev. Pere Sebillat, of the recently-instituted Congregation of Missionaries of La Salette. Great was the marvel that was taking place. Sight was restored to the blind girl then and there ! Mademoiselle Lauzur could not speak at first, so great was her emotion. After a few minutes she exclaimed : " I see ! I see ! " The first object she saw was the statue of the Blessed Virgin. Her cure proved as complete as it had been instantaneous. She returned to her convent with a better sight than she had ever had before, and no longer needing the help of glasses. This cure is attested by fifty-five witnesses, by the members of the Visitation community of Valence, and by Mademoiselle Latizur's medical men, the different documents of attestation being signed by the Bishop of Valence.
In 1860 Mgr. Bruillard died at the age of ninety-five, after expressing the wish that his heart might have its place in the church on the mountain in honour of Notre-Dame de la Salette, towards the erection of which he had clone so much.
As since 1846 the until-then intermittent spring by Mount Gargas, known as the Petite Fontaine, had not for a single hour ceased to flow, so the course of graces and cures reputed to be miraculous had continued without interruption.
One of the remarkable cures belonging to the ten years between 1860 and 1870 is that of a young nun known as Sister Marie de Saint-Victor, of the Congregation of Marie Reparatrice. We find this lady in the spring of 1867 at the Chateau of Preole, in Belgium, the residence of her uncle, the Comte d'Outremont. She had been taken there in a deplorable state of health by her mother, the Superioress-general of the Congregation of Marie-Reparatrice. She was then twenty-four years of age. She had been ill for six years, during which time some of the best medical skill in London, Paris, and Liege had been applied to her case in vain. She was suffering from paralysis of the spine.
At the time of which we write she was not only unable to move in her bed, but had to lie day and night in an iron apparatus, because of the extreme weakness of her back. Her nights were sleepless, and she was subject to paroxysms of pain of intense violence.
A novena to Notre-Dame de la Salette was begun for her, the sufferer joining in it in fact, though in spirit she had previously made the sacrifice of her life to God.
Towards the end of the nine days she appeared to be better, but before another week had passed she had relapsed into worse than her former state, her condition becoming complicated by tetanus. But neither mother nor daughter lost hope.
The first novena was followed by a second, which was joined in not only by the different com munities of the Congregation of Marie-Reparatrice, but by other religious houses as well. In the meantime Sister Marie de Saint-Victor got visibly worse. On the last day but one of the second novena she had an attack of tetanus of great violence, and her fingers, on which her teeth had closed, were drawn bleeding from her mouth. Those around thought that death was near. The sufferer sent word to her mother, who was ill in the same room, to let her know whether she thought there was still ground for hope. The mother's answer was in the affirmative. " Nor have I any doubt," said the daughter ; ''only, being so ill, I needed this assurance." A terrible night followed. The next morning (Feast of the Annunciation), being at the lowest possible ebb, and fearing another attack of tetanus, the all but dying nun expressed a wish to receive the Blessed Eucharist. She also sent a message to her mother to the effect that the latter was not to forget to call her and to tell her to get up. To this the mother replied : " Fear not, my child ; I will call you."
Shortly before seven o'clock the Sacrament of the Altar entered this bed-chamber where life and death were struggling. When the young religious had received the Viaticum of the dying, mother and daughter prayed together and with all the intensity of faith of which they were capable.
After a little while the elder lady felt impelled to tell her daughter to rise. She wished to obey the impulse yet dared not do so. In her perplexity and hesitation she turned in thought to her whom she and the sufferer near her were continually invoking as Notre-Dame de La Salette ; and from her heart came the words in all simplicity : "I have confidence in you, O my Mother. Tell me when to call her and I will do so.' 1 Hardly had this prayer been framed and uttered than she seemed to see by her daughter's bed the figure of the Blessed Virgin, resplendent in light and as represented according to the Apparition at La Salette. At the same time she seemed to hear the words : " Call her, I will raise her up" ("Appelle-la ; je la soulcverai"). " Pia," she said, no longer hesitating, and calling her daughter in a firm voice.
The daughter was up in a moment, and in another moment in her mother's arms. Suffering was gone ; she had recovered the use of her limbs. Both, locked in a close embrace and shedding tears, blessed God. The sufferer of six years' standing, who just before had been thought to be dying, was suddenly well and able to dress herself. She assisted that morning at Mass at the parish church, where the Te Deum was sung in thanksgiving for her recovery. She at once resumed her former mode of life, and, in short, was radically cured. The facts of her case were related at length in a letter written by the Bishop of Liege to the Bishop of Grenoble, dated September 1st, 1867.
Two cases belonging to this period, and typical of a certain class of phenomenal cures, tempt the pen. One is that of a girl of fourteen, and comes to us authenticated by the testimony of a parish priest, speaking as an eye-witness, and by that of Abbe Guerdon, Vicar-General of the diocese in which the remarkable cure occurred. The priest is M. L. Colliere, honorary canon, and, in 1868, the time to which we refer, cure of Saint-Pierre-du-Centre, the town in Martinique, which has since been destroyed by one of the most terrible catastrophes recorded in history. The girl in question, Amante Marie-Louise, whose surname is not given, and whose ordinary appellation was " Louise," was his parishioner. She had been for fifteen months ill, and during the previous ten completely paralysed. In the spring of 1868 she was sharing with her mother, also ill, a room in an asylum, which had lately been opened for the poor of the town in connection with the Conference of St. Vincent of Paul. The girl being gentle and patient, unable to move, with her lower limbs much wasted, was an object of general sympathy. She was in the habit of being lifted daily from her bed to a sofa by a window. Medical skill proving in her case of no avail, her mother made, in order to obtain her recovery, a novena in honour of Notre-Dame de la Salette. This novena over, she began another. In the meantime, her own condition becoming worse, she had to receive the last Sacraments.
This did not prevent her from continuing to hope and to pray for her daughter's cure, firmly believing as she did that this cure would be effected before the end of May.
On the 13th of the month and the third day of the second novena, Louise, on her sofa by the window, to which she had just before been carried like a child, suddenly exclaimed : "Mother, some one is lifting me up." Her voice trembled with emotion.
" Hold your tongue, silly one," said the mother. " Don't move, or you may fall and break an arm or leg."
Six days later, from the same spot, on the last day of the novena, the girl cried out in a tone of fright: "Mother, mother, someone is lifting me up ! Someone is holding me by the waist ! Look, I am being carried, mother ! O my God ! my God ! "
The mother, apparently ill unto death, said : " My child, it is the Blessed Virgin, who is curing you. Get up, and come to me."
By this time Louise was standing upright, but trembling and pale as death. She dared neither walk nor sit down. She felt that she was being held up as by an invisible hand. After a few moments she rushed towards the bed whereon her mother lay, and from which she herself had been lifted helpless shortly before. The two, clasped in each other's arms, mingled their tears of joy and gratitude.
It was not long before a crowd had collected outside. "A miracle!" cried the people. "Let us go to the church and give thanks to Notre-Dame de la Salette."
Walking with a firm step and without help, and accompanied by the throng, Louise went at once to the neighbouring church and to the chapel within, dedicated to Notre-Dame de la Salette.
The parish priest, Abbe L , coming on the scene, found his church full. Confronted with the girl in whom such a wonderful change had just taken place, he listened to the details of her case put forth by her, as he tells us, with angelic simplicity. In his report of the affair to the Vicar-General of the diocese, he says : "The next morning she came to church to assist at a Mass of thanks giving." M. Guerdon, the Vicar-General, writing in reply from the residence of the Bishop of Saint-Pierre and of Fort de France, said : " Having read your report of the marvellous event which took place in your parish on the 2ist of last month, I cannot but recognise in it the undoubted intervention of that good and tender Mother who, like her Divine Son, prefers revealing herself to the poor and simple. Your account exactly corresponds with what I have heard within the last few days from the young girl herself and her mother, who told me, moreover, that a large swelling on one of the hips disappeared at the time of the cure, leaving no trace behind it."
Another cure belonging to the same class is that of Pascaline Godefroy, who, in the spring of 1866, became an inmate of the hospital of Seez, in the department of the Orne. She was at the time twenty years of age, and had been ill for the previous two years, suffering from gastralgia and dyspepsia in their worst forms. Such was her weakened condition that she was unable to leave her bed, and had to be lifted from and into it like a child. Medical skill had done and continued to do its best for her, but without affording her any relief. The spring and summer of 1866 passed, and she remained in the same state.
It was the custom in the establishment to celebrate with great devotion the anniversary of the Apparition on the mountain of La Salette, the celebration being preceded by a novena of devotional exercises, which took place in the hospital chapel and around the statue of Notre-Dame de la Salette. Abbe Godbout, the hospital chaplain at the time, was to the front in this devotion.
September 19th was drawing near. Pascaline Godefroy, entering into the spirit of those around her, began to hope again and to pray for her recovery. When the novena commenced, she began taking part with the rest in the daily devotions, dragging herself to the chapel, though with difficulty. The morning of the eighth day from that time found her in as helpless a condition as at the beginning. She was in the chapel. Mass was going on. The hospital chaplain, acting as officiating priest, had more difficulty than usual in administering to her the Blessed Sacrament as she sat stiff and helpless in her armchair. Had the end come then, it would not have surprised him, as he afterwards said.
After communicating, the girl seems to have lost all sense of what was going on around her. This state lasted for about a quarter of an hour, at the end of which time she was alone in the chapel, with the exception of two or three old people and the chaplain, who was kneeling a few paces behind her. Here comes in the phenomenal side of her case. She who could not kneel was being made to kneel—being pushed, as she herself says, as by an invisible hand. According to her statement, she felt that her legs were being bent, and that she was being forced on her knees on the stone step in front of her. In this attitude she remained some seconds. Then rising and going towards the chaplain she said to him : " I am cured !"
"Give thanks to God, my child," replied the priest, who, in his official account, admits to having been about as surprised to see the girl standing beside him as he would have been by the appearance of a ghost. In truth, Pascaline Godefroy was cured, and radically so. A few minutes afterwards she laid her crutches by the altar of Notre-Dame de la Salette, before which she had prayed, before which she had been so mysteriously impelled to kneel, and before which she had completely regained the use of her limbs.
The last two days of the novena were, in the hospital, days of triumph and thanksgiving. The details of this case were published at the time in the Annales de Notre-Dame de la Salette.
By this time the church on the mountain of La Salette had not only been growing in beauty and dimensions, but it could also look on a conventual establishment that had risen beside it for its body of missionaries.
In 1867 it was endowed with three fresh bells, having up to that time made its voice heard by a single one. The year before a subscription had been opened by the Catholics of Belgium, having at their head the Cardinal Archbishop of Malines, with the object of presenting a pulpit to the commemorative church of Notre-Dame de la Salette. Accordingly, shortly afterwards a magnificent pulpit of sculptured Russian oak made its way to the church by Mount Gargas, having upon it the inscription : "This monument is the gift of the Belgian Episcopate and of Belgian Catholics."
About this time, too, a beautiful high altar rose in the choir with a series of bas-reliefs telling the different phases of the Apparition. Altar vessels of suitable richness being wanting, the need was quickly supplied by a massive gold chalice and monstrance studded with gems, which gems had a previous history. They had been offered at the shrine of La Salette at different times by pilgrims and votaries as acts of thanksgiving. The diamond cross surmounting the cup of the chalice was the gift of the de Maistre family. The chalice, itself of solid gold and of 4lbs. weight, was set with four hundred gems, for the most part emeralds and diamonds. This chalice and monstrance were long considered the richest in France.
The munificence of private Catholics did not stop here. A missal, worthy of the altar on which it was to have place, was given by the Comte de Pennalver. It was set in gold, richly enamelled, and cost 9,000 francs.
WE are in 1872, a date of mark in the annals of the devotion to Notre-Dame de la Salette. That year saw the first French National Pilgrimage so-called, the site on which the pilgrims gathered being the mountain of La Salette. The day fixed for the great assemblage was August 2ist. It was then that was formed, under the auspices of the Augustinians of the Assumption, the French Pilgrimage Committee, which in the matter of organising pilgrimages has given from then till now such prolific results.
In this vigorous movement we see something of a new life-blood coursing through the veins of French Catholics ; it was as if the heart of Catholic France revivified was asserting itself in a religious sense.
In this first National Pilgrimage we see a splendid start given to the great pilgrimage movement of the last thirty years. Pilgrimages were, in a religious sense, to shed a lustre on the closing decades of the nineteenth century and brilliantly open the twentieth. During the years that have elapsed since the first National Pilgrimage, Lourdes and Paray-le-Monial have had their thousands upon thousands of pilgrims ; new shrines have arisen and old ones have been restored to their former splendour ; and, in short, the world has been brought face to face with the revival of a phase of mediaeval Catholicism in all its freshness. Never have a statesman's words received a more complete contradiction from facts than those of M. Thiers when he said : " Lcs pelerinages nc sou t plus daus uos mccitrs"
Though this splendid revival of an old-world form of Catholic devotion belongs especially to the last thirty years, it cannot be said, properly speaking, that the great pilgrimage movement of the age dates from after the Franco-German war. It had really begun twenty-six years before on the mountain of La Salette.
By this time Mgr. Ginoulhiac had been translated to the archiepiscopal see of Lyons and had been succeeded in the see of Grenoble by Mgr. Paulinier, whom we see presiding at the great manifestation at La Salette, August 2ist, 1872.
Preaching on that occasion to the assembled pilgrims in the open air and from the acclivity whence the Apparition had ascended, Mgr. Paulinier said: "The reality of the Apparition at La vSalette is borne witness to by this church, the towers of which vie in majesty with the rocks around, and by the monastery which has grown up beside it, and by the multitudes of people who come here from the north, south, east, and west." Three hundred priests, representing fifty-two dioceses of France, were around the Bishop as he spoke, and each had that morning celebrated the Holy Sacrifice on the mountain.

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