Marian Shrines and Apparitions

The La Salette Controversy—Part I

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Sanctuary of La Salette

Sanctuary of La Salette and site of the Apparition.

There has always been controversy over the Apparition of the Blessed Virgin Mary at La Salette on September 19, 1846, and in particular over the secret parts of the message of Our Lady. But that controversy came to a head in 1999, when Fr. Michel Corteville discovered the original letters of the two visionaries, addressed to Pope Pius IX in 1851, which had been buried in the Vatican archives for decades. Critics of the various versions of the Secret of La Salette, published by the seers Melanie Calvat and Maximin Giraud in later years, felt vindicated when they learned that the original versions were much shorter. Their triumph was short-lived, however, as Fr. Corteville soon published a thorough and scholarly study of the Apparition and Message of La Salette, which demonstrated that the visionaries intentionally revealed their secrets by degrees—the later versions being logical amplifications of the earlier. The entire story of this controversy, which has been much overshadowed by the controversy over the Third Secret of Fatima, is both fascinating and complex. We shall begin by reviewing the account of the Apparition and public part of the Message, as recounted by Melanie:

The Apparition and Public Message

On the 18th of September (1846), the eve of the Holy Apparition of the Holy Virgin, I was alone, as usual, watching over my Master's cows. Around eleven o'clock in the morning, I saw a small boy walking towards me.  I was frightened at this, for it seemed to me that everyone ought to know that I avoided all kinds of company. This boy came up to me and said: "Little girl, I'm coming with you, I'm from Corps too."

At these words, the natural evil in me soon showed itself, and taking a few steps back, I told him: "I don't want anybody around. I want to be alone."

But the boy followed me, saying: "Come on, let me stay with you. My Master told me to come and watch over my cows together with yours. I'm from Corps."

I walked away from him, gesturing to him that I didn't want anybody around, and when I was some distance away, I sat down on the grass. There, I used to talk with the little flowers of the good God. A moment later, I looked behind me, and there I found Maximin sitting close to me. Straightway he said to me:  "Keep me with you. I'll be very good."

But the natural evil in me would not hear reason.  I jumped to my feet, and ran a little farther off without saying a word and again I started playing with the little flowers of the good God. In an instant, Maximin was there again, telling me he would be very good, that he wouldn't talk, that he would get bored all by himself, and that his Master had sent him to be with me, etc.

This time, I took pity. I gestured to him to sit down, and I kept on playing with the little flowers of the good God. It wasn't long before Maximin broke the silence by bursting into laughter (I think he was making fun of me). I looked at him and he said to me:  "Let's have some fun, let's make up a game."

I said nothing in reply, for I was so ignorant I didn't understand what games with other people were, always having been alone. I played with the flowers, on my own, and Maximin came right up close to me, doing nothing but laughing, telling me the flowers didn't have ears to listen to me and that we should play together instead. But I had no liking for the game he told me to play.  I started talking to him, however, and he told me that the ten days he was to spend with his Master would soon be over and then he would go home to his father in Corps etc. While he was talking, I heard the bell of La Salette; it was the Angelus. I gestured to Maximin to lift his soul up to God. He took off his hat and was silent for a moment. Then I said: "Do you want to have lunch?" "Yes," he replied, "let's eat."

We sat down and I brought out of my bag the provisions my Master had given me. As was my habit, before breaking into my little round loaf, I made a cross with the point of my knife on the bread, and a little hole in the middle, saying: "If the devil's in there, may he leave, and if the good God is in there, may He stay!" and I rapidly covered up the little hole.  Maximin burst into laughter and kicked the loaf out of my hands. It rolled down the mountainside and was lost from sight. I had another piece of bread which we shared.  Afterwards, we played a game. Then, realizing that Maximin must still be hungry, I pointed out a place on the mountainside covered with all kinds of berries. I urged him to go and eat some and he went straight away. He ate some and brought back his hat full of them. In the evening we walked back down the mountain together and promised to come back the next day and watch over our cows together.

The next day, the 19th of September, I met Maximin on the way up.  We climbed up the mountain side together. I discovered that Maximin was a very good, simple boy, and would willingly talk about what I wanted to talk about. He was also very flexible and had no fixed opinions. He was just a little curious, for, when I walked away from him, as soon as he saw I had stopped, he would run over to me to see what I was doing and hear what I was saying to the flowers of the good God. And if he arrived too late, he would ask me what I had said. Maximin told me to teach him a game.  It was already late morning. I told him to gather some flowers for the "Paradise." We set to work together.  Soon we had a number of flowers of various colors. I could hear the village Angelus ringing, for the weather was fine and there wasn't a cloud in the sky. Having said to the good God the prayers we knew, I said to Maximin that we ought to drive our cows on to a small plateau near the gully, where there would be stones to build the "Paradise." We drove our cows to the selected spot and then had our small meal. Then we started collecting stones to build our little house, which comprised of a ground floor, which, so to speak, would be our dwelling, and then a story above which was to be, as we called it, "Paradise." This story was decorated all over with different-colored flowers, with garlands hanging from flower stalks. This "Paradise" was covered by a single large stone which we had strewn with flowers. We had also hung garlands all the way round.  When we had finished, we sat and looked at the "Paradise." We began to feel sleepy and having moved a couple of feet away, we went to sleep on the grass.

The beautiful Lady would later seat Herself on our Paradise, without disturbing it.

When I woke up I couldn't see the cows, so I called Maximin and climbed up the little mound. From there I could see our cows grazing tranquilly; I was on my way down, with Maximin on his way up, when all at once I saw a beautiful light shining more brightly than the sun. I scarcely managed to say these words: "Maximin, do you see what is over there?  Oh! My God!" At the same moment, I dropped the stick I was holding.  I don't know what was happening to me in that wonderful moment, but I felt myself being drawn.  I felt a great respect, full of love, and my heart wanted to run faster than me.

Notre Dame de La SaletteI kept my eyes firmly fixed on this light, which was immobile, and as if it had opened up; I caught sight of another, much more brilliant light which was moving, and in this light I saw a most beautiful Lady sitting upon our Paradise, with Her head in Her hands.

This beautiful Lady stood up; she calmly crossed Her arms while watching us, and said to us: "Come, my children, fear not, I am here to proclaim great tidings to you."

These soft and sweet words made me fly to Her, and my heart desired to attach itself to Her forever.

When I was up close to the beautiful Lady, in front of Her to Her right, She began to speak and from Her beautiful eyes tears also started to flow: "If my people do not wish to submit themselves, I am forced to let go of the hand of My Son. It is so heavy and weighs me down so much I can no longer keep hold of it.

"I have suffered all of the time for the rest of you! If I do not wish My Son to abandon you, I must take it upon Myself to pray for this continually. And the rest of you think little of this.  In vain you will pray, in vain you will act, and you will never be able to make up for the trouble I have taken for the rest of you. I gave you six days to work; I kept the seventh for Myself, and no one wishes to grant it to Me. This is what weighs down the arm of My Son so much.

"Those who drive carts cannot speak without putting the Name of My Son in the midst.

"These are the two things which weigh down the arm of My Son so much.  If the harvest is spoiled, it is only because of the rest of you. I made you see this last year with the potatoes; you took little account of this. It was quite the opposite when you found bad potatoes, you swore oaths, and you included the Name of My Son. They will continue to go bad; at Christmas there will be none left."

At this point, I was trying to interpret the word "potatoes" (pommes de terre): I thought I understood it to be "apples" (pommes). The beautiful and good Lady, reading my thoughts, repeated thus: "You do not understand, my children. I will tell it to you another way.

(The translation of what She then said in the local dialect:)

"If the harvest is spoiled, it does not seem to affect you. I made you see this last year with the potatoes. You took little account of this. It was quite the opposite when you found bad potatoes, you swore oaths, and you included the name of My Son. They will continue to go bad and at Christmas, there will be none left.

"If you have corn, you must not sow it. The beasts will eat all that you sow, and all that grows will fall to dust when you thresh it. A great famine will come. Before the famine comes, children under the age of seven will begin to tremble and will die in the arms of those who hold them. The others will do penance through hunger. The nuts will go bad, the grapes will become rotten."

At this point, the beautiful Lady, who was entrancing me, for a moment did not make herself heard. I could see, however, that She was continuing, as if speaking, to move graciously Her amiable lips. At this moment, Maximin was receiving his secret.  Then, turning to me, the Most Holy Virgin spoke to me and gave me a secret in French…

Then the Holy Virgin gave me, also in French, the Rule of a new religious Order. When She had given me the Rule of this new religious Order, the Holy Virgin continued Her discourse in the same manner : "If they convert, the stones and rocks will change into wheat, and potatoes will be found sown in the earth. Do you say your prayers properly, my children?"

We both replied: "Oh! no, Madame, not so much."

"Oh! my children, you must say them morning and evening. When you can do no more, say a Pater and an Ave Maria; and when you have the time to do better, you will say more.

"Only a few old women go to Mass; in the summer, the rest work all day Sunday and in the winter, when they do not know what to do, they only go to Mass to make fun of religion. During Lent, they go to the butcher's like hungry dogs.

"Have you ever seen any spoilt wheat, my children?"

We both answered: "Oh no, Madame."

The Holy Virgin turned to Maximin, saying: "But you, my child, you must have seen some once near le 'Coin', with your father. The farmer said to your father: 'Come and see how my wheat's gone bad!' You went to see. Your father took two or three ears in his hand, rubbed them, and they fell to dust. Then, on your way back, when you were no more than half an hour away from Corps, your father gave you a piece of bread,  and said: 'Take it; eat it while you can, my son, for I don't know who will be eating anything next year if the wheat is spoiled like that'!"

Maximin replied: "It's quite true, Madame, I didn't remember."

Our Lady of La SaletteThe Most Holy Virgin brought her speech to an end in French: "And so, my children, you will pass this on to all My people."

The most beautiful Lady crossed the stream, and after two more steps, without turning back towards us, who were following Her (for we were drawn to Her by Her brilliance and even more by Her kindness which elated me, which seemed to melt my heart), She repeated to us: "And so, my children, you will pass this on to all My people."

Then, She walked on up to the place where I had gone to see our cows.  Her feet touched nothing but the tips of the grass and without bending them. Once on the top of the little mound, the beautiful Lady stopped, and I hurried to stand in front of Her to look at Her so, so closely, and try and see which path She was most inclined to take. For it was all over for me.  I had forgotten both my cows and the masters I worked for. I had linked myself forever and unconditionally to my Lady. Yes, I wanted never, never to leave Her. I followed Her with no other motive and fully disposed to serve Her for the rest of my life.

In the presence of my Lady, I felt I had forgotten paradise. I thought of nothing more but to serve Her in every way possible; and I felt I could have done everything She could have asked me to do, for it seemed to me that She had a great deal of power.  She looked at me with a tender kindness which drew me to Her. I could have thrown myself into Her arms with my eyes closed. She did not give me the time to do so. She rose imperceptibly from the ground to a height of around a meter or more; and, hanging thus in the air for a split second, my beautiful Lady looked up to Heaven, then down on the earth to Her right and then Her left; then She looked at me with Her eyes so soft, so amiable and so good that I felt She was drawing me inside Her, and my heart seemed to open up to Hers. And as my heart melted away, sweetly gladdened, the beautiful face of my good Lady disappeared little by little. It seemed to me that the light in motion was growing stronger, or rather condensing around the Most Holy Virgin, to prevent me from seeing Her any longer. And thus light took the place of the parts of Her body which were disappearing in front of my eyes; or rather it seemed to me that the body of my Lady was melting into light. Thus the sphere of light rose gently towards the right.

I cannot say whether the volume of light decreased as She rose, or whether the growing distance made me see less and less light as She rose. What I do know, is that I was a long time with my head raised up, staring at the light, even after the light, which kept getting further away and decreasing in volume, had finally disappeared. I took my eyes from the firmament, I looked around me. I saw Maximin looking at me, and I said to him, "Maxi, that must have been the good God of my father, or the Holy Virgin, or some other great saint."

And Maximin, throwing his arms into the air, said: "Oh! If only I had known!"

The evening of the 19th of September, we went back down a little earlier than usual. When I arrived at my master's farm, I was busy tying up my cows and tidying up in the stable, and had not yet finished when my mistress came up to me in tears and said: "Why, my child, did you not come and tell me what happened on the mountain?"

Maximin, not having found his masters who were still at work, had come over to mine and recounted everything he had seen and heard. I replied: "I did want to tell you, but I wanted to get my work finished first."

A moment later, I walked over to the house and my mistress said to me: "Tell me what you have seen. De Bruite, the shepherd (that was the surname of Pierre Selme, Maximin's master), has told me everything."

I began, and towards the middle of the account, my master arrived back from the fields. My mistress, who was in tears at hearing the complaints and threats of our sweet Mother, said: "Ah!  You were going to harvest the wheat tomorrow (Sunday).  Take great care. Come and hear what happened today to this child and Pierre Selme's shepherd-boy." And turning to me, she said: "Repeat everything you have said."

I started again, and when I had finished, my master said: "It was the Holy Virgin or else a great Saint, who has come on behalf of the good God, but it's as if the good God had come Himself. We must do what this Saint said. How are you going to manage to tell that to all Her people?"

I replied: "You tell me how I must go about it, and I will do it."

Then, looking at his mother, wife, and brother, he added: "I'll have to think about that." Then everyone went back to their business.

After supper, Maximin and his masters came over to see my masters and to recount what Maximin had told them, and decide what was to be done. "For," they said, "it seems to us that it was the Holy Virgin sent by the good God.  The words which She spoke convince us of this.  And She told them to pass it on to all of Her people. Perhaps these children will have to travel the world over to make it known that everyone must observe the commandments of the good God, lest great misfortunes come upon us."

After a moment's silence, my master said to Maximin and me: "Do you know what you must do, my children? Tomorrow, you must get up early and both of you go and see the priest and tell him everything you have seen and heard.  Tell him carefully how it all happened. He will tell you what you have to do."

The 20th of September, the day after the Apparition, I left early in the morning with Maximin. When we reached the presbytery, I knocked at the door. The priest's housekeeper came and opened the door and asked us what we wanted. I said to her (in French—I, who had never spoken French), "We would like to speak to Father Perrin."

"And what have you got to say to him?" she asked.

"We wish to tell him, Miss, that yesterday we went up to watch over our cows on Baisses Mountain and after dinner, etc...etc." We recounted a good part of the Most Holy Virgin's words.

Then the church-bell rang: it was the final call for Mass. Father Perrin, the parish priest of La Salette, who had heard us, flung open his door; he was in tears and was beating his chest. He said to us: "My children, we are lost, God will punish us. Ah my God! It was the Holy Virgin who appeared to you!"

And he left to say Holy Mass.  We looked at each other, Maximin, the housekeeper, and I. Then Maximin said to me: "Me, I'm off home to my father in Corps," and we parted company.

As my masters had not told me to return immediately after speaking to Father Perrin, I saw no harm in going to Mass. And so I was in church. Mass began and after the first reading from the Gospel, Father Perrin turned to the congregation and tried to recount to his parishioners the story of the Apparition which had just taken place, the day before, on one of their mountains, and he urged them to stop working on Sundays.  His voice was broken with sobs, and all the congregation was greatly moved. After Holy Mass, I went back to my masters to work.  Mr. Peytard, who still today is the mayor of La Salette came to question me on the Apparition, and when he had made sure that I was speaking the truth, he went away convinced.

I stayed on in the service of my masters until All Saint's Day. Then I was boarded with the nuns of Providence, in my home town of Corps…

The Apparition of Our Lady of La Salette was first approved by the Bishop of Grenoble, Mgr. Philibert de Bruillard, in 1851. Yet, for various reasons, the Apparition and Message of La Salette, and especially the Secrets, have been embroiled in much controversy and even subject to violent attack. In future Issues, we shall see the unfolding of the Secrets, as well as the details of this controversy—details which reveal a true battle between the Woman and the Serpent (Gen. 1).

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