February 11 marks her feast day
Of the fifteen apparitions of the Virgin Mary officially confirmed by the Holy See through the world, fully one-third have occurred in France. The history of Marian apparitions in France begins in 1208. Until her last appearance in 1871, Mary appeared in turn to a Spanish friar in the south of France, a teenage shepherdess in the French Alps, two cloistered nuns in Paris, two young cowherds in the Alps, a simple girl in the foothills of the Pyrenees and a group of villagers in the path of an advancing Prussian army.
The Apparition of the Rosary
Our Lady first appeared to religious founder Dominic Guzman in 1208 in the Church of Prouille, in Languedoc, France, considered the “cradle of the Dominicans.” Legend has it that Saint Dominic received the Rosary there, which became the tool of the Dominicans in battling the Albigensian heresy, rife in that area.
1664: The Visions of a Teenage Shepherdess
Mary did not appear again until more than 450 years later, this time in the small Alpine village of Laus. It was in May of 1664, while tending her sheep and praying the Rosary, that the 17 year-old shepherdess Benôite Rencurel first beheld a lady in dazzling white, carrying a child. When she naively invited the Lady to share her hard bread, the Lady "smiled silently and disappeared into a cave."
For the next few months, the Lady appeared to Benôite each day. The Lady’s message was to "pray continuously for sinners." She revealed her name as "Mary — Reconciler and Refuge of Sinners." She instructed Benôite to go to the ancient Chapel of Notre Dame de Bon Recontre ("Our Lady of Good Encounter") where a sweet perfume would be emanating from the oil in the sanctuary lamp. This oil, the Lady said, would work miracles for those who received the anointing with faith.
In 1665, Benôite’s diocese recognized her apparitions. Construction of a small chapel was begun for Eucharistic Adoration and to receive penitents. Four years later, Benôite began seeing apparitions of the Suffering Christ; for ten years the visions told her that she would become a victim soul participating in his Passion. For two decades following, she suffered various illnesses. She died at 71, continually visited by Our Lady.
In May of 2008, the Holy See announced its official recognition of the apparitions. The shrine at Laus is under the care of the Community of St. John, who are dedicated to the Sacrament of Confession. For anyone who wishes, healing oil is available from the sanctuary lamp for a small offering via the Sanctuary website. A cause for sainthood has been opened for Benôite .
1830: The Miraculous Medal and Paris in Flames
Almost 120 years later, Our Lady appeared to the young novice Catherine Labouré in the Daughters of Charity chapel on Rue de Bac in Paris. The year 1830 was a dangerous one for France. Paris was in turmoil, as the July Revolution had unseated one monarch and set adrift unemployed, angry workers manning more than 4000 barricades throughout the city.