Today is the feast day of Our Lady of Pontmain. Ora pro nobis.
“But pray, my children. God will answer you very soon. My Son lets His Heart by touched.”
By 1871, France had been devastated by the Franco-Prussian War. Fully three quarters of France lay under the heel of Prussian occupation.
On the starry night of January 17th, in the tiny village of Pontmain, Brittany, Cesar Barbadette and his two sons Joseph and Eugène, aged ten and twelve were finishing up their tasks in the barn. Eugene looked out the window and saw an area free of stars over their neighbor’s house. Suddenly, he saw Our Lady smiling at him. Joseph also saw Our Lady; later as a priest he would recount what he had seen:
She was young and tall of stature, clad in a garment of deep blue, … Her dress was covered with brilliant gold stars. The sleeves were ample and long. She wore slippers of the same blue as the dress, ornamented with gold bows. On the head was a black veil half covering the forehead, concealing the hair and ears, and falling over the shoulders. Above this was a crown resembling a diadem, higher in front than elsewhere, and widening out at the sides. A red line encircled the crown at the middle. Her hands were small and extended toward us as in the ‘miraculous medal.’ Her face had the most exquisite delicacy and a smile of ineffable sweetness. The eyes, of unutterable tenderness, were fixed on us. Like a true mother, she seemed happier in looking at us than we in contemplating.
Although their parents saw only three stars in a triangle, the religious sisters of the parochial school and the parish priest were called over. Two girls, Françoise Richer and Jeanne-Marie Lebosse, aged nine and eleven, also saw the Lady.
The villagers – by now about 60 adults and children – began to pray the Rosary. As they prayed, the visionaries reported that they saw the vision undergo a change. First, the stars on Our Lady’s garment multiplied until her blue garment was almost completely gold. Then with each subsequent prayer, letters appeared to spell out the messages on a banner unfurled at her feet: “But please pray, my children,” “God will soon hear your prayers,” and “My Son is waiting for you”.
As they sang “Mother of Hope”, a favorite regional hymn, Our Lady laughed and joined in. During the singing of “My Sweet Jesus,” a red cross with a Corpus appeared on Mary’s breast and her smile faded to grief. As the villagers sang “Ave Maris Stella” however, the crucifix disappeared, her smile returned, and a white veil covered her, ending the apparition at 9 o’clock. The apparition had lasted for three hours.
That evening, the Prussian troops in sight of Laval stopped at half-past five o’clock, about the time when the Apparition first appeared above Pontmain, just a few miles away. General Von Schmidt, about to move on the city of Laval towards Pontmain, had received orders from his Commander not to take the city.
Schmidt is reported to have said on the morning of the 18th: “We cannot go farther. Yonder, in the direction of Brittany, there is an invisible ‘Madonna‘ barring the way.”
The little village of Pontmain is proof that the earnest prayers of even the smallest parish can effect a turn in history. A year later, on the Feast of the Purification on February 2nd, Pontmain was approved as authentic and confirmed by Pope Pius XI with a Mass and Office in 1872. In 1932, Pope Pius XII granted that the Mother of Hope, the title given to the Apparition, be solemnly honored with a golden crown. Today, pilgrims visit the Basilica of Pontmain as a sign of hope in the midst of war.
Throughout her twenty centuries of Christianity, France has honored the Mother of God in glorious cathedrals and sublime chant. It is also true that in the 800 years since the Dominicans first did battle with the Albigensians, France has been a battleground for the Faith.
In appearing to the young, the lowly and the poor in the past eight centuries, Our Lady has graced France in a special way. Her apparitions, admonitions and gifts have given to the world devotions by which ordinary men and women can attain sanctity: to Jesus through Mary.
Image: Statue de Notre-Dame de Pontmain sur le parvis de la basilique Notre-Dame d’Espérance de Pontmain, photo by GO69. (5)
Research by REGINA Staff