OUR LADY OF PONTMAIN
On January 17, 1871, Paris was besieged—two-thirds of
the country was in the power of the Germans. The battle of Le Mans had
laid Mayenne and Brittany open to the invaders. In this time of direst
trouble, prayer was rising from different parts of France as from one
heart and from one voice, most earnestly near that spot where the invader’s
next attack was expected. This spot was Laval, chief town of Mayenne.
Then it was that Pontmain, a hamlet of some five
hundred inhabitants, was to become for ever memorable, because of the
heavenly favor vouchsaved that night. Even its geographical position on
the borderland between Brittany and Mayenne was to assume historical
importance. Seen by the light of the celestial drama about to be enacted
above it, it was to appear as a sentinel guarding Brittany.
One of the children, Joseph Barbadette, to whom the
vision was vouchsafed on this night, afterwards became a priest of the
Congregation of the Oblates of Mary Immaculate and described the
apparition as follows:
"In the air, seven or eight metres above Augustin
Guidecoq’s house, I saw a woman of extraordinary beauty. She appeared to
be young—about eighteen or twenty years of age—and tall of stature.
She was clad in a garment of deep blue. When we were told to describe
exactly the shade of this blue, we could only do so by comparing it to
balls of indigo such as laundresses use for rinsing linen. Her dress was
covered with gold stars, pentagonal in form, all of the same size, and
brilliant, but without emitting rays. They were not very numerous, and
seemed to be scattered over the blue without regard to method. The blue
garment was ample, showing certain strongly marked folds, and without
girdle or compression of any kind from neck to the feet. The sleeves were
ample and long, falling over the hands. On the feet, which the dress left
uncovered, were chaussons of the same blue as the dress, and
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 gold crown resembling a diadem, higher in front than
elsewhere, and widening out at the sides. A red line, from five to six
millimetres wide, encircled the crown at about the middle. The hands were
small and extended toward us as in the ‘miraculous medal,’ but without
emitting rays. The face was slightly oval. To the freshness of youth was
added the most exquisite delicacy of feature and of tint, the complexion
being pale rather than otherwise. Smiles of ineffable sweetness played
about the mouth. The eyes, of unutterable tenderness, were fixed on us. I
give up further attempting to describe the beautiful figure of her who
looked down upon us and smiled. Like a true mother, she seemed happier in
looking at us than we in contemplating her."
The four children were Joseph Barbedette and his
brother Eugene, Francoise Richer, and Jeanne-Marie Lebrosse. Augustine
Mouton, a third little girl, saw nothing. The little boys had been in the
barn with their father breaking up furze for the cattle.
"Pray, my children; God will soon answer your
prayers," was the message of the Blessed Virgin, conveyed in words of
gold on a band of glowing white light.
On the evening of the ever-memorable January 17, 1871,
the commander of the Prussian forces, having taken up his quarters at the
archepiscopal palace of Le Mans, said to Mgr. Fillion, bishop of that
diocese: "By this time my troops are at Laval."
On the same evening, however, the Prussian troops in
sight of Laval stopped at half-past five o’clock, about the time when
the apparition first appeared above Pontmain, a few miles off. General
Schmidt is reported to have said on the morning of the 18th:
"We can not go farther. Yonder, in the direction of Brittany, there
is an invisible Madonna barring the way."
This sudden and inexplicable stopping of the German
forces in sight of Laval, and their equally inexplicable retirement the
following morning, meant, together with the saving of Brittany, the
turning back of the tide of conquering soldiery from that part of France.
The war was practically at an end. Twelve days later the armistice was
signed at Versailles.
After that the devotion to the Blessed Virgin under the
title of that of Notre Dame d’Esperance de Pontmain, Our Lady of
Hope of Pontmain, was authorized by the ecclesiastical authorities, and
the confraternity of that name has been extended all over the world.
Signal favors, both spiritual and temporal, have been granted by heaven
through it. What message, indeed, can be more consoling to hearts in the
midst of hardship and tribulation everywhere, than the tender promise of
the Blessed Mother, "Pray, my children; God will soon answer your
(From The Glories and Triumphs of the Catholic
Church, Benzinger Brothers, 1907.)