But pray, my children. God will hear you in a short time. My Son allows Himself to be moved (to compassion).
The church was crowded for an all-night vigil. Andrew, the future Saint known as a fool-for-Christ, was there, along with his disciple Epiphanius. At about four in the morning, Andrew and Epiphanius had a vision of the Virgin Mary: She entered through the church doors, escorted by St. John the Forerunner and St. John the Theologian and preceded by a host of angels.
She stopped at the ambo (the great stair-cased pulpit in the center of the church) and knelt there, praying fervently and with tears. She then entered the altar and prayed again and finally removed Her veil and held it out over the faithful as She ascended from them.
They concluded from Her presence that Her intercession would be the protection to the faithful in this hour of trial. And so it happened that the feared military menace was averted.
At the time of the apparition Pontmain
was a small village, inhabited by simple and hardworking country folk,
who were guided by their parish priest Abbé Michel
Guérin. The Barbadette family consisted of father César,
his wife, Victoire, with their two sons Joseph and Eùgene, aged
ten and twelve, and another older boy who was away in the army.
It was the darkest hour of the War of 1870. Prussian armies had invaded a large part of France, and the nation was in complete disarray. On the morning of January 17, 1871, Prussian troops were at the outskirts of Laval in the district of Mayenne. The city will have to pay the heavy military assessment levied against it: three million francs in gold.
On the evening of 17 January 1871, the two boys were helping their father in the barn when the eldest, Eùgene, walked over towards the door to look out.
As he gazed at the star studded sky he noticed one area practically free of stars above a neighbouring house. Suddenly he saw an apparition of a beautiful woman smiling at him; she was wearing a blue gown covered with golden stars, and a black veil under a golden crown.
His father, brother, and a neighbour came out to look and Joseph immediately said he too could see the apparition although the adults saw nothing. The mother, Victoire, came out but she too could see nothing, although she was puzzled because her boys were usually very truthful. She suggested that it might be the Blessed Virgin, and that they should all pray five Our Fathers and five Hail Marys in her honour.
As it was now about a quarter past six, and time for supper, the boys were ordered inside but soon after allowed to go outside again. The Lady was still there and so the local schoolteacher, Sister Vitaline, was sent for. She couldn't see the Lady, and so she went to fetch two young girls from the school to see their reactions.
Immediately after they arrived the two girls aged nine and eleven, expressed their delight at the apparition, describing it as the boys had done earlier.
The adults in the crowd, which had now grown to about sixty people including the priest, could still see nothing and began to say the rosary, as the children exclaimed that something new was happening. A blue oval frame with four candles, two at the level of the shoulders and two at the knees, was being formed around the Lady, and a short red cross had appeared over her heart.
As the rosary progressed the figure and its frame grew larger, until it was twice life size; the stars around her began to multiply and attach themselves to her dress until it was covered with them.
As the Magnificat was being prayed the four children cried out, "Something else is happening." A broad streamer on which letters were appearing unrolled beneath the feet of the Lady, so that eventually the phrase, "But pray, my children," could be read.
Fr. Guérin then ordered that the Litany of Our Lady should be sung, and as this progressed new letters appeared, making the message, "God will soon answer you." As they continued to sing, another message was formed, one that removed any doubt that it was the Blessed Virgin who was appearing to the children; "My Son allows Himself to be moved."
The children were beside themselves with joy at the beauty of the Lady and her smile, but her expression then changed to one of extreme sadness, as she now contemplated a large red cross that had suddenly appeared before her, with a figure of Jesus on it in an even darker shade of red.
One of the stars then lit the four
candles that surrounded the figure, as the crucifix vanished and the
group continued their prayers.
As Sister Mary Edward began the hymn Ave
Maria Stella, the Blessed Virgin lowered Her arms and Her countenance
became bright and happy.
Finally, the visionaries reported that a
great white veil had appeared under Our Lady's feet. It slowly began to
rise up in front of her figure until it covered her from view from the
waist down. After a pause, the veil continued to rise again, until
nothing was seen of her except her face with its beautiful smile. When
her face, too, became hidden, the children let out protestations of
great sadness. Nothing was visible now except the cap-like crown on her
head, the oval, the stars, and the candles. Eventually, all of these
disappeared too. It was approximately 8:45 PM
It was the following morning when the
villagers of Pontmain received the news that the previous night,
Prussian General Schmidt had been ordered to bring his troops back from
Laval at the precise moment he was preparing to overtake it. The time
corresponded with the time of the apparition in Pontmain. More amazing
still, the Prussian soldiers involved in this invasion were astounded
that as they neared the city to capture it, they encountered "a Madonna
guarding the entrance and forbidding us to advance!"
"The rout of fleeing soldiers is
unimaginable. They are deaf to the command of officers. Two of them
have been shot down in their tracks, but this example has had no effect
on the others. In the 39 years that I have been in the service, never
have I found myself in such a distressing situation," writes the
Commander of the 16th Corps.
The troops turned back from Laval, and the city was untouched. Within twelve days the Prussian army had withdrawn all troops and abandoned France.
The Blessed Virgin Mary's visitation
brought the war to an end.
Joseph Barbadette became a priest, a member of the Congregation of the Oblates of Mary Immaculate, while his brother Eùgene became a secular priest. He was assisted by one of the girls who had seen Mary as his housekeeper, with the other, Jeanne-Marie Lebossé, becoming a nun. A large basilica was built at Pontmain and consecrated in 1900.
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