La Salette, a small town of 200 people about 50 miles south of Grenoble, was the site of reported apparitions of the Virgin Mary in 1846. The Shrine of Our Lady of La Salette remains a minor place of pilgrimage today.
History of Shrine of Our Lady of La Salette
On September 19, 1846, about 3:00 in the afternoon, two children in southeast France beheld a vision of the Virgin Mary.
A shepherdess of 15 named Mélanie and a shepherd boy of 11 named Maximin were tending cows on a mountain about three miles distant from the village of La Salette when both of them saw a "beautiful lady" seated and crying, surrounded by light.
The children described the lady as wearing a long white dress, slippers decorated with gold buckles and roses, and a headdress capped with roses. Speaking alternately in French and in the children's native dialect, she gave them a message which they were "to deliver to all her people."
During her message the lady continued to weep and warned, "If my people refuse to submit, I will be forced to let go the arm of my Son. It is so strong and so heavy, I can no longer hold it back." She complained of the loss of faith in the area, the desecration of the Sabbath, and the profanation of her Son's name, saying, "This is what makes the arm of my Son so heavy."
The lady went on to speak of hope of divine mercy if the people amended their lives, and encouraged the children to say their prayers regularly. "You should say them well, at night and in the morning, even if you say only an Our Father and a Hail Mary when you can't do better. When you can do better, say more." Finally, before disappearing she communicated to each of the children a special secret.
Mélanie and Maximin told the villagers what they saw, and the story caused quite a sensation. Several investigations, interviews and reports were performed. Philibert de Bruillard, Bishop of Grenoble, appointed a commission to examine the reports. The commission concluded that the reality of the apparition should be admitted. Soon several miraculous cures took place on the mountain of La Salette, and pilgrimages to the site began.
The miracle was ridiculed by free-thinkers, but it was also questioned among the faithful, especially by ecclesiastics. Strong opposition rose against it in the Dioceses of Grenoble and Lyon, aggravated by what is known as the "incident of Ars."
In response, Bishop de Bruillard declared the apparition of the Blessed Virgin certain, and authorized the cult of Our Lady of La Salette on November 16, 1851. The following year, on May 1, 1852, the bishop decreed the construction of the Shrine of Our Lady of La Salette on the mountain and the founding of the religious order Missionaries of Our Lady of La Salette.
This act subdued, but did not suppress, the opposition, whose leaders retaliated with attacks on the reality of the apparitions. They even asserted that the "beautiful lady" was a young woman named Lamerliere, which gave rise to a widely advertised suit for slander.
Despite ongoing opposition, the first stone of a great church was laid on the mount of La Salette, on May 25, 1852, amid a large assembly of the faithful. This church, later elevated to the rank of a basilica, was served by the Missionaries of La Salette. In 1891 diocesan priests replaced these missionaries, driven into exile by persecuting laws.
As mentioned above, the Blessed Virgin confided to each of the two children a special secret. These two secrets were sent by the children in 1851 to Pope Pius IX on the advice of Bishop de Bruillard. It is unknown what impressions these mysterious revelations made on the pope.
Maximin's secret is not known, for it was never published. Mélanie's secret was published in its entirety in a brochure which she herself had printed in 1879 at Lecce, Italy, with the approval of the bishop of that town. A lively controversy followed as to whether the secret published in 1879 was identical with that communicated to Pius IX in 1851, or in its second form it was not merely a work of the imagination.
As Rome uttered no decision, the strife was prolonged between the disputants. Most of the defenders of Mélanie's text suffered censure from their bishops. St. John Vianney recanted his initial believe in the authenticity of the apparition after meeting Maximin, but later renewed his belief after receiving two favors through the intercession of Our Lady of La Salette.
Neither of the child visionaries led particularly saintly or religious lives after the apparitions. Maximin Giraud fell under the spell of unscrupulous people who used him for his notoriety. He led an unhappy and wandering life, taking a variety of odd jobs. After returning to Corps, his native village, he died on March 1, 1875, at the age of 39.
Mélanie Calvat attempted to live as a Carmelite nun a few times, but eventually returned to the secular world. She began to espouse her own prophecies and mystical dogmas and unsuccessfully tried to develop a personal following. She died at Altamura, Italy, on December 15, 1904, where she was buried under a marble column with a bas-relief of the Virgin escorting the shepherdess into heaven.
What to See at Shrine of Our Lady of La Salette
The shrine of La Salette is located in a high alpine pasture at an altitude of about 6,000 feet, about 9 miles from the nearest town. Now easily accessible by car, bus, and taxi, the shrine operates a hospitality service with a range of accommodations.
The mountain scenery around the shrine is spectacular and it is surrounded by a network of walking trails, making La Salette an ideal place for spiritual retreats and day hikes.
The Basilica of Our Lady of La Salette was begun in 1852, completed in 1865, and designated a basilica in 1879. It is a large, rather austere church, with a facade flanked by two strong towers.
Inside, the basilica's nave is bordered by two rows of Byzantine columns supporting the Romanesque vaulted ceilings. A mosaic of Christ crowns the apse. The transept has three medallions representing the stages of the apparition (the weeping, the message, and the departure). The basilica also includes a small museum documenting the history of La Salette.
Outside the basilica, pilgrims can take a walking path leading to the apparition site, the "Valley of the Apparition." Bronze statues erected in 1864 depict the three stages of the apparition.
Quick Facts on Shrine of Our Lady of La Salette
|Names:||La Salette Shrine · Sanctuary of Our Lady of Salette · Shrine of Our Lady of La Salette|
|Visitor and Contact Information|
|Coordinates:||44.841034° N, 5.974937° E|
|Address:||La Salette, France|
|Phone:||04 76 30 00 11|
|Hours:||Daily 7am-11pm. Open all year, weather permitting, except November.|
|Lodging:||View hotels near Shrine of Our Lady of La Salette|
- Catholic Shrines of Western Europe
- The Pilgrim's France
- Notre-Dame de La Salette - official website
- La Salette - Catholic Encyclopedia (1910)
- Apparitions of Mary at La Salette, France - Apparitions of Jesus and Mary (includes text of the Virgin's messages and Melanie's secret)
- The Secrets of La Salette - Catholic Planet
Map of Shrine of Our Lady of La Salette
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