Our Lady of Pontmain
by Br. Robert Cook, ofm conv.
In September, participants in the MI International Pilgrimage to Lourdes attended Mass in the great churches of France: the Cathedrals of Notre Dame, Rennes and Amiens, Mont-Saint-Michel, Rue du Bac and, of course, the Lourdes Grotto. However, for many of the pilgrims, the most memorable Mass occurred in the simple country chapel of Pontmain, above which Our Lady appeared on January 17, 1871.
Our Lady's visit occurred at the height of the Franco-Prussian War. Pontmain lay between the oncoming Prussian invaders and the city of Laval. With the sound of gunfire in the distance, two young brothers, Eugene and Joseph Barbadette, were pounding animal feed with their father when they saw a beautiful woman above the village church. Years later, an adult Joseph (who became a priest) recounted:
She was young and tall of stature, clad in a garment of deep blue, like balls of indigo such as laundresses use for rinsing linen. 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 her.
A crowd gathered to pray as word quickly spread among the anxious villagers. Children saw the beautiful Lady, and gleefully pointed up to her. Adults, however, only saw three stars form-ing a triangle! As they prayed the Rosary, the children saw the garment's stars multiply until it was almost entirely gold. Next, the children saw a banner unfurl beneath the Lady. Slowly, a mes-sage appeared: "But pray, my children. God will hear you in time. My Son allows Himself to be touched." Upon hearing the message read aloud, the crowd spontaneously began the hymn "Mother of Hope." As they sang, Our Lady laughed and joined in the singing.
The children squealed with delight as her hands kept time with the music, conducting their song. When the crowd began "My Sweet Jesus," her expression changed to profound sadness and a red crucifix appeared in her hands, with the words "Jesus Christ" above it. Her eyes mournfully contemplated the cross during the hymn. As the people sang the "Ave Maris Stella," the cross vanished and her smile returned, though with a touch
of melancholy. Two small white crosses then appeared on her shoulders before Our Lady disappeared behind a cloud.
The apparition lasted for three hours. In that time, the people of Pontmain heard a lessening in the distant sounds of war. During the evening, the Prussians ceased their advance and, twelve days later, the war ended. Just as Our Lady promised, God heard their prayers for peace. Devotion rapidly spread under the title Our Lady of Hope of Pontmain and, in 1900, the Bishop consecrated a magnificent Cathedral commemorating the apparition. The tiny chapel over which she appeared remains nearby in its original state.