THE SECRET OF LA SALETTE
Account of the apparition of
Our Lady of La Salette
BY FR. GIRAY, MISSIONARY OF LA SALETTE
(Le mois de Marie de La Salette, pilgrim’s booklet, 1911)
IT was Saturday September 19, 1846, last of the Ember Days and the eve of the feast of Our Lady of Seven Sorrows, at about three o’clock in the afternoon : there were no clouds in the sky, no mist in the air… At that moment – beneath a radiant sun making all illusion or trickery impossible – a wonder took place on the mountain of La Salette at an altitude of 1800 metres, in the presence of two little shepherds : a “ beautiful Lady ” suddenly appeared before the wondering eyes of Pierre-Maximin Giraud and of Françoise-Mélanie Calvat-Mathieu. The two children, one of whom was eleven and the other nearly fifteen years old, were born at Corps, having in common only their place of origin, their poverty, their ignorance and even their occupation. But they were of very different character : the little boy was as boisterous, fickle and outward-going as the little girl was sullen, melancholic and taciturn. On the other hand, they were both carefree. Thus Maximin would eat all his day’s provisions in the morning, sharing them with his dog ; and if asked how he was going to eat for the rest of the day, he would say, “ But I am not hungry ! ” As for Mélanie, she would sleep in the stable in rain soaked clothes, or even in the mountains on freezing nights.
Moreover, the two children scarcely knew each other ; Mélanie, who was four years older than Maximin, had been “ in service ” since the age of seven or eight, and as a consequence Maximin did not even suspect her existence. After having stayed successively at Quet-en-Beaumont, at Sainte-Luce, at Saint Michel…, Mélanie had been with Baptiste Pra, a farmer at La Salette, the hamlet of Ablandens, since the month of March 1846. Maximin was also “ in service ” in the same village, with Pierre Selme, but he had only been there since Monday, September 14, 1846. The previous day, Pierre Selme had gone to Corps to “ hire ” a replacement for his professional shepherd who was absent owing to sickness and who was later inconsolable at not having been there on the day of the Apparition… The master, therefore, came to see the wheelwright Giraud to ask if he could temporarily “ hire ” his little boy to watch over his four cows. It was agreed, and Maximin became a casual shepherd.
He met Mélanie for the first time only on Thursday evening of September 17. Pierre Selme, who was scything below Planeau de La Salette, saw them playing games together : they were busy placing stones one on top of the other to make “ paradises ”, decorated with alpine flowers, and that is where we shall see the “ beautiful Lady ” sitting.
On the 19, they met at the same place, that is, at the Mont-sous-les-Baisses, with their little flocks. At about midday, acting on the orders of Pierre Selme, and at the ringing of the Angelus, they drove their cows to drink at the Fontaines des Bêtes ; they then went up the valley as far as the River Sézia, which is fed by the Fontaine des Hommes, situated higher up ; and then near the Petite Fontaine, at that time dried up, they took their frugal meal, arranged their provisions, after which they separated and, contrary to their custom, they fell asleep on the grass at some distance from each other.
At about 2.30 pm, Mélanie woke up first and then roused Maximin. They both climbed to the plateau overlooking the ravine ; and as soon as they had reached the Collet, they saw their cows resting on the slopes of the Gargas. Reassured, they were on their way down when Mélanie uttered a cry on seeing a globe of light which shone and lit up the whole valley… In the meanwhile, Maximin had caught up with her and, sensing the fear of his little companion who had dropped the stick she was holding, he said, “ Keep hold of your stick… If it does us any harm, I shall hit it hard ! ”
At that moment, the mysterious light opened up and a “ beautiful Lady ” appeared, seated on the stones the children had placed one on top of the other ; She looked as though she were in inconsolable grief, with Her head in her hands and Her elbows on Her knees… Soon, She rose from Her rustic seat ; then, calling the little shepherds and making a few steps towards them, She said : “ Come, My children, do not be afraid : I am here to proclaim great news to you. ”
Feeling reassured, they went down into the ravine and approached the vision, which they could contemplate at their ease. Her headdress shone with a diadem of rays and a crown of roses. A white shawl was thrown over Her shoulders and crossed around the waist, bordered with a garland of roses. The dress of light was pure white and flecked with specks of gold. On Her chest, or rather inside, there was a crucifix, with hammer and nails “ which stayed in place without anything to attach them ”. But, to support the cross and its Christ, there was a little chain round the neck ; then a second chain, like a braid but without rings, seemed to crush the shoulders beneath it by its great weight, as though to symbolise the burden of our sins. Finally, there was a golden yellow apron – the humble livery of “ the handmaid of the Lord ” – and white shoes with a gold buckle and a cluster of roses...
The face was divinely beautiful, but marked with a profound sadness. Maximin could only see the forehead and the chin ; the rest was too dazzling for him to be able to distinguish anything, whereas Mélanie was able to contemplate the entire face.
“ How is it ”, Maximin was asked later, “ that you were unable to see the Blessed Virgin’s face when Mélanie could ? ”
“ I don’t know ; perhaps I was not good enough. ”
“ So you were not so good as Mélanie ? ”
“ God knows… Maybe Mélanie needed to be converted. I don’t know ! ”
This inoffensive jest shows that Maximin was a little envious of Mélanie ; she was more favoured than he was. He had, however, guessed, from the sad tone of the voice, that this was an afflicted soul, “ a mother, beaten perhaps by her children, and who had fled to the mountains to weep at her ease ! ” Mélanie understood better still the whole Mystery of La Salette as she saw the tears which flowed from Her eyes, to vanish in the light like sparks. Furthermore, not only did she notice that the hands were crossed one over the other in her sleeves, but also that Her ears were hidden, as was Her hair, beneath a kind of headdress or headband...
The “ beautiful Lady ” began to speak, first of all in French and then in patois ; and Her speech was a mixture of complaints, reproaches, warnings and threats. The heavenly Messenger deplores the corrupt practices of her rebellious people, who blaspheme, who profane the holy day of Sunday, who violate the law of abstinence, who no longer pray and who hardly ever go to Mass, who thus provoke the divine wrath, weighing down the avenging arm of her Son ready to strike us, and exposing themselves to every kind of scourge, both private and public...
But let us hear the language of this Queen and Mother :
“ If My people are not willing to submit themselves, I am forced to let go of My Son’s arm. It is so heavy and weighs Me down so much that I can no longer hold it. For all this time I have suffered for you ! If I do not wish My Son to abandon you, I must take it upon Myself to pray for this continually. And the rest of you think little of this ! In vain will you pray, in vain will you act, you will never be able to make up for the trouble I have taken for you all !
“ I gave you six days to work, I kept the seventh for Myself and no one wishes to grant Me that one day. This is what weighs down the arm of My Son so much. Those who drive carts cannot swear without adding My Son’s name. These are the two things which weigh down the arm of My Son so much.
“ If the harvest is spoiled, it is only because of you others. I made you see this last year with the potatoes ; you took little account of this. It was quite the opposite when you found bad potatoes ; you swore oaths, and you included the name of My Son. They will continue to go bad ; at Christmas there will be none left. ”
At this point, Mélanie looked at Maximin as though to ask him what the “ beautiful Lady’s ” words meant. But the Blessed Virgin immediately said : “ Ah ! You do not understand French, My children. I shall tell it to you another way. ” She then repeated these last phrases in patois : “ If the harvest is spoiled… ”, and the rest. Then She continued talking in the same popular dialect : “ If you have corn, you must not sow it. The beasts will eat all that you sow. And all that grows will fall to dust when you thresh it. A great famine will come. Before the famine comes, children under the age of seven will begin to tremble and will die in the arms of those who hold them. The others will do penance through hunger. The nuts will go bad, the grapes will become rotten. ”
After these words, the Blessed Virgin continued speaking ; but whilst seeing Her lips move, Mélanie could not hear. Maximin received a secret. Shortly after, the Beautiful Lady also entrusted Mélanie with a secret, and now Maximin ceased hearing.
A few reflections are necessary at this point due to the deplorable propagation of more or less recent imaginings claiming to publish the authentic text of Mélanie’s Secret, with apocalyptic commentaries.
For five years, the two children maintained a total discretion on the subject of the mysterious message : despite every conceivable attempt to extort the secret or to catch them out in a half confidence, the children remained absolutely indomitable… In 1851, however, they finally decided to make their Secrets known to the Pope, and to him alone. They consigned them to writing, therefore, and the documentary letters were transmitted to the Holy Father by two accredited messengers, who were received in audience on July 18,1851. On reading these letters, Pius IX was visibly moved… The next day, Cardinal Lambruschini, Secretary of State, declared that the Holy Father had communicated to him the Secrets of La Salette. Thereafter, they remain in the pontifical archives.
All sensational publications, therefore, produced to feed public curiosity with the supposed Secrets of La Salette and their fanciful interpretations, must be regarded as suspect. This rash diffusion of literature was condemned by the Holy Office in 1880. All pamphlets or reviews, books or memoirs, emanating from these obstinate visionaries, were successively banned by the competent authorities.
Instead of thus hoping to penetrate the arcana of the future by holding forth in all directions on the content and the meaning of the Secrets of La Salette, it is much better to stick to the Fact itself and refer to the public Message. The Blessed Virgin, in effect, continued speaking in such a way as to be understood by the two shepherds, saying : “ If they are converted, the stones and rocks will change into heaps of wheat, and potatoes will be found sown in the earth. ”
“ Do you say your prayers properly, My children ? ” the Lady then asked them, and they replied : “ No, Madame, not so much. ” – “ Ah ! my children, you must say them morning and evening. When you can do no more, say a Pater and an Ave Maria ; and when you have the time to do better, you will say more. ”
“ Only a few old women go to Mass ; in the summer, the rest work all day Sunday and in the winter, when they do not know what to do, they only go to Mass to make fun of religion. During Lent, they go to the butcher’s like hungry dogs ! ”
Then the Blessed Virgin added : “ Have you ever seen spoilt wheat, My children ? ” They both answered : “ Oh ! no, Madame. ” Then, She said to Maximin : “ But you, My child, you must have seen some once near Coin, with your father. The farmer said to your father : ‘ Come and see how my wheat has gone bad ! ’ You both went to see. Your father took two or three ears in his hand, rubbed them, and they fell to dust. Then, on your way back, when you were no more than half an hour away from Corps, your father gave you a piece of bread, and said : ‘ Take it, eat while you can, my son, for I don’t know who will be eating anything next year if the wheat is spoiled like that. ’ ” And Maximin replied : “ That’s quite true, Madame ; I didn’t remember. ”
The Blessed Virgin ended Her speech with these words, spoken in French : “ And so, My children, you will pass this on to all My people. ” Leaving the shepherds, She crossed the stream of the Sézia and without looking back to them, She said a second time : “ And so, My children, you will pass this on to all my people. ” Then She walked towards the plateau from where She rose above the ground to regain the serene heights of the firmament and of Paradise… The water from the petite Fontaine began to flow ! That evening, as the sun went down, Maximin and Mélanie hurried back with their flocks to the village of Ablandens to tell their masters all that they had seen and heard on the mountain.
And the account the little shepherds gave on that same day, September 19, 1846, was invariably repeated by them before a countless number of pilgrims as before the civil and religious authorities.
“ I certify ”, wrote Mélanie on November 4, 1850, “ I certify in order to testify to the Truth, and for the greater glory of God and the honour of the Blessed Virgin, that I have always told and shall always tell, without any variation, the truth concerning the Event of La Salette of September 19, 1846, and that if I had to swear an oath on what I then saw and heard, I would do so without fear of offending God or of committing perjury. ” Until the day of her death, December 15, 1904, she maintained her original account in its entirety – an account which she reiterated on the Holy Mountain at the time of her last visit on July 28, 1903.
Maximin likewise wrote the following note on April 14, 1847 : “ I declare in the presence of God that I saw the Blessed Virgin on the mountain of Dorcières, as radiant as the sun. ” He kept to the same words in his final testament : “ After my death, let no one assure you or say that I was heard to deny the great Event of La Salette ; for in lying to the whole world, such a one would be lying to himself. ” Again, before his death, on March 1, 1875, he wished to make a solemn renewal of his profession of faith : “ The Holy Viaticum was there ; also present were several people from the neighbourhood, summoned on behalf of the dying man. Then with a dying breath, he said : ‘ I take God to my witness, my God whom I am about to receive, my God who will be my Judge, that I have never lied concerning the Apparition of La Salette : I have told what I saw and heard ; this I swear on the salvation of my soul !' ”
What more could one want ? One of those present then took it into his head to cast doubt on the perpetuity of the salutary effects produced by the event or even on the future of La Salette itself : “ Bah ! ” said one, “ it may last another year, and then it will fall away ! ” – “ It will fall away ”, answered Maximin, “ it will fall away when Religion falls away… You’ll see ! The Blessed Virgin will never let anyone come along and wipe out Her Mountain. ” “ You see ”, he added in the presence of attacks directed against the Apparition, at the beginning of the year 1851, “ the Miracle of La Salette is a flower now being dragged in the mud, but it will bear fruit in autumn and in spring it will re-blossom. ”
Mélanie gives the same assurance : “ Have you ”, they asked her in 1854, “ heard of all the lies now being uttered against La Salette by the enemies of the Apparition ? ” – “ No ”, she answered ; “ but, they can say what they like, La Salette will always triumph ! ”
Yes, wise and upright minds will always bend before the evidence and will radiate their grateful enthusiasm, once enlightened by the light of the facts and reasoning. If there are, among our readers, some who at this point experience a painful perplexity, as did the Curé d'Ars himself, we hope that they will soon conclude as he did, once better informed and happy in the end to learn the consoling truth : “ It would now be impossible for me not to believe in La Salette. I requested signs in order to believe in La Salette, and I obtained them : one can and one should believe in La Salette ! ”