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Will this one day be relevant to us?

Through the centuries -- particularly after the Black Death ravaged Christian Europe in the 1300s -- Our Blessed Mother has appeared at various locales promising that devotion to her would prevent epidemics.

In the case of bubonic plague, she came to stave off recurrences of the disease -- which had continued to haunt the continent for a couple of centuries after the major onslaught.

An example of that -- and a fascinating one indeed (illustrating too the manifestation of the souls of the departed) -- occurred  at Santa Gadea del Cid in the province of Burgos, Spain, where on March 25, 1399, two shepherd boys, Pedro, son of Ynigo Garcia de Arbe, and Juan, son of Jaun de  Enzinas, found an oak tree with a beehive. They returned the next evening, Wednesday of Holy Week, to gather wax and honey.

That was when they were met by a sight stunning even by Marian standards.

According to testimony documented on parchment and signed by a notary in Santa Gadea, the boys saw an entire group of ghostly people gathered around a huge hawthorn. At the top of the hawthorn, like the burning bush in Exodus (3:2), was a lady brighter than the sun -- so bright they couldn't look at her without being blinded.

"And then they heard a voice from the people there calling out, 'Come to matins,' and at this call there appeared from the direction of Santa Maria de Guinicio a great number of people as if in a procession in white garments," said a notarized statement.

"And most of them wore red garments with white stripes on top, and many other colors. They carried in their hands branches like palms and two torches that lit up the entire procession as if it were daytime. This procession came to join the people around the Lady; and the brightness went up as far as the sky; and around her were three torches like big candles, so powerful they lit up all of the landscape; and it seemed that they went up as far as the sky.

"And they heard singing, like priests chanting the hours, and frightened by the voice they stopped gathering their honey and fled toward town. When they reached the flat place that is halfway, they looked back and saw all the lights join in one; and the singing went up to the heavens, so much that they did not dare go back."

The following Thursday Pedro was keeping his father's sheep near the same spot and suddenly a resplendent lady appeared to him. Again he could not look at her directly. She told Pedro to tell the local priests of his vision so that all should know that "she who he had seen on the hawthorn tree was the Virgin Mary glorified in person; and the people he had seen around her were the angels of heaven, that very pure company. And that they should know that her coming was willed by her precious Son, the Redeemer of the human race."

It was explained by the woman that the other apparitions were angels and martyrs as described in Revelation (6:11). The woman explained that at the time Spain was destroyed by the infidels, there had been a town there call Montahana la Yerma and a church at this spot in her name.

She told the boy that the people fled to the church during an onslaught and were beheaded when they refused to convert to Islam. The entire area was awash in their blood. She said Christ wanted the place kept holy by construction of a Benedictine church and monastery "to revive the memory of this secret."

Those who came as pilgrims or sent alms would have remission of sins and would be helped and protected whenever they have themselves with great devotion to her.

Whoever carried a picture of the apparition would be freed from the power of the devil.

It would "ward off pestilence and all disease."

She said the three torches represented the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

"Just as God the Father came to Moses in the briarbush, which was not consumed by fire for the good of his people, so I was sent in the hawthorn for the good of souls and bodies of the faithful of the human race," Mary reputedly said. "The voice you heard calling to matins was that of the Archangel Michael."

Interesting is the fact that the two shepherds were named Pedro and Juan -- Peter and John -- in recollection of the drama of Holy Week. It's also interesting that Mary said Juan should take up the arms of St. Catherine of Alexandria, the ancient saint who had been converted by a vision of the Blessed Mother around A.D. 306 and whose relics were now in a monastery at the reputed site of the burning  bush. (Interesting too, the hawthorn bush: she also appeared near a hawthorn bush in the 1930s in Belgium; some think hawthorn tea protects against certain diseases.)

A famous incident also occurred in 1447 southwest of Madrid when a twelve-year-old girl named InÚs Martinez had a total of six apparitions: Mary dressed in a snow-white abrochada and wearing gold slippers. Here she warned people to confess their sins because an epidemic was coming.

Meanwhile, in the 1400s, at a famous site in Genazanno, Italy (Our Lady of Good Counsel), where there was a miraculous image of Mary, Pope Urban VIII himself sought the Blessed Mother's help in a disease outbreak.

That same year her intercession was sought during a solemn procession in a town called Viterbo, where she was known as "Our Lady of the Oak."

By the end of the month (let us all heed this) plague had ceased in the area.

[adapted from Michael Brown's The Last Secret; see his books, autographed for Christmas]


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