After our pilgrimage to Fatima, Lourdes, Avila, Burgos, Santarem and elsewhere - truly a remarkable journey -- I rented a car and privately drove to a place I am now: La Laus.
Once again, it was a winding way up a mountain, this time not eight miles, as at LaSalette, but "just" a mile and a half skyward with more of those ninety-degree turns. I speak here of a surprising, extraordinary place: Notre Dame Du Laus, which in my view is worthy to be a major destination for pilgrimage and is at least as anointed as the site in Paris of the Miraculous Medal.
Unlike the more famous apparition place of LaSalette, which is just thirty miles up the road, Laus is already a full-blown place for pilgrims, with an extremely tidy grounds, several hotelleries, large bookstore/gift shop, large parking areas, a beautiful church (housing a chapel where many apparitions took place), a Cross under which the seer often saw Jesus, a new hotel in the making, and a strong Catholic feel evoking yesteryear: six priests at the Mass I attended (it was in celebration of the canonization of the Little Flower's parents), five Benedictine sisters in almost startling black and white habits, as if stepping out of the pages of history, half a dozen altar boys, overflowing pews, and gorgeous artwork. I also visited the tiny, modest house where the visionary, Benoite (Benedicta) Rencurel -- now Venerable Benoite -- died after such a holy life (as a tertiary Dominican) that the priests attending her death asked her to bless them. Explained a sign at roadside: "Part of her ministry was fighting against forces of evil," and you get this just joyous feeling of victory, long with great emanations of peace in various places.
Most of her apparitions were at the site of the church, although the last one was a mile and a half down a stone path in nearby Prindreaux, where a statue of Mary stands before the seer and where the feeling, overlooking lush autumn scenery, was similar to the grotto at Lourdes, "awesome" the true meaning of the overused word. In fact, on this little trip I've been on, the two most powerful experiences for me have been the bath at Lourdes and the visit to Prindreaux, which is on a stony hill below mountains evoking other apparition sites (I walked and prayed there, most of the time in the rain).
I've wanted for years to visit this valley -- where the Virgin Mary appeared thousands of times to a seer in the 1500s.
Yes, I said "thousands: her apparitions occurred over a period of more than fifty years (1664 until 1718) but were approved only in 2008 (see archives).
Benoite's apparitions, visions, and other manifestations at Notre Dame du Laus lasted her lifetime and now bring to light a major new mystic who -- in addition to experiencing what are now approved apparitions -- displayed supernatural abilities and such piety that she was named venerable more than a century ago and may now be headed for full canonization.
The phenomena included stigmata (the wounds of Christ), uncanny knowledge of the future, the ability to read souls, battles with the devil, and angelic interventions, especially of the Archangel Michael. Perhaps most poignant in the remarkable account of this apparition -- which spanned from 1664 until 1718 and will become known simply as "Laus" (pronounced lou, after the valley in which the visions occurred) -- are accounts describing the huge and perhaps unprecedented manifestations of delicious heavenly aromas known to mystical theologians as the "odor of sanctity." The aroma, often recounted as a cross between lilies and roses -- but yet more delightful -- lasted for weeks at a time and covered large outdoor areas. It is also how -- by an aroma -- the girl knew where a chapel should be built.
One day in the spring of 1664, said the great Marian chronicler Thomas Walsh, Benoite was wending her way toward a grotto hollowed out of rock when she saw a strange light and a beautiful Lady smiling at her. It wasn't until the following August that the apparition -- which continued almost daily -- spoke to the 17-year-old shepherd woman. Asked if she was the Madonna, the apparition had responded that "yes, I am Mary, the Mother of Jesus. My Son wishes to be specially honored in this valley."
Here I am, now, in the valley.
By another account the apparitions of Mary were preceded in May 1664 by an apparition of St. Maurice, a third-century martyr long honored at Laus. "This was near a nearby chapel, then in ruins, dedicated to St. Maurice," notes Wikipedia. "He warned her that if she remained in that area, the local guards would take her flock if they found it there. St. Maurice told the shepherdess to go to the Valley of Kilns, above Saint-Etienne, where she would see the Mother of God."
Just years before the apparitions began, a strange light was seen near the Vatican of a flaming dragon at a time when Luther's revolution was rocking the Church, witch hunts were plaguing Europe, and ecclesiastics were battling scientists for predominance in forming human thought.
"The girl's name, Benoite, was in itself a predestination, being the old form of benite, or blessed," wrote Walsh.
-- Michael H. Brown