La Salette, France
“…How long I have suffered for you…No matter how well you pray in the future, no matter how well you act, you will never be able to make up to me what I have endured for your sake.”
Sixteen years later, on the afternoon of September 19, 1846, two children, Melanie Calvat, 15, and Maximin Giraud, 11, were grazing their cows in a field above the small village of La Salette, a place very, very high up in the French Alps. Suddenly, the children saw a globe of light coming down from the sky, settling in the valley below.
They were absolutely fascinated at this light as it was much brighter than the sun. Then, as the globe opened, Melanie saw a very beautiful woman within it. She was seated with her face in her hands in an attitude of sorrow; she was weeping. The children thought she was crying for the loss of her child so they went over to console her.
Then, the lady stood up and said; “Come nearer children, do not be afraid; I am here to tell you something of the greatest importance.” The children described her as wearing a white cloak with a bright yellow apron and white shoes, decorated with roses of many colors. Roses were also clearly visible on her crown. Around her neck she wore a chain with a large cross; a hammer and pliers were hanging from the cross bar.
They described the crucifix on Mary’s breast as more radiant than anything else in the apparition. The hammer which hung on one side represents sin, which nailed Jesus to the Cross. Just as the pliers on the other side were used to remove the nails, penance and prayer help us reconcile the world to God. The Cross of La Salette is known worldwide as a symbol of Mary’s message: for us to be reconciled with God.
As she began to speak, she shed tears, saying: “If my people will not obey, I shall be compelled to loose my Son’s arm. It is so heavy, so pressing, that I can no longer restrain it. How long I have suffered for you! If my Son is not to cast you off, I am obliged to entreat Him without ceasing. But you take no notice of that. No matter how well you pray in the future, no matter how well you act, you will never be able to make up to me what I have endured for your sake.
“I have appointed you six days for working; the seventh I have re-served for myself. And, no one will give it to me. This is what causes the weight of my Son’s Arm to be so crushing. The cart drivers cannot swear without bringing in my Son’s name. These are the two things which make my Son’s arm so burdensome.
“If the harvest is spoiled, it is your own fault. I warned you last year by means of the potatoes. You paid no heed. Quite the reverse, when you discovered that the potatoes had rotted, you swore; you abused my Son’s name. They will continue to rot and, by Christmas this year, there will be none left. If you have grain, it will do no good to sow it, for what you sow the beasts will devour, and any part of it that springs up will crumble into dust when you thresh it.
“A great famine is coming; but, before that happens, the children under seven will die in their parents’ arms. The grownups will pay for their sins by hunger. The grapes will rot and the walnuts will turn bad.”
Mary gave an individual secret to each child that was unknown to the other, then, continued: “If people are converted, the rocks will become piles of wheat, and it will be found the potatoes have sown themselves.” She added: “Only a few rather old women go to Mass in the summer; all the rest work every Sunday throughout the summer. And, in winter, when they don’t know what to do with themselves, they go to Mass only to poke fun at religion. During Lent they flock to the butcher shops, like dogs.”
Mary looked earnestly at Melanie and Maximin, and said: “My children, you will make this known to all my people.” She turned and repeated the same command: “My children, you will make this known to all my people.” Then, rising into the air, she faded into the sky.
La Salette is perhaps considered the granddaddy of apparitions because the messages given to Melanie and Maximum were of such an apocalyptic description. They told of the chastisements that would be visited upon a sinful world.
One year earlier, in 1845, an American ship carrying the potato bug landed in Ireland; shortly afterward the potato crops were infected. The seed for the great Irish potato famine had already been sown!
Although reluctant to do so, both children penned their secrets for the edification of the Holy Father. A summary of the secrets given to each child would state: “Maximum’s secret announced mercy and the rehabilitation of things, whereas Melanie’s secret would announce great chastisements.”
Two representatives, Frs. Pierre Joseph Roussilot and Jean-Baptiste Gérin, were sent to Rome where they handed the sealed envelopes to Pope Pius IX on July 18, 1851. Upon reading them he summed up the messages by declaring: “If we do not pray we shall all perish!”
On the very next day, July 19, 1851, less than five years after Our Lady first appeared, the apparition under the title of Our Lady of La Salette was officially approved in a pastoral letter sent by the diocesan bishop.
Neither of the visionaries led particularly saintly lives afterward. 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. Returning to Corps, he died on March 1, 1875 at 39 years of age.
Melanie Calvat attempted living as a Carmelite nun several 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, having lived for 74 years.
As the crow flies, La Salette is not far from Grenoble where the Winter Olympics were held in 1968. It is so desolate, so high in the French Alps, that you would not imagine driving up such a steep, dangerous mountainside. In late May, 1970, before many of the present day amenities were added, I spent one very long, cold night at the site of the apparitions.
There were still five foot deep snow drifts on the ground; yet, as there were no clouds in the sky, the afternoon sunshine warmed us somewhat. However, the cloudless skies permitted the temperature to plummet that night.
It became so bitter cold in the little unheated dormitory with its crude double-deck bunk beds that, despite using two sleeping bags and applying an extra set of clothing, one could not sleep fearing one might literally freeze to death! Needless to say, the piping hot coffee shop became the favored place to gather early the following morning.
I remained at the site for two days although I learned that some hardy younger individuals stayed for weeks at a time. As a parent, I had the impression their guardians imposed some sort of penance on them to atone for a previous misadventure.