“But pray, my children, God will soon answer you. My Son permits Himself to be moved.”
Thirteen years later, on the cold winter evening of January 17, 1871, Our Lady appeared to several children in Pont-Main, a small village in France. At the time almost all of France was engulfed in the Franco-Prussian War which had continued unabated since July 19, 1870.
On this particular day, however, Paris itself was under siege. Additionally, Prussian troops were on the outskirts of Laval, a nearby town where people were being vaccinated because of an outbreak of typhoid fever. Smallpox was spreading rapidly! Everything was going wrong! Some commentators wrote that even the elements seemed disturbed.
The Heavenly Sight
Six days earlier, an aurora borealis had occurred that made a deep impression on those who witnessed it. Some saw in it the masts of a phantom ship; others saw the steeples of the Cathedral. Then, to top it off, at about half past twelve, there was an earthquake in Pont-Main. Fear was widespread. Many of those in the town were saying: “No use praying. God doesn’t hear us.”
However, one family in Pont-Main, the Barbedettes, remained busy with their household chores despite the fact they could hear the roar of the cannons from the nearby village. The Barbedettes were simple, hardworking, devout country people from one of the oldest families in the region.
Two of the boys, Eugène, 12, and Joseph, 10, were working in the barn with their father when Eugène began thinking about his older brother who, earlier, was drafted into the army. He decided to walk over toward the barn door to gaze up at the clear sky. He was looking above the roof of a neighboring house about seventy feet away from him when, suddenly, he noticed that one area – about five feet above the roof – was completely free of stars.
The Barbedettes were simple, hardworking, devout country people from one of the oldest families in the region. Two of the boys, Eugène, 12, and Joseph, 10, were working in the barn with their father when Eugène began thinking about his older brother who, earlier, was drafted into the army.
The Beautiful Lady
He decided to walk over toward the barn door to gaze up at the clear sky. He was looking above the roof of a neighboring house about seventy feet away from him when, suddenly, he noticed one area, about five feet above the roof, was completely free of stars.
As the stars melted away he saw “a beautiful lady dressed in a flowing robe of deep, radiant blue, studded with gold stars. Her sleeves were full, extending up to the hands. She was wearing blue slippers, tied with a golden ribbon in the shape of a rosette. Her hair was completely covered with a black veil over her shoulders, reaching down to the level of her elbow.
“There was a golden crown on her head that rose slightly to a peak. It had no ornament in front except a red band circling the center. Her hands were extended like those on the Miraculous Medal, but without the rays of light.” And the lady was smiling at Eugène.
As it was now about a quarter past six, the boys were called inside for supper. They were allowed to go out again as soon as they finished a hurried meal and, when they did, the lady was still there. Later on, their mother joined them, but she didn’t see anything unusual. By now, she was quite puzzled because her boys were usually very truthful. She suggested that it might be the Blessed Virgin and that they should say five Our Fathers and Hail Marys in her honor.
They decided to call the two nuns of the village school, Sr. Vitaline and Sr. Marie Edward. Sr. Vitaline came over but saw nothing of the heavenly vision so she decided to fetch three young children from the school to test their reactions: Frances Richer, 11, Jeanne Marie Lebosse, 9, and a third child. Both the older girls immediately saw the smiling beautiful lady and expressed their delight at the apparition, describing it exactly as the two boys had. However, the third child could not.
Sr. Vitaline then came over with Sr. Marie Edward, but, neither of them saw anything unusual. Another quite sickly child, Eugène Friteau, 6-1/2, also saw the lady. Then a neighbor, Madame Boitin, brought her baby who was only 2 years old. In her childish way, Augustine, the baby, showing signs of great joy, reached out with her little arms towards the lady in the sky.
As the neighbors became aware of the commotion the parents tried to distract the attention of the boys, but to no avail. By now, the crowd had grown to about sixty and they gathered around the two small boys.
They summoned Abbé Michel Guerin who had been their pastor for 35 years and, when he arrived, they all began a prayer vigil to the lady. While the people prayed in the snow, the children exclaimed that something new was happening: “The lady increased in size and became more beautiful; she became both covered with and surrounded by the stars. Those which spangled her robe multiplied and the dark blue color of the robe brightened.
“A blue oval, that formed around the vision, expanded in size as the stars surrounding the apparition moved aside to make way for the oval, arranging themselves two by two at the feet of the lady. The large blue oval forming around the lady contained four candles, two at the level of her shoulders and two near her knees; then, a short red cross appeared over her heart.”
Sr. Marie Edward, kneeling at the open doorway of the barn, was leading the rosary. As the rosary progressed the figure and its frame grew larger, until it was twice life size. The stars around her began to multiply and attach themselves to her dress until it was covered with them. During the Magnificat the four children cried out: “Something else is happening!”
Then. a broad streamer, on which letters were appearing, unrolled beneath the feet of the lady, so that eventually the phrase: “But pray, my children,” could be seen.
Abbé Michel Guérin then ordered that the Litany of Our Lady should be sung and, as this progressed, new letters appeared forming the message: “God will soon answer you.” As they continued to sing, another message formed, one that removed any doubt that it was the Blessed Virgin who was appearing to the children: “My Son permits Himself to be moved.”
At this, the children were beside themselves with joy at the beauty of the Lady and her smile. Suddenly, however, they noticed Our Lady’s expression changed to one of extreme sadness as a large red crucifix appeared before her. The color of the cross itself took on a much darker shade of red than previously. It had a figure of Jesus on it, surmounted by a placard bearing in beautiful red letters the name ‘Jesus Christ.’
As the Virgin presented the crucifix to the children, the sadness that appeared on the face of Our Lady was reflected onto the children. Then, as the crucifix vanished, one of the stars proceeded to light the four candles that surrounded the figure.
The message produced a strong emotional reaction in the crowd. After a momentary silence the pastor suggested they sing the hymn, Mother of Hope. The children leapt for joy and clapped their hands while repeating: “See how she smiles! Oh, how beautiful she is!”
At the end of the hymn the banner bearing the inscription vanished. The children reported that a white veil was rising slowly from the Lady’s feet, gradually blotting her out. Finally, by nine o’clock, she had completely disappeared.
The War Ends
On the evening of that memorable night on the 17th, the Commander of the Prussian forces took up his quarters at the archiepiscopal palace of Le Mans where he informed the bishop of that diocese, Msgr. Fillion: “By this time my troops are at Laval.”
It was inevitable that Pont-Main would be overrun by morning. In fact, the Prussian forces were already in sight of Laval. They had stopped all forward progress at half-past five o’clock in the afternoon to rest before the next day’s battle.
However, late that same night, General Von Schmidt of the Prussian Army received orders from his Commander to not take the city. Their retirement early the next morning signaled the end of the war in that part of France. The invasion of Pont-Main and Laval never occurred. Brittany, and then, France would soon be at peace.
Twelve days later, on January 23, 1871, the long-hoped for Armistice was signed at Versailles. The promise of Our Lady of Hope had been fulfilled: “But pray, my children, God will soon answer you. My Son permits Himself to be moved.” Soon all thirty-eight of the conscripted men and boys from that area returned home, unscathed by the fighting.
Following this event, the devotion to the Blessed Virgin under the title of Notre Dame d’ Esperance de Pont-Main (Our Lady of Hope of Pont-Main), was authorized by the ecclesiastical authorities. The confraternity of that name has since been extended all over the world. Many signal graces, both spiritual and temporal, have been granted by Heaven because of it.
After the apparition of Our Lady of Hope on January 17, 1871, pilgrims – made up of both clergy and the laity – flocked to Pont-Main. The following March, 1871, a canonical inquiry into the apparition was held and, in May, the local bishop questioned the children. The inquiry continued later in the year, with further questioning by theologians, then, a medical examination. The bishop was satisfied by these investigations and, by February 1872, declared his belief that it was the Blessed Virgin who had appeared to the children.
Finally, on the Feast of the Purification, February 2, 1872, Msgr. Wicart, the bishop of Laval, issued a pastoral letter giving a canonical judgment on the apparition. Thus, the veneration of Our Lady of Hope of Pont-Main was given official Church recognition and approval. Pope Pius XI gave a final decision regarding the Mass and office in her honor.
A final papal honor was given to Our Lady of Hope on July 16, 1932 by Cardinal Pacelli, who would later become Pope Pius XII, by passing a decree from the Chapter of St. Peter’s Basilica that the statue of the Blessed Lady, Mother of Hope be solemnly honored with a crown of gold. On July 24, 1934, the Lady was crowned by Cardinal Verdier, the archbishop of Paris, in the presence of all the bishops, priests and laity.
The sadness that was seen on Our Lady’s face during the apparition made an especially deep impression on Joseph, the youngest son. He would later write: “Her sadness was more than anyone can imagine. I saw my mother overwhelmed with grief when, some months later, my father died. You know what such grief in a mother’s face does to the heart of a child. But, as I remember, what instinctively came to mind was the sadness of the Most Blessed Virgin, which must have been the sadness of the Mother of Jesus at the foot of the Cross that bore her dying Son.”
Joseph Barbedette became an OMI priest, a member of the Congre-gation of the Oblates of Mary Immaculate. His brother, Eugène, became a secular priest. Jeanne-Marie Lebossé became a nun and one of the other girls with her who had seen Mary, became Eugène’s housekeeper.
A large basilica was built in Pont-Main and consecrated in 1900. Later, one of the chapels at the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception, in Washington, D.C. was donated by Bob and Delores Hope, dedicated to Our Lady of Hope of Pont-Main.
In Pont-Main, as in La Salette, Our Lady again shows us that, if we heed her requests, she can restrain the arm of her Son. We will also note this in a later apparition of Our Lady wherein she reminds us: “You have forgotten that, through prayer and fasting, you can avert wars and suspend the laws of nature!”