|Devotion to Our Lady||
JUNE 1: OUR LADY OF THE STAR, AT AQUILEIA, IN ITALY
Aquileia was Roman city that was founded as a stronghold along the Natissa River on the frontier of the growing Roman Empire in about the year 180 BC. It soon became an important trade center, and there were many roads that were soon built leading to this city. In time, peoples of all nations and races began to settle there and produce goods for trade.
The city maintained its importance, and centuries later the Emperor Constantine was known to have visited Aquileia on several occasions, as it had become recognized as one of the greatest cities in the world. Such prominence attracted Attila the Hun, who attacked the city twice. In the year 452 he took the city, demolishing it to the point that none of the structures still stood after his passing.
The city was promptly rebuilt, however, as the residents returned from hiding. Charlemagne made the priest at Aquileia a new patriarch, though eventually that Patriarchate was passed to the Republic of Venice, a city that was founded by the people of Aquileia during the time of Attila’s second invasion.
The present Cathedral at Aquileia, the location of the miracle of Our Lady of the Star, was built by the Patriarch Poppo in the 11th century, and rebuilt in the beautiful Gothic style in the 14th century. As the cathedral was built over the remains of the previous church, the floor has magnificent mosaic paves dating from the 4th century, as well as ancient frescos.
This feast day, Our Lady of the Star, is so called because of a miracle that occurred at Aquileia when Saint Bernardine arrived and began to preach. It is affirmed that a bright light similar to a star was seen on the head of St Bernardine, a star that was easily visible even during the hours of daylight when he preached at Aquileia, applying to the Blessed Virgin that passage of the Apocalypse where it is said that there were twelve stars on her head.
From the book of Revelation:
"A great sign appeared in the sky, a woman clothed with the sun, with the moon under her feet, and on her head a crown of twelve stars. She was with child and wailed aloud in pain as she labored to give birth. Then another sign appeared in the sky; it was a huge red dragon, with seven heads and ten horns, and on its heads were seven diadems. Its tail swept away a third of the stars in the sky and hurled them down to the earth. Then the dragon stood before the woman about to give birth, to devour her child when she gave birth. She gave birth to a son, a male child, destined to rule all the nations with an iron rod. Her child was caught up to God and his throne. The woman herself fled into the desert where she had a place prepared by God, that there she might be taken care of for twelve hundred and sixty days. Then war broke out in heaven; Michael and his angels battled against the dragon. The dragon and its angels fought back, but they did not prevail and there was no longer any place for them in heaven. The huge dragon, the ancient serpent, who is called the Devil and Satan, who deceived the whole world, was thrown down to earth, and its angels were thrown down with it. Then I heard a loud voice in heaven say: “Now have salvation and power come, and the kingdom of our God and the authority of his Anointed. For the accuser of our brothers is cast out, who accuses them before our God day and night. They conquered him by the blood of the Lamb and by the word of their testimony; love for life did not deter them from death. Therefore, rejoice you heavens, and you who dwell in them. But woe to you, earth and sea, for the Devil has come down to you in great fury, for he knows he has but a short time.”
Saint Bernardine preached that this glorious woman is the Blessed Virgin Mary, who was in the mind of God before the time of creation, and who is the Mother of God and of the Church, as well as the Queen of Heaven. The miracle of Our Lady of the Star seems to confirm Saint Bernadine's teaching that Pope Saint Pius X and other popes later affirmed.
OUR LADY OF EDESSA, ASIA MINOR
Saint Alexis, also known as Saint Alexius, is reputed to have been the son of a prominent Roman senator named Euphemian, who was a man both wealthy and virtuous. Euphemian and his wife Algas were devout Catholics. They had been unable to have children for some time, but after unfailing prayer to God, a son, Alexis, was born to them.
Living in Rome in the 4th Century, Alexis was given an excellent education in his youth, learning from his parents at an early age that God expects the prosperous to use their wealth to assist and relieve the poor.
When Alexis grew up, Euphemian and his wife Algas chose what they thought would be a good spouse for their son. His bride to be is said to have been a member of the Roman imperial family, but Alexis wanted to give his life to God, and did not wish to be married. In obedience to the wishes of his parents, Alexis did marry, but after the ceremony, by Divine Inspiration, he removed his wedding band and gave it back to his bride.
Apparently Alexis' bride had consented to this, and so Alexis left Rome in secret and took ship to Syria. He then journeyed to Edessa, where, although he had once been very rich, he began living the life of a common beggar at the entrance to a church dedicated to the Blessed Virgin Mary, Our Lady of Edessa. Not knowing the circumstances of his disappearance, his family searched for him in vain for many years.
Saint Alexis was content to live a beggar’s life, surviving off the meager alms he obtained each day after praying before the image of the Blessed Virgin at the shrine. He spent much of the rest of his time caring for the sick and infirm at Edessa’s hospital. He never spoke of himself, or of the life he had left behind, and there were none to whom he ever revealed his name.
One day the image venerated by Saint Alexis spoke to a sacristan, defending the saint while also revealing that Alexis was a “Man of God” and making known his holiness to all the people of Edessa.
Saint Alexis, seeing himself as nothing but a lowly beggar, found he was suddenly venerated as a holy man. Humbled by the revelation of Our Lady of Edessa, he fled the city for a place where he could remain unknown. He boarded a ship to Tarsus, but a storm forced the ship to the Italian coast. Seeing the hand of God in this, and following Divine Inspiration, Saint Alexis returned to his boyhood home on Aventine Hill in the city of Rome.
The parents of Saint Alexis were still alive, but they did not recognize their own son in the ragged beggar he had become. He who was heir to a noble title and magnificent property was given modest employment and a miserable corner beneath the stairs where he could sleep. He revealed himself to no one, and never asked for anything more. Saint Alexis spent the remaining 17 years of his life as a stranger in his own home, suffering the contempt and buffets of his father’s servants in patience and humility.
When Saint Alexis died, the church bells rang of their own accord. Pope Innocent I was celebrating Mass when he was interrupted by an unseen voice telling him to “Seek the man of God.” The Roman Emperor joined Pope Innocent in the search, and the two, guided by the mysterious voice, found the body of Saint Alexis where he had expired under the staircase.
When Saint Alexis was found he held a scroll detailing the account of his life that God had commanded he put down in writing, and this document also revealed his identity. Alexis' parents were deeply saddened to learn that the beggar who had lived beneath the stairs and eaten the scraps from their table had actually been their own son, though they also realized that he was a saint who had suffered all for the love of God.
Saint Alexis was buried in Saint Peter’s Basilica, though his remains were later transferred to the church of Saint Boniface on the Aventine Way in Rome. There is an enclosed display which shows the very staircase beneath which Saint Alexis once slept.
Saint Alexis is the model for the Alexian Brothers, and he has also long been considered the patron saint of pilgrims and beggars, and his feast day of July 17th was removed from the calendar of saints at Vatican II.
OUR LADY OF SASAPOLI, ITALY
The sanctuary of this Madonna, Our Lady of Sasopoli, is some 1700 feet above sea level on one of the hills in the range of Mount Giovi, twelve miles northwest of Florence, Italy. As the stories put it, “in ancient times” a little shrine stood on a hill and it contained a tablet depicting the Blessed Virgin and the Child. Since the plaque is, according to experts, a work of the Giotto School, it must have been made some time between 1300 and 1490. Giotto was himself in Florence in 1300, 1302, 1307, and 1334, and died in 1336.
Many people come to pray at the shrine and among these were two young shepherdesses of the Ricovera family. On July 2, 1490, the two girls were praying at the shrine. As their father was gravely ill, they were imploring the Virgin to restore him to health. They heard a sound and looking around, they saw sitting on a nearby stone a lovely lady with a child in her arms. Before they recovered from their surprise the lady spoke to them. She told them not to be afraid and not to worry, that she was the one to whom they had been praying so fervently, and that she wished to have a church built on that spot in her honor. She asked them to go and bring their father, as she wished to speak to him.
The girls told the lady that their father could not come because he was so sick; he could not even get up out of his bed. But she assured them that he was now well again and that they should go and get him. Obeying, the girls hurried to their home and found their father completely recovered. They returned with him to the shrine; the Lady was still sitting on the stone. She told the father of her wish that a church be built on that spot. The man and his daughters spread the story of his recovery and of how the Virgin had appeared, but very few believed them and nothing at all was done about the church.
Then on August 15, the feast of the Assumption, when a goodly number where gathered at the shrine, the Virgin appeared for the third time. She told them she was displeased at the delay and demanded that they get busy and build her a church.
This time they believed her and started to work. However, since the ground around the stone on which she had appeared seemed too steep to attempt to put a building there, they started to lay the foundation at a place some few hundred feet away. But when the masons arrived for the work the following morning, they found the walls they had laid the day before were demolished and the stones strewn around. After this happened several times, they decided that the Virgin did not want the church built there, but over on the spot where the stone was. So they bowed to the inevitable and with great labor, leveled off the ground around the stone, and there erected the church in honor of Our Lady of Sasopoli.
Since the Virgin had appeared on the stone, and moreover, insisted that the church be erected on that very spot, it was natural the church and the image be called Madonna del Sasso or Our Lady of Sasopoli, Our Lady of the Stone.
OUR LADY OF THE HILL or MOUNTAIN
The sanctuary of the Sacred Hill at Varese in Lombardy, Italy, is said to have had its origin in a chapel built there to commemorate Our Lady’s appearing to Saint Ambrose of Milan during the later fourth-century.
Saint Ambrose, a bishop as well as an early Church Father, fought heroically against the Ayrian heresy for a good part of his life. The heresy of Arianism takes its name from a heretic named Arius, who taught falsely that the Son of God was a mere creature, created by God and distinct from the Father. This very notion is refuted by Saint John, who begins his gospel:
“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. The same was in the beginning with God. All things were made by him: and without him was made nothing that was made. In him was life, and the life was the light of men. And the light shineth in darkness, and the darkness did not comprehend it.”
In our day it is difficult to understand how nearly the whole world seemingly succumbed to this darkness, yet the heresy was a source of ruin to many. Arius was condemned at the First Council of Nicaea, and again at the First Council of Constantinople.
Saint Ambrose was also a great proponent of Mary, the Mother of God. It is believed that the Blessed Virgin appeared to Saint Ambrose during the time of the Ayrian conflict, and that the saint built the first chapel, Our Lady of the Hill, in that place at the request of the Mother of God, but also in thanksgiving for his victories while theologically refuting the heretical propositions of Arianism.
The sanctuary grew in popularity, especially after a convent of Augustinian nuns was established in the fifteenth century. The principal shrine is the church of the Immaculate Conception, with chapels of the mysteries of the rosary.
In ancient times the hill had been dedicated by the pagans to the goddess of victory; but Our Lady, as is her wont, asked that the place be built, or rebuilt, into a shrine to honor Her Divine Son and herself. It is now known as the Sacro Monte di Varese, Our Lady of the Hill or the Sacred Mount of Varese, and there are a total of fourteen small chapels located there that were built between the years 1604 and 1623. It is a popular pilgrimage site even in our day.
OUR LADY OF HAUT
The chronicles relate that in the year 1428, Our Lady of Haut, in Hainault, France, restored, that he might receive Holy Baptism, a child to life after it had been dead several days. He lived five hours after receiving the sacrament and then melted away by degrees, like snow, in the presence of seventy-five persons.
The Benedictines have perpetuated Haut or Hainault by erecting a monastery where daily and hourly the praises of Mary are sung in the canonical hours. Miracles still occur at the shrine of Our Lady of Haut; miracles of every nature and for every ardent plea sent for help to Heaven’s Queen.
Man is like ivy – he must cling to something, something must support him, that he may have courage to live. When he finds neither sympathy nor consolation among his fellow-creatures, he instinctively evokes the inhabitants of a better world, and claims that support from them which society denies him, or is unable to afford him.
Nothing better proves this propensity of the soul than the conduct of the Indians, who were oppressed by the first viceroys of Portugal; these people, disarmed and inoffensive, no longer finding either protection or support in the successors of Alphonsus D’Albuquerque, came and sat down like suppliants at the foot of that great man’s tomb, to implore of the illustrious dead, reposing beneath the monumental marble, that justice which the living would not grant either to their rights or their tears.
Man is, by nature, so imperfect and so inclined to evil, that he has always some expiation to make, before he approaches the source of all sanctity; when this expiation appears to him proportioned to his fault, he feels a surer confidence in the succor of Heaven; thence came the generous elation of the martyrs, who hoped in proportion to their tortures. The pilgrim acts upon the same principle; he adds the fatigue, the privations, the inconveniences of the journey to the prayer which he comes to offer; and he hopes, in virtue of the sufferings which he imposes upon himself, to find favor before God, who suffered so much himself! And why should this hope be vain?
INSTITUTION OF THE NUNS OF THE VISITATION OF OUR LADY,
by St. Francis de Sales in 1610
The Institute of the nuns of the Visitation of Our Lady, or the Order of the Visitation, were founded at Annecy, in Savoy, on June 6th of the year 1610, by Saint Francis de Sales, Bishop of Geneva, and Saint Jane Frances de Chantal, who was the first religious of the order. The institute was a contemplative order founded for young women and widows who felt they were called to the religious life, yet also felt that they did not have the ability to bear the austerities demanded by the other major religious orders. They were all women dedicated to prayer who sought to serve God in spirit and in truth, but the order especially honors the Blessed Virgin in the mystery of the Visitation.
Initially, the order had no name, but was formed as a refuge for women who desired to dedicate their lives to doing works of charity. It began with four religious in a house that Saint Francis de Sales provided the new order that was located close to Lake Annecy, and soon there were ten more who joined as novices. St Francis decided upon the name of the order.
As often happens with works that are pleasing to God, the Order of the Visitation met with some opposition. Certain modifications were made, and St Francis wrote a book named Treatise on the Love of God as a guide for the more advanced sisters. The foremost virtue he exhorted the sisters to practice was humility, as he said himself, “humility is the fountain of all other virtues; don’t limit humility, make of it the principal one of all your actions.”
Saint Jane Frances de Chantal was a personal friend of St Francis de Sales, and she governed the new order of sisters wisely under the direction of St Francis. Soon there were other convents at Lyons, Bourges, Grenoble and even Paris. Saint Jane Frances founded the convent in Paris amid certain opposition, yet she gained the acceptance of her detractors through the grace of God and her own patient humility. It was in Paris that she met St Vincent de Paul. The Order spread throughout Europe, and even came to the United States in the year 1883.
OUR LADY OF MARIENTHAL, GERMANY (13th century)
Marienthal is located perhaps an hour from the city of Hagenau, and is one of the many famous places of pilgrimage in the Alsace region of France. Our Lady of Marienthal has been visited by pilgrims for many centuries, and an old chronicle tells of wonderful miracles that were granted on behalf of many of the believers who visited the ancient church. The benevolent Virgin Mary obtained grace there for all of the afflicted, and when sinners called upon her for assistance they would inevitably find comfort and mercy. There was no pain which was not relieved, no accident that was not mended, not a hope that was disappointed. The crippled and lame could pray there in that time and return home healed, leaving their crutches behind in the church. The blind were illuminated and regained their sight, and the deaf heard again. Mothers obtained the health of their children; young people who had lost their peace of mind through sin found forgiveness and regained their peace of mind; sailors in the dangers of the sea and the soldiers in the bloody battle called upon the assistance of the loving mother of Marienthal, and never in vain. The church remained open day and night so that the pilgrims at any hour could have access to grace through Our Lady of Marienthal, but this practice also provided an opportunity for robbery attempts. Mary protected her home, and left no thief of church property free to run. As an example, it happened once that a thief was alone in the church shortly before daybreak, and beholding a beautiful jewel upon the altar that had been left as a gift, stretched forth his hand to steal it. As he did so, a supernatural force held him in place until the monks from the monastery, which stood near the church, came and found him later in the morning. He was promptly delivered to the courts in Hagenau for punishment.
When the heresy of Martin Luther penetrated the Alsace, anything that was sacred to Catholics was ridiculed and persecuted as a consequence. Pilgrims were set upon, and Marienthal was threatened with destruction. In many places the altars of Catholic churches were already smashed, and the images of the saints cast down; the same fate seemed about to befall the church at Marienthal.
The devout Catholics decided to hide two miraculous paintings, as well as the statue of the Sorrowful Mother with the child Jesus in her arms, from the predatory hands of the new iconoclasts. They were taken in secret to the monastery for safekeeping. A concurrent document states that the statue of the Sorrowful Virgin shed copious tears while on the way, which was seen by all those present. The statue and paintings were returned to the church once the initial threat had passed, but the pilgrims to Marienthal were much less numerous, as they were often derided by the Protestants, and mistreated as godless blasphemers.
A new persecution broke out in 1569 as enemy soldiers roamed the Alsace and devastated it. Marienthal was also exposed to their devastations to a great extent. At that time a woman named Hochstatter wanted to prevent the desecration of the Holy images, and decided once again to transport them to Hagenau.
“With this intent,” tells the Chronicle, “she came into the church of the Blessed Virgin, ascended a ladder and took the statue of the Sorrowful Virgin on her shoulders and went on her way.” She had acted out of zeal, but the statue of the Mother of God was far too heavy, and her knees staggered as she inevitably sank to the ground beneath her burden. Following a momentary inspiration, the woman knelt next to the image and pleaded with a trusting heart to Mary:
“O, my Heavenly Mother! Please ask thy Divine Son to increase my strength, or else decrease the severity of this precious load so that I may take it to safety.” After finishing her prayer, the woman took up the image again on her shoulder and easily carried it the rest of the way to Hagenau.
From this time on the church at Marienthal was closed and abandoned. Soon, it was no longer possible even to kneel down next to the degraded walls, as the heretics who roved around in the neighboring woods mistreated all the Catholics that they could get their hands on. These conditions continued until the end of the sixteenth century when the Jesuits came and awakened the old beliefs and reopened the church at Marienthal. Not only did they return the church to its former glory, but they exterminated the heresy in considerable parts of the Alsace.
But a new storm broke out because of the French Revolution. Two priests and some pious women, working together at the risk of their lives, took the wonderful images from the church, as well as the consecrated vessels and other ornaments of the church, to Ottersweier, a village on the right bank of the Rhine. They remained there until the restoration of Catholic worship. Meanwhile, Marienthal was occupied by German troops who had invaded Alsace. The soldiers used the church as a barracks.
The sacred images were finally restored in 1803 via a triumphal procession from Ottersweier to Marientha. The clergy were followed by the entire population of Hagenau who were flying colorful flags and burning candles in the solemn procession. The Bishop of Strasbourg celebrated a Pontifical High Mass, inaugurating a day of celebration that is still continued annually on the first Sunday of June.
Since that time, Marienthal is once again visited as frequently as ever, especially on the feast days of Our Lady. The pious crowd rushes to the enlarged and embellished church, whose choir walls are entirely covered with votive offerings. Most young Alsatian and Lorraine soldiers go to the church at Marienthal before they begin their service to implore the protection of the Blessed Virgin. Even today you can see the parents of those who miraculously escaped death in battles and engagements kneeling before the altar to thank God and to read their thanks aloud. Even many Protestants, sensible to the example of the faithful and the reports of miracles that are worked at the site, send their names in secret in the hands of pious persons to Marienthal, asking them to pray and offer gifts for them.
OUR LADY OF ALEXANDRIA, EGYPT (4th century)
This feast day celebrates Our Lady of Alexandria, commemorating a church built in Alexandria, Egypt, to honor the Blessed Mother, by Saint Peter, who was patriarch of the city in the year 310.
Saint Peter of Alexandria was the sixteenth Archbishop of Alexandria in a line beginning with Saint Mark the Evangelist in the year 300, and governed for twelve years until his martyrdom. He is remembered as a man of extraordinary virtue and a profound knowledge of the Holy Scriptures who led the Church during the Diocletian persecutions. As if that were not trial enough, he fought against heretical bishops such as Meletius and Arius, whom he excommunicated. Saint Peter was a stalwart bishop, and there is no doubt as to who was his heavenly advocate - Our Lady of Alexandria.
“It was right that, as the Only Begotten had a Father in heaven, whom the seraphim proclaim thrice holy, so He should have a Mother on the earth, who should never want the splendor of holiness. And this doctrine indeed, so filled the minds and souls of our forefathers, that a marvelous and singular form of speech prevailed with them, in which they very frequently called the Mother of God Immaculate and entirely Immaculate, innocent and most innocent, spotless, holy, and most distant from every stain of sin, all pure, all perfect, the type and model of purity and innocence, more beautiful than beauty, more gracious than grace, more holy than holiness, and alone holy, and most pure in soul and body, who has surpassed all perfectitude and all virginity, and has become the dwelling place of all the graces of the Most Holy spirit, and who, God alone excepted, is superior to all, and by nature fairer, more beautiful, and more holy than the cherubim and seraphim; she whom all the tongues of heaven and earth do not suffice to extol.”
“No one is ignorant that these forms of speech have passed, as it were, spontaneously into the monuments of the most holy liturgy, and the Offices of the Church, and that they occur often in them and abound amply; and that the Mother of God is invoked and named in them as a spotless dove of beauty, as a rose ever blooming and perfectly pure, and ever spotless and ever blessed, and is celebrated as innocence which was never wounded, and a second Eve who brought forth Emmanuel.”
OUR LADY OF LIGNY
Our Lady of Ligny, near Bar le Duc, in Lorraine. This image is very famous for the frequent miracles which are wrought there. Ligny-en-Barrois is a French town with a population of about 5,000 located in north-eastern France. Each year the town celebrates its patron saint, Our Lady of Virtues, on the 5th Sunday after Easter. The portrait of the Blessed Virgin has been at Ligny since 1459, and the year 2009 marked its 550th anniversary. The history of the painting of Our Lady of Virtues, or Our Lady of Ligny, and the town of Ligny-en-Barrois, are closely interlinked.
The portrait is a silk painting unlike any other portrait of the Blessed Virgin. It was originally known to be in the possession of Pope Urban IV, but after many wanderings, the pious image was given to the canons of the collegiate church of Ligny in the year 1459 by Antoine de la Salle, the tutor of the son of Count Louis I of Luxembourg.
During the war between Francis I and Charles V, the Count Antoine de Luxembourg was allied to the King of France. Ligny was besieged, stormed and destroyed on June 29, 1544. The Holy Image of Our Lady of Ligny was stolen by an Imperial trooper, (actually a German mercenary), but it was retrieved by a laborer and returned in grand procession in 1581. This procession was led by the Countess Margaret of Savoy, who built a new monastery for the Capuchins over the ruins of the previous site. She also began the devotion to the portrait known as Our Lady of Virtues.
During the French Revolution Church property was confiscated as at every other place. The church at Ligny was sold in 1791 and then destroyed. During the Terror, however, the painting was hidden by two councilors. The painting was restored to its proper place when the revolution died down. In 1814, during the “Campaign of France,” the town of Ligny was again besieged. A thousand young soldiers defended the town against odds of ten to one. Their bravery did not stop the town from being taken and eventually looted, but at least the homes were not destroyed despite the best efforts of the Prussian artillerymen. In a statement attributed to Canon Souhaut, it is recorded that: “The protection of the sky over the city seemed indisputable so that even the Prussians attributed the futility of their efforts to set artillery fire to the town to the miraculous image of Our Lady of Ligny.” This protection seemed to continue through World War I, as, according to some, Our Lady of Virtues protected the city through four separate bombings that caused no deaths.
OUR LADY OF CRANGANOR
In the East Indies stands the church and the shrine of Our Lady of Cranganor, which it is asserted, was built by one of the three Kings who visited the Divine Child and His Blessed Mother. India was one of the countries that had the privilege of receiving the light of Faith at the dawn of Christianity.
History relates that Saint Thomas the Apostle came to India at Cranganor in 52 AD. There the Christians are still known as Saint Thomas Faithful. Kerala, as the place is also known, is cut off by the mountain ranges from the rest of India, and has held firmly to the Faith, regardless of the gloom of the rest of the continent. The deep spirituality of the Catholics evidences their great love for the Mother of God, Our Lady of Cranganor. Nala-bat as the country is likewise called, may be translated as Mary’s country, Mary’s namesake. It is believed that when Saint Thomas came to Cranganor, he brought with him a picture of Our Lady, painted by Saint Luke; this was lost after Saint Thomas’ martyrdom, but later discovered in a cave at Little Mount, Madras, near the scene of his death.
In 1498 when the Portuguese arrived in Cranganor, they were surprised to find so many churches dedicated to Mary. Saint Francis Xavier found the people of Cranganor very strong in faith and devoted to Mary, Our Lady of Cranganor; he spared no pains to flame their devotion to the Mother of God.
One may wonder why devotion to Mary took root and blossomed so strongly in Kerala – almost as though it met some deep religious and psychological need. Perhaps the reason for such spontaneous devotion is to be found in the position of the mother in the Hindu family. For while love, obedience, devotion and dependence on one’s mother are natural to all peoples and nations, in Cranganor the exalted position of the mother assumes singular, if not unique, proportions. The mother is everything in the family; to depend on her is a deep-rooted tendency of all children in Kerala. Much more than the father, the mother is the bread-winner in the family. She owns, buys, and sells property and governs the house without any consultation with the father; he may frequently be away, but she always remains at home in the house. Her brothers have no right to property, only a living allowance and accommodations. Now this matriarchal system has been carefully guarded by the majority of Hindus. It lies at the very heart of the traditional way of life in Kerala; a time-honored custom which has helped to give Marian devotion an easy welcome and speedy growth.
Saint Ignatius of Loyola always wore the rosary conspicuously over his cassock. To his great satisfaction, Our Lady’s “Madre de Dios” church was assigned to him on his arrival at Cochin, replacing Cranganor as the port of traffic with the western world. When Saint Francis arrived, he found a Confraternity of the Blessed Virgin Mary already established and he fostered this zealously during his lifetime.
OUR LADY OF ESQUERNES
The shrine of Our Lady of Esquernes lies a half league from Lille, in Flanders, France. This image began to work miracles about the year 1162, and is still greatly venerated for the wonders which Mary continues to work through her intercession. Legend tells that while the painter responsible for the image of Mary at the above mentioned shrine, was putting forth all his effort and talent to depict the Mother of God as beautiful as might be possible to conceive by the human mind. The Devil tried to intervene. The Virgin suspended the painter in mid-air until the Bishop arrived to pronounce exorcism, and the Evil One molested the painter no further.
If there is any further information about this miraculous image, or is currently living in that area, please feel free to complete the “Tell us your story” section of this article to share your knowledge with other Catholics.
It is known that the Cistercian Order was established by three Benedictine monks in the 11th Century, and that the new order grew rapidly when Saint Bernard joined them. Soon, there were also many convents formed for women, and many of these houses were established in French Flanders. One of those Cistercian convents is still located in Equermes, and it is possible they are related to the image.
“Let all the children of the Catholic Church most dear to Us hear these Our words and, with a more ardent zeal of piety, religion, and love, proceed to worship, invoke, and pray to the Most Blessed Virgin Mary, Mother of God, conceived without original sin, and let them fly with entire confidence to this most sweet Mother of Mercy and Grace in all dangers, difficulties, doubts, and fears. For nothing is to be feared, and nothing is to be despaired of under her guidance, under her auspices, under her favor, under her protection, who, bearing towards us a maternal affection, and taking up the business of our salvation is solicitous for the whole human race, and, appointed by God the Queen of Heaven and Earth, and exalted above all the choirs of Angels, and orders of Saints, standing at the right hand of the only-begotten Son, Jesus Christ Our Lord, intercedes most powerfully, and obtains what she asks, and cannot be frustrated.” Pope Pius IX
APPARITION OF OUR LADY TO ST. HERMAN, FRANCE (13th century)
Saint Herman (1150?-1241) was a member of the Premonstratensian Order and a mystic. Born in Cologne, he was the son of Count Lothair of Meer, and his mother was Saint Hildegund. He was well educated, and it was known that from his earliest youth he spent all of his free time praying to the Blessed Virgin at the local church of Saint Mary. Once, while still a young boy, he innocently offered an apple saved from his own lunch to a statue of Our Lord, and was not surprised when a hand was extended and the apple was accepted.
One bitterly cold winter’s day, as little Saint Herman was walking barefoot into church, the Blessed Virgin Mary appeared to him to inquire why he was going about barefoot in such freezing weather.
"Alas! Dear Lady," Saint Herman answered, "it is because my parents are so poor."
The Blessed Virgin pointed to a stone nearby, instructing little Herman to look under it. He promptly obeyed, and found four pieces of silver, just what he would need to purchase new shoes.
Returning to give thanks to his Blessed Mother, in another apparition to Saint Herman, she directed him to return to the same spot with faith and confidence that his needs would be met, and then departed. Never did he want for any necessity, though his friends, animated by a different spirit, would never find anything when they looked beneath the stone.
On another occasion Saint Herman saw the Blessed Virgin high up in the tribune, conversing with the Child Jesus and St. John. He longed to join them, but sadly realized there was no way for him to do so. Suddenly, Herman found himself at their side and began conversing with the Infant Jesus.
At age twelve Saint Herman went to the Norbertine, or Premonstratensian, house at Steinfeld, and was sent to continue his studies in the Netherlands because of his youth. Once he had completed his studies, he returned and was allowed to join the order and was made sacristan and also served in the refectory.
Because of his purity, Herman's fellow-novices soon began calling him Joseph, in honor of Our Lord’s foster father. When he objected to such high praise, the Blessed Virgin Mary appeared to him and took him as her spouse, confirming that it was her desire that he should accept the name.
Pope Pius XII formally recognized that Joseph Herman was a saint in the year 1958.
OUR LADY OF SICHEM
The shrine in Brabant in the duchy of Louvain, is a replacement of the one below Mount Garizim, Israel. Hadrian restored the temple on Mount Garizim and dedicated it to Jupiter. A small Christian community settled there; and on several occasions they suffered greatly at the hands of the Samaritians. In 474 the emperor, to avenge an unjust attack on the sect, gave Mount Garizim to the Christians, who built on it a church dedicated to the Blessed Virgin.
After the Mohammedan conquest, Christianity practically disappeared from the district. The French made amends by erecting a shrine to Mary in the duchy of Louvain. The ancient statue of Our Lady of Sichem, or as Our Lady of 'Montaigu', which is the title more commonly used today, has been venerated in Belgium from very early times. The Mother of God rewarded the faithful magnanimously for their pious attention.
According to legend, a shepherd boy originally found the statue of Our Lady after it had apparently fallen from a niche cut in an old oak tree. The statue was mysteriously too heavy for him to lift alone, so he ran to find his master, and have him return to help him replace the statue in its place in the old oak.
It is said that in 1306 the Blessed Virgin Mary moved the hearts of the people by causing four drops of blood to flow from the eyes of the statue dedicated to her. This revived the faith of the people and increased their fervor.
A small chapel was built beneath the tree, which was rebuilt in 1602, and the dedication of Our Lady of Sichem took place in the year 1604 by the Archbishop of Mechlin, Mathias Hovius.
From that time forward there were many miracles as Our Lady seemed to demonstrate her appreciation by granting many favors. The statue was soon venerated as miraculous, and there have been many pilgrimages to the site during the centuries, continuing even until this day.
OUR LADY OF ARRAS
Notre Dame Cathedral in the city of Arras, France, is also known as the Arras Cathedral. A beautiful Gothic style cathedral, originally built in the year 1030, and dedicated to Saint Vaast, can no longer be seen. It was completely destroyed during the ravaging and wide-ranging, wholesale destruction set loose upon civilization by the proponents of the terrors of the French Revolution.
Work began as soon as possible on a second church, built in the simpler “classical” style. Even then the monks were expelled and the church taken over by the revolutionary army, who then used the structure as a hospital. Because of all the turmoil caused by the terror, work on the church was not finished until about the year 1833. The church itself was never truly completed, as it never received the steeple that had been planned.
The church that presently occupies the location was partially destroyed by shelling during the First World War in the year 1917, but was repaired in 1920. It can still be seen and visited to this very day.
Arras is famous for a miracle that occurred in the year 371, which is recorded by no less a notable than Saint Jerome. In that time there was a great famine in the region, and the inhabitants of Arras turned to the Blessed Virgin Mary in prayer, begging for relief. The famine was relieved in a miraculous way, as “something like white wool, mixed with heavy rain, fell from heaven at Arras.” This substance was found to be in reality a heavenly bread, commonly called manna. Some remains of this manna were still to be seen in the church dedicated to Mary’s honor until the time of the French Revolution.
There is also a legend regarding the above mentioned shrine, that Our Lady of Arras bestowed on two itinerant minstrels, a sacred candle which had power to cure persons afflicted with the then raging plague, known as the “Sacred Fire.” This event occurred in the year 1105, when hundreds of people were dying horribly. The Blessed Mother appeared from the church’s bell tower, and the bishop extended a large candle toward her, symbolizing his faith and his desire for healing for his people. Wax that had dripped from the candle was dissolved with water and given to those who were sick with the plague, with the result being that they were healed. Even though the candle was used for many years, it was never consumed even though it burned steadily during the years of the epidemic.
OUR LADY OF THE TAPER
The statue of Our Lady of the Taper (candle) was one reason why England was known as Mary’s Dowry. The original statue of Our Lady was found on the Welsh coast, standing near the sea. It was a simple little statue of the Blessed Virgin, her Son on her arm, with a burning taper in her other hand. Devotion to the image of Our Lady of the Taper began immediately. An examination of the statue by Bishop Barlow was made on March 16th, 1538, and states in part:
"The image now situated in the church of Cardigan which is used for a great pilgrimage to this present day was found standing upon the river Teifi and her son upon her lap and the same taper burning in her hand. The said image was carried to Christ Church of Cardigan and the image would not tarry there but was found three or four times in the place where is now built the Church of Our Lady, and the taper burning in her hand which continued burning the space of nine years without wasting."
As Bishop Barlow noted, several times the statue of Our Lady of the Taper was brought into Christ Church, Cardigan, but always it was mysteriously returned to the seashore. In 1158 a special chapel was finally built to accommodate Our Lady of the Taper, as the people began to understand that the Virgin Mary wished it to be there. The shrine is known to have been a place of pilgrimage long before the twelfth century.
The first church was part of a Benedictine Priory, and the monks lived there until 1538 when the infamous Oliver Cromwell had the monks evicted and destroyed the ancient statue, as he had ordered all images of Our Lady should be sent to London to be destroyed, and the devotion was unfortunately all but forgotten.
A Bishop Petit sought to restore the shrine in the last century, and Dom Vincent Dapre, OSB, was commissioned to create a new statue using the only known description of Our Lady of the Taper, written by an Anglican, the Reverend Silas M. Harris. In 1956 the new state was placed in Cardigan as thousands of the faithful gathered to witness in a great procession. That statue, however, was not robust enough to withstand the years, and a bronze statue was commissioned and blessed in 1986. On the 18th of May 1986, Pentecost Sunday, it was solemnly reinstated in the church. Pope John Paul II lit a blessed taper he had placed in the statues hand.
OUR LADY OF AIX LA CHAPELLE, GERMANY (804)
The city of Aachen today is a quiet town; still, there is hardly another city in Germany which could equal its past glory. It was a place famous for its springs during the Roman era, and later the location of the royal court during the time of the Merovingians. Most importantly, however, this was the town of Charlemagne (768-814), and it remained the capital of the Holy Roman Empire until the middle of the sixteenth century. Thirty-seven German Emperors were crowned in Aschen. It was made the capital by Charlemagne and a great part of its lasting fame dates from his reign.
One of the first desires and orders of Charlemagne was to build a Lady Chapel because of his deep devotion to the Blessed Virgin. Our Lady of Aix la Chapelle, built by Charlemagne in honor of the Blessed Virgin Mary, was consecrated by Leo II in the year 804. This was the same year the Saxons submitted to the emperor, and there were assembled three hundred and fifty prelates for the consecration ceremony.
The antique bronze doors of Our Lady of Aix la Chapelle are surmounted by regal lion heads, and they date from the time of Charlemagne. The short pillars of what is called the nave support an octagon shaped cupola of 50 feet in diameter. They date from the 12th and 13th centuries, and were brought from Rome for that purpose. These pillars were intentionally damaged by the atheistic proponents of the French Revolution, though they were thankfully restored in the year 1845.
The elegant Choir of Our Lady of Aix la Chapelle is filled with marvelous stained glass windows. This was a later addition to the church, completed in 1413, and is done in a completely separate style. One of the chapels of the cathedral has immeasurable treasures for the Christian world, as Charlemagne took pride in securing for the cathedral as many important relics from the Holy Land and Rome as he could. This pious practice was continued by his successors and it explains why the cathedral is so treasured by the Christian world.
In fact, the church of Our Lady of Aix la Chapelle holds innumerable precious offerings, including the four so-called great relics that are locked in a shrine that was given to the church by Frederick Barbarossa in the 12th century. These relics are the cloak of the Blessed Virgin, the swaddling clothes of the Infant Jesus, the loin cloth worn by Our Lord on the Cross, and the cloth on which lay the head of Saint John the Baptist following his beheading. These are exhibited only once in every seven years, and attract vast crowds of pilgrims.
Among the numerous smaller relics are a part of the true Cross, the cord which bound Our Lord, the sponge that was used to offer Our Lord gall during the crucifixion, and the girdle of both Christ and the Blessed Virgin. All are preserved in richly ornamented chests. Other treasures exhibited include the skull, heart, and gigantic arm bones of Charlemagne, and the cross he wore around his neck in the tomb. Judging by his bones, Charlemagne was a man of astonishing size, which was matched by his equally amazing intellect.
The tomb was opened in the year 1000 by Otho III, and the body of the great emperor was found seated upon a magnificent marble throne and wearing a golden crown. Only the nose of the great Charlemagne showed any sign of decay. The imperial mantle was thrown over his broad shoulders, and he held a globe in one hand, a splendid scepter in the other, and there was a sword at his side. This throne was later taken by Barbarossa in the year 1166, as he coveted the throne for his own coronation. It was subsequently used for the coronation of thirty-six emperors in that same church.
The last time the four great relics were displayed was the year 2007.
OUR LADY OF THE FOREST
Brittany is a land noted for its pilgrimages, and that of Folgoet is one of the foremost of them. In the year 1419 a church took the place of a small chapel of Our Lady in the Forest of Lesneven, and it became the center of a big ecclesiastical establishment, with a famous pilgrim-shrine.
In 1380 there lived near Lesneven a good old man named Salaun or Solomon. He had no one to care for him, lived alone, and did not associate with any person; he walked with his eyes to the ground, but his heart in Heaven.
As the years went by, old and crippled as he was, he might be seen every evening hobbling toward the chapel of the Blessed Virgin where he spent most of the night in prayer after the villagers had returned to the warmth and security of their own homes. He was a simple man of the woods, and here where the chapel of Our Lady of the Forest was later built he slept in the open under an oak tree near a fountain.
Solomon loved to swing from the branches of a tree that hung over the fountain, all the while singing his praises to “Ave Maria!” at the top of his lungs. He begged for bread each day to obtain his meals, and in doing so he was often laughed at, jeered at and otherwise mistreated by the small boys. He was commonly known to one and all as “The Fool of the Wood.”
One day, while the villagers were on their way to the chapel, they found the old man in the snow dying of exposure. They tried to help him, but it was too late for their kindness, as the old man soon died with the words “Ave Maria” on his lips. The fool of the wood had finally gone to his Queen in Heaven. Legend further relates that he was buried in an out-of-the-way place in Lesneven, for he had no family to mourn him.
When spring came, a snow-white lily rose from the outcast’s grave, and on the delicate petals of the lily, in letters of gold, the words “Ave Maria!” could be seen. The grave was opened, and it was soon discovered that the lily had taken root in the mouth of the penniless old hermit. News of the miracle drew crowds to the scene, and a church was built to honor Our Lady of the Forest. The gravesite of the simple hermit can still be seen nearby, and visited even in our day. It is marked by four simple stones.
After a chequered history, the shrine fell into decay and was destroyed by fire during the French Revolution. It was restored by the people in 1818 and the venerated image of Our Lady was brought back and crowned in 1888. The pilgrimage has grown in popularity ever since.
APPEARANCE OF OUR LADY OF ST. AGNES MONTEPULCIANO, ITALY
St. Agnes of Montepulciano was born into a noble family in the village of Gracciano, Italy, in about the year 1268. A miracle occurred to demonstrate that she was a predestined soul, for it is recalled that burning torches appeared to illuminate her crib on the day she was born. St. Agnes was no more than four years old when she began seeking solitude where she could pray privately for many hours to Jesus, whom she already loved.
At the age of nine St. Agnes told her parents that she desired to enter the Dominican monastery at nearby Montepulciano. Both parents initially opposed St. Agnes’ wish, so she prayed that God might change their opinions. In a short time she entered the convent and began living under the rule of St. Augustine. The sisters she lived with soon recognized that St. Agnes appeared more like an angelic spirit than a human being. She lived an austere life, sleeping on the ground with a stone for a pillow, and fasted on bread and water.
To test St. Agnes’ holiness and commitment to her prayer life, the sisters gave her difficult duties to perform in the convent. They were greatly edified to see that St. Agnes regularly completed her duties without complaint, and that she continued with her prayer life and regular acts of charity. In fact, it was about this time that St. Agnes could be observed absorbed in prayer while seemingly unaware that she was suspended nearly two feet above the ground, or violets, lilies or roses would be found growing up through the stones where St. Agnes had just prayed.
Several of the residents of the town of Procena built a monastery for their daughters, and naturally desired that St. Agnes should come with some of her sisters and become the prioress of the new convent. St. Agnes was only 15 years old, and feared for her humility should she accept the position. Pope Nicholas IV commanded her to accept the office, so she agreed to become the superior of the sisters there.
There are many miracles recorded at this time involving St. Agnes of Montepulciano. She frequently multiplied loaves, as Christ did in the gospels, to feed those in need. She had also apparently reached such a level of sanctity that invalids and those afflicted with different types of mental illness would be restored to health just by being brought into her presence.
The Blessed Virgin Mary appeared to St. Agnes and told her that she would one day found a large monastery based on faith in the Most High and undivided Trinity. She did in fact establish the convent under the Dominican rule, as she had been instructed by an angel, about the year 1300, as the citizens of Montepulciano had built a new convent there, hoping to lure St. Agnes back to them. She governed there until her death in 1317.
Agnes was known to have experienced several visions during her life. On the night of the Feast of the Assumption, the Blessed Virgin placed the Infant Jesus in her arms. She encouraged St. Agnes to continue suffering for the love of Christ – she had been sick practically all her life. The Mother of God left with St. Agnes of Montepulciano a small cross to comfort and strengthen her. This little cross is still shown with great solemnity to pilgrims, especially during the month of May. Mary likewise vouchsafed Agnes a vision of Christ’s suffering, which lasted three days.
To comfort St. Agnes, Mary appeared to her on the feast of the Purification while she was at Holy Mass. Mary told her this was the hour she had taken the Child Jesus to offer Him in the Temple. Our Lady smiled sweetly, and gave St. Agnes her Babe to hold and caress. St. Agnes was also known to have received Holy Communion from an angel. She experienced repeated levitations, as noted above, and performed miracles for the faithful of the region.
Shortly before her death, St. Agnes was sent to bathe in springs that were thought to have curative powers. The waters did nothing to help St. Agnes, though a new spring emerged close by which did indeed have curative power. It was given the name “the Water of St. Agnes.” While there, the saint prayed over a child who had recently drowned, bringing the child back to life.
St. Agnes of Montepulciano then went back to the monastery, where she died on April 20th, 1317, at the age of only 43. Her body was found to be incorrupt, and a mysterious, sweet smelling liquid was observed to stream from both her hands and feet. When St. Catherine of Siena went to pray before St. Agnes’ incorrupt body, the deceased saint lifted her foot for St. Catherine to kiss. She also revealed to St. Catherine that they would both enjoy the same amount of glory in heaven.
St. Agnes of Montepulciano was solemnly canonized by Pope Benedict XIII in 1726. Her feast day is April 20th.
OUR LADY OF MONTE SENARIO
The cradle of the order of the Servants of Mary began at Monte Senario in the year 1233 in the city of Florence, Italy, by a group of Hermits now known as the Seven Holy Founders. They were sons from different wealthy families, and they retired from the world for a life of prayer and devotion to the praises of Mary. Leaving La Camarzia, a suburb of Florence, the seven went to Monte Senario in the region of Tuscany. Uncertain of what way of life to follow, they turned to Our Lady in prayer and supplication, and she appeared to them on the Feast of the Assumption in the year 1240.
The Blessed Virgin, Our Lady of Monte Senario, presented the Seven Holy Founders with the habit of their new order, and an angel stood nearby bearing a scroll that was marked, “Servants of Mary.” He read to the Seven Holy Founders the following words: “You will found a new order, and you will be my witnesses throughout the world. This is your name: Servants of Mary. This is your rule: that of Saint Augustine. And here is your distinctive sign: the black scapular, in memory of my sufferings.”
From that day in 1240, the seven were known as the Servants of Mary, the Order of Servants of Mary, or the Servites. Members of the order take solemn vows to especially honor the Seven Sorrows of the Blessed Virgin Mary. The sorrows are, in order, the prophecy of Simeon, the flight into Egypt, the loss of the Holy Child at Jerusalem, meeting Jesus on his way to Calvary, standing at the foot of the Cross, Jesus taken down from the Cross, and the burial of Christ.
According to an ancient document called the “Legenda de Origin ordini,” “Our Lady wanted to begin her Order with seven men to show everyone, with absolute clarity, that she wanted to adorn her Order, endowing it with the seven gifts of the Holy Spirit.” The Order gained official recognition in 1249, but was not officially approved until Pope Benedict IX issued a Bull in 1304. Their church on Monte Senario, rebuilt in 1700, is a favorite resort of pilgrims from Florence and further places. Mary, here as Our Lady of Monte Senario, as well as elsewhere, proves herself the miraculous Mother of God.
The names of the Seven Holy Founders are Saint Alexis Falconieri, Saint Bartholomew degli Amidei, Saint Benedict dell’Antella, Saint Buonfiglio Monaldi, Saint Gherardino Sostegni, Saint Hugh dei Lippi-Uguccioni, and Saint John Buonagiunta Monetti.
OUR LADY OF CONSOLATION, near HONFLEUR, FRANCE
The Abbot Orsini wrote: “Our Lady of Consolation, near Honfleur. This chapel is much frequented; two children have been raised to life there, in memory of which their figures are there in silver.”
Also known as Our Lady of Grace, or Notre-Dame-de-Grace, the first thing that can be seen among the trees upon the height is a large crucifix that seems to bless the sea, although the Chapelle Notre-Dame-de-Grace is still invisible, hidden under the old trees that surround it. The present chapel is a small one located a short distance from that cross, and the tall trees and lawns that surround the church are in stark contrast to the church’s humble dimensions.
Once inside, everything is modest but neat. There is a low arch, and passing beneath it the view from the windows inside is obscured by the thick foliage of the surrounding trees. On the Gospel side is the statue of the Blessed Virgin on a short pillar. A fabric canopy frames the statue which depicts the Mother of God holding her Divine Child.
At the feet of Our Lady are placed small anchors and hearts of silver gilt that shine on the dais, and we see a small amount of flowers that are the humble obeisance’s of children and the poor. There are votive offerings hundreds of years old, and paintings of ships battered by storms, or broken upon the rocks, beneath which are brief accounts of the perils and the salvation sent after prayer to Notre-Dame-de Grace. Crutches lean against the wall as trophies demonstrating the victorious prayers of the healed cripples who now walk, and burning candles are constantly renewed beneath the holy image, exhibiting the persevering ardor of the faithful. It is a collective testimony of piety and edification from the servants of Mary.
The origin of the pilgrimage to Notre-Dame de Grace goes back to the eleventh century. According to tradition, in the year 1034, Robert the Magnificent, Duke of Normandy, was sailing to England. He was suddenly assailed by a violent storm, and at the height of the danger he promised to build three chapels and devoted to the Blessed Virgin if he returned safely to his lands. The storm ended at once, and the prince immediately returned home to take care of his vow. He built one of the chapels promised near his castle, and dedicated it to Our Lady of Mercy. Another he built near Caen, which he called Notre-Dame de la Deliverance, and the third he built on the plateau overlooking Honfleur, which was named Notre Dame de Grace.
This chapel near Honfleur soon became a busy place of pilgrimage. There is an authentic document at the church from King Louis XI dated January 28, 1478, and letters showing that the chapel was endowed with a certain tract of land containing a house, a barn, etc.
The chapel partially collapsed, and the sea swallowed part of the cliff near the church during a violent earthquake that occurred on September 29, 1538. Only a section of one wall, the altar, and the statue of the Virgin Mary remained standing, but such was the devotion of the people to this special place that many pilgrims continued to come and pray kneeling amid the debris. Unfortunately the landslides did not cease, so finally, in 1602, the last vestiges of the sanctuary were removed to prevent the faithful from exposing their lives to the unremitting danger.
The faithful regretted the loss of their chapel, and one of them, Mr. Gonnyer, undertook to raise a new one. He dug the foundations one hundred paces from the old church to the south-west, but he was forced to stop at that point for lack of money. Offerings from the inhabitants of Honfleur did the rest, and in 1613 the chapel was raised, but she felt the poverty that prevailed in France at that time. It was a small building three times as long as it was wide; thatched, isolated among the heather, and looked more like a barn than a chapel.
The Capuchins took possession on March 16, 1621, and they planted a large wooden cross amid the ruins of the old chapel. They eventually replaced it with a stone cross that they placed closer to the chapel than the old one had been.
In the Middle Ages people understood that the Church provided for the moral and physical welfare of the people as well as the state. They knew that the apostolate of the monastic orders was necessary to form and maintain the ties of charity between the rich and poor, adjust the opulent life of one to soften the sufferings of others, and to communicate to all, through preaching and by example, the secret of living and dying well.
When the Revolution broke out, there was wide-spread desecration in the whole of France, and all religious communities were dissolved. In vain the faithful recipients of so many graces endeavored to protect their sanctuary and the religious who served there. At one time it was hoped Honfleur could keep the Capuchins, and so a petition was drafted for that purpose in 1790.
“Through the removal of religious communities,” said the petitioners, “we fear being deprived of the significant relief that we receive from the Capuchins. These men are religious at all times, labor for the good of the city and the neighboring country, and through the uprightness of their intentions and the justice of their actions they have earned public esteem and confidence. They have a small chapel, located on the coast under the invocation of the Blessed Virgin, which is held in great reverence throughout the country, and we urge its conservation.”
The petition was sent to the National Assembly, who refused it. The chapel was plundered and converted into a tavern. The old statue was destroyed, and sadly “those who were but lately to pray and ask for graces forgot themselves to commit orgies in a place where everything, even the walls, reproached them for their apostasy.”
That was so long ago, and now the tides of commercial prosperity have come to caress the people and promote the development of the city and the port of La Havre. Hanfleur possesses all the signs of a prosperous city that is increasing in wealth and population, regardless of the attendant demoralization and miseries of every kind that accompany the seeming prosperity. La Havre is the seat of business where speculators contest in the commercial sphere where they work without ceasing to earn their fortune and contribute to each other’s ruin. Without the aid of the Blessed Virgin, there was no longer any hope for relief.
Still, it was here, at this remote chapel about 5 kilometers from Honfleur, that Marie-Francoise-Therese Martin came with her father and sister Celine in July of the year 1887 to pray to Notre-Dame-de Grace that she might be able to enter Carmel. That woman is better known today as Saint Therese of the Child Jesus and the Holy Face, or simply Therese of Lisieux, the “Little Flower.”
OUR LADY OF MATARIEH
At Grand Cairo in Egypt is seen a miraculous fountain which Our Lady obtained by her prayers when she fled to Egypt with Saint Joseph, her spouse, and the Divine Child, to escape Herod’s wicked designs. St Peter Chrysologus tells us that “this journey was so arduous that the very angels were struck with wonder when they beheld the Savior required to make it.” It is held by tradition that at Matarieh the Blessed Virgin, Our Lady of Matarieh, washed the swaddling clothes of the Infant Jesus and bathed him. It still displays miraculous powers. Matarieh is five miles Northeast of Cairo; here grew also the famous balsam trees, the oil of which was used in Baptism. The city is by some called the “City of the Fountain” in remembrance of Our Lord Jesus Christ, who used it as a bath. The spring had been famous among the ancient Egyptians, who believed that the Sun-god, Ra, bathed his face there when he rose for the first time. People still call it the Holy Fountain, and at the Feast of the Epiphany a vast number of people are said to flock there from all nations to wash themselves in its water.
Mary of Agreda wrote: “There is to this day a traditional fountain near Cairo from which the heavenly Lady drew water for Herself and the Child, and for washing clothes; all this rests on the truth and the veneration for these wonders and these places still lives, not only among the faithful who visit the holy places, but also among the infidels, who there occasionally obtain temporal benefits from the hands of the Lord. For also the infidels sometimes obtain certain favors, in order that the Lord may be justified before them, or in order that the memory of his wonders may be preserved.”
Mary of Agreda also wrote: “If what Jesus and Mary did for the salvation of us men does seem great to us, it is because we do not understand the immensity of their love, and because we understand just as little how to make a proper return for such great love.” When Mary of Agreda marveled at the labors and hardships the Holy Family suffered on their trek into Egypt, Our Lady told her: “Do not wonder that my most holy Son and I journeyed so far in order to gain souls. For the sake of even one soul, if possible, and if there would be no other way, We would willingly traverse the whole world.”
OUR LADY OF NARNI
At Narni in Italy, there is a shrine to Our Blessed Mother. It is said the image spoke to Blessed Lucy, to whom Mary gave the Infant to hold, while Lucy venerated the Mother and Child. Born in 1476, Blessed Lucy lived in the town of Narni in Italy. As a small child she preferred religious articles to toys, sharing the former as well as the latter with her playmates. When only five years old, Lucy experienced her first vision of the Blessed Virgin Mary. When she was seven years old, she visited an uncle in whose home a picture of angels was painted on the ceiling. Lucy secretly went there to pray. She was favored by a heavenly vision of Our Lady, who gave Lucy her Divine Son to hold. Our Lord gave Lucy a ring, and Saint Dominic, who was also present in the vision, gave Lucy a scapular to wear at that time.
As she grew older, Lucy's family wished her to marry; at Lucy’s objection, the Blessed Mother appeared to her and bade her be wedded and imitate her in the life at Nazareth. Her husband, Pietro, agreed to respect Blessed Lucy’s vow of virginity. Although she led a saintly married life, she still had visions, as Saint Catherine, Saint Agnes, and Saint Agnes of Monte Pulciano frequently appeared to her.
Lucy’s desire to become a religious persisted. She finally influenced her husband to take the habit of Saint Francis, while she established at the Pope’s request, a convent in Ferrara. Lucy was marked with the stigmata of Christ and suffered much physically as well as spiritually. The members of her community for thirty-eight years were prejudiced against the saint, but Our Lady frequently consoled and strengthened her with visions. She died in 1544 and was beatified by Pope Benedict XIII.
A shrine to Our Lady of Narni was erected in memory of Blessed Lucy. Our Heavenly Mother granted many miracles after the death of Lucy showing how pleasing she was to her and her Divine Son. Blessed Lucy of Narnia died November 15, in the year 1544. Four years after her death, Lucy's body was exhumed and found to be incorrupt.
OUR LADY OF JUSTINIENNE
This feast refers to a church known as Our Lady of Justinienne, built at Carthage by the Byzantine Emperor Justinian in honor of the Blessed Virgin Mary. It was to her that he attributed both of his victories over the Vandals.
Justinian I, also known as Justinian the Great, was a Byzantine Emperor who reigned from the year 527 until 565 AD. His great desire was to restore the lost western half of the ancient Roman Empire to his control to reunite it with the Byzantine Empire in the east. He was largely successful. Justinian never fought personally in any of his campaigns, for he had a talented and capable general named Belisarius to lead his armies.
The Byzantine Emperor began his conquests by attacking the Vandal kingdom in North Africa. In the year 530 AD, King Hilderic of the Vandals had been overthrown and imprisoned by Gelimer, who was his cousin. As Hilderic had been on friendly terms with Justinian, and had maintained good relations with the local Catholic clergy, Justinian decided to answer his appeal for assistance as an excuse to sail to the Vandal kingdom and conquer it.
In the year 533, General Belisarius set sail with a Byzantine fleet that included 92 Dromons, which were a type of ancient galley, and an additional 500 transports. They landed with an army of about 15,000 soldiers, reinforced with an unknown number of barbarian troops. They met the Vandals, who had an army of approximately 11,000 men, at the Battle of Ad Decimum, on 14 September 533.
At one point during the battle, Belisarius’ main army had suffered serious casualties and was beginning to collapse, while his cavalry had already been routed. It seemed he was about to be beaten by the Vandals if they but made but one more assault, yet they inexplicably failed to do so.
It seems the Vandal usurper had come upon the body of his brother, who had been killed earlier in the battle, and then was so overcome with sorrow that he ordered that his brother's body should be buried immediately. In essence, then, the Vandals had no leader while all of this was occurring.
Belisarius took the opportunity to gather his own forces and regroup, returning to attack the Vandals as they hesitated and eventually drove them from the field of battle.
Belisarius then went on to take Carthage, and afterward, at the Battle of Tricamarum on 15 December 533, the last Vandal army was defeated and the conquest of North Africa completed.
Emperor Justinian was known as a great builder of monuments and churches, and Our Lady of Justinienne was built in honor of the Blessed Virgin in Carthage.
Justinian's reign was a long one, and by the time of his death he had constructed many splendid edifices to the glory of God. He built the great church of Holy Wisdom, the “Hagia Sophia,” at Constantinople after the former building was destroyed during the Nike Revolt. The Hagia Sophia, with its huge dome, is still one of the architectural marvels of the world.
OUR LADY OF CLOS EVRARD, TRIER, GERMANY 1449
The shrine of Our Lady of Clos Evrard is in the city of Trier, which is called Treves in the English language. It is the oldest city in Germany, founded before the time of Christ on the bank of the Moselle River.
An image of the Blessed Virgin was fastened to an oak tree by a wine-dresser, who wished to honor Mary; but Our Lady ordered him to build a small hut in her honor.
The miracles which where wrought there caused this hut first to be changed into a little chapel, and finally into a church which was dedicated to Our Lady of Clos Evrard in the year 1449 by James de Siruq, Archbishop of Treves, who strove to restore order to the confused finances of the diocese.
Trier boasted of having Christian citizens as early as the second century, and had a bishop in the third.
The city of Trier is also the location of the famous cathedral of Trier, which has the unique privilege of having among its precious relics the Robe of Christ, the Holy Coat as it is called. It is believed to be the seamless garment of Christ, and is of a plain brownish fabric that appears to be linen or cotton. During an investigation that took place in 1890 and 1891, it was found that the relic had not even any trace of a seam.
According to tradition, it is the garment over which the soldiers cast lots during the Crucifixion of Christ. The relic was sent to Trier by the Empress Saint Helena, and there is an ancient document of Pope Sylvester written to the church of Trier which mentions the garment.
There were two expositions of the Holy Coat in the year 1844, with well over a million Catholic pilgrims flocking to Trier on the 18th of August and 6th of October to view the relic. It is recorded that there were a number of wonderful cures among the faithful. Another exposition took place from 20 August until 4 October in the year 1891, with nearly two million pilgrims attending. Again, there were many accounts of miracles that occurred during the exposition. After another exposition in 1959, the relic was placed inside an ornate reliquary in a chapel where it can be found even to this day.
Besides the Holy Coat, there is also on display one of the nails which was used in the Crucifixion of Christ.
DIVINE MOTHERHOOD OF OUR LADY, DECLARED AT THE COUNCIL OF EPHESUS IN 431
In the year 431, the council of Ephesus, which declared that the Blessed Virgin must be called Mother of God. As the Archbishop Cyril stated, “The Word was made flesh” can mean nothing else but that he partook of flesh and blood like to us; he made our body his own, and came forth man from a woman, not casting off his existence as God, or his generation of God the Father, but even in taking to himself flesh remaining what he was. This the declaration of the correct faith proclaims everywhere. This was the sentiment of the holy Fathers; therefore they ventured to call the holy Virgin the Mother of God, not as if the nature of the Word or his divinity had its beginning from the holy Virgin, but because of her was born that holy body with a rational soul, to which the Word being personally united is said to be born according to the flesh.”
The title of Mother of God with which the Catholic Church honors Mary, is not only the source of incomparable greatness in her, it is also a potent means to ground us firmly in the possession of the true Faith, and to bring us to a more perfect knowledge of God.
The Divine Maternity is the starting point of the work of salvation. In believing Mary to be the Mother of God, we believe also that the Word was made Flesh.
A faithful Christian cannot do better than follow the example given us by the Church, which never tires of proclaiming the truth of the Divine Motherhood of Mary to the universe at large. She does this by erecting shrines and churches in Mary’s honor, by the establishment of sodalities consecrated to her, by the approval of religious orders devoted to her service, and by the institution of practices of piety in her honor.
To Mary we can apply the words addressed to Judith of old: “Blessed art thou, O daughter, by the Lord the Most High God, above all women upon the earth.”
OUR LADY OF MELIAPORE, EAST INDIES 1542
This is the shrine in the East Indies, where Saint Francis Xavier often retired to pray during his eleven years with the people of India. The Blessed Virgin Mary was Francis’ constant source of strength and inspiration. The image before which Saint Francis used to pray is called Mylai Matha in Tamil, or Our Lady of Mylapore in English. It is an ancient statue about three feet tall, Our Lady of Meliapore can still be venerated at the church.
The church of Saint Thomas of Mylapore – spelled somewhat differently from the above – contains Mary’s shrine. According to tradition, the Apostle Saint Thomas came to India in 52 AD. Due to his success making converts to the True Faith, he was persecuted and finally martyred in the year 72 AD. Saint Thomas is buried at the shrine of Our Lady of Meliapore, and there are relics of Saint Francis Xavier.
There was a church known to be in Mylapore going back to the 1st century, and built by St Thomas. According to tradition, there was a huge log that had washed down the river to a place where it blocked the water and caused massive flooding. The local king was at a loss to remove the blockage, but having heard that St Thomas was a miracle worker, asked him for his assistance. Saint Thomas prayed and then touched the log, which made it so light that the king’s men were suddenly able to easily pull it from the river. The king, in thanksgiving, gave the massive log to St Thomas, who used the wood he obtained from it to construct his church.
The famed traveler Marco Polo visited the shrine in 1292, and a visitor known only as “Joseph” in 1501 thought the church comparable to the Church of Saint John and Saint Paul in Venice, but by the time the Portuguese came in 1517 the shrine was nothing but ruins.
The good people knew that they were Christians, and nothing more; but they had Mary as their Mother, and she cleared the way into their hearts for the zealous Francis to sow the seed of Christ’s Gospel. It was at Mary’s shrine that Francis obtained the miraculous favors to raise people from the dead, cure the sick, convert sinners and bring to Christ thousands of souls. Regardless of where his journeying took him, Francis always returned to his “Lady of the Wayside;” at Miliapore.
Our Lady of Meliapore was his most beloved Mother and from her he received consolation and strength, spiritual delights second only to the joys of Paradise.
The spirit of Francis is still at this shrine, and Mary continues to bestow upon her children miraculous graces and blessings.
OUR LADY OF PERPETUAL HELP, 13TH CENTURY
The name of Our Lady of Perpetual Help derives from one of the most famous of all pictures of Mary, an icon of the fourteenth century painted on walnut wood perhaps in Crete; from where it was thought to have been stolen by an Italian merchant and brought to Rome.
It was venerated, famous for miracles in the Roman Church of Saint Matthew, in charge of the Irish Augustinians for a century, when the church was destroyed by fire. The picture was saved, however, and in 1866 it was set up in the Redemptorist Church of Saint Alphonsus, on the site of Saint Matthew’s. In the following year it was crowned. Since then numberless copies and reproductions of the icons have gone all over the world, some of them themselves wonder-working.
Two angels in the picture, Michael and Gabriel, are showing the instruments of the passion to the Child, who clings to the Mother’s hand, shaking loose a sandal. The Mother reassuringly holds tightly to the Child’s hand.
One cannot look at the picture without being struck by the anxious, pained expression on the face of Our Blessed Mother. On the child’s face is seen the same shrinking fear He had during His agony in the garden – a shrinking fear not incompatible with a perfect resignation to God’s will. And in His fear He turns to His Mother for help.
What does the loosened sandal mean? All babies manage to kick off their shoes, and the Christ child was a perfectly human baby. There is a meaning in his act, however, for His is more than just a human baby. If it were not for this loosened sandal, the picture would not be a complete one. In the Old Law, the putting off of the shoe meant (1) the yielding of one’s right to another, (2) the wish to be treated as a servant or a captive, (3) readiness for reproach or infamy.
As the Child looks at the frightening instruments, and clings to His Mother’s hand, the little shoe slips from His baby foot and He says His Fiat – “Not my will but Thine be done.” We may even imagine the two archangels going back to heaven and being asked, “What did He say?” – and their reply would be something like this: “He was very frightened and clung to His Mother, but He took of His little shoe.”
INSTITUTION OF THE ANGELUS OF OUR LADY, EUROPE, 1456
The institution of the Angelus occurred June 28-29, about 1456 by Pope Callistus. The Turks had been threatening Europe and it was the Pope’s request that the Faithful recite the Angelus for the safety of Christendom against the Turks, and for peace.The Angelus was first recited about sunset, a general practice throughout Europe in the first half of the 14th century, recommended by Pope John XXI. The morning Angelus seems to have started somewhat later, again, for peace. The recitation of the midday Angelus began sometime in the 14th or 15th century; it was called the “Peace Bell.”
This present-day custom of reciting the Angelus is a short practice of devotion in honor of the Incarnation, repeated three times each day, morning, noon, and evening, at the sound of the church bell. It is curious how the Angelus is associated historically with the invasion of the Turks, again, in 1683, when they laid siege to Vienna. Emperor Leopold of Austria fled and begged for assistance and help from John Sobieski, a great Polish general, who gathered his army and hastened to the rescue, stopping at one of Our Lady’s shrines in Poland for blessing.
On September 11, Sobieski was on the heights of Kahlenberg, near Vienna, and the next day engaged in battle with the Turks. Brilliantly leading his troops, he forced the Turks into a trap, but the number of the foe was so great that he could not penetrate their ranks; then Sobieski’s cavalry turned in retreat, interpreted by the Turks as flight. The Turks rushed forward; but were re-attacked. The shouts and cries of Sobieski’s men threw terror into the Turks, when they learned that Sobieski himself, “The Northern Lion,” was on the battlefield, for he had defeated the Turks in Poland on previous occasions, and they feared him; therefore, the Turks fled panic-stricken. The battle raged for a time; all along the front was Sobieski everywhere commanding, fighting, encouraging his men and urging them forward. The Turks were finally defeated, Vienna and Christendom saved, and the news was sent to Pope Innocent XI at Rome
Sobieski was a humble man, for in the height of his greatest victory, in a letter to Pope Innocent XI, he said it was God’s cause he was fighting for, and Mary’s honor. His message to the Pope on the victory read: “I came, I saw, but God and Mary conquered.”
The day after the Battle, Sobieski entered Vienna victoriously. Later he pursued the Turks into Hungary, again attacking them and defeating them. The Turkish threat to Europe had vanished forever. Pope Innocent XI after the battle of Vienna requested the whole Christian world to recite the Angelus for peace.The Angelus takes on special significance today because Communism has duplicated, in many respects, the pattern of the Turkish invasion of Europe.
The 500th anniversary of the institution of the Angelus by Pope Callistus III, was a reminder to recite the centuries old prayer for peace and for the protection of the Christian world from the Red menace of Communism.
OUR LADY OF BUGLOSE, FRANCE
Located about two leagues from Acqe in Glascony is the shrine containing a miraculous image of Our Lady of Buglose. The original shrine of Notre Dame de Buglose was burned and completely destroyed by the Huguenots, and the statue of Our Lady was hidden in a marsh. The exact location of the statue was eventually forgotten, as was the memory even that the place had once been the location of a shrine in honor of the Blessed Virgin.
Years later, a shepherd led his herd into the marshes and observed that one of his oxen did not go with the others, but went into an area of the marsh alone and began to bellow in a strange manner. The shepherd climbed a tree to see what was happening, and saw the ox licking an unknown object that was half buried in the mud. Not understanding the mystery, he ran into town to bring others back with him to see what had happened.
When the shepherd returned, the statue of the Blessed Virgin holding the baby Jesus in her arms had been revealed. It was respectfully removed from the water, and the bishop of Dax desired to take the image to his church in Pouy. He placed the statue in a cart that was pulled by oxen to transport it back to Pouy. The procession began with hymns and prayers, but had only gone a short distance when the oxen stopped and would not move any further. It was understood that the Blessed Virgin desired that her image should stay near the fountain.
The bishop accepted the revelation as a divine order, and thanks to the zeal and enthusiastic support of the people living in the region, a new church was built with prodigious speed. The shrine was for a long time popular as a place of pilgrimage in France; now it is further renowned as the birthplace of Saint Vincent de Paul. The house where he was born and where he spent his boyhood is still shown.
There have been many miracles at the shrine, as indeed Buglose had become known as a land of miracles. There were 19 miracles recorded in the year 1622 alone.
There is a fountain near the chapel marking the place where the statue of Our Lady of Buglose was found buried. In 1623, a man named Bernard Ducassou came to the shrine seeking a cure for the seven boils that covered his left leg. He spent the entire night in prayer, and the next day bathed at the fountain. The ulcers that would not heal were suddenly closed.
The above pilgrimage is merely a side issue for pilgrims on their way to the famous shrine of Our Lady where miracles are still granted to pious devotees.
OUR LADY OF CALAIS, FRANCE 1347
For a whole year the town of Calais in France was besieged by the English, who had lost many troops during the siege.
Starvation finally forced the French to consider giving up, but the English King, Edward III, would not accept their surrender unless six citizens of Calais came before him bare-headed, bare-footed, dressed in rough shirts, and each with a halter about his neck. He demanded the keys of Calais, and that these men accept his pleasure, however severe, before the rest of the citizens would receive any mercy.
The entire population prayed to Our Lady of Calais, which had been damaged during the war. Those who could do so knelt at her shrine. This shrine had been built by the English while they had possessed that city, of which they had been masters for two hundred and ten years.
No one wanted to give his life in such a manner. Finally a nobleman stepped forward and offered his head as a ransom to the English king so that the city of Calais should be spared. Five others then volunteered, all dressed as the king had demanded. When they stood before the irate king he angrily reminded them of the losses he had suffered through their stubbornness; then he ordered the six citizens to be beheaded.
The king’s bravest and noblest warriors pleaded with him to spare the men, but in vain. Then Queen Philippa arose from her seat beside the king, and kneeling before him with tears streaming down her cheeks, pleaded:
“My lord and husband, I have crossed the sea through many dangers to be with you. Let me now pray you to have pity on these six prisoners.”
After a few minutes of deep thought the king declared:
“Madam, I wish you had been elsewhere this day. I cannot deny the boon you ask me. Take these men and dispose of them as you will.”