The Daughters of Charity convent where the Blessed Virgin appeared to St. Catherine Labourè is one of Paris's lesser-known charms

Home to some of the world's most beautiful churches, Paris is also the birthplace of a heavenly treasure. At the city's Daughters of Charity Convent, the Blessed Virgin revealed the Miraculous Medal to St. Catherine Labouré last century. Seldom mentioned in travel guidebooks, the convent and shrine are visited by more than a million pilgrims each year.

The story of the Virgin Mary's appearances to St. Catherine Labouré began the night of July 18, 1830. A small boy, clothed in white, awoke the sleeping Catherine and escorted her to the chapel where the Blessed Virgin awaited her. Upon entering the chapel, Catherine saw Mary seated in a chair by the altar steps, hands resting on her lap. The little boy, later revealed as Catherine's guardian angel, led her to the Mother of God. The Virgin then spoke to the young nun about the mission she was entrusting to her. In her message to Catherine, she said, “My child, the good God wishes to charge you with a mission. You will have much to suffer, but you will rise above these sufferings by reflecting that what you do is for the glory of God. You will know what the good God wants.”

The Virgin appeared for a second time Nov. 27 that year. Catherine described her as “so beautiful that it seems to me impossible to express her ravishing beauty.” In this vision, Mary stood on a globe, with her feet crushing a serpent. She held a second, smaller, golden globe. Rays of light came from Mary's hands and lit up the globe on which she was standing. As a circle in the shape of a medal formed around the vision, the letters were written, “O Mary, conceived without sin, pray for us who have recourse to thee.”

During this vision, the Virgin told Catherine to have a medal struck after this model, and she promised graces for those who wore it with confidence. As the medal turned, Catherine saw the other side. Mary's initial (M) was surmounted by a cross, with the Sacred Heart of Jesus crowned with thorns and the Immaculate Heart of Mary pierced with a sword underneath. Twelve stars encircled the picture.

A short time after the apparitions, the medals were made and distributed as requested by Mary. So many miracles, conversions, and healings took place that within four years, two million more medals had to be made. The “Miraculous Medal,” the name later attached to it, earned the reputation of converting the hardest of hearts. One of the most famous conversions is that of Alphonse Ratisbonne, an agnostic Jew who later became a Catholic priest. One of the greatest proponents and distributors of the Miraculous Medal was St. Maximilian Kolbe, an Auschwitz martyr who died in the place of a Jewish prisoner.

Today, the Miraculous Medal remains an ever-flowing source of grace. Millions throughout the world wear it. Christians meditating on the medal will find summarized the entire doctrine of the Church concerning the providential role of Mary in the Redemption and especially her universal mediation.

With the popularity of the Miraculous Medal, the shrine in downtown Paris receives pilgrims from all over the world. At the chapel, pilgrims can find many references commemorating the apparitions of Mary. The incorrupt body of St. Catherine Labouré lies at the right side of the sanctuary. Above her is a statue of the Blessed Virgin with a golden globe. Behind the main altar is a splendid statue of the Madonna, located at the place where the Virgin first appeared in July 1830. Adorning the walls are many beautiful frescoes and paintings depicting the heavenly visits of the Blessed Mother to St. Catherine Labouré. At the left side of the sanctuary is a reliquary containing the body of St. Louise de Marillac.

Visitors can attend one of the many daily Masses celebrated throughout the day in the chapel. Pilgrims accompanied by a priest can also request to celebrate Mass with their group during their own visit to the shrine. (It is important to contact the sanctuary beforehand to reserve a time slot.) Official Marian devotions and services take place every day at 4:00 p.m.

For pilgrims who are hoping to stock up on Miraculous Medals, there is no better place to do it than here. Inside the small convent gift shop, visitors can buy Miraculous Medals in all different sizes—and in bulk packages.

Arriving at the shrine in downtown Paris is easy. From the Sèvres-Babylone subway (Métro) station, exit onto the street named rue de Sèvres. You will see a brown sign titled Chapelle Notre-Dame de la Medaille Miraculeuse. Follow this sign, which points you down rue de Sèvres. After one block, turn right onto rue du Bac. The chapel will be on your left about half a block down; the street address is 140 rue du Bac. (The shrine is next to Bon Marché.)

Of particular interest as well, is the shrine of St. Vincent de Paul, located just several blocks from the Miraculous Medal chapel. To reach the shrine, which features the body of St. Vincent de Paul in a glass reliquary, take a right onto rue du Bac as you exit the Miraculous Medal sanctuary grounds. Walk to the first corner and then turn right onto rue de Sèvres. After two or three blocks, on the other side of the street, five steps lead up to the chapel of St. Vincent de Paul. The address of the shrine is 95 rue de Sèvres.

For more information on making a pilgrimage to the shrine of Our Lady of the Miraculous Medal, contact one of the many Catholic travel organizations offering guided tours to France, or contact the shrine's pilgrimage office: Chapel of Our Lady of the Miraculous Medal Pilgrimage Reception Service, 140 rue du Bac, 75340 PARIS Cedex 07; (tel.) 011-33-149 54 78 88; (fax) 011-33-149 54 78 89.

Kevin Wright, author of Catholic Shrines of Western Europe, writes from Bellevue, Wash.\