A Holy Place in the French Alps

Surrounded by spectacular scenery and breathtaking views, Our Lady of La Salette shrine at the top of the Alps in southern France has become recognized as one of the most prominent Marian shrines in the world. Drawing more than one million visitors each year from every continent, the shrine recently celebrated the 150th anniversary of the Blessed Virgin's appearance at La Salette. The story of Mary's visit has been echoed throughout the world in numerous languages, and her message of peace and reconciliation has spread to the far corners of the earth.

The apparition of the Virgin Mary at La Salette took place on the sunny afternoon of Sept. 19, 1846. Afarmer from the nearby village of Corps had recruited two young children, Maximin and Mélanie, to shepherd his cows. After climbing up a mountain to a grassy plateau, the two young shepherds fell asleep as they watched the farmer's cattle grazing peacefully nearby.

Mélanie, who slept for about half an hour, awoke to find the cows missing. After she summoned Maximin, the two children quickly climbed the ravine only to find the animals grazing in the same spot where they had left them.

Descending the hillock, the children suddenly froze. Just a short distance away, a dazzling ball of light had burst into view. After a moment, the two shepherds recognized a woman seated, with her head buried in her hands, crying.

As the two shepherds neared the luminous being, she rose and said, “Come near, my children, do not be afraid. I am here to tell you great news.” Reassured by these words, the children dropped their sticks and hurried to meet her. As the children neared her, she continued to weep as she spoke about the loss of religion in the area, the desecration of the Sabbath, and the profanation of her Son's name.

After confiding different secrets to Maximin and Mélanie, she began to speak with great hope of the good things to come if people amended their lives. She then spoke several more words to the children and concluded, “Well, children, you will make this message known to all my people.” Then with a friendly wave she slowly vanished from their sight as she said, “Please, children, be sure to make this known to all my people.”

As the Lady vanished, Mélanie remarked that perhaps it was a great saint. Maximin replied that if only they had known, they would have asked her to bring them with her. Upon arriving back home, Maximin immediately told his family about the beautiful Lady. Mélanie was then summoned from her stable work and confirmed his story. Both children were shocked that nobody had seen the great light emanating from the hill.

Upon hearing the news of the apparition, the parish priest, teary-eyed and trembling, related the story in his homily during the Mass. The town's mayor, however, was deeply disturbed by the incident and summoned the two children for questioning. With bribes and threats the mayor unsuccessfully tried to silence them.

News of the apparition spread quickly throughout the region, eventually reaching Rome. Believers and non-believers alike went to the mountain top. Many interrogated the children in hopes of trapping them into some contradiction. All were unsuccessful. After five years of diligent inquiries by ecclesiastical authorities, the apparitions of La Salette were given official recognition.

On May 1, 1852, the bishop of Grenoble published a decree announcing the construction of a shrine on the mountain of La Salette, as well as the founding of the religious order Missionaries of Our Lady of La Salette. On Sept. 19, 1855, the bishop summarized the situation: “The mission of the two shepherds has come to an end, that of the Church now begins. Those men and women of all nations and races who have found in the message of La Salette the path to conversion, a deepening of their religious faith, a vital force for daily living, and a rationale for their commitment to Christ in the service of others, are beyond number.”

The shrine of Our Lady of La Salette is located in a high alpine pasture at an altitude of about 6,000 feet, about nine miles from the nearest settlement. Easily accessible by car, bus, and taxi, the shrine operates a first-class hospitality service with accommodations ranging from dormitory bunks to hotel-like rooms. La Salette offers the visitor an excellent setting for contemplative prayer and retreats with its spectacular mountain scenery. The shrine welcomes pilgrims throughout the year, except during its annual closure every November.

Among the greatest attractions at the shrine are its basilica and hospitality center, as well as the site of the apparition (marked by statues) and the spring that began to flow after the Virgin's appearance. Video presentations, daily Mass, and prominent Eucharistic and Marian processions are just some of the many activities and events taking place at the shrine. Nearby trails also offer an opportunity for visitors to enjoy a walk in the beautiful countryside of the Alpine Mountains.

To arrive at La Salette by car from Grenoble, take N85 south to Corps, then follow the signs to the shrine (nine miles). To arrive at La Salette other than by car, one must use a combination of both train and bus service. There is no railway station at La Salette; the nearest one is at Grenoble. During the summer months, an early morning bus departs daily from Grenoble for La Salette. Outside of the summer months, one must use a combination of bus and taxi service.

For more information on making a pilgrimage to the shrine of Our Lady of La Salette, contact one of the many Catholic travel organizations offering guided tours to France or contact the shrine's pilgrimage office at: Sanctuaire Notre Dame De La Salette, F-38970 La Salette; (tel.) 011-33-476-30-00-11; (fax) 011-33-476-30-03-65.

Kevin Wright writes from Bellevue, Washington.