150 years ago, on January 17, 1871, children of the small village of Pontmain in Normandy (France) witnessed this miraculous event during a particularly harsh winter.
On January 17, 1871, Paris was besieged; two-thirds of the country was in the power of the Germans. The battle of Le Mans had laid Mayenne and Brittany open to the invaders. In this time of direst trouble, prayer was rising from different parts of France as from one heart and from one voice, most earnestly near that spot where the invader’s next attack was expected. This spot was Laval, the chief town of Mayenne.
Then it was that Pontmain, a hamlet of some five hundred inhabitants, was to become forever memorable, because of the heavenly favor bestowed upon it that night. Even its geographical position on the borderland between Brittany and Mayenne was to assume historical importance. Seen by the light of the celestial drama about to be enacted above it, it was to appear as a sentinel guarding Brittany.
The four children who were visited by Our Lady that evening were Joseph Barbedette aged 10, and his brother Eugene aged 12, Françoise Richer aged 11, and Jeanne-Marie Lebrosse aged 9. The two boys had been helping their father in the barn when the eldest, Eugene, walked over towards the door to look out. As he gazed at the star-studded sky he noticed one area practically free of stars above a neighboring house. Suddenly he saw an apparition of a beautiful Lady smiling at him. Their father saw nothing except three large bright stars forming a triangle in the sky, but Joseph also sees the Lady!
There is nothing to it, declare the parents, and the boys are to get on with work and then come in for supper. After a quick meal, the boys still see the beautiful Lady, so the Sisters of the school are called. Again, they see nothing. The Blessed Virgin Mary smiled constantly and remained motionless in the same position until 9 pm. The children, parish priest, and parishioners have gathered together, Father Guerin commences to pray the Rosary with them. At this moment the Lady becomes larger and the stars on Her cloak multiply and a lighted banner is unfurled under Her feet. Later, the two girls from a local school, Francoise Richer and Jeanne Marie LeBosse were brought and could also see the Lady, while a growing crowd of sixty adults had gathered.
Joseph Barbadette, afterward became a priest of the Congregation of the Oblates of Mary Immaculate (while his brother Eugene became a secular priest, and Jeanne-Marie Lebossé, became a nun.) Joseph described the apparition as follows:
In the air, seven or eight meters above Augustin Guidecoq’s house, I saw a woman of extraordinary beauty. She appeared to be young—about eighteen or twenty years of age—and tall of stature. She was clad in a garment of deep blue. When we were told to describe exactly the shade of this blue, we could only do so by comparing it to balls of indigo such as laundresses use for rinsing linen. Her dress was covered with gold stars, pentagonal in form, all of the same size, and brilliant, but without emitting rays. They were not very numerous and seemed to be scattered over the blue without regard to method. The blue garment was ample, showing certain strongly marked folds, and without girdle or compression of any kind from neck to the feet. The sleeves were ample and long, falling over the hands. On the feet, which the dress left uncovered, were shoes of the same blue as the dress, and ornamented with gold bows. On the head was a black veil half covering the forehead, concealing the hair and ears, and falling over the shoulders. Above this was a gold crown resembling a diadem, higher in front than elsewhere, and widening out at the sides. A red line, from five to six millimeters wide, encircled the crown at about the middle. The hands were small and extended toward us as in the ‘miraculous medal,’ but without emitting rays. The face was slightly oval. To the freshness of youth was added the most exquisite delicacy of feature and of tint, the complexion being pale rather than otherwise. Smiles of ineffable sweetness played about the mouth. The eyes, of unutterable tenderness, were fixed on us. I give up further attempting to describe the beautiful figure of her who looked down upon us and smiled. Like a true mother, she seemed happier in looking at us than we in contemplating her.
During the improvised liturgy, in the biting cold (the Rosary, Litanies, Marian hymns, etc.), Our Lady silently unfolded a simple message spread under her feet:
"Pray, my children; God will soon answer your prayers. My Son allows Himself to be moved by compassion,” was the message of the Blessed Virgin, conveyed in words of gold on a band of glowing white light.
At the seventh prayer, the Parce Domine, an expression of suffering and pain appears on the Blessed Mother's Face and a crucifix is formed which She holds with both of Her hands. Both the cross and Jesus are red. Above the crucifix is a small beam on which appears: “JESUS CHRIST” in letters of blood, whilst Our Lady’s deep sorrow radiates out over the crowd. A star breaks loose from the sky and extinguishes the four candles which surround the Lady. She never takes Her eyes off the Crucifix. When the parish priest of Pontmain commences the Ave Maria Stella the crucifix vanishes and Our Lady returns to Her original pose. Two small white crosses now appear on Her shoulders where they seem to be implanted. Slowly a large white veil floats upwards, to finally cover the apparition completely. The Lady then disappears totally.
On the evening of that ever-memorable January 17, 1871, the commander of the Prussian forces, having taken up his quarters at the archiepiscopal palace of Le Mans, said to Bishop Fillion, bishop of that diocese: “By this time my troops are at Laval.”
On the same evening, however, the Prussian troops in sight of Laval stopped at half-past five o’clock, about the time when the apparition first appeared above Pontmain, a few miles off. General Schmidt is reported to have said on the morning of the 18th: “We can not go farther. There was a Madonna barring the way.”
This sudden and inexplicable stopping of the German forces in sight of Laval, and their equally inexplicable retirement the following morning, meant, together with the saving of Brittany, the turning back of the tide of conquering soldiery from that part of France, the war was practically at an end. Twelve days later the armistice was signed at Versailles.
After that, the devotion to the Blessed Mother under the title of that of Notre Dame d’Esperance de Pontmain (Our Lady of Hope of Pontmain) was authorized by the ecclesiastical authorities, and the confraternity of that name has been extended all over the world. Signal favors, both spiritual and temporal, have been granted by Heaven through it. What message, indeed, can be more consoling to hearts in the midst of hardship and tribulation everywhere, than the tender promise of the Blessed Mother, “Pray, my children; God will soon answer your prayers”?
The Power of Children's Prayer
The message of Pontmain very clearly shows us the effect of the children's prayers. One should turn to prayer, especially in times of trials.
We remember Our Lady’s message in Pontmain very clearly. We can look at Her as She appears in the words of the hymns. Mother of Hope, protect us…..pray for us. Mary raises Her arms whilst She looks at the small Red Cross on her Heart: This shows Our Lady to be very close to Her Son on The Cross, thus She is Our Mother of Redemption who intercedes for us.
During the Parce Domine Mary pleads with us to offer Holy Mass as thanks to God Our Father for His Son Jesus Christ Our Lord, the Redeemer. The red cross with the red Corpus, the bloody letters, and the lighted candles on either side point once more to The Holy Mass. Finally, during the Ave Maris Stella the children see Her as She appears on the Miraculous Medal, giving very generously and the two small white crosses implanted in Her shoulders, speak to us of ‘Triumph’ though God’s Intervention. At Pontmain, Our Lady shows us that She can intercede for us if we listen to and obey her Messages.
A large basilica was built at Pontmain and consecrated in 1900. The apparition in Pontmain was fully approved by the Holy See on February 1875.