|Facade of Church of
Notre-Dame du Chêne
The Missionaries of La Salette, founded upon the event of the Apparition of La Salette, have taken pastoral care of their own Shrine on the Holy Mountain in France. Over the past 150 years, they have also been invited to take over the pastoral care of other shrines to Our Lady in France including L’Hermitage in Noirétable, Notre Dame de Thau in Sète, and Notre Dame de Pipet in Vienne.
In November of 2007, they received an invitation to take care of the Shrine of Our Lady of the Oak. They gladly accepting this responsibility and officially took charge of the shrine during a solemn celebration on December 8, 2007.
The Shrine of Our Lady of the Oak lies in the heart of the magnificent Loue Valley, near Ornans, 180 miles north of Grenoble and near the Italian border. In this part of the country, the advent of mild weather marks the arrival of numerous pilgrims and tourists. They are probably not aware that here in this picturesque area – long before the apparitions at Lourdes, La Salette and Pontmain – an extraordinary event occurred.
A Special Day, A Blessed Event
The restoration of Catholic worship that followed the Concordat in 1802 made it possible for the little parish of Maisières at Scey-en-Varais to organize a solemn celebration of First Holy Communion, the first such celebration since the dark days of the French Revolution. Thirteen-year-old Cécile Mille was among the first communicants in the following year.
Returning home from the First Communion Mass together with a friend, Cécile saw a beautiful Lady clothed in white surrounded by maidens bearing candles. She assumed it was a procession of First Communicants. Then the Lady stopped in front of an oak tree and the attendants disappeared. Against the trunk of the tree, at the parting of the branches, Cécile saw a statue with lighted candles on both sides. Cécile's friend, however, saw nothing.
|Interior of Church of
Notre-Dame du Chêne
She recounted that “when they disappeared, I was afraid. We ran off to the first house in Maisières, Mr. Verny's house, and I told him everything that had happened.” No one in the parish or in her family would believe Cecile's story. “It's true, as true as the shining sun”, she would say to her father Pierre-Antoine, who cultivated vineyards in Malcote. He would just tell her to “stop this nonsense.” But the events that followed would eventually make him change his mind.
It Happened Again
On the feast of the Assumption of the same year, 1803, between 7AM and 8AM, Cécile's father, Pierre–Antoine Mille, his three daughters, and an itinerant laborer named Louis Seure were on their way to Mass. Passing the oak tree, Cécile's younger sister Marguerite said to Louis Seure, “This is where my sister said she saw the lady on the day of her First Communion.” With that, Seure looked at the oak tree and saw brilliant rays of light emanating from the tree trunk. As the church bell was ringing for Mass and the little group did not want to be late, they hurried away, having decided to return to the spot after Mass.
After Mass, returning to the oak tree with a ladder and an axe, the little group found themselves surrounded by the entire village of Maisières. Monsieur Seure opened the trunk of the tree at the spot indicated by the rays of light. Within the tree was a little earthenware statue of the Blessed Virgin, about six inches tall, dating from the time of Louis XIV. Some devotee of the Mother of God had placed the statue there; with time, the tree grew around the statue, hiding it completely from view.
More to the Story
|Statue above main altar of
Notre-Dame du Chêne
The little statue hidden in the oak tree escaped the iconoclastic fury of the Revolution. Many other images of the Blessed Virgin Mary were desecrated, defaced, or destroyed. Before the Revolution, Cécile Mille's grandfather had enthroned a similar statue of the Blessed Virgin in another tree in the same valley. The tree was chopped down and the statue desecrated, under the pretext that the laws of the Revolution forbade all “emblems of superstition.” Our Lady of the Oak chose to reveal herself to the granddaughter of the very man who had honored another image of her in the same place. The impiety of the revolutionaries was confounded by the piety of a young First Communicant.
Perhaps Notre–Dame–du–Chêne revealed herself hiding in the oak tree to give people a visible sign of her presence and to invite them to come to her. In her arms she bears Jesus. Together, the two of them hold a bunch of grapes, the sign of the Eucharist.
Today the little statue is enshrined in the little neo–gothic church that resembles a jewel box set in the woods. The walls of the church are covered with white marble ex–voto plaques attesting to the countless healings and other signs and graces granted through the intercession of the Blessed Virgin Mary. Among the more remarkable ex–votos is one commemorating a Mass celebrated in the church during which the faithful heard choirs of angels singing the preface with the priest!
The Church Investigates
|Medal of Notre-Dame du Chêne|
The local Pastor, Fr. Dupuy, was soon advised of the event, and he came to see for himself. It was he who would write the detailed account carefully preserved in the archives. He concluded with these words: “After Mass, everyone went to the oak. It was carved out in the area indicated by the lights, and a terra cotta Madonna was found. After gathering information, without bias of any kind, since I am not inclined to believe in apparent miracles, I am now a firm believer.”
About two years before the Apparition of La Salette, Cardinal Mathieu, archbishop of Besançon, created an official commission of enquiry on May 31, 1844. The commission took its work seriously and over forty persons came to testify under oath.
In the name of the Church, the cardinal archbishop officially pronounced the event authentic. He called for a chapel to be built near “the place where the oak tree was and where the miraculous apparition took place.” The first contribution for the chapel’s construction came from the prelate himself.
The Missionaries of Our Lady of La Salette now minister at the Shrine of Our Lady of the Oak, appreciating how important Mary’s visits to her people are and how much we can still learn from the Mother of the Son of God.
(Originally published in the La Salette French Publication, Les Annales; see also article by Fr. Mark on Notre Dame du Chêne)