The Event of La Salette and Its Spirit

Editor: This article, entitled "La Salette," was originally written by Fr. Roger R. Castel, M.S., for the “Dictionary of Mary,” published in 1985 in New York by the Catholic Book Publishing Company.

Untitled-1La Salette, a French town located in the Alps, was the place at which a Marian apparition occurred in the nineteenth century. On September 19, 1846, Maximin Giraud (eleven years old) and Melanie Calvat (fourteen years old) experienced an encounter with a woman whom they described as a "Beautiful Lady."

The two children were grazing sheep at La Salette, when they saw that this woman was seated and was crying. Upon seeing them, the "Lady" stood up and, while crying, spoke in French and in the local dialect. After that, the woman walked up a steep path and vanished into a bright light. According to the children, the light emanated from a crucifix on the woman's chest. Soon after this event, word spread, and pilgrims crowded the rough paths leading up to the site where the apparition occurred.

There soon arose, a basilica and the first units for lodging. In 1851, the local bishop, Philippe de Bruillard of Grenoble, affirmed the supernatural character of the apparition of La Salette. He based his decision upon a thorough inquiry of the event, complete with interviews of witnesses, and an examination of the apparition's message to the seers. Bishop de Bruillard wished to encourage the faith expression (prayer and devotion) practiced by pilgrims at La Salette.

The message of the visionaries of La Salette focuses on the conversion of all humanity to Christ. The "Beautiful Lady" of La Salette implores all people who would listen to "be reconciled to God." This conversion requires daily prayer and frequent reception of the Sacraments of Penance and the Eucharist.

The woman (the Virgin Mary) was in tears because she recognized the tremendous responsibility that free will places upon each person to lead a moral life and follow God's will. The message of La Salette traces the "narrow road that leads to life" (Matthew 7:14), like the steep and narrow path the "Beautiful Lady" climbed before melting away in the light.

After the visionaries' experience at La Salette, a Christian renewal transformed the region. In 1872, nationwide pilgrimages began to be formed across France. For more than 150 years, La Salette's spirit has been embodied in a movement that has gained convents, monasteries, congregations, and arch-confraternities. Christians everywhere saw or felt its influence. Saints (for example, John Vianney), pastors (such as Don Bosco), and religious writers (like J.K. Huysmans) have all been influenced by La Salette.

Though La Salette's message is embedded in the bygone environment of rural France of the nineteenth century, it has had a tremendous impact on the modern world. The spirit of La Salette is one of prayer, conversion, commitment and reconciliation.

(Reprinted with permission from the “Dictionary of Mary,” New York, Catholic Book Publishing Company, 1985)

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