Our Lady of Pontmain

Our Lady of Hope is the title given to the Virgin Mary on her apparition at Pontmain, France on January 17, 1871.

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During the war with Germany, things were not going well for France. The Germans marched to Laval. All the people were suffering from the effects of ill-advised advice taken by Napoleon III.

On 19th July, 1870, Emperor Napoleon III of the second Empire declared war against Prussia. From the first days of the war, defeat followed defeat. On 1st September, 1870, the Emperor, together with 80,000 French soldiers were imprisoned. It was for this reason that men and boys, with no previous military training, were drafted to the army. They all came from the scarcely five-hundred inhabitants of Pont-Main, France. Before the draftees left, they all went to Confession, heard Mass, and received Holy Communion. Father Guerin blessed them and consecrated them all to the Blessed Virgin Mary.

On 17th January, 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 dire trouble, prayer rose from different parts of France as from one heart and from one voice, most earnestly near the spot where the invaders' next attack was expected. This spot was Laval, chief town of Mayenne.

The German army was advancing towards the west of France. On the 12th January, 1871 it entered Le Mans. By Tuesday, the 17th, it had reached the gates of Laval. There were a huge number of deserters. They were deaf to the voice of the officers. Two of them were executed, but this example had no effect on the others, wrote Admiral Jaureguiberry, the officer in the command of this sector.

It was snowing. Night and day wagons passed through Laval from east to west. All day long the wounded were being set down. They needed care. In the countryside farmers were hiding their possessions - money, corn, wine and linen.

Everything was going wrong. An outbreak of typhoid had been declared. Smallpox was spreading. At Laval, people were being vaccinated. Some commentators wrote that even the elements seemed disturbed. On the 11th of January an Aurora Borealis made a deep impression on many. Some saw in it the masts of a phantom ship; others, on the steeples of the cathedral.

By the 17th January, 1871, the Prussians were just across the river from Laval, which is the City next to Mayenne. About half past twelve, there was an earthquake in Pont-Main. Fear was widespread. "No use praying. God doesn't hear us", they were saying in Pont-Main.

Then it was that Pont-Main, a hamlet of some five-hundred inhabitants, was to become forever memorable, because of the heavenly favour vouchsafed 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.

Site of the Apparition

At Pont-Main, though the roars of cannons could be heard, the Barbedette family was busy with their household chores before supper. The Barbedette were one of the oldest family of the region and also one of the most devout. The Mass, Rosary, and other prayers featured prominently in their daily activities. That night Caesar Barbedette and his two sons - Eugene, 12, and Joseph, 10, were at work in the horse stable, where they regularly slept. Jeanette Detais visited them for some neighbourly talk. Bored by adult conversation, when Eugene went to the barn door to check the weather, his eyes gazed across the evening sky and he noticed an unusual sight at the roof of Augustine Guidecog's house, some seventy feet away from him. The stars seemed to melt away and suddenly about five feet above the roof, there appeared a beautiful Lady.

The Description of the Lady

The Lady as described by Eugene was dressed in a flowing robe of deep radiant blue studded with gold stars. The sleeves were full, extending up to the hands. She was wearing blue slippers, tied with golden ribbon in the shape of a rosette. Her hair was completely covered with black veil thrown over her shoulders reaching down to the level of her elbow. On her head a gold crown rose slightly to a peak. It had no ornament in front except a red band circling the centre. Her hands were extended - "like the Miraculous Medal", but without the rays of light.

Apparition as seen by Eugene and Joseph

The Lady was smiling at Eugene. And as he heard Jeanette coming, he pointed to the sky for her to see the heavenly spectacle. But she saw nothing. Their voices had attracted Caesar Barbedette and his other son Joseph. When they came outside, the father also saw nothing but Joseph saw the Lady as his brother saw it. Their mother was called and saw nothing too. By now the neighbours became aware of the commotion and so the father and the mother tried to distract the attention of the boys but to no avail.

Apparition as seen by Frances, Jeanne Marie, Eugene Friteau and the Baby, Augustine

They then decided to call the two sisters of the village school, Sister Vitaline and Sister Marie Edward. Sister Vitaline came and she too saw nothing of the heavenly vision. She then sent three children - Frances Richer, 11, Jeanne Marie Lebosse, 9, and a third child. Both girls saw the smiling beautiful Lady, the third child could not. Sister Vitaline then came with Sister Marie Edward who in turn fetched Father Guerin. They all saw nothing of the apparition which the children were describing to them. Another child by the name of Eugene Friteau, six and half, also saw the Lady, sickly as he was. A neighbour, Madame Boitin, with her two-year old, Augustine, joined the crowd which had now gathered together by the barn. The baby in her childish way reached out with her little arms towards the Apparition and showed signs of joy.

The Message

From time to time the Lady would look sad because of some haughty and rowdy people in the crowd, but she would smile back especially with the prayers and hymns, the Rosary and Marian songs of the people led by Father Guerin and the two sisters. As the congregation was reciting the Rosary, stars gathered two by two, below the Lady's feet as if representing the Hail Marys of the Rosary. Then a white banner, about a yard wide, unrolled beneath the Lady's feet, thus, forming a perfect rectangle. Here she spelled her message:


"My Son allows Himself to be moved" is an incorrect translation of the French which read: "Mon fils se laisse ...." This is very significant because only the children could see the letters as they unfolded. When, all together, they spelled the word "laisse". The nun school teacher who was present corrected the children and said: "There has no 'i'. ( 'Se laisse' alone would translated 'My Son allows himself', make no sense "se lasse" : this is translated to: "My Son grows weary" . But they (who saw the message) said "no", and repeated the word "laisse". "There is a 'i'" they said.

The end of Apparition

After some time, she raised her hands to the height of her shoulder, arms out and bent slightly backwards and elbows close to her body. Then a large red cross appeared in the hands of the Blessed Virgin. The figure of the crucified Christ was a darker red hue but no blood was flowing from the wounds. The community prayed their night prayers together. A large white veil began to cover the figure of the Virgin, slowly rising to her face and then she gave her last smile to the children. As the night prayers came to a close, the apparition ended. It was about nine o'clock. The Apparition ended after lasting about three hours.

The Miracle after the Apparition

In the meantime, late that night of the 17th January, General Von Schmidt of the Prussian Army who was about to run over Laval towards Pont-Main, received orders from his Commander not to take the city. The invasion of the Catholic West never came off. On 23rd January, 1871, the long-hoped for Armistice was signed. The promise, "God will soon grant your request", of Our Lady of Hope had been fulfilled. Soon all the thirty-eight conscripted men and boys returned home unscathed.

On the evening of the ever-memorable 17th January, 1871, the Commander of the Prussian forces, having taken up his quarters at the archiepiscopal palace of Le Mans, told Msgr. Fillion, Bishop of that diocese: "By this time my troops are at Laval".

On the same evening, the Prussian troops in sight of Laval stopped at half-past five o'clock, about the time when the Apparition first appeared above Pont-Main, a few miles off. General Schmidt is reported to have said on the morning of the 18th: "We cannot go farther. Yonder, in the direction of Brittany, there is an invisible 'Madonna' barring the way."

Authorization of the Our Lady of Hope

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 Virgin under the title of that of Notre Dame d' Esperance de Pont-Main, Our Lady of Hope of Pont-Main, 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.

Official church recognition and approval

After the apparition of Our Lady of Hope on January 17, 1871, pilgrims made up of both the clergy and the laity came to Pont-Main. At the same time, inquiries and investigations were made about the apparition; the visionary children were submitted to various intense interrogations.

Finally, on the Feast of the Purification, February 2, 1872, Msgr. Wicart, Bishop of Laval, issued a pastoral letter giving a canonical judgment on the apparition.

Thus, the veneration of Our Lady of Hope of Pont-Main was given official Church recognition and approval.

Pope Pius XI gave a final decision regarding the mass and office in honor of Our Lady of Hope of Pont-Main.

A final papal honor was given to Our Lady of Hope on July 16, 1932 by Cardinal Pacelli, who later became Pope Pius XII, by passing a decree from the Chapter of St. Peter's Basilica that the statue of the Blessed Lady, Mother of Hope, be solemnly honored with the crown of gold. The Lady then was crowned in the presence of archbishop, bishops, priests and the laity by Cardinal Verdier, Archbishop of Paris. The coronation took place on July 24, 1934.

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