La Salette, a mountain in the Alps of southeastern France,
was the sight on September 19, 1846, of an apparition of the
Virgin Mary to two children, Maximin Gigaud (age 11) and
Melanie Matthieu (age 15). The young people were out tending
cattle when they fell asleep. Upon awakening, they found that
the cattle had wandered off and they went to look for them. Just
as they located the cattle, they also saw a light that directed
their attention to a spot beside a spring that had some time previously
dried up. Then the children saw a woman sitting on a
rock and weeping. The woman called the children to her. As
they approached, the woman rose and moved to meet them.
She appeared suspended in mid-air.
As the children later related the story, the woman was
dressed in white. Pearls were on her dress, and roses on her
cape. She had a gold apron and a diadem of roses that radiated
light. She then gave to the children a lengthy message that reflected
upon the present poor harvest and predicted a future
famine in the country if the people did not refrain from taking
Christs name in vain and continued to neglect their attendance
The children, believing that they had seen a great saint, told
the story to the village priest upon their return to town and he
preached about it the following Sunday. His sermon tied in the
apparition of the Virgin Mary and caused many to return to the
spot of the apparition, where they discovered that the spring
had suddenly begun to flow. Though skeptics abounded, the
predicted crop failures occurred and finally a famine spread
during the years 185456. Some 250,000 died of starvation and
In 1851, the children communicated the secret message to
Pope Pius IX. While he did not reveal the secrets, he did say
that their essence was, Unless you do penance you shall all
perish. The secrets have not subsequently been revealed. In
the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, a number of
texts circulated purporting to be the secrets of La Salette. In
1951 the Vatican made a formal statement condemning their
various speculations as spurious. However, through La Salette,
the history of apparitions of Mary was introduced to the idea
of Mary conveying a secret message. Secret messages would
also be conveyed at Fatima and Medjugorje, and accompanying
several more questionable apparitions.
After official inquiry, La Salette joined the short list of apparitions
to which the Roman Catholic Church has given at least
a modest approval. A pastoral letter sent out in 1859 to the diocese
of Grenoble found the apparition, unique in its being concluded
in a singular appearance, worthy of credence. Pilgrims
still find their way to the site of the apparition and a variety of
healings have been reported. Afterward, Melanie entered the
religious life and eventually founded a new order. Over the
years she had a number of other visions and she finally wrote
a book, The Apparition of the Most Blessed Virgin on the Mountain
of La Salette. In the book she revealed the secret, which
caused the book to be placed in the index of forbidden books
and further discussion of her secret stopped. Maximin led a
very unstable and unhappy life, though on his deathbed he reaffirmed
the apparition. Of all of the generally known and approved
apparitions, La Salette is possibly the most questionable.
Connor, Edward. Recent Apparitions of Our Lady. Fresno,
Calif. Academy Guild Press, n.d.
Delaney, John J. A Woman Clothed with the Sun Eight Great
Appearances of Our Lady in Modern Times. Garden City, N.Y.
Hanover House, 1960.
Kennedy, John S. Light on the Mountain The Story of LaSalette.
New York McMullen Books, 1953.
OReilly, James P. The Story of La Salette. Chicago J. S.
Paluch & Co., 1953.