The Story of Our Lady of Pontmain:
January, 1871: It was wartime, and the invading Prussians were near. It was the height of the Franco-Prussian War, and the enemy had reached as far as Laval, located in the Normandy area of France. Victory seemed within their grasp as the Prussians marched across France. Some 30 miles further lay the hamlet of Pontmain, which would probably be next.
In addition to the war, the entire area was engulfed in a Typhoid epidemic and smallpox was spreading. It must have seemed to be the worst of times to those living here.
On January 11th, during the Battle of Le Mans, the Aurora Borealis (Northern Lights) put on a mysterious display that had everyone talking. Some people felt that it foretold something that was about to happen.
Not only that, but an earthquake occurred around noon of January 17th. People had begun to lose hope, and were beginning to feel that their prayers were not being heard...or at least not being answered. But, little did they know that their world was about to change!
As darkness enveloped the village on the evening of January 17, 1871, the Virgin Mary appeared to four children above a barn on the farm of the Barbadette family in Pontmain. Eugene, age 12, and his brother Joseph, age 10, were the first to see her in the sky. They described a beautiful lady in a dark blue dress covered with stars. She wore a black veil with a golden crown on her head. Two little girls, Francoise Richer, age 11, and Jeanne Marie LeBosse, age 9, also saw her in the sky.
A written message appeared on a large white banner which unrolled beneath the feet of Our Lady. A message was given to the people that God had heard their prayers and that He would answer their needs shortly. The single apparition lasted three hours.
Within eleven days, Prussia had mysteriously withdrawn its troops. An Armistice was signed and the war was over - Pontmain and France had been spared.
This is commemorated in the barn as shown at the right.
Within a year, the Bishop of Laval Diocese, Bishop Wicart, authorized devotion at the site. Today the Basilica of Our Lady of Hope welcomes the 200,000 pilgrims that come here to ask for her intercession.
The Basilica and the Barn:
You can visit both the barn (groups can say Mass there) as well as the magnificent Basilica which was built later.
The Basilica and the barn are open daily. The Basilica is very impressive and its large size reflects the popularity of the Shrine. It stands in stark contrast to the barn, which has retained its simplicity.
On the occasions we have visited you can just walk in the barn--there do not seem to be any attendants or anyone in particular in charge. There are a few gift shops in Pontmain selling various statues, books, etc related to the apparitions. Pontmain is not far from Mont St. Michel, the D-Day beaches and other attractions of this part of Normandy.
This is commemorated in the barn as shown in the photo at the right.
There is no train service to Pontmain, the nearest station is in Laval, about 30 miles away. From there you can take a taxi to the Shrine, there is no bus service.
1. Personal visits.
2. Catherine M. Odell, "Those who saw her", OSV Publishing, 1986.