Sanctuary in the Alps


Michael Matt

EDITOR, The Remnant


Nestled in a mountain pass, high in the Alps of southern France, there is a most amazing place that, like the fictitious Shangri-La, is hidden away from the rest of the world and is truly unlike anything one's ever seen. The place is a picturesque mountain hamlet that is as quaint as it is supremely restful, and as serene as it is breathtakingly beautiful. A mere handful of tiny dwellings and a perfectly charming little inn surround a basilica on a hill that overlooks a magnificent panoramic view of an immense valley that lies peacefully between the snowcapped peaks of the Alps. There is little to remind one of the technological advances of modern science about this place, and, as a matter of fact, rather than the usual din of planes, trains and motor cars to which modern man has become so accustomed, one hears only the gentle winds intermixed with the peaceful tinkle of sheep's bells, as small herds of sheep make regular use of the only thoroughfare through the hamlet. The sound of the basilica's bells clanging out their ancient reminders at regular intervals also echoes across the valley and fades into the vast expanse of the mountainous green depths; but, apart from all this, peace reigns in this strangely captivating haven of silence.

But why, one might ask, is there such a beautiful basilica located so high in the mountains to serve such a sparsely populated region? Something wonderful must have taken place here! Indeed, something wonderful did!

This place has an unreal atmosphere about it that is enhanced by an almost holy silence which whispers up and down the grassy slopes and jagged meadows of the valley that is called Vallon des Fours. Time seems to stand still there, and the traveler can close his eyes, breathe in the clear mountain air and feel as though at any moment he will be able to see into the past and into another world that exists somewhere beneath the mists of another age. Perhaps the traveler may stop and ask what this place is, and why it is that something seems to take hold of the soul there and begs one never to return again to the outside world. The answer he receives is as unusual as the place itself, for the story of this strange spot is an extraordinary one which began, in fact, once upon a time over three centuries ago in the year 1664, when a shepherd girl named Benoite walked the hamlet that is now, as it was then, simply called Laus.

It was in May of the year 1664 that the little hamlet of Laus received a most wondrous gift, a visit from a queen of unfathomable greatness, who would make of Laus a sanctuary in the Alps that would withstand the test of time and last until the very end of the world. Notre Dame Du Laus (Our Lady of Laus) appeared to Benoite Rencurel over three centuries ago and left a powerful message of hope for mankind that has been, like the hamlet of Laus itself, all but forgotten by the rest of the weary world, which balances precariously on the edge of the bedlam of the modern times that form such a striking contrast to the serenity of the place called Laus.

Those readers who participated in this year's Remnant Pilgrimage and religious Tour of France, had the rare opportunity to visit the shrine of Notre Dame Du Laus, which was, I believe, an experience that will never be forgotten. As a result of the hard work and dedication of our tradition-minded Catholic allies in France, The Remnant Pilgrimages in years past have been able to visit some of the most famous apparition shrines in the world. Wonderful places, such as La Salette, Lourdes, and Paray le Monial—places that were more spiritually invigorating and rewarding than mere words could possibly describe. And, yet, I do not exaggerate when I say that the little shrine of Notre Dame Du Laus had a greater impact on the lives of those of us who visited it than did any of the other beautiful shrines we visited. It truly is like no other place.

Most of us, however, had never before even heard of the message or apparitions of Notre Dame Du Laus. Even most Catholics in France have not heard of Notre Dame Du Laus. Why? Because our Lady's message to Benoite, aside from being filled with great hope, also had another aspect to it—an aspect that is anything but popular to the Church in the modern world. The message placed a tremendous amount of emphasis on the dangers of sin, the importance of repentance, the absolute "essential to salvation" nature of the Sacrament of Penance, and the necessity of receiving that Sacrament frequently. During the lifetime of Benoite, and for centuries after her death, Laus was a place of great spiritual healing through the Sacrament of Penance. An incredible number of Catholics from every class (peasantry, gentry, and nobility) over the centuries since 1647 found their way back onto the road that leads to salvation, as a direct consequence of the message of Notre Dame Du Laus and the sanctity of the seer Benoite, who proclaimed that message to the world.

The sanctuary at Laus is called the "Refuge of Sinners" and it is, perhaps, due to its emphasis on the evil of sin that the message of Our Lady to Benoite has been all but "swept under the carpet" of Modernism in this our new age of "enlightened," "grown-up" Catholicism.

So, what follows is the story of the apparitions of Notre Dame Du Laus and the life of the seer, Benoite. As you read it, remember the place as we have described it above and try to imagine the strange, unearthly atmosphere that surrounds the hamlet, the message and the story. And then remember this: along with the account of the apparitions of Notre Dame Du Laus, there is also a prediction which states that the extraordinary events and message of Laus would be forgotten and ignored by the world for a very long time.

However, word of Laus would re-surface, the prediction states, at a point in time when the End Times were close at hand.

But have no fear! As is the case with everything about Notre Dame Du Laus, there is also great hope close at hand; Our Lady also promised that Laus would always be a haven of safety and a refuge for sinners against any evil (spiritual or physical) that would be wrought against the world; even in the End Times, Laus, she promised, would be spared. Laus survived unscathed the hideous terrors and destruction of the ignominious French Revolution, just as it did the two world wars of our own century. For those who, in the End, can somehow journey to her special sanctuary high in the Alps, of southern France, there is Our Lady's promised deliverance from the powers of Hell. Let us hope that all those the world over who develop a devotion to Notre Dame Du Laus can somehow also reap the benefits of that special promise filled with hope that was given to the world three centuries ago through a shepherdess named Benoite by our merciful Mother—Our Lady of Laus.

Rencurel was born on 16 September 1647 to a peasant family near the village of Laus in the Diocese of Grenoble, France. Her father died when she was seven years old, and this resulted in great poverty and misery in the home of the widow. Madame Rencurel did not marry again, but devoted herself entirely to the care of her three daughters. In order to ensure that Benoite would have at least sufficient food to eat, she sent her to work as a shepherdess at the age of 12.

While looking after her sheep, Benoite loved to say her Rosary. By the time that she reached the age of 13, she took the Gospel very seriously, and when her village was in great misery due to poor harvests, she would deprive herself of food and give her bread to younger children who were starving.

On one occasion, two carters, notorious for their evil lives, attempted to take advantage of Benoite's youth and innocence. Rather than even allow them to draw near her, she risked her life by fleeing into a dangerous marsh. It remained firm beneath her feet, but when the carters attempted to follow her, they began to sink immediately and had to struggle back to dry land. Our Lady protects those whom she has selected for a great work.

In 1664, at the age of 17, Benoite was looking after her sheep in the Vallon (valley) des Fours near the village of St. Etienne (St. Stephen) when an unknown lady appeared to her. It seems that Our Lady had wished to make herself known to the shepherdess without revealing her true identity all at once. She would behave in precisely the same way to St. Bernadette at Lourdes. Benoite felt very attracted to the lady. And she returned each day to the Vallon des Fours. Our Lady wished to deepen the spiritual life of Benoite, and in order to teach her to be totally generous she asked the girl for her goat. Benoite was exceptionally attached to the animal, which she looked after almost as a pet. Despite the affection which she felt for the lady, Benoite refused to give it to her. She had not yet reached the stage of spiritual development where she was willing to renounce everything.

The unknown lady revealed her name to Benoite during the final apparition in the Vallon des Fours: "I am the Lady Mary," she told the shepherdess.

Benoite now had a great love for Our Lady and spoke to her with great sincerity. Our Lady revealed herself to the shepherdess in all her glory, resplendent in light, but without frightening her. During this apparition Benoite was scarcely able to see the face of the Blessed Virgin—so brightly was it shining.

Our Lady said to Benoite: "If you wish to see me again, go to Laus. You will find there a chapel from which a beautiful perfume comes."

The day following this apparition Benoite went to Laus and soon came upon the scent of an exquisite perfume coming from the neglected Chapel of the Bon Rencontre ("Happy Meeting"). She crept inside, and on its dusty altar she saw her beloved Lady Mary once more. She immediately offered her apron to protect the feet of the Blessed Virgin from the dust.

Our Lady now had complete confidence in Benoite and began to reveal the mission which she was to entrust to the shepherdess.

"I have asked my Son to give me Laus, and He has agreed," explained the Virgin. She told Benoite that it was her dearest wish that men should be brought to understand the love which God offered them. Benoite came to the chapel frequently during that winter (1644-1645). Our Lady continued to educate her and asked her to pray for those who lived badly, so that they would turn in repentance to her Son.

By this time, news of the apparitions had spread throughout the region, and people everywhere spoke of the visions of Benoite. In the Spring of 1665, many pilgrims came to Laus, and writings of the period testify to the fact that more than fifty sick and infirm people were cured within a few months.

It was soon discovered that cures took place frequently when pilgrims who prayed with true fervor were anointed with oil from the sanctuary lamp in the chapel. (That oil is still available in the Basilica at Laus for pilgrims who request it.)

Our Lady had asked Benoite to pray for sinners, but now she went even further and asked her to speak to them individually and to tell them to open themselves to God's forgiveness. Our Lady would beg the pilgrims to Laus to confess themselves, and thanks to her pleading many of them, both men and women, underwent a change, of heart and reconciled themselves with God in the Sacrament of Penance. Our Lady's plan had been realized, and now she said to Benoite: "I wish to have a church built here where many will be converted."

A beautiful church was built to accommodate the vast throngs of pilgrims, and it incorporated the entire Chapelle de Bonne Rencontre. The new church was called Notre Dame du Laus.

Once, during a vision, two saints were sent by Our Lady to Benoite to offer her a choice between two crowns. The first crown was of roses, the symbol of an easy and pleasant life of peace and happiness. The second crown was of thorns. It signified the renouncement of self and a lifetime of difficulties and suffering which would be encountered whenever she attempted to serve God and her neighbors. Benoite had no hesitation in choosing the second path, upon which she had already set foot, and accepted the crown of thorns offered to her by St. Catherine of Sienna.

On one occasion, while praying before a life-size crucifix, the Chris d'Avancon, the love that Benoite felt for her crucified Savior grew so profound that she longed ardently to be united with Him in the sufferings that He endured for the salvation of sinners. From that day onward, for nine years, from Thursday evening until Saturday morning, she was overcome by a painful ecstasy, in which she experienced in her own body the Passion of Our Lord.

When Benoite was 46 years old, the two priests with whom she had been working from the first years of the pilgrimage died. Their successors were two Jansenists, who inflicted a 19-year period of great suffering upon Benoite. They refused to believe that Our Lady had trusted her with a mission, and they forbade her to speak to the pilgrims, denied her Holy Communion, criticized her in public, and threatened to have her locked up.

Together with the exterior sufferings, she experienced great spiritual suffering, undergoing the most acute interior anguish. In order to make this suffering more bearable, angels were sent to give her Holy Communion.

Strengthened by the Bread of Heaven in which Our Lord gives Himself to us as food, Benoite remained faithful to her mission during this long and painful period of suffering.

On the evening of 15 August 1698, Benoite, who had identified herself so closely and so ardently with the Passion of Our Lord, was given a sublime experience of the happiness of Heaven. She saw Our Lady and the Saints participating fully in the Life and in the Joy of God. This vision captivated her both in body and in soul, and she lost all contact with the world that surrounded her. She was in ecstasy. This knowledge of Heaven, communicated directly to her intelligence, remained permanently in her mind, and imbued her with joy and certitude in the Divine Mercy despite all sufferings.

Worn out by her constant struggle against the spirit of evil, and by making herself available the pilgrims, Benoite reached the stage where she was physically unable to endure the strains of dealing with the endless crowds who wished to see her, talk to her, and touch her. She found it necessary from then on to hear Mass in a first floor oratory, away from the crowds.

Benoite died on 28 December 1718, in the 72nd year of her life. She departed form this earth in complete lucidity, her face radiant with joy. At 8 o'clock in the evening, she was reunited with the "Fair Lady" who, fifty-four years earlier, had first summoned her in the Vallon des Fours. She was buried in the basilica which had been built around the Chapel of the Bon Rencontre in order accommodate the vast crowds of pilgrims.

Although one of the lesser-known shrines of France, Laus is imbued with a special atmosphere not found in the commercialized nature of some of the better-known shrines. Laus was given by Our Lord to His Blessed Mother, and this can be sensed by all who come there. There is no souvenir shop, apart from a very modest one attached to the shrine, and the only commercial enterprise in the village is a small restaurant-bar belonging to a devout Catholic lady. It is dominated by a statue of Our Lady of Victories and was the venue for an impromptu concert of Latin hymns and popular songs sung by the 1995 Remnant pilgrims. All who come to Laus agree upon one thing—they found peace at Laus and they wish to return to that wonderful place again one day.

CONCLUSION

It is a matter of no small significance that the altar upon which Our Lady appeared to Benoite has been preserved unchanged, and that the Tridentine Mass, the only Mass known to Benoite, returned to that altar for the first time in years when it was celebrated for The Remnant pilgrims on June 7, 1995.

For, although the priests who care for the shrine at Laus today do not have permission to say the Tridentine Mass, they are sincerely orthodox and have obvious dedication and devotion to traditional Catholicism. One is left with the realization that somehow the Revolution in the Church never quite made it up into the mountains as high as Laus. Laus is being protected once again, even in our own age. There is a pre-Revolution peace that manifests itself everywhere at Laus, and it is plain to see that Catholicity reigns supreme high in the hills of Mary's special Refuge of Sinners.

Perhaps a concerted effort could be made by Catholics everywhere to make known to as many people as possible word of the Basilica of Laus, which Pope Leo XIII elevated to a minor basilica on March 18, 1893, or word of the holy seer Benoite Rencurel, whom the saintly Pope Pius IX proclaimed "Venerable Servant of God" on October 16, 1872, or word of the tremendous message of contrition, penance and hope that was revealed at the little mountaintop hamlet of Laus by the Queen of Heaven and Earth, our Blessed Mother, Mary-Notre Dame Du Laus.

Our Lady of Laus, pray for us sinners who have recourse to thee!

Supplemented by French texts translated into English by Michael Davies


[This article is taken from the September 15th, 1995 Issue of THE REMNANT.]
[It is released on the Internet with the permission of THE REMNANT.]
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