But this year we will also travel to La Salette, for obvious reasons, to visit the place at the top of French Alps, where Our Lady predicted that Rome will lose the Faith. And then it’s on down to the South of France where we will visit holy places that were themselves visited by some of the holiest figures in history, including those that stood at the foot of the Cross.
If readers are interested in joining Chris Ferrara, John Rao, Father Pendergraft, Jamie Bogle and me on this 12-day pilgrimage to France, please see our ad on Page 16 for details. The dates are May 11- May 23, 2016. I look forward to seeing you on the road to Chartres. MJM
Cotignac: An Apparition of St. Joseph
The Benedictine monastery, on the site of Saint Joseph’s Well, is like a splash of light appearing amid the dark woods that surround it. It stands there, on the slopes of the Bessillon mountain, in a place that is twice blessed.
Firstly, it is in Provence, where Christianity was first brought to France, and where the first monastic foundations were established in the fourth century.
Secondly, it is at Cotignac, a place of prayer, a chosen land, visited by the two greatest saints in the history of Christendom, the Virgin Mary and Saint Joseph. The truth of the words of the bishop of Fréjus on the 31st of January, 1661, is borne out today, at Cotignac: “God, through the blessings that he wished to grant in honor of Saint Joseph, sought to make indivisible in the devotion of the faithful, the two holy persons (Mary and Joseph) whom he had joined together on earth, for the mystery of our salvation.”
There are few recorded instances of apparitions of Saint Joseph, and perhaps none as interesting as this one. On June 7th of 1660, a shepherd of 22 years of age, named Gaspard Ricard, was herding his sheep to the east side of Mount Bessillon. At roughly 1pm the heat grew stronger and harder to bear. Very tired and thirsty, he decided to lay upon the rocky ground for a rest, when suddenly a tall man stood next to him and pointed to a nearby rock saying: “I am Joseph, lift the rock and you will drink.”
The startled young man saw that the large rock looked heavy enough to require about eight men to move it. He asked how he would be able to do this alone, as there were no other men to be found in the area that day. St Joseph reiterated his instruction to lift the rock. Gaspard obeyed and, much to his surprise, he was able to lift it easily. Upon moving the rock he found fresh water flowing from underneath. He eagerly began to drink and, looking up, found that St Joseph had disappeared.
With haste he ran into town, crying this news to the villagers. Since he was known to be an upright and honest man, the villagers tended to believe his story. That belief was confirmed when they followed him to the site of the apparition and saw the water flowing from the ground. And, indeed, the rock was too heavy for one man to move. Within three hours the small spring had become a fountain of overabundant water.
As a result of these occurrences, King Louis XIV (1638-1715) decreed that day to be a holiday and, after making his own pilgrimage to this place, he consecrated France – as well as himself – to St. Joseph. These waters which sprang forth in Cotignac, France, would become a sign of hope for many people, as these waters have curative properties for both the body and the soul. A sanctuary was constructed in 1663 that is there today. One of the documented miracles that took place was recorded in 1662 by a priest who had gone there the previous year:
“The fathers (of Our Lady of Graces) have assured me that there have been 52 processions between Easter and Pentecost, and that there were 6000 people within the octave of the latter feast. The waters of St. Joseph bring miracles. Since I returned, a man whom we know from Avignon, born lame, went to the spring and came back cured, having left his crutches there. Everyone drinks and carries away the water.” – Father Allard of the Oratory, 1662
The facts are duly attested by abundant sources which have been well preserved. One thing which happened in the months following the apparition is remarkable: The Consuls of Cotignac, as politicians and as responsible Christians, believed in the apparition and soon made arrangements to cope with the increasing volume of pilgrims flocking to the site. The construction of a Chapel was decided upon. A charity was formed to pay for it. Building was begun on August 9 and was completed the following October. However, this chapel was soon outgrown, and in 1661 a much larger church was started in the style of the period. It is the same St. Joseph's Sanctuary, consecrated in 1663, which The Remnant Tours group will visit and offer the traditional Latin Mass.
But at the time the big question was who, secular priests or religious order, was going to be in charge of St. Joseph's Chapel. The population of Cotignac and its elected representatives wanted the Oratorian Fathers of Our Lady of Graces, and the Bishop of Frejus finally agreed. So it was right up to the Revolution of 1789.
The water source at the foot of the St. Joseph Sanctuary has never dried up; it is still visible beneath the sanctuary on the side. Neither have the graces withered, the listing of which would be impossible, say the Benedictine Sisters, who have made this their privileged abode since 1977 when they returned from Algeria and who have the Latin Mass and wear the traditional habit.
To all those who pray with faith, St. Joseph replies with a father's heart. He brings back the hearts of children to their parents, protects the unborn child, reconciles feuding brothers, and restores the will to live. He is also the patron of departing souls. On a personal note, I intend to make this pilgrimage in thanksgiving for my mother’s recent happy death.
St. Joseph, protect your Church!
St. Mary Magdalene’s Cave
Next we will move on to the sites where the great St. Mary Magdalene spent her last days. Yes, she died in France.
The life of Mary Magdalene after Jesus’ Ascension is a seldom-told tale. The life of “she who loved much” needs no embellishment, dramatization or glorification. The beauty, the drama, the dignity and grandeur are all there, ennobled with the divinity of Christ's presence.
Church tradition, legend, and the historical record unfold an extraordinary life of repentance, conversion and love. The Gospels reveal that she had been given a mission, namely to announce the Good News; that she had seen Christ risen from the dead. As the first eyewitness to this greatest event in Christian history, Mary Magdalene could not and would not keep this wondrous news to herself. She was a woman of fervor and courage and total devotion to Christ. Such great love must find expression.
When the first persecutions scattered the little Church of Jerusalem, those who were scattered went everywhere, preaching the word of Christ. Thus the persecuted Christians went about numerous ports around the Mediterranean basin that included Greece, Italy, Spain, France, and many other countries within the Roman Empire. France was then called Gaul; and the new life of Mary Magdalene begins there, on its Mediterranean coast. The area which cradles her tradition is known as “La Sainte Baume”.
The tradition that tells of the arrival of Mary Magdalene and her companions on the coast of Gaul goes back to the earliest centuries of Christianity. Her flight from the persecutions in Palestine is set at the year 42, the same year that James the Greater was executed in Jerusalem.
Accompanied by Martha, Lazarus, Mary Salome and Mary Jacoby, the disciples Maximin and Sidonius, with Marcella their servant, Mary Magdalene embarked on a small boat across the Mediterranean, and arrived near the city of Marseilles, then known as Massilia. The small port where they came ashore was called Rha that later became known as Saintes-Maries-de-la-Mer (Holy Marys of the Sea). Tradition maintains that the boat with its eight passengers docked safely, and that it had neither oars, sails, nor steering device. It could have run into a storm that destroyed its gear, or it could have been pushed out to sea in that unstable condition by their persecutors; whatever the actual cause of the crippling of their boat, they all set foot in Rha.
Mary Salome, Mary Jacoby and Marcella remained in Rha while the others made their way overland to Massilia. Arriving in Massilia was like entering any other Roman-occupied city with its paved streets, shops, villas, gardens, pools, a stadium or theater, and inns. It was an important commercial port. Whether its people were familiar with the news concerning the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, is not known.
In any event, it is said that the small group began to preach near the temples where the pagan Gods were worshipped. Statues of these Roman deities—Jupiter, Juno, Minerva, Diana, Venus, Mars, Apollo and others –adorned the temples, and religious ceremonies were held at the altars dedicated to them.
Mary Magdalene and her companions denounced the false Gods, and preached the Gospel of Jesus Christ. They converted many. Sometime later, Martha left them to go to Tarascon, a place roughly 25 miles northwest of Massilia, Maximin went to Aix, 20 miles north of Massilia, while Mary Magdalene, Lazarus and Sidonius continued to preach in the city.
After some months, Mary Magdalene and the disciple Sidonius took leave of Lazarus in Massilia, where he became its first bishop, and travelled northward, following the Huveaune river until they reached its source in the hills that would become known as La Sainte Baume. The immense natural cave they discovered in the rocks, the size of a large house, became the new home of Mary Magdalene. Some miles down in the valley was the village bearing the Roman name of Villalata, which in centuries to come would be known as Saint-Maximin-La-Sainte-Baume.
It was in that magnificent cave-grotto that Mary Magdalene spent the next 30 years of her life in solitude, meditation and contemplation. But her solitude was only that of the world, for seven times a day angels came down to the cave and took her to the top of the hill where she was given the grace to hear the music and songs of heaven. From this height, the view stretches as far as the Mediterranean, and overlooks the surrounding forest, hills and valleys. On a clear day, one can visualize the coast of Africa across the sea; and further east, Palestine.
Record states that Magdalene neither ate nor drank for the thirty years that she lived in the grotto. It is also presumed that during her 30 years as a hermitess in the cave of La-Sainte-Baume, she suffered and sacrificed in reparation not only for her own sins, but as a victim soul for others, and that the early Church benefitted greatly from her sacrificial life of penance and mortification, offered in union with her beloved Jesus, for the sake of His Church.
Following the 30 years spent in prayer and longing to be reunited with Jesus, the day came when Jesus enlightened her that death was approaching, and He guided her down the hill toward the village of Villalata. On the way there (and a pillar still marks the place), she was met by Maximin who had been divinely inspired to go to meet her and lead her to his church. Once there, having received Holy Communion from his hand, she fell lifeless before the altar. The date was July 22, around the year 72 A.D.
We will visit her grotto, accessible only by a steep, zigzagging climb up the side of a cliff. The cave is adorned with flickering votives and a beautiful, larger-than-life sculpture of the saint herself, reclined in prayer. I visited this holy place many years ago, and have never forgotten it. In fact, having had a lifelong devotion to St. Mary Magdalene I long to return, especially since the incorrupt skull of the great saint is displayed in the cathedral that is actually connected to our hotel (an old converted convent that dates back to the 17th century). I hope you will join us. And if you cannot, please consider helping to sponsor one of the deserving young people whose letters appear on page 3 of this issue.
These are magnificently Catholic pilgrimages that, over the years, have changed so many lives. We offer spiritual direction, daily Mass, Confession and plenty of lectures on Catholic history and Catholic action. Please pray for the success of this our 25th pilgrimage to what’s left of Catholic France.
More information about this year's Remnant pilgrimage to Paris, Chartres, La Salette and the South of France.