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 Christ's name in vain and continued to neglect their attendance at Mass.
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 1854-56. Some 250,000 died of starvation and related causes.
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 re-affirmed 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.
O'Reilly, James P. The Story of La Salette. Chicago: J. S. Paluch & Co., 1953.