On September 19, 1846, fourteen year old Melanie Calvat (1831-1904) and eleven year old Maximin Giraud (1835-1875) were herding cattle in the mountains of La Salette, France. At three o’clock in the afternoon, the two saw a beautiful woman seated with her head in her hands. She was sobbing and, when the children came near, she told them she had a message that needed to be announced to the whole world.
She said that God was displeased that the people of France were working on Sunday and, therefore, could not give him even one day out of the week. She expressed sorrow that so many people took her son’s name in vain. She further warned that, if France and the rest of the world did not convert, there would be terrible chastisements.
She predicted that the there would soon be a famine and the France would become even more atheistic. She also told each child a secret that the other was not aware of.
Melanie and Maximin, both of whom were virtually illiterate, later told their employers what had happened and their employers, in turn, wrote down the first account and spoke to the parish priest. The story spread quickly after the priest mentioned it during Mass. Neither of the children had claimed that the beautiful woman was the Blessed Virgin Mary.
Melanie and Maximin were later interrogated by several priests and bishops as well as by the local magistrate. No one, however, could find anything that indicated fraud. When the children were being investigated by the civil authorities, they took them to the site of the apparition. One of the men broke off a piece of the rock on which the Blessed Virgin sat and discovered a spring. The water began producing miraculous cures as early as September 26, 1846.
Maximin’s worldly father was later converted and, on November 16, 1851, the apparition of Our Lady of La Salette was deemed worthy of belief.
The predictions which both children received later proved to be true. The harvest of 1846 failed completely and there was a famine all across Europe. Cholera claimed many lives and, on March 18, 1871, the communists came to power in France during the short-lived Paris Commune.
Melanie and Maximin’s individual secrets were privately sent to Pope Pius IX in 1851. Maximin’s was not made public until 2002. His secret foretold that more than half of France would soon lose faith in God and that there would “be a pontiff that nobody expects”. Furthermore, Our Lady’s predictions were supposed to take place before the year 2000.
Melanie’s secret foretold that the God’s ministers would go astray and that the world would reach a time of prosperity and then sink once more into perdition.
Melanie later changed her account of the secret and became so wrapped-up in apocalyptic ideas that many lost faith in the apparition. Despite the controversy, the Church still feels that the apparition of Our Lady of La Salette is worthy of belief.
The apparition is commemorated on September 19.