19th century France witnessed a number of Marian apparitions which were eventually approved by the Church. In 1871, Our Lady appeared to four children in Pontmain, a small village in north-western France.
Eugène Barbedette, (aged 12) and Joseph Barbedette (aged 10) were brothers. On the evening of January 17th, 1871, they were helping their father in the barn. Eùgene, walked towards the door to look out. As he gazed at the star studded sky he noticed one area practically free of stars above a neighboring house. Suddenly he saw an apparition of a beautiful lady smiling at him. She was wearing a blue gown covered with golden stars, and a black veil under a golden crown.
Eugène’s brother, Joseph, also saw the apparition, but the adults could see nothing. Their mother said that it might be the Blessed Virgin, and suggested they should all say five Our Father’s and five Hail Mary’s in her honor.
As it was now about a quarter past six, the boys were ordered inside for supper but soon after they were allowed to go outside again. The apparition was still there and so the local schoolteacher, Sister Vitaline, was sent for. The Sister could not see the Lady, and so she went to fetch three young children from the school to see their reactions.
The youngest child saw nothing, but the two older girls, Françoise Richer (aged 11) and Jeanne-Marie Lebossé (aged 9) saw the apparition. They called out, “Oh, look at that lovely lady with the golden stars!” and clapped their hands with delight.
The adults in the crowd, which had now grown to about sixty people, started to pray the rosary led by the parish priest. The children saw a blue oval frame with four candles, two at the level of the shoulders and two at the knees, was being formed around the Lady, and a short red cross had appeared over her heart.
As the rosary continued, the figure and its frame grew larger, until it was twice life size; the stars around her began to multiply and attach themselves to her dress until it was covered with them.
As the Magnificat was being said the four children cried out, “Something else is happening.” A broad streamer on which letters were appearing unrolled beneath the feet of the Lady, so that eventually the phrase, “But pray, my children,” could be read.
The parish priest ordered that the Litany of Our Lady should be sung, and as this progressed new letters appeared, making the message, “God will soon answer you.” As they continued to sing, another message was formed, “My Son allows Himself to be moved.”
A large red crucifix suddenly appeared before the Lady. Her expression changed from smiling to extreme sadness, as she contemplated the crucifix.
One of the stars lit the four candles that surrounded the figure. The crucifix vanished and the group began night prayers. During night prayers, the children reported that a white veil was rising from the Lady’s feet and gradually blotting her out, until finally the apparition was over. The children could never forget the beautiful smile of Our Lady.
The apparition took place during the Franco-Prussian War. On the very night of the apparition, the Prussian army halted their advance through France. A peace treaty between France and Prussia was signed eleven days later. All the soldiers from Pontmain returned unharmed.
The Bishop of Laval approved the apparition on February 2nd, 1872. Eventually, Joseph Barbedette became a religious priest, and Eugène Barbedette, a diocesan priest. Françoise Richer assisted Father Eugène as housekeeper, and Jeanne-Marie Lebossé became a nun.
A large basilica was built at Pontmain and consecrated in 1900. The Feast of Our Lady of Pontmain is celebrated each year on January 17th.