Today is the 498th Anniversary of an extraordinary and little known apparition of the Blessed Virgin Mary in Cotignac (France).
On August 10th, 1519, a woodcutter named Jean de la Baume climbed Mount Verdaille (France) to begin his work for the day. Like every day he began by getting down on his knees to pray, only this time, when he stood up, he was astonished to see a cloud before him. Suddenly, emerging from the cloud, appeared the Blessed Virgin Mary standing on a crescent moon, with the Infant Jesus in her arms. Appearing with Our Lady were Saint Bernard of Clairvaux, Saint Catherine of Egypt and the archangel Saint Michael. Our Lady said to Jean:
“I am the Virgin Mary. Go and tell the clergy and the councils of Cotignac to build me a chapel in this place, dedicated to Our Lady of Graces, and that they should come in procession to receive the gifts that I wish to bestow.”
But at first Jean didn’t tell anyone what he saw, thinking that perhaps it was a hallucination from the summer heat. Next day, August 11th, he came back to continue his work. Again the Blessed Mother appeared to him. This time Jean understood that the apparition was real, and he rushed back to the village to tell the folk of Mary and her message.
The Discovery at the Building of the Church
It was decided to erect a chapel there. On September 14th, feast of the Exaltation of the Holy Cross, while digging the foundations of the church, the workers discovered in the ground large quantities of bones, nails, ivory boxes and a crystal ball, the evidence that Christian martyrs had been buried there in the earliest centuries. A sweet perfume exuded from of the grave and several sick people who were present on that day were cured.
In reality, the people in Provence became converts not long after Mary Magdalene, Lazarus and Martha arrived on the southern coast. Tradition says they landed at a place known as Saintes Maries de la Mer, then went not far away to Marseille where they preached the Gospel and Lazarus baptised many converts. Until the fourth century, the Romans controlled the region and persecuted Christians, ceasing only in the year 311, yet spirituality remained strong.
It was strong after the 1660s when the sanctuary to Our Lady of Graces was built, and countless miraculous answers to prayers came through the intercession of Mary. The whole of Cotignac walked in procession to the site on Mount Verdaille. It was the beginning of the great graces which have since been pouring out at Cotignac, as the Virgin Mary had promised.
What is the meaning of the Saints accompanying the Blessed Virgin Mary in the Apparition?
Everyone in Cotignac and indeed Provence would be familiar with the saints accompanying Mary and the Child Jesus. Back then St. Michael the Archangel was honoured as protector of God’s family, the Church. St. Bernard of Clairvaux had established several monasteries, one of them only 15 miles from the village.
And martyr St Catherine of Egypt’s French connection? Because her remains were brought to France by King Louis IX, himself later canonised as St. Louis. In addition, St. Catherine, along with St. Michael, were seen and identified by Joan of Arc as two of the saints who had counselled her.
“Thus, a common link among all the saints in the vision — a link to the well-being of families, national families, ecclesial families — all the communities needed for the well-being of people, communities for which God himself is concerned,” explains the Shrine of the Holy Family documentary.
Many are those who have testified of graces received there, particularly in the gift of a child. An illustrious pilgrim, King Louis XIV, came to Cotignac to thank Our Lady for his own birth.
Saint Joseph Appears
But what makes this apparition site extra special was a further apparition two miles down the hillside from the shrine of Our Lady of Graces in the following century, this time from Our Lady’s Holy Spouse, Blessed Saint Joseph!
The summer of 1660 was an exceptionally hot in Cotignac and the region. On June 7th, a young shepherd named Gaspard Ricard was searching for fresh grass on Mount Besillon. About 1 pm Gaspard had to lie down because he was suffering from the roasting heat and exceptional thirst.
Next thing he knew, a tall man was standing next to him.
“I am Joseph. Lift it and you will drink,” the man told him, pointing to a large boulder.
The boulder was huge. Many men would have a difficult time moving the immense rock. But Gaspard listened to the man and made the attempt. He was surprised he was able to lift the boulder. Under it he discovered a fresh water spring. He looked up to thank the stranger, but the man had vanished.
The shepherd dashed to the village to tell all the people what happened. We can’t overestimate his eagerness and excitement. Knowing him as a humble young man, everyone believed him. They all rushed to see the newly revealed spring and the surprisingly abundant water supply in a place where no water had ever been before.
The wonderful documentary Shrine of the Holy Family: Provence, France includes this event too and tells how by July 25th “the city council mentions that the source pointed out by St. Joseph has abundant healing qualities and attracts people from all over the region who come to wash, drink and find healing remedies.”
Because of the numbers of people who quickly began arriving once the word spread about this appearance of St. Joseph and the miracle that followed, the townspeople immediately began building the first chapel at the site.
Then healings began at the sanctuary and spring. And continued. In just one example to show the continuous healing properties, in 1662 Father Allard of the Oratory that was built on the site, wrote, “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.”
A history on the sanctuary’s website says of that time, “They go to the fountain from all the places of the province and the surrounding countries, the infirm, the sick of all kinds, most of them returning healed, or comforted by their infirmities.”
Since the beginning, the spring has never dried up.
As one of the priest there said in the documentary, Shrine of the Holy Family, “Special to Cotignac is that people come seeking God as communities…Our role in Cotignac is to confirm to the families that they are right to see themselves as domestic churches” — imitating the Holy Family. Something Joseph and Mary planned centuries ago.
Both of these approved apparitions have remained fairly obscure to the world in general, unlike Lourdes or Fatima.
[Sources: National Catholic Register, ‘Mary of Nazareth’ and ‘La Carte Mariale de Monde’]