Friday, 18 January 2013

Perfume and holy apparitions


 
When I was wandering around the village of Risoul in the French Alps a few weeks ago, I picked up a clutch of leaflets from the Church of Sainte Lucie. One of these was for the Sanctuary of Notre-Dame du Laus and it proved an unexpectedly fascinating read. Here, as promised, is the story it told.


Benoîte Rencurel was born into a family of modest means in 1647 at St-Etienne d’Avanҫon during the reign of King Louis the fourteenth, an era of political, social and religious tensions. At the age of seven, her childhood cut short after the death of her father, Benoîte began work as a shepherdess. Before leaving to lead her flock of sheep up into the mountains for the summer, she asked her mother for a rosary. Unable to read or write, Benoîte spent the lonely days in the high pastures praying and living a contemplative life.

Ten years later in May 1664, she told the priest in her village that she had the most profound desire to meet Mary, mother of Jesus. A short while after, St Maurice appeared to her and told her her wish would be granted. The very next day she made the acquaintance of a gentlewoman who told her that she would take an interest in her spiritual education. For the following four months, this kind woman arrived every day at Vallon des Fours, close to St-Etienne, to answer Benoîte’s questions and teach her how to conduct herself.


On August 29, the woman revealed her true identity: she was Mary herself. After that a month went by during which Mary did not return. Then, at the end of September, she reappeared to Benoîte on the other side of the valley at Pindreau. “Go to Laus,” she said, “and you will find a chapel that exudes beautiful scents, and there you will be able to speak to me very often.”

Here are their statues raised on the hillside at Pindreau to commemorate that event:

The next day, Benoîte walked to the hamlet of Laus and easily found the Chapelle de Bon-Rencontre by following the trail of perfume. There, Mary stood on the altar and told Benoîte what she wanted her to do. She was to build a church and a priest house to receive pilgrims and hear their confessions.

The new church was built over the chapel between 1666 and 1669. The day it was blessed, Benoîte became Sister Benoîte and a member of the Order of St Dominique. She ministered to the pilgrims for the rest of her life, responsible for many cures and conversions, and was said to have the gift of mindreading - by all accounts the priests were astonished at the quality of the confessions she elicited!

For fifty-four years, Mary continued to appear to Benoîte, sustaining her in her calling. In addition, the former shepherdess saw visions of angels and saints, a mystical vision of paradise, and Christ on the cross. Along the way she did battle variously with the devil and with Jansenist priests, and died “full of joy” in December 1718.


Today Benoîte (pictured in this stained glass receiving her first rosary from her mother) is slowly being granted sainthood. The process of beatification was begun in 1981 and she was declared venerable by the Catholic Church in 2009. Evidence of her interventions and miracles is being carefully examined before the final declaration. The healing oil from the sanctuary lamp at Notre-Dame du Laus is said to cure many ills, as effective as the waters from Lourdes. The Sanctuary is open to all (click here for the website) and it is possible to request an application of this oil.


The "exquisite fragrances" of Laus are apparently still experienced. Inhalations of these perfumes are reported to bring a sudden, calm joy to the senses and encourage spirituality. Benoîte Rencurel smelled these fragrances when she saw the Blessed Virgin Mary, and the scents, which impregnated everything, persisted even after the apparition disappeared.

12 comments:

Evelyn said...

Wow! What a great story...and just for you, I think, since fragrance is such an important part of "The Lantern" I may have to make a pilgrimage myself.

MuMuGB said...

Thanks for this lovely story. Provence is full of small chapels. I highly recomment Notre Dame De La Queste in Grimaud and Notre dane De Miremer in la garde Freinet.

Yvonne Osborne said...

I would love some of that perfume! Beautiful picturs (as always) and an interesting story. Thank you for writing it.

Michel said...

Beautiful pictures! Thanks so much for sharing this story! I had not heard it before despite knowing Risoul. Have a great weekend.

Bi Ti said...

Thank you for stopping by Pret-a-vivre.com and I am glad to find your blog too. I love Provence as my sisters live there, I will have posts on the different areas I visited too. Have a beautiful weekend.

Maureen said...

Fascinating and wonderful story.

Vanessa said...

What a fascinating story. I have noticed that scents are often associated with divine apparitions. Whether they are genuine or whether they are some biochemical reaction in the brain is another matter. I love unearthing these stories.

Marcheline said...

One of the most telling things about the passage of time and the state of humanity... back then, people who saw things others did not were "blessed with visions". Now, they're mocked and/or put in a psych ward.

Did the pamphlet mention what sorts of scents were present in the chapel perfume? Floral, or incense, or a combination?

Speaking of holy visions and scents... have you ever seen the "Brother Cadfael" series from BBC? I think you would love it - Brother Cadfael (played beautifully by Derek Jacobi) is an herbalist monk (a former soldier) who solves mysteries. Many of which involve herbs, flowers, and scent!

janine@thegoodlifefrance said...

What a fascinating story - doesn't it just make you want to be able to experience that fragrance yourself?!

Sara Louise said...

What an amazing place to visit!

Blu said...

Bonjour to you I hope the snow is not causing you too many problems. Lovely photos Best wishes from Bretagne!

James Kiester said...

It's a great example of the power of faith, hers in the Mary figure and today's church goers' in such a legend.

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