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.”
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.