The Apparitions at Rue du Bac

The Miraculous Medal

Catherine Labouré was a twenty-four year old novice sister when she was privileged to see Mary, late at night, on 18 July 1830, in the chapel at the convent at Rue du Bac in Paris. She was escorted by a figure she later took to be her guardian angel and saw Mary descend the altar steps and sit in the spiritual director’s chair.

She told Catherine that she had a mission for her and of the bad times which were to come, but promised help and grace for those who prayed. In particular she spoke of the religious persecution which would break out in Paris later in the century, while also foretelling the coming events in the capital. Catherine repeated all this to her spiritual director, Fr Aladel, who was sceptical, but this scepticism disappeared when the revolution in Paris began just over a week later on 27 July 1830.

Later in the same year, on 27 November, Catherine again saw Mary in the chapel, during community meditation. She was dressed in white, standing on a globe and holding a golden ball, with rings on her fingers flashing with light. An inner voice told her that the ball represented the whole world and that the rays coming from Mary’s fingers represented graces for individuals.

The golden ball then vanished as this apparition changed to represent Mary with her arms outstretched, inside an oval frame with golden lettering: O Mary, conceived without sin, pray for us who have recourse to thee. Again, an interior voice spoke, telling her to have a medal struck on this model. It would be a source of great graces and should be worn around the neck.

Then she was shown the reverse of the medal, consisting of a large “M” surmounted by a bar and cross, with two hearts, representing the hearts of Jesus and Mary, all encircled by twelve stars. Again Fr Aladel was reluctant to act, but once the medal was struck and distributed, it rapidly earned the title of the “Miraculous” medal.

A canonical inquiry was initiated by Archbishop de Quelen and this concluded that Catherine was of good character, that the apparitions she had reported were to be accepted, and that the Miraculous Medal was supernaturally inspired and responsible for genuine miracles.

It was an important element in reviving catholic belief in France, as well as in preparing the way for the proclamation of the dogma of Mary’s Immaculate Conception by Pope Pius IX in 1854. As foretold the Paris revolution of 1871 had very anti-religious elements, but fortunately the power of the Commune was defeated.

Catherine worked in a hostel for old men for forty years and was eventually canonised as St. Catherine Labouré, in 1947.

Sources: Dirvin, Saint Catherine Labouré of the Miraculous Medal, Rockford, 1984; Laurentin, The Life of Catherine Labouré, London, 1983.

Mary’s words at Rue du Bac