Far from frenzied Rome flowers of a different sort dazzled the eyes of two young cowherds on a mountain in southern France. Less than three months after Pius IX became pope the Virgin Mary appeared to two children: fifteen year old Melanie Calvat and eleven year old Maximin Giraud.
The two had met the previous day, when each was guarding the cows of different owners. Melanie did not wish to spend her time with Maximin, but when the boy persisted she relented.
The next day, Saturday September 19, was sunny and cloudless. After eating lunch the children fell asleep. Melanie awoke to discover the cows were gone. She roused Maximin and they began retrieving the animals. Suddenly Melanie “saw a brightness like the sun.” As they neared a small spring they “saw a Lady in the bright light; she was sitting with her head in her hands.”1
She rose when the children approached. “Her clothing was silver white and quite brilliant,” Melanie recalled. “It was made up of light and glory, sparkling and dazzling. There is no expression nor comparison to be found on earth.” The tall, beautiful lady seemed all light and flowers:
“The crown of roses which she had placed on her head was so beautiful, so brilliant, that it defies imagination. The different coloured roses were not of this earth; it was a joining together of flowers which crowned the head of the Most Holy Virgin. But the roses kept changing and replacing each other, and then, from the heart of each rose, there shone a beautiful entrancing light, which gave the roses a shimmering beauty.
"From the crown of roses there seemed to arise golden branches and a number of other little flowers mingled with the shining ones. The whole thing formed a most beautiful diadem, which alone shone brighter than our earth’s sun.”2
The lady’s hands and hair were hidden, and the tears that flowed from her eyes “vanished in the light like sparks.”3 She reproached “her people” for their failure to pray or to go to Mass, and for all the blasphemies they committed on Sundays. Saying that she had to pray for them continually to avert God’s wrath, the Lady declared: “You will never be able to make up for the trouble I have taken for you all!”
She predicted poor harvests for potatoes, corn, nuts, and grapes. She said a famine would grip the land and that “children under seven will begin to tremble and will die in the arms of those who hold them.”
Then she imparted secrets: first to Maximin, then to Melanie. Next she said that if people converted the famine would end, and there would be plenty of food. After admonishing the children to pray more, she passed again into heaven, repeating these words: “And so, my children, you will pass this on to all my people.” They never saw her again, but Melanie remembered that “the last looks of the Blessed Virgin were mournfully cast towards Rome.”4