Female Genius at Laus: The Mother’s Sweet Caresses

At Laus, the kind and sweet caresses of the Female Genius are Her pervasive hallmark.

Laus is the fiefdom of the Queen of Heaven and of Earth. Rev. Pierre Gaillard was well aware of the Queen’s motive in founding Laus: kindness to humanity. “Because sinners seek asylum in Your Immaculate Heart,” Rev Gaillard wrote, “God endorsed Your motherly kindness by giving You the Valley of Laus.” The historians of Laus were well aware of Her sweetness. They wrote that “the Blessed Virgin has marvelous capabilities: the sweetness of a mother and the power of a queen.” Undeniably, the Church has affirmed this sweetness for ages, proclaiming: “She is our life, our sweetness, our hope: Vita, dulcedo et spes nostra.”

Prior to the beginning of the apparitions, the Queen’s reputation for kindness was the spark that impelled Benoîte Rencurel to seek Her. Benoîte’s pastor, Rev. Jean Fraisse, had preached one Sunday to his parish the many ways that Her indescribable kindness merited for Her the title of Mother of Mercy. “She is all good, all merciful, all compassionate towards poor sinners!  How could she not be our mediator?”

In retrospect, the Virgin’s apparitions to Benoîte were the beginning of a partnership to co-found the Devotion at Laus. Shockingly, the Queen of Heaven selected Benoîte as Her emissary despite the facts that Benoîte was a poor, illiterate shepherdess from the wild and remote Alps. Yet, those things were irrelevant. In Benoîte, the Virgin found – and further nurtured – a kind and sweet heart.

Benoîte already had a reputation for sweetness, as shown in her interactions with Jean Rolland, whose flocks she shepherded. “This man was so brutal,” the historians said, “that his blows would come as fast as his words.” Facing such abuse, few servants remained long in his service. Yet, when he would angrily confront Benoîte, she was able to suddenly sooth his passions. Benoîte’s approach was her “inspired tone, angelic sweetness” that captivated Jean Rolland.  This honeyed attitude softly delivered her spiritual messages: love of God, severity of Divine Judgment, eternal despair of the damned. So charmed was Jean Rolland that he never once dared to touch Benoîte in anger. Eventually, through these interactions, Jean Rolland was totally converted. “This master of wild behaviors, of a so violent character, finally yielded to Benoîte’s remonstrances. Greatly inspiring to all, he underwent a total conversion.”

To perfect Benoîte’s heart in sweetness, kindness and compassion., the Virgin nurtured Benoîte like a daughter. Sojourning from Heaven, Mary showered Her affection on Benoîte. She loved Benoîte like Her own child. She called Benoîte “My daughter.” She heaped familiar, motherly caresses on Benoîte. Benoîte slept on Her mantle, Benoîte held the outstretched hand of the Virgin.

The cumulative effect of these efforts – among many more – meant, in the words of Rev. H.-C. Adrien Juge, “Benoîte’s heart was wounded by love through the overwhelming kindnesses of the most pure Virgin”.

These sweet caresses, these kind gestures fully opened Benoîte’s heart and made her receptive to the Virgin’s lesson. Sustained in this comfort and kindness, Benoîte absorbed the Virgin’s instruction: Litanies, prayers and reparations to the Blessed Sacrament. The Virgin taught Benoîte the most sublime truths of the Religion. She guided Benoîte to the practice of the most difficult virtues. The goal of all of these lessons was to prepare Benoîte to imitate the Virgin. Armed with this heart and fortified with these lesson, the Queen commissioned Benoîte to be the face of Laus for the next 5 decades.

When Pilgrims arrived at Laus, Benoîte Rencurel was the first person they often saw. Benoîte spent many hours gently counseling pilgrims, sweetly urging them to confess and receive the Sacraments. The historians record that Benoîte interacted with the pilgrims “with her engaging manner” and treated them with overflowing graciousness. She only departed from them “with bountiful caresses”.

Gifted with the imprint of the Virgin’s Heart, Benoîte was able to lead Pilgrims to awareness of their sins. Benoîte probed them with a gentle but firm hand. Often, with her gift of reading hearts, Benoîte herself revealed their sins to the pilgrim. Instead of feeling wounding by hearing their most delicate secrets, instead she provoked spontaneous gratitude. How? Benoîte “spoke with an abundance of sweetness, with perfect charity and sweetness” which elicited joy from the pilgrim, as they realized such perfect self-knowledge, possibly for the first time in their lives. This happiness compelled the pilgrims to enter the confessionals to receive the Church’s absolution of their sins.

To preserve the sweetness of the experience for the pilgrims, Benoîte likewise formed the confessors at Laus. Benoîte constantly urged them to: “receive penitents with kindness and gentleness. . . . question them with care. . .” Consistently, Benoîte’s Guardian Angel asked her to remind the priests to “correct strangers with sweetness so that they will benefit from the advice.”

With her sweetness, Benoîte was able to help the most challenging pilgrims. One day in 1685, as a last resort, Rev. Ramuel, a priest from Villard-Reymond brought to Laus a young woman named Laurence Pélissier. This involuntary pilgrim was a sorry spectacle. Her complexion was black, her mouth inflamed and appeared burned, her eyes haggard and shining, her voice hoarse and vicious. Rev. Jean Peythieu said that no one had ever seen a more disfigured face. Further, the young woman’s body trembled in agitation and contortion — arms, legs and head. She was possessed and the demon declared through her own mouth the cause of her possession and the number of evil spirits tormenting her.

Benoîte received the young possessed girl with all of her most tender charity. She surrounded the girl with her caresses and friendly admonitions. After a few days of praying by her side, Benoîte convinced the unfortunate girl to undertake particular prayers to obtain the grace of a good general confession and her healing. Not long after, the young woman entered the confessional, confessed with a positive demeanor and received Communion. Afterward, she remained in the Church for a long time praying before the altar.

When the young lady finally emerged from the Church, everyone instantly realized she had been healed. Her face was serene, her eyes clear, her voice sweet and calm, her speech sensible and consistent. Her body was transformed as well, and now she had a noble and dignified bearing and a steady gait. Everyone marveled if this was really the same person. Parents, friends and even other pilgrims rejoiced at the transformation.

Even today, the sweetness of the Virgin remains at Laus, attracting and converting sinners with the same gentleness experienced by pilgrims during Benoîte’s earthly life. A casual pilgrim will little by little find themselves sinking deeper and deeper into this peace until they realize they are immersed in the feelings of abundant kindness and gentleness that were the hallmarks of Benoîte’s presence at Laus.

Some say that today the Pilgrimage exists directly between the Queen and the people. While true, I would add that may be a reflection that Benoîte’s heart has now entirely melded into the Immaculate Heart. Truly this would be an example that the more the faithful abandon themselves to the actions of sweetness and kindness at Laus, the more the Mother-Queen penetrates with sweet caresses Her tenderness into their very beings. “In the end My Immaculate Heart will triumph.”


Female Genius at Laus: The Oil of Laus

“Mommy, mommy kiss my boo-boo,” my toddlers often said when they fell down. “You’re OK,” I would reassure them. Yet, that was not enough. “I want mommy to kiss it.” As soon as mommy kissed the spot, a smile would appear. That was the healing touch. Play could resume.

This is the same Female Genius present in the Oil of Laus. Notably, the Oil of Laus is not blessed by a priest. It is not invested by a bishop’s hands. In fact, it might seem quite workaday. It resides silently next to the tabernacle in the Chapel of Good Encounter. It is so externally unremarkable that if you did not know of its powers, you might miss it altogether.

What is the Oil of Laus, then? It’s used as fuel oil for the sanctuary lamp. The Oil fills an open basin, to the right side of the altar. The Oil burns next to the altar where the Blessed Virgin first appeared to Benoîte Rencurel at Laus. The nuns tending the church top it up from time to time. A lighted taper floats on top, its wick constantly drawing Oil upward from the basin to feed the flame. This portion of the Oil is consumed in providing light that signals the Eternal and Real Presence of Jesus Christ of Nazareth in the Tabernacle.

There is a rich Scriptural history of anointing with oil. In Exodus 30:22-25, anointing oil is described in detail. Ruth (3:3) was told to anoint herself in preparation for meeting Boaz, and by her actions she became the great-grandmother of King David. We recall that the prophet Samuel anointed the kings of Israel, including King David (1 Samuel 16:13). The disciples of Jesus anointed the sick with oil (Mark 6:13). So did the early Church. In James 5:14, the elders are urged to anoint the sick with oil.

The Oil of Laus continues these rich traditions. The Oil of Laus is a Divine kiss, powered by God and administered through the patronage of The Woman, the Mother of God. This healing power has flowed out from Laus since the inception of the devotion at Laus in the 17th Century.

“From the very beginning of the devotion to Our Lady of Laus,” wrote Rev. Pierre Gaillard, the Vicar-General of Gap, “the Blessed Virgin told Benoîte Rencurel that those who, with faith, anoint their bodies with oil from the lamp that burns in Chapel, would be healed.”

In the 350+ years since, the Sanctuary lamp has become what some call a “divine pharmacy.” Indeed, time after time, it has been proven that a little of its oil provides the most effective remedies against a wide range of human infirmities. Only one condition is required to ensure the oil’s healing effect: this wonderful balm must be applied with the faith that moves mountains.

The first recorded beneficiary of the Oil of Laus was a 2-year old girl from Saint-Julien-en-Beauchêne. Although young, she had already suffered from smallpox, which infected and scarred her eyes, leaving her blind. Her father, Pierre Rougier, brought back some of the oil from the lamp during a visit to Laus in October 1665. After arriving home from the 50 km (31 miles) trip, he poured a few drops into the eyes of his beloved daughter. The scars disappeared immediately, and her sight was restored.

The Manuscripts of Laus record many, many healings that have come from anointing with the Oil of Laus. These healings started during Benoîte Rencurel’s lifetime, and indeed they continue to this day. Personally, I and my family testify how we have benefitted from the power of the Oil of Laus.

The Oil of Laus can work its miracles far from Laus. As you can see in the story of little Miss Rougier, the power of the Oil of Laus is very potent and very portable. In present day, small plastic vials are filled with the Oil drawn from the Sanctuary lamp. Previously, it may have been pilgrims or even Benoîte herself who drew out the Oil. We do have an interesting story from the archives. One day Benoîte was lugging a jug of Oil when she accidentally spilled it. The Oil dumped all over a woman wearing her new clothes while visiting Laus. Benoîte and everyone present assumed the woman’s new clothes had been ruined by the Oil. Yet, when they looked closely, the Oil had disappeared, without leaving even a small stain.

In present times, the nuns at Laus fill the vials by drawing Oil from the Sanctuary lamp. The convent at Laus is presently occupied by Benedictine Sisters of the Sacred Heart of Monmartre (“les soeurs bénédictines du Sacré Coeur de Monmartre”), the order engaged in perpetual adoration of the Blessed Sacrament at the basilica of the Sacred Heart (“Sacré Coeur”) on the hill of Monmartre (the “mount of martyrs”) in Paris. In filling the vials with ordinary, unblessed oil, these nuns are continuing the tradition of the servants at the wedding feast at Cana. “Do whatever He tells you (John 2:5),” The Woman instructed them.

She who is called the “Health of the Sick” unleashes the healing Power of God through the Oil of Laus. “The Blessed Virgin has marvelous capabilities: the sweetness of a mother and the power of a queen.” Indeed, being anointed with the Oil of Laus is like having your boo-boos kissed by Our Mommy, Queen of Heaven and Earth.

Female Genius at Laus: Learning on the Virgin’s Knee

We can confidently say that the Devotion at Laus was founded “on the knee” of the Virgin. That is, Benoîte Rencurel’s spiritual character was formed face-to-face with the Woman she called her “Good Mother”, much like a mother constantly holds her new baby on her knee. Indeed, the Virgin so successfully implemented Her patience, tenderness and closeness with Benoîte, that these became the hallmarks of Benoîte’s public ministry at Laus.

Let’s examine how this spiritual formation occurred. As you may recall, the Virgin appeared to Benoîte for 4 continuous months as the Devotion emerged. In the Valley of the Kilns, Benoîte spent from sunrise to sunset every day from May through the end of August with the Virgin.

It’s true that for the first 2 months, Benoîte did not hear the Virgin speak to her. Yet, it’s obvious that Benoîte still gleaned much from this continued closeness. Just like a new baby that does not understand its mother is speaking to it, the non-verbal messages of a mother’s closeness remain strong. “I am here, you are safe,” “see the love I hold for you in my eyes”, “be calmed through my continued presence.” Like a baby who must develop language skills, perhaps Benoîte slowly learned to speak and hear the Celestial Language through these encounters.

After the first 2 months, Benoîte began to hear and understand when the Virgin spoke to her. This period of spiritual training was equally beneficial to Benoîte. Encouraged by the Virgin, Benoîte became more pious, and grew deeply in her desire to pray. In fact, we know that the Virgin actually taught Benoîte some prayers, including the Litany of the Blessed Virgin. To encourage her, the Virgin often sent Benoîte to the church at Saint-Etienne to pray.

Further tutoring Her spiritual child, the Virgin taught Benoîte the spirit of detachment from the world. What simple lessons: once, after guarding a neighbor’s orchard, the Virgin counseled her against taking more than a handful of fruit as payment. Further, the Virgin encouraged Benoîte to greater patience. These lessons were sometimes harsh. Once, after having tarried in the Valley of the Kilns with the Virgin until after the sun had set, Benoîte’s mistress greeted her with a slap to the face, accusing her of doing the Devil’s work. When Benoîte complained to the Virgin, the Virgin counseled her to return home earlier so as not to provoke the mistress to anger.

Benoîte perfected her virtues at the school – on the knee — of She who is called the “Seat of Wisdom”. As you consider all of these lessons, note how they involve the simple tasks of the day-to-day Christian. Prayer, work, community all intermingled into the training. Indeed, this practical wisdom would serve Benoîte well as she tended to the pilgrims who came to the Devotion of Laus. Mainly peasants, these people brought their life’s burdens to Laus, and Benoîte applied the lessons from the Virgin’s teaching to counsel, guide and point the pilgrims to the healing powers of the Sacraments administered by the priests.

How wonderful that even after this initial 4 months of spiritual boot camp, Benoîte’s mystical training on the knee of the Virgin continued for more than 5 decades. We know that the Virgin appeared face-to-face to Benoîte at least once a year for the rest of Benoîte’s earthly life, and often more frequently. Like the Good Mother that She is, the Virgin never abandoned Benoîte.

Female Genius at Laus – Part 3: The Church of Our Lady Refuge of Sinners

If you have ever been to the Church at Laus, you will discover an unusual arrangement of buildings. In 1669, a large stone church was built at Laus. It is the Church of Our Lady Refugee of Sinners. Its construction was overseen by Rev. Pierre Gaillard. It sits compact and solid on the side of the alpine mountain. It has a relatively unadorned, stucco exterior. Inside, it has a single vault crowned with Roman arches spanning from the front doors to the sacristy enclosed behind the altar. There are two small side chapels that complete the “cross” shape.

Glancing down the space of the vaulted Church, you see near the far side a highly-decorated structure. At first, you might mistake this for a canopy over the altar. Yet, as you approach it, you discover the structure has 2 sides, a rear wall and is actually covered by an enclosed roof.  This is the original building on the site, the Chapel of Good Encounter.

Yes, at Laus, like very few other places of worship, there is a church within a church. Is this not then part of the Female Genius of Laus? The Immaculate Conception, from the moment of Her Fiat, the carried the Baby Jesus within Her, from His conception, throughout Her Maternity. Likewise, the Church of Our Lady Refugee of Sinners shelters within it the Tabernacle within the Chapel of Good Encounter.

To understand how this came about, let’s retrace the history of the Chapel of Good Encounter. It was built in 1640 by the people of Laus, with the approval of the pastor, Rev. Jean Fraisse, to allow a place for families to gather for the Sacraments when they could not make the journey to their normal church in Saint-Etienne. Originally, it was a small peasant hut with a thatched roof. Yet within this unsophisticated building, on September 29, 1664, the Blessed Virgin Mary established Her Throne on earth, announcing to Benoîte Rencurel: “I have destined this place for the conversion of sinners.”

In July 1665, after pilgrims by the thousands began to flock to Laus, the construction of the larger church began at the site. Faced with size restrictions imposed by the Diocese, Rev. Pierre Gaillard’s crew built a church that ingeniously incorporated the Chapel of Good Encounter as the sacristy and altar. Upon seeing this unorthodox design, the Diocesan official relented and allowed the new church to entirely enclose the Chapel of Good Encounter. Unbeknownst, this created a new church that matched the exact dimensions specified by Our Lady in Her initial conversation with Benoîte Rencurel.

Female Genius at Laus – Part 2: The Maternity of Laus. . .

Laus, as the Throne of the Mother of God, is a privileged place. Laus holds the keys to so many mysteries of the Female Genius. Today, let’s explore the Maternity of Laus.

It will help us to recall how the Maternity of the Lord was a energetic process. The Angel Gabriel appeared to Mary at Her home in Nazareth, in Galilee. In this exchange, She spoke the Fiat, accepting Her Maternity: “I am the Handmaid of the Lord. . . .” Luke 1:38. It was this first encounter with the Angel where Mary became the Mother of Jesus.

From the beginning, Her Maternity was a dynamic one. Hearing from Gabriel that Her elderly cousin Elizabeth was very pregnant, Mary immediately took a journey to the hill country of Judea, where she remained for a period of time tending to Elizabeth. This encounter stirred John the Baptist into action, even in Elizabeth’s womb. After 3 months, Mary returned to Nazareth, yet Her Maternity continued its dynamism, as she was not to give Birth there.

A few months after returning to Nazareth, now very pregnant, Mary’s Maternity was again put into dynamic motion. With the census decree of Caesar Augustus, She and her husband Joseph traveled to Bethlehem in Judea. Upon the completion of this third vibrant journey, Her Maternity reached its fulfillment with the Birth of the Savior in Bethlehem.

This dynamism of Mary’s Maternity is also present in the story of the founding of Laus. For many years I pondered why the history of the founding of Laus is so. . . well, geographically complex.  I believe the founding of Laus gives insight into the Female Genius present during Mary’s Maternity.

To briefly recap, the story of the founding of Laus evolved from encounters in 3 different locations in the French Alps: the Valley of the Kilns, Pindreau, and finally, Laus. I believe the fact that Laus was an apparition in motion is a key to understanding the Female Genius.

Let’s start first with the Valley of the Kilns. Mary initially appeared to Benoîte Rencurel in a grotto in this workaday valley. The dusty grotto where She appeared was most likely at one point a source of gypsum, a simple building material. This valley was a place where workers felled trees, built smoky fires and cooked the gypsum until it was soft enough to be pounded into the raw material for plaster. The ground was rocky, unfit for grazing, and littered with grottos, rocks, felled trees and charred remains. “Can anything good come from Nazareth?” John 1:46. Indeed, perhaps some at Saint-Etienne would wonder what good could come from the Valley of the Kilns.

Yet it was precisely in this gypsum mill where Mary announced Her Maternity. “I am Mary, Mother of Jesus,” She announced from the dusty grotto to Benoîte on August 29, 1664, in the presence of the people of Saint-Etienne. In Her declaration in this undistinguished place, She echoed the Annunciation of Her Maternity and responsive Fiat in the underestimated town of Nazareth.

Coincidentally, like her departure “in haste” from Nazareth following the Annunciation, Mary further announced to Benoîte Rencurel that the apparition would also have a dynamic character. “You will not see me again here, nor for some time,” She added. So it was that Mary departed from the Valley of the Kilns and Benoîte Rencurel did not see Her again for a month, and even then it was in a different place.

At the end of September 1664, Mary next appeared to Benoîte on the hillside above the Avance River. The promontory was called Pindreau. Even from across the river, Benoîte instantly recognized Mary, who radiated brilliance that subdued the sunlight of the day. Benoîte’s heart was filled with joy, and she leapt into action. Was that the same energy in the leap of John the Baptist in the Hill Country of Judea when Mary visited Elizabeth? Benoîte leapt on the back of a large goat, which transported her across the Avance River. From there, Benoîte scrambled up the steep hillside to Mary’s side on the promontory. Gesturing further up the hill, Mary said simply to Benoîte: “Go to Laus; you will find there a small Chapel emitting sweet odors, there, you will speak with me frequently and frequently see me.” Benoîte continued her journey up the hill and into the hamlet of Laus.

Benoîte’s search for the unfamiliar Chapel was not easy. It took her most of the day, searching in unfamiliar ground, with many false starts and much frustration. Was this perhaps a drop of the sweat emitted by Mary and Joseph on their trip from Nazareth to Bethlehem? And then at Benoîte’s destination, she eventually found Mary, who was in  . . . a remote, dilapidated building. . . . perhaps not too unlike the stable at Bethlehem?

Truly, the Chapel of Good Encounter was a run-down hut in 1664. So miserable was the poverty of the place, that when Benoîte Rencurel first encountered Mary, who was waiting for her on the altar, Benoîte offered her own apron as a clean place for the Virgin to put her feet. Mary refused the offer, willingly embracing the shabbiness of the place. “Do not grieve this poverty,” Mary told Benoîte. Indeed, it was in such a ramshackle place as this where Mary’s Maternity manifested the Birth of the Savior.

“In a short time, nothing will be lacking here,” Mary assured Benoîte. Indeed, Mary continued, when the time came to build a Church dedicated to Her Son, the coins to pay for the building would be provided, echoing the memory of the Magi’s gifts to the Holy Family.

In considering all of these parallels between the Nativity story and the birth of the Devotion at Laus, we can contemplate how Laus reflects in many ways the Female Genius expressed in the Maternity of Mary. This Maternity is dynamic. It happily dismisses any limitation that anyone else may place on its expectations or circumstances. Mary’s Maternity willingly goes out into the world in the haste of the Holy Spirit, spreading Good News from place to place. This is Laus.

Female Genius at Laus – Part 1: the Girls of Saint-Etienne

As we proceed into the early part of the 3rd Millennium, the presence of the Female Genius of Laus becomes more and more apparent.

Benoîte Rencurel, the Shepherdess of Laus, exemplified so many of the characteristics of the Female Genius. At Laus, unlike so many other Marian apparitions, Benoîte remained an integral part of the events for over 5 decades. Not only was Benoîte the original seer at Laus, but Benoîte personally spent the rest of her life helping to develop and mature the Devotion of Laus.

As you consider the Female Genius of Laus, consider this. At the time the apparitions began, Benoîte was a 16-year old girl from Saint-Etienne. Importantly, one particular detail has always stuck in my mind, although often overlooked. It was also all of the other girls of Saint-Etienne who played an integral role in the story of the founding of the Devotion at Laus.

During the summer of 1664, the earliest part of the apparition, Our Lady wanted the girls of Saint-Etienne to learn the Litany of the Blessed Virgin. She asked Benoîte to seek permission from the pastor, Rev. Jean Fraisse, which he provided. During the day, Our Lady taught the Litany to Benoîte in the Valley of the Kilns, and in the evening Benoîte gathered the girls inside the church of Saint-Etienne to teach them the Litany of the Blessed Virgin. Soon, they sang it together every night, “with the most tender devotion imaginable.”

On the eve of August 29, 1664, Our Lady again asked for the girls of Saint Etienne to honor Her. At Her request, Benoîte asked Rev. Fraisse to approve a procession for the next day. With the pastor’s permission, on August 29, the girls of Saint-Etienne processed from the village to the Valley of the Kilns. It was during that female procession, while the girls sang the Litany of the Blessed Virgin, that Our Lady first confirmed to Benoîte who she was. “I am Mary, Mother of Jesus,” she said, with reference to Her Maternity.

A month later, following the establishment of the Throne of Mary at the Chapel of Good Encounter on September 29, 1664, the girls of Saint-Etienne continued to nurture the nascent Devotion. Benoîte went to Laus every day, and during the winter of 1664-1665, she was often accompanied by the girls of Saint-Etienne. At Laus, they sang together litanies and hymns all during that first winter as the Devotion of Laus grew silently and barely-seen . . . not unlike, say, the first stages of a pregnancy.

The girls of Saint-Etienne continued to play a role in the founding of the Devotion at Laus even when pilgrims started to flock to the Holy Valley of Laus in the spring of 1665. The girls of Saint-Etienne graciously extended a welcome to these weary travelers, many who had traveled for days to make the pilgrimage.

You may recall the procession from Lazer that arrived in April 1665. They had walked nearly 2 straight days, slowed in their progress because in their pious company was a man with “totally ruined” feet. They approached Laus near midnight on the second day. While praying at the church in Saint-Etienne, Benoîte spied their approaching torches on the mountain path. Inspired by the Blessed Virgin, Benoîte rallied the girls of Saint-Etienne, and intrepidly they made off across the dark valley to meet the pilgrims on the last leg of their journey. “The young girls of Saint-Etienne mingled with the pilgrims from Lazer, and together they made the valley respond with its echoes as they sang the Litany of the Blessed Virgin.” The man with “totally ruined” feet, welcomed to Laus by the girls of Saint-Etienne, would become the first to receive a miraculous cure at Laus.

Even after Benoîte’s death, the influence of the girls of Saint-Etienne continued to be felt at Laus. In one echo into eternity, the Litany has remained in the Holy Valley as a beloved prayer and a reminder of these first apparitions. Even in the late 1800s it was recorded that “the girls of Avançon and of Valserres competed to sing the Litany with the girls of Saint-Etienne. On feast days and Sundays, the altars of the Blessed Virgin echo with the singing of the Litany.”

The influence of the girls of Saint-Etienne could often be fearless. Here’s one example. During the French Revolution, all of the treasures of Laus were stolen. The mob had even stripped the silk and golden robes from the statue of the Virgin carried in procession. The girls of Saint-Etienne mobilized. Uncowed by the violence of the Revolution, they called up on its leaders to undo this sacrilege, and they were successful. “Later, at the request of the girls of Laus, the District sent back two of the stolen robes.”

The Female Genius also continued to be celebrated in Benoîte’s family house in Saint-Etienne. The house was re-built in the middle of the 1800s by the Bishop, with a community purpose in mind. It was faithfully restored to reflect Benoîte’s childhood and her presence, as if she had just stepped out. Not just an empty building, the house was also dedicated to a specific purpose. It was founded as a place “to educate young girls, to encourage them in piety and religion, and to bring relief to the poor and sick.” Indeed, for many years it was staffed by a nun from the Congregation of Divine Providence of Gap[i]. The nun’s job was to educate the girls of Saint-Etienne and to care for the sick. To perpetuate the memory of the pious Shepherdess, this nun was required to add to her name that of “Benoîte.”

[i] [Ed. Note.] The congregation, known in French as “la Congrégation de la Providence de Gap” was founded in 1838, and continues to exist in modern times, with houses in 8 countries. Its roots lie in a religious organization founded by Rev. Jean Martin Moye from Lorraine.

Modern Jansenism

“At this time, the Church is suffering. . . .the temptation to go backwards,” Pope Francis affirmed recently when speaking to the Jesuits in Slovakia. “It frightens us to be free. . . . That is why today we look back to the past: to seek security.”  https://www.laciviltacattolica.com/freedom-scares-us-pope-francis-conversation-with-slovak-jesuits/

Those seeking security in the past may recall the first modern heresy, Jansenism. Jansenism appeared in the 1600s during the Reformation, the period of time when universal Christianity had splintered into those who acknowledged the leadership of the Pope and those who sought independent ways forward. Jansenism was appealing because it provided simple answers in confusing times. Those who stood inside the box of professed Jansenist’s “beliefs” were saved, and those who strayed were not.

Laus stood as the fortress against the invasion of Jansenism, and after 20 years of active battle, Laus dealt Jansenism a resounding defeat in 1712. Yet, weeds continue to grow among the wheat, and they will until the end of time. Jansenism is one of the crops of weeds that self-seeds, usually with different names or faces.

300 years later, Pope Francis has recently reminded us against one of the fundamental errors of Jansenism: reliance on rigid rules. “Rigidity is another perversion, a sin against the patience of God, a sin against God’s sovereignty.” https://www.vatican.va/content/francesco/en/speeches/2021/september/documents/20210918-fedeli-diocesiroma.html

In the unyielding ideology of Jansenists, only those who were perfect would be saved. The Jansenist believed that following a few inflexible dictates made a person perfect. To a Jansenist, Confession was useless, because anyone who was sinner was already marked as unsavable. Consistent with that thought, the Jansenists believed that only those who were perfect could receive Communion.

Pope Francis noted the errors present in that way of thinking. As he said “Communion is not a prize for the perfect. Communion is a gift, a present; the presence of Jesus in his Church and in the community.” https://www.vaticannews.va/en/pope/news/2021-09/pope-abortion-is-murder-the-church-must-be-compassionate.html  During His earthly ministry, Jesus freely mingled with the sinners, the tax collectors and the prostitutes. Speaking for all of us, the Pope confessed: “I am a sinner.” Yup, me too.

At its height, the Jansenists who besieged Laus sought to close the confessionals, drive out Benoîte Rencurel and chase away pilgrims. The Jansenists tried to shut down the Living Fountain of Graces at Laus so that pilgrims would return to the past, the pilgrimage to Embrun . . . even though the past consisted only of the memory of a destroyed icon at the Cathedral of Embrun.

The answer to our present difficulties does not lie in the simple rules of the past. “Turning back is not the right way. Instead, we should go forward in discernment and obedience.” The Pope urged all of us to encounter the other with closeness, compassion and tenderness.

Carnal Indulgence at Laus

The Evil One always tries to sow the seeds of weeds among the Seeds of the Kingdom. At Laus, weeds aplenty tried to spring up among the Holy Crop. Due to her endless vigilance, Benoîte Rencurel, as the Shepherdess of Laus, steered her flocks away from the noxious pastures on many occasions.

Even from the beginning. Laus attracted unscrupulous people, seeking to benefit from the Pilgrimage. As early as 1665, the first year that Laus was “open for business”, our Manuscripts reveal two sets of charlatans. The first was a man who lived near Avignon. Seeing the huge crowds that came to Laus, and their willingness to offer alms for spiritual and physical favors received, he placed a statute of the Virgin near the Chapel. When unsuspecting pilgrims left their alms at that statue, he quietly pocketed for himself the offerings. The second deceivers were an unholy couple. The man was a dealer of rosaries and medals, and he was accompanied by a Magdalene woman. They came to fleece the pilgrims by turning Laus from a House of God to a Den of Thieves. In each case, Benoîte quickly read their hearts and saw the seeds of weeds they intended to sow. Alerted by Benoîte, Rev. Jean Fraisse, the pastor, ousted each of them in turn.

After Laus was open for business, the crowds of pilgrims continued to flock to Laus  year after year. With so many people mingling from places far and wide, it was easy for deceivers to hide in plain sight among the flocks of strangers. In May 1677, a young merchant from Grasse planned a trip to Laus. It was not a holy pilgrimage.

We know that the merchant from Grasse had first traveled to Gap, not far from Laus, where he had made a pact with man. This was not a commercial deal, but instead it was a contract for the man to sell his daughter to the merchant from Grasse. Realizing that they were apparently too well known in Gap to consummate the evil pact in that city, they agreed to take their “pleasure party” to Laus to hide there among the crowds.

The merchant, the man and his daughter came together to Laus one morning on the road that came from Gap. Benoîte, who had been on her way to the Church, saw them, instantly read their hearts and recognized their criminal intentions. Seeking to appear as pilgrims, they entered the Church at the beginning of the Mass and participated fully in it. As Mass was ending, the Shepherdess surreptitiously left the Church. Cleverly, she went to wait for the guilty people at the pilgrims’ entrance to the Church, known as the “little door”. When the three of them exited, they immediately encountered Benoîte, who was expecting them.

With a few short comments, Benoîte exposed their infamous plans. As they stood sheepishly in front of her, Benoîte reprimanded them forcefully. We can only imagine how upset Benoîte must have been to understand these people had come to the Throne of the Mother of God at Laus to mingle among zealous pilgrims in order to commit mortal sin. In her efforts to cast the Dragon far from the Holy Ground, Benoîte exhorted these false pilgrims to leave Laus and to return instantly to their own homes.

Unsatisfied that her words would take root in the rocky soil contained in the hearts of these false pilgrims, Benoîte left them to consider her words and hastened to the lodging house at Laus. This building had been built at Laus so that pilgrims could have a safe and comfortable place to stay during their pilgrimage. Through her ministry at Laus, Benoîte was fully aware of the human heart’s propensity to sin, and knew how easy it is for the Demon to capture again in his chains those who once served him. At the lodging house, Benoîte reported these false pilgrims to the hostess. Benoîte recommended that the hostess not give them a room nor let them out of her sight, not even for an instant. Benoîte was always obeyed, and the hostess followed her orders to the letter.

Shocked at seeing his intentions so nakedly exposed, the young merchant was touched by the events and quickly decided to dismiss his accomplices. Having brought the man and his daughter to Laus, he graciously provided them a meal to fortify them for their return journey home. After sending the man and his daughter on their way, the merchant from Grasse decided to remain overnight at Laus. Now unaccompanied, he was admitted to the lodging house for the night.

That evening, alone at Laus, with the word of Benoîte Rencurel still ringing in his ears, the young merchant began to reflect on the strange evolution of his adventure. Possibly he began to ask himself about everything that he had seen, and where would it lead him. His conscience awoke and accused him of his passions. He might have wished to silence this inopportune voice, but it was impossible. His soul became more troubled. The unfortunate man might have thought that the night would have made him calmer, but it was a vain hope! He was unable to sleep a wink. He was so agitated that he filled his bed with sweat. Ps 6:7.

Should he confess? Why should he confess? His soul struggled for hours. Certainly, he had not come to Laus for that purpose. But look what had happened the prior day! . . . oh, the transaction divined and unmasked by the Shepherdess! . . . .oh, the holy girl’s reprimand! . . . Would he have the courage to take accountability for his actions? The night passed in that terrible struggle.

After hours of spiritual struggle and no sleep, he heard the bells of the Church ring out the morning Angelus as the sun began to rise.

Perhaps it was from habit, or perhaps it was to distract his soul from torment, but when the bells had tolled, the young merchant recited the Angelus. Three Hails Marys crowned these recitals of the mystery of the Incarnation. At that moment, the Graces of conversion flowed into his soul.

Grace triumphed over passion, his Guardian Angel vanquished Satan.

Fortified with the Graces of conversion, the guilty soul of the merchant no longer hesitated. He immediately got up, ran to the Church. There, he threw himself into a confessional. When Mass was offered, he attended, this time as a penitent pilgrim. He was seen approaching the Eucharistic Table. When Mass ended, he exited the Church, now fortified with the Sacraments. We was no longer the same man. Joy overflowed from his soul and illuminated his demeanor.

Transformed by an intoxication that he had never known before, he was lifted outside of himself. He gathered together about 30 pilgrims who had been milling about the Church, and without any self-respect, he cried out in their presence: “What a holy and admirable place this is! I came here to do evil, but through the Grace of God, the help of the Divine Mary and the salutary advice of Benoîte, instead I have found salvation here.”

As you contemplate the marvelous conversion of the merchant from Grasse, consider one additional thought. Having been seen sent away the day before, the daughter was absent from Laus at that moment, unable to tell her story to our historians. This account is set forth in Rev. F. Pron’s book “History of the Miracles of Our Lady of Laus”.[i]

Yet, if you ask yourself why Benoîte was so fortuitously present at the moment the daughter appeared with her father and the merchant from Grasse, you might understand a little more of the power of Laus.

Of the three in the pleasure party, the daughter was the sacrificial victim. Her honor and her body were being sold and were to be sacrificed at Laus. Aware of the fate awaiting her, she could have prayed while descending towards Laus, as it began to appear before her eyes. Making a prayer in such extreme peril, how could she not have been heard by the Immaculate and Merciful Virgin? She, then, is the hero of this great drama, though we know only part of the story.

[i] Histoire des Merveilles de Notre-Dame du Laus

Goat and Kidnapping

Benoîte Rencurel spent many years as a shepherdess of sheep and goats. As an experienced shepherdess, she was usually able to preserve and safeguard her flocks. She knew for example that while sheep flock together easily, the goats often had to be more actively herded to remain part of the fold.

One day, the goats separated from the flock, unbeknownst to Benoîte. How did this happen to an experienced shepherdess? It’s possible Benoîte was distracted by prayer or even possibly a conversation with the Blessed Virgin. We do know that often the Blessed Virgin would tell Benoîte to pray at the church in Saint-Etienne, assuring Benoîte that the flocks would be safe. Most of those tests of faiths ended uneventfully. This one would have a more memorable outcome.

Once they were out of Benoîte’s sight, eventually the goats and their kid goats made their way up the alpine slopes and grazed near the top of the mountain, Mont Théus.

Near this summit of Mount Théus was a chalet owned by a man from Remollon. The village of Remollon lies at the bottom of the opposite slope from Saint-Etienne. This particular chalet’s owner had an interesting criminal history. At some previous occasion, he had been convicted for committing an unspecified crime in a wooded area nearby. As punishment, he was sentenced to provide the liturgical garments of a chasuble and an alb to the Church at Saint-Etienne.

Coincidentally, at the moment when Benoîte’s unattended herd of goats, came into view from the chalet, the man from Remollon was accompanied by some workers. The criminal conviction must have been still relatively fresh in his mind, because when the goats appeared near his chalet, these workers goaded the man from Remollon into seeking revenge. In his weakness, the man from Remollon seized the goats and kids.

The value of the goat herd is primarily from its daily milk supply, which has many uses from drinking, to using in recipes and also for the well-known use of making goat cheese. Once he had seized the goats, the man from Remollon quickly milked them, stealing their daily milk supply. Still unsatisfied with his plunder, he decided to raise the stakes by seeking a claim against the owner of the herd for damage to his crops. Unscrupulously, he drove the goats into his wheatfield so he could claim they ate his crop.

Where had Benoîte been during this time? Our historians don’t reveal that detail, but at some point Benoîte became aware that the goats and kids had separated from the sheep and had gone missing. We know she was distressed to learn what had happened. She did not own the flock, and was responsible to the owner for their well-being. Her personal reputation was on the line. Her livelihood was at stake, because who would want to hire a negligent shepherdess?

Did this cause her trust in the Blessed Virgin to wane? Did she feel duped? While those would be typical emotions, perhaps this test rather reinforced Benoîte’s trust in the Blessed Virgin. While in distress about the missing goats. our historians tell us that the Blessed Virgin made all of the events of the goat plunder known to Benoîte Rencurel. Upon learning what had happened, Benoîte quickly jumped into action to retrieve the goats, rapidly scaling the steep slopes of Mount Théus to reclaim the goats.

Benoîte arrived at the chalet shortly after the man from Remollon had driven the goats into his wheatfield. Benoîte demanded that he surrender the animals to her. Feigning anger, the man refused. He declared that he would not surrender the goats until he was compensated for the damage to his wheat crop.

Yet, each time the man made a claim, Benoîte calmly and precisely refuted him with particular details about what had actually happened. She exposed his dishonest behavior, and even provided the details about the corrupt advice from the workers.

Faced with Benoîte’s specific and accurate facts about what had actually happened, these men realized that all of their lies had been laid bare. Their evil conduct was being exposed in all of its deceptive shame. With the truth nakedly exposed, these men were struck with terror.

Quickly, they rallied in the sight of their mistakes. Repentant, they hurried into the wheatfield to round up the grazing flock of goats. They surrendered the goats to Benoîte, who took them away, back to the rest of the flock of sheep.

As usual with many things of Laus, there is a small epilogue to the strange events of this day. When the owner of the goats went to milk the goats later that day, an unusual thing happened Although the man from Remollon had already milked the goats, the goats still produced milk for their rightful owner. “The goats gave their rightful owner that same day a larger quantity of milk than usual.”

Queen of Embrun

Our Lady is Queen of Heaven and Earth. “The Blessed Virgin has marvelous capabilities: the sweetness of a mother and the power of a queen.” Consolation and strength. This is how Benoîte Rencurel experienced Our Lady as Queen of Embrun.

As you may recall, Laus was part of the Diocese of Embrun. In 1665, the Vicar-General of Embrun. Rev. Antoine Lambert had come to Laus to shut it down, believing nothing of the marvels he heard were occurring there. Instead, after witnessing the miraculous healing of Catherine Vial, Rev. Lambert approved the Devotion at Laus and authorized a church to be built there.

Despite this prior Diocesan approval, when Rev. Lambert died in 1669, his successor as Vicar-General, Rev. Jean Javelli, harbored his own doubts about the authenticity of Laus. The See of Embrun was then vacant, as Bishop d’Aubusson had departed for the See of Metz, and new Bishop, Charles Brûlart de Genlis, had not yet been installed. Wielding sole power, Rev. Javelli launched his own inquiry into the character and authenticity of Benoîte Rencurel.

In early June of 1669, Rev. Javelli summoned Benoîte to come from Laus to the Bishop’s Palace in Embrun. Obediently, Benoîte set out on foot and made the journey of 35 kilometer (~22 miles), accompanied by her mother. Once in Embrun, Benoîte was kept a virtual prisoner for 2 weeks at the Bishop’s Palace. Although not formally restrained, Benoîte was clearly not free to leave. Rev. Javelli went as far as to assign Benoîte a female “servant”, whose main role was to continually accompany and spy on Benoîte, in order to report everything back to Rev. Javelli.

As part of her virtual imprisonment, each evening, Rev. Javelli and the other priests interrogated Benoîte for hours on every possible topic related to Laus. Always firm and consistent in her answers, never did she give any reason to these educated men to find fault in her or her responses. In fact, she charmed everyone with her well reasoned answers.

Near the end of the 2 weeks, a miraculous fact eventually became apparent to Rev. Javelli. Although seated across from him at dinner each evening, Rev. Javelli had noticed that Benoîte had not touched a plate or a glass the entire 2 weeks at dinner. When Rev. Javelli followed up on this with the servant-spy, it was confirmed that Benoîte’s total fast from food and drink had lasted the entire 2 weeks of Benoîte’s stay at the Bishop’s Palace. Not only that, but Benoîte’s person emitted a marvelous fragrance, just like those perfumed scents for which Laus was reknown.

Charmed by Benoîte’s responses to his questions and understanding that supernatural forces were at work in Benoîte’s miraculous substance despite her total fast, Rev. Javelli came to believe in Benoîte’s authenticity. With the confidence arising from his extensive encounter with Benoîte, Rev. Javelli re-confirmed the Devotion of Laus as worthy of belief. Before he let Benoîte return to Laus, Rev. Javelli begged this holy girl to stay in Embrun for the Feast of Corpus Christi. Obligingly, Benoîte agreed.

The Cathedral of Our Lady of Embrun was a magnificent church, at that time (before the Revolution) embellished with centuries of expensive gifts from kings and princes across France and beyond. It was indeed a royal church, with a seat perpetually reserved for the sitting King of France. The Cathedral featured an impressive gift from King Louis XI, a pipe organ arrayed on one of the massive piers of the nave, a relative rarity in the 17th Century.

Notably, this Cathedral was also the location of the “Réal” (meaning royal), an icon of the Magi kings giving homage to Jesus and the Holy Family. During the Middle Ages, the Réal had both been the place of extensive peasant pilgrimages, as well as an attraction for the royalty of France. During the Wars of Religions, in the late-1500s the Réal icon had been destroyed by Hugenot troops. When the Devotion of Laus began to attract flocks of pilgrims in the 1600s, to the detriment of pilgrimages to Embrun, supporters of this defunct Réal icon use every method to try to quash Laus so the pilgrims would return to Embrun instead. Likely this animus fueled much of the antagonism and doubt against Benoît Rencurel and the Devotion of Laus.

It was in this royal Cathedral of Embrun where Benoîte and her mother attended Mass for the Feast of Corpus Christi. As the powerful royal organ began to play, Benoîte suddenly had a special apparition from Our Lady, or “Good Mother” as Benoîte called her.

Benoîte‘s Good Mother appeared to her in the royal Cathedral of Embrun, wearing the robes of a Queen. Our Lady was more dazzling than Benoîte had ever seen Her, and she plunged Benoîte into a complete ecstasy, in full sight of all the faithful.

The two conversed. From the solemn discussion that Mary had in that moment with Her beloved Shepherdess, only two facts were ever revealed. These facts paint a greater and greater image of the indescribable love of the Mother of God. First, Our Lady told Benoîte that She came as the Queen because the Cathedral was royal and had been built by a king. Tradition gave this honor to Charlemagne. Second, Our Lady spoke to Benoîte of the organ and said that “it was a musical instrument to honor Her very dear Son, especially on this day which is His greatest feast, a memorial of His Infinite Love.”

Benoîte came out of her ecstasy totally transfigured. Rev Javelli noticed it as well. When he questioned her, Shepherdess simply and directly told Rev. Javelli all that had happened. Rev. Javelli listened in profound silence to Benoîte’s story of the supernatural encounter with the Virgin.

It was clear to all afterward that Rev. Javelli’s extended encounter with Benoîte Rencurel had changed him and his views on Laus. “Benoîte was not the reason that we lost the devotion towards the Réal icon in our church,” he would later say. “It was rather our sins and the miniscule zeal with which we tried to maintain it. Devotion has fled to the farthest reaches of the Diocese. Instead of seeking to pull it back from there, by agitating against this good and holy girl – whose virtue I can attest – we must take care that we do not lose it all together, by competing with her to keep it, lest we lose everything.”

Indeed, Laus is therefore the fiefdom of the Queen of Heaven, who took possession of it for Her Throne in 1664. Laus was and remains again part of Embrun, an earthly city with royal roots.