It all started on the evening of July 18, 1830, around 11:30 p.m. At the House of the Daughters of Charity, rue du Bac, in Paris, a young 24-year-old novice, Catherine Labouré, is sleeping. A child with a halo wakes her up and invites her to join the convent chapel because the Blessed Virgin is waiting for her there. Catherine goes there in all haste. A few minutes later, Mary appears: “My child, the good Lord wants to entrust you with a mission.” She tells him that his task will be delicate and difficult.
The days pass. Catherine has no more news from the Virgin.
Five months later, on November 27, at the end of the afternoon, while the young nun was praying in the chapel, she saw two paintings appearing above the altar.
On the first, Marie is standing, facing her. Under her feet, she crushes the snake, symbol of evil. From his hands burst rays of intense light. “These rays are the symbols of grace that I spread, if I am asked,” the Virgin explains to him.
An oval is formed around the scene and golden letters appear: “O Mary conceived without sin, pray for us who have recourse to you”.
The image gradually disappears to give way to a new representation of the Virgin carrying a globe surmounted by a cross. She explains to him: “This ball represents the whole world, France and each person in particular.”
In the second painting, Catherine sees the “M” of Mary appear, intertwined with the cross of Jesus, as if to recall the unbreakable bond that unites them. Around it are drawn the twelve stars of the “Queen of Heaven”. Two hearts stand side by side. On the left, that of Jesus, recognizable by the crown of thorns which surrounds him. On her right, a heart pierced by a sword, as if to represent the pain of a mother seeing her child suffer. It is the heart of Mary.
While looking at the paintings passing before her eyes, Catherine hears the voice of the Virgin: “Have a medal struck on this model”.
Graces will be abundant for those who carry it with confidence.
Then the Virgin assures him that “graces will be abundant for those who wear it with confidence”. A promise, which she will renew, a month later, during a final appearance.
The medal becomes “miraculous”
Catherine will not tell anyone about her apparitions, except her spiritual father.
Two years later, Paris was hit hard by a violent cholera epidemic. The situation is catastrophic in the capital. The number of deaths increases every day, exceeding 20,000. Catherine’s confidant will report her apparitions to the Bishop of Paris, Mgr de Quélen, without revealing the identity of the young woman. The bishop grants the Sisters of Charity the right to organize a distribution of medals. Then the first miracles appear.
In a few years, countless healings and so-called “extraordinary” protections established the reputation of the medal. From then on, Parisians declared it “miraculous”.
In 1834, already more than 500,000 medals were distributed. Its reputation continues to grow. In 1854, Pope Pius IX proclaimed the dogma of the Immaculate Conception. The prayer “O Mary conceived without sin, pray for us who have recourse to you” is recited throughout the world. Wearing the medal then becomes, for the faithful, a way of placing themselves under the protection of the Virgin Mary. In 1876, the milestone of one billion medals struck was exceeded. On July 27, 1947, Pope Pius XII canonized Catherine Labouré, 70 years after her death.
The miraculous medal is celebrated every November 27, the date of Mary to Saint Catherine Labouré.
One of the most popular Parisian sites for tourists
The chapel on rue du Bac, in Paris, in the 7th arrondissement, still belonging to the congregation of the Daughters of Charity, has become an essential place of pilgrimage and Marian devotion. It is one of the top ten most visited cultural sites in Paris. Each year, an average of two million visitors pass in front of the body of Saint Catherine Labouré, at the foot of the altar above which Mary appeared to her. Even today, many stories relate graces obtained by the miraculous medal.