In the history of Marian apparitions, one may notice that the length of these reported appearances of the Mother of God would span in several days, months, or at least a decade, like in the case of Kibeho, Rwanda in the 1980s. However, interestingly, in the approved apparition that we’re going to discover is that the story of the appearances is by far the longest by 54 years – yes, you read it right!
So let us then read more on the account of the longest recorded Marian apparition in the history of the Catholic Church that was approved by the Vatican in 2008.
The Messenger of Reconciliation
Benoite Rencurel was born on September 16, 1647 in Saint-Entienne d’Avencon of a family of modest means. A Contemporary of Louis XIV, she lived at a time that was troubled by political, social and religious tensions.
After the death of her father in 1654, she was constrained to work as a shepherdess. Since she didn’t earn much, she would work in the evenings at the home of a widow with several children. Before beginning to go all over the mountains with her flocks, she asked her mother for a rosary. Not knowing how to read and writ, she prayed all day long, becoming in this way a true contemplative. Simple and full of life, she was close to the people of her village and did not hesitate to give her food to the children who were poorer than herself.
The Beginning of a long relationship
In morning of May 1664, after hearing a sermon from the village’s parish priest, Benoite felt a strong desire to meet the Mother of God. Later while sitting in the ruins of an old building, once a chapel, to eat her lunch, she encounters an elderly man, St. Maurice, who tells her to take her flock of sheep to the valley above Saint-Étienne and pointed out a spring where she could get a drink of water, and told her to go to a certain valley in the mountains with her her sheep and she will see the Mother of God.
The next day, Benoite did what St. Maurice instructed and there, for the first of many times, she saw a Lady who was to guide her for many years. She was a beautiful Lady, with a lovely Baby. Benoite, who knew that there was an old limekiln nearby, asked her if she had come to buy a lime. The Lady did not speak and smiled. The smile was so heavenly that Benoite could not get it out of her mind. She could hardly wait to get back the next day. For nearly two months she met the Lady on a daily basis at the same site; the Lady did not speak, but her presence was so delightful that it made Benoite happy just to look at her.
Eventually, as one might expect, the neighbors became curious. They knew that this particular valley offered poor grazing for sheep, and they told Benoite’s employer that she was neglecting her charge for some fanciful visitor. He forbade her to go to the valley again. However, the sheep went by themselves. She tearfully reported this to him and he went with the sheep to prove that she was wrong. After a long, hard day trying to get his sheep out of the rocky valley, which they persisted in entering no matter what he would do, he gave up. The sheep, observed, were as fat as anyone’s sheep.
When she saw Benoite, she saw she was conversing with no one, but she did hear a voice who was speaking to Benoite and the voice warn her that her soul was in danger. “She has something on her conscience,” the Lady said. “Tell her to do penance.” The woman was deeply moved by the message, returned to the sacraments and lived piously for the rest of her days.
This brought the unusual affair to public notice, however, the magistrate was called in and he asked her who the Lady was. She did not know her identity that he told her to make a good confession, receive Holy Communion and ask the Lady her identity. This she did and on August 29, 1664, the beautiful Lady revealed her identity: “I am Mary, the Mother of my dear Son Jesus.” She then later asked for prayers and processions to the valley which the villagers responded enthusiastically.
At the end of September of 1664, after the absence of one month, Mary manifested herself again, but on the other side of the valley, in Pindreau: “Go to Laus, there, you will find a chapel which exhales good odors and there you will speak often to me.” This would be the formal phase where she would receive frequent apparitions of the Blessed Virgin Mary that would last for 54 years from 1664 to 1718.
The following day, Benoite went to the neighboring hamlet of Laus and found the old chapel of Bon-Rencontre through the fragrance inside, standing on the altar, Mary revealed her plan: “I have asked my Son for this place for the conversion of sinners and He granted it to Me.” She also confided to Benoite the mission of building a church and a house for the priests so that they receive and confess pilgrims.
Benoite began the repair work by herself, soon afterwards, the villagers began helping her in this task from the Queen of Heaven and after a long day of work, they would stay overnight in the open to pray to Our Lady and the a beautiful large church was erected over the ruined chapel.
Throughout the winter of 1664-65, in spite of the four kilometers that separated the village of Saint-Étienne from the Laus chapel, Benoite went up to it every day. And there she often saw the Virgin.
Virgin Mary: “Pray continually for sinners.“
Oftentimes, She would name those She wanted her to pray for. In this way the Virgin was forming Benoite for her mission, which was to help priests in the ministry of Confession and the conversion of sinners. As of 1665, the Blessed Virgin asked her to stop tending flocks in order to devote herself to her mission.
On September 14, 1665, Father Antoine Lambert, the Vicar General of the Diocese of Embrun and most unsympathetic towards the apparitions, came to Laus in the company of several eminent priests, equally unsympathetic to the events at Laus, hoping to put an end to “this sorcery,” prove Benoite guilty of a hoax, and shut down the chapel. However, a storm came, and as if the Virgin wanted them to stay, the group was stranded in the chapel for three days and in those three days, they witnessed miracles were indeed happening in the humble chapel. One of them that made an impression is that of a woman who had been dragging herself to Mass for a novena, a hopeless cripple at the verge of death, stood up and walked and was completely cured. From then, a change of heart took place and later assisted in the completion of the chapel.
The chapel was constructed between 1666 and 1669 and on the day of the blessing of the chapel, Benoite became a member of the Third Order of St. Dominic as part of her ministry to the pilgrims of Laus and she then became known as “Sister Benoite” which was conferred on her.
Her ministry in the Chapel of Our Lady
From 1673 or 1674, Benoîte took up permanent residence at Laus and remained there for the rest of her life. During those years, Our Lady continued to visit her regularly and witnessed numerous miracles occurred in the place. In one of her visits, Our Lady asked Benoite to admonish women and girls about living lives of scandal, especially those who commit abortion. She also encouraged priests and religious to be faithful to their vows.
Benoite fulfilled her pastoral work by receiving them, by praying and doing penance. She dedicated herself to preparing sinners to receive the sacrament. She encouraged priests at the shrine to receive penitents with charity and kindness in order to help them convert. Having received the gift of reading into the consciences, she enlightened their steps to conversion and sent them to priests who marveled at the quality of their confessions.
Our Lady promised Benoite that her grace would always be there in the valley. More miracles of healing and conversions took place in the chapel. One of the most notable and prominent is the miracle of the fragrance which is said that the fragrance occurs when Our Lady performed a miracle in Laus. The perfume persists to this day; ordinarily it comes on feasts of Our Lady and sometimes it became known what miracle occurs at that time.
Another well known miracle that are still happening in the chapel is the miraculous oil from the sanctuary where Our Lady promised that the oil of Laus, if applied with faith, is a source of many physical and spiritual healings. The oil became well known and it is being distributed to pilgrims not only in France but also in different parts of the world.
The Mystic of Compassion
In one of her visions, Our Lady told Benoite this message: “Take heart, My daughter! Have patience. Do your duty cheerfully. Bear no hatred towards the enemies of Laus. Do not be troubled and sick over it if people do not profit from your advice. Do not be disturbed by temptations, visible or invisible spirits, or temporal affairs. Strive never to forsake the presence of God, for whoever has any faith will not dare to offend Him.”
For the duration of 54 years, the Blessed Mother continued to appear to Benoite to support her in her apostolate and in her continuing education.
In addition to the continuous Marian apparitions. She also experienced other mystical events that would leave a deep impression to her life. One of the most notable of them took place between 1669 to 1679 where she received five visions of the suffering Christ. On a Friday in July of 1673, the suffering Jesus told her: “My daughter, I show myself in this state so that you can participate in my Passion.” After these words were said to her, she received the holy stigmata. Every week from that day on, she suffered a mystical crucifixion between Thursday evening and Saturday morning. This weekly crucifixion lasted fifteen years, with a two-year interruption from 1677 to 1679, when Benoite served food to the workers who were building the priests’ residence; in November 1679, the mystical crucifixion was renewed at the Cross of Avançon.
Apart from these phenomenon, she also received visions from the angels and several saints and had mystical experiences like the vision of Paradise. One notable vision of the saints took place on December 4, 1678, when the Virgin appeared to Benoîte accompanied by Saint Barbara and Saint Catherine of Sienna, one of whom wore a crown of flowers and the other a crown of thorns. “My daughter,” said the Good Mother, “if you would like to wear a crown in Heaven, you must wear a crown of thorns on earth.”
It seemed that the words of Our Lady foreshadowed Benoite’s sufferings in the coming years where she went through other trials such as spiritual and physical attacks from the Devil or being put aside for 20 years by some priests who had Jansenist tendencies.
Such case happened in 1672 where the Apparitions at Laus and Benoite were to meet with much hostility. The Bishop, now old and in a weakened, state appointed two chaplains who were not in favor of Laus, and turned the faithful away and for fifteen years Benoite was kept under house arrest, permitted only Sunday Mass. Benoite’s Angel comforted her by lifting a little of the veil that hid the future from her: “There will always be troubles at Laus until there are Religious established here”. The messenger’s fidelity triumphed over this long “eclipse of Laus.”
The “Eclipse of Lause” ended in 1712 when the direction of the pilgrimage was entrusted to some good priests, called the Pères Gardistes, “a deeply religious group of sound doctrine, moved by an ardent desire for the apostolate.”
Her Final Years and Road to Sainthood
After more than two decades of living near the chapel, the continual apparitions of the Blessed Mother, and the suffering she endured, Benoite received Communion on Christmas Day in 1718, after asking forgiveness of those who were present, for the bad examples she might have given during her lifetime, she requested and received Holy Viaticum. Suddenly the Virgin reappeared before her eyes, leaving behind a fragrance that pervaded the very poor chamber.
On December 28, 1718, she made a general confession, received the last rites and around 8p.m. bading farewell to those around her. Benoite then kissed a crucifix and passed away peacefully. She died in the odor of sanctity.
Eighty years after her death, because of a building accident, her tomb was opened and it was found that her body was intact. In 1872, Pope Pius IX declared Benoite Rencurel a “Servant of God.” The cause was halted for unknown reasons until it was re-opened in 1981 by St. John Paul II. In 2009, Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI declared the “Shepherdess of Laus” Venerable. Miracles through the intercession of Venerable Benoite Rencurel were reported and these are now currently investigated and studied for move her cause forward.
The Approval of the apparitions and the Sanctuary of Laus at present
The life of Venerable Benoite and the 54 years of apparitions are recorded in the Manuscripts of Laus, a work of 1775 pages which records the testimonies of the four contemporaries with the events: a judge, a hermit and two priests. This document became crucial to the investigations of the apparitions and the cause for sainthood for Benoite.
Since her death, Laus has become a pilgrimage site of enduring appeal. In the 19th Century, the Sanctuary recieved two Papal distinctions: the Canonical Coronation of the image of Our Lady of Laus in the Sanctuary in 1855 and the elevation of the Church to the rank of Minor Basilica in 1892.
On May 4, 2008, Bishop Jean-Michel de Falco Leandri of the Diocese of Gap and of Embrun, officially approved the apparitions in accordance with the norms on recognizing Marian apparitions: “I recognize the supernatural origin of the apparitions and the events and words experienced and narrated by Benoite Rencurel. I encourage all of the faithful to come and pray and seek spiritual renewal at this shrine.” The approval was recognized by Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI making it the latest Marian apparition to be approved by the Vatican as of this writing. The apparitions also made a mark as the longest approved Marian apparition in history spanning 54 years from 1664 to 1718.
The Feast of Our Lady of Laus is celebrated every September 27.
The importance of the Laus apparitions
The Blessed Mother has chosen Laus for its beauty, its peace, its mildness, and its simplicity. These qualities, in fact, foster reconciliation and are a first step towards inner peace.
The mission of Venerable Benoite and the 54 years of apparitions constitute “the message of Laus”, whic is a call to be reconciled in our entire being with God, with others, and with oneself, but also with the body, with time, with the heavenly world. In our modern world, where we are torn by doubts and questions of all sorts, this message of appeasementm of inner unification and conversion to Christ is proven to be the most imporant, especially in these times.
Our Lady of Laus, pray for us!
Venerable Benoite Rencurel, intercede for us!
Prayer to Our Lady of Laus
Queen of Laus, kind and loving Mother, hear our pious pleas. Your son always hears your prayers, and you always hear your children. O pure Virgin, ceaselessly watch over our hearts from heaven. Let no dirt tarnish the heavenly whiteness. Be our support in virtue, all-powerful Virgin, and guide our feeble steps. If we fall, Compassionate Mother, kindly embrace us in your arms. Give us shelter under your wings when the storms burst with fury, spare us from cruel agony, and may the sinner repent with true remorse. Leave us not at our last hour, but let us sleep in peace at your maternal breast. And once awakening, drawing back the veil, we will see you in the splendor of heaven. Our Lady of Laus, Refuge of sinners, pray for us who have recourse to thee. Amen
Prayer for the Beatification of Venerable Benoîte Rencurel
Father, full of tenderness and mercy, your son gave us Mary as mother. At his request, he gave the Laus to make it the refuge of sinners. Your servant Benoîte welcomed pilgrims and took them to the source of forgiveness and reconciliation. We pray with confidence that she would soon be beatified and thus the Laus shines a new light, it touches more hearts and always lead more sinners to Thee. At his intercession, deign to grant me the grace that I ask for your mercy to the praise of your love and your glory. Amen
(Here mention your petitions and pray one Our Father, one Hail Mary and one Glory be)
Dorcy, Mary Jean, OP, “Shrines of Our Lady”, Sheen and Ward, New York, USA, 1956.
“Let yourself be reconciled – The Story of Laus”, The Marian Sanctuary of Notre Dame du Laus, Diocese of Gap and of Embrun, France, 2014.
“Notre Dame du Laus” The Marian Sanctuary of Notre Dame du Laus, Diocese of Gap and of Embrun, France, 2014.
R. de la Briolle, Benoite, la bergiere de Notre Dame du Laus, Saint Etienne du Laus, 1967, 304 p.;
R. de la Briolle, Histoire critique du pelerinage Notre Dame du Laus et de la vie de Soeur Benoite Recurel, Laus, 1977, 4 volumes mimeographed.