I love the churches in Paris!
Our first day was overcast and humid, the sun struggling to appear, and with thick-soled shoes we set out for a long walk (Paris is a wonderful city to walk) through the Tuileries Park, past the Louvre Palace, crossing the Seine (pausing to watch the river roll under her many graceful arched bridges), and through the quaint Left Bank neighborhoods to rue du Bac, home of the Miraculous Medal.
On July 19, 1830, the feast day of St. Vincent de Paul, the Virgin Mary appeared to twenty-four-year-old Catherine Labouré from Burgundy. Six days later, the July Revolution would barricade the streets of Paris.
Catherine, one of ten children born to a poor farming family, had joined the Daughters of Charity to care for the poor. In her room on the rue du Bac, an angel-child appeared, leading her to the convent chapel. There she saw the Virgin Mary, who predicted terrible times for France. Catherine described her experience:
“I seemed to hear some noise . . . I saw the Blessed Virgin. She was standing and was wearing a white silk robe, the color of dawn, her feet were resting on a ‘globe’ of which I could only see half; in her hands, raised at the level of her breast, she held a globe effortlessly, her eyes were raised heavenward . . . her face was utterly beautiful, I could not describe it . . . I looked at her, the Blessed Virgin lowered her eyes, looked at me, and an inner voice said to me:
‘This globe that you see represents the entire world, particularly France . . . and each person in particular . . .’
Here, I don’t know how to express what I felt and what I saw, the beauty and brilliance of the rays were so magnificent!
The voice said to me again:
‘This is the symbol of the graces which I will pour out on the persons who ask for them.’ “
(Superiorum, Catherine Labouré, the Saint of Silence)
Mary instructed Catherine to have medals made with the inscription “O Mary, conceived without sin, pray for us who have recourse to you.” The Blessed Virgin would grant graces to those who wore her medals and to those who prayed before her image in the chapel. Catherine told her confessor and the medals were cast. She told no one else about the visions until her deathbed confession in 1876. In 1947 the body of this “Saint of Silence” was incorrupt, a sign of sainthood.
We walked up the rue du Bac to the drive leading to the chapel and worked our way through the gatherings of pilgrims. We entered the three-nave chapel, and once again I breathed deeply and sighed at the amazing light in the space – the pale blues and whites and golds, the ethereal sense of joy in this simple chapel. We knelt in a pew in the central nave and prayed our thanksgivings before the Blessed Sacrament on the high altar, then looked about the luminous sanctuary.
The chancel fresco above the altar tells Catherine’s story. A sculpture of Joseph and the Christ Child stands in the north aisle and the Virgin Mary as she appeared is in the south aisle. Mary holds a golden ball, representing the world and Catherine’s incorrupt body rests in the glass tomb below. Nearby, a statue of St. Vincent de Paul stands above a reliquary holding Vincent’s heart.
Millions of pilgrims journey here each year to pray before the body of Catherine. Literature, postcards, and medals are available for a small fee in the convent shop.
As we left, I approached a nun who was answering questions in the outer courtyard and told her about my little novel, Offerings, in which a scene is set at the Shrine of the Miraculous Medal. I wanted to give an English-speaking nun a copy in thanksgiving to God for the publication of my book. Was there one there at the shrine? She called another nun over and they smiled with pleasure. Finally, after thinking about it, they said yes, indeed there was. They promised to give the copy to an American nun in charge of the International order.
We thanked them, and left with grateful hearts, our minds full of the light and devotion in the blue and white chapel.
Our Lady of the Miraculous Medal Chapel
140, rue de Bac, Paris
The Daughters of Charity of St. Vincent de Paul
Open 7:45 a.m.-1 p.m., 2:30 p.m.-7 p.m. Closed Tuesdays
Weekday Masses: 8 a.m., 10:30 a.m., 12:30 p.m.
Saturday Masses: 8 a.m., 10:30 a.m., 12:30 p.m., 5:15 p.m.
Sunday Masses: 7:30 a.m.; 10 a.m., 11:15
Marian Masses: daily at noon, 4 p.m., 6:30 p.m.
Marian Prayers: daily at 4 p.m. Vespers: daily at 6:30 p.m.
Church nearby: The Shrine of St. Vincent-de-Paul ,
95, rue de Sèvres, where the body of St. Vincent de Paul rests over the High Altar.