The appearances of Our Lady of La Salette are undoubtedly the most controversial of the Church-approved Marian apparitions. Our Lady appeared to two shepherd children tending flocks around the mountaintop village of La Salette, near Grenoble in France on 19th Sept, 1846, and divulged to them a two-pronged message, part of which was to be made public, and the other was to be kept secret until an unspecified point in the future. In imagery reminiscent of the Mater Dolorosa (Our Lady of Sorrows), the two children, Melanie Calvat and Maximin Giraud, saw a strangely-attired woman seated on a rock with her head in her hands, weeping bitterly. Our Lady first gave the children a message which was to be made public, and during the course of this revelation she confided a secret to each child. The public message contained various prophecies (such as impending famine due to the potato blight sweeping through Europe at that time, which was to have particularly dire consequences for the population of Ireland) and warnings about the current condition of humanity.
However much you pray, however much you do, you will never recompense the pains I have taken for you. Six days I have given you to labor, the seventh I had kept for myself; and they will not give it to me. It is this which makes the arm of my Son so heavy. Those who drive the carts cannot swear without introducing the name of my Son. These are the two things which makes the arm of my Son so heavy.
If the harvest is spoilt, it is all on your account. I gave you warning last year with the potatoes but you did not heed it. On the contrary, when you found the potatoes spoilt, you swore, you took the name of my Son in vain. They will continue to decay, so that by Christmas there will be none left. Ah, my children, do you not understand? Well, wait, I shall say it otherwise.
If you have wheat, it is no good to sow it; all you sow the insects will eat, and what comes up will fall into dust when you thresh it. There will come a great famine. Before the famine comes, the children under seven years of age will be seized with trembling and will die in the hands of those who hold them; the others will do penance by the famine. The walnuts will become bad, and the grapes will rot.
[Here the two private messages were given to Mélanie and Maximin.]
If they are converted, the stones and rocks will change into mounds of wheat, and the potatoes will be self-sown in the land. Do you say your prayers well, my children?
[Both answered: "Not very well, Madam."]
Ah, my children, you must be sure to say them well morning and evening. When you cannot do better, say at least an Our Father and a Hail Mary. When you have time, say more. There are none who go to Mass except a few aged women. The rest work on Sunday all summer; then in the winter, when they know not what to do, they go to Mass only to mock at religion. During Lent, they go to the meat-market like dogs. Have you never seen wheat that is spoilt, my children?
["No, Madam", they replied.]
But you, my child [to Maximin], you must surely have seen some once when you were at the farm of Coin with your father. The owner of the field told your father to go and see his ruined wheat. You went together. You took two or three ears of wheat into your hands and rubbed them, and they fell to dust.
Then you continued home. When you were still half and hour's distance from Corps, your father gave you a piece of bread and said to you: "Here, my child, eat some bread this year at least; I don't know who will eat any next year, if the wheat goes on like that."
[Confronted with such precise details, Maximin replied: "Oh yes, Madam, I remember now; just at this moment I did not remember."]
Well, my children, you will make this known to all my people.
After an initial period of investigation by the local authorities, the apparitions were declared to be worthy of belief by the bishop of Grenoble in 1851, which legitimised devotion to Our Lady of La Salette. Under instructions from Cardinal de Boland in 1851, Melanie and Maximin wrote down the content of the secrets, which were then sealed in envelopes and transmitted to Pope Pius IX. These secrets were to remain buried in the Vatican secret archives for nearly a century and a half, until they were finally unearthed by Fr Michel Corteville in 1999, who working together with the famous mariologist Fr Rene Laurentin, eventually revealed the messages to the public in 2002 in their book Découverte du secret de La Salette, (Discovery of the Secret of La Salette, Fayard, 2002).
Here we find that Melanie's secret was considerably shorter than the later versions which were published in 1858 and 1873, and the famous 1879 version which foretold that Rome would become the "seat of the Antichrist". Although there were some purported "leaked" versions of Maximin's secret in circulation from the late 19th century onwards, in reality it was not published until after its discovery in 1999. We can see the original secrets given to Melanie and Maximin in 1846 (which they would later confine to paper in 1851) below:
On September 19, 1846, we saw a beautiful Lady. We never said that this lady was the Blessed Virgin but we always said that it was a beautiful Lady.
I do not know if it is the Blessed Virgin or another person. As for me, I believe today that it is the Blessed Virgin. Here is what this Lady said to me:
"If my people continue, what I will say to you will arrive earlier, if it changes a little, it will be a little later.
France has corrupted the universe, one day it will be punished. The faith will die out in France: three quarters of France will not practice religion anymore, or almost no more, the other part will practice it without really practicing it. Then, after [that], nations will convert, the faith will be rekindled everywhere. A great country, now Protestant, in the north of Europe, will be converted; by the support of this country all the other nations of the world will be converted.
Before all that arrives, great disorders will arrive, in the Church, and everywhere. Then, after [that], our Holy Father the Pope will be persecuted. His successor will be a pontiff that nobody expects.
Then, after [that], a great peace will come, but it will not last a long time. A monster will come to disturb it.
All that I tell you here will arrive in the other century, at the latest in the year two thousand."
(She told me to say it some time before.)
My Most Holy Father, your holy blessing to one of your sheep.
Grenoble, July 3,1851.
Secret which the Blessed Virgin gave me on the Mountain of La Salette on September 19, 1846.
Mélanie, I will say something to you which you will not say to anybody:
The time of the God's wrath has arrived!
If, when you say to the people what I have said to you so far, and what I will still ask you to say, if, after that, they do not convert, (if they do not do penance, and they do not cease working on Sunday, and if they continue to blaspheme the Holy Name of God), in a word, if the face of the earth does not change, God will be avenged against ungrateful people and the slaves of the demon.
My Son will make his power manifest! Paris, a city soiled by all kinds of crimes, will perish forever. Marseilles too will be destroyed in a little time. When these things happen, the disorder will be complete on the earth, the world will be given up to its impious passions.
The pope will be persecuted from all sides, they will shoot at him, they will want to put him to death, but no one will be able to do it, the Vicar of God will triumph again this time.
The priests and the Sisters, and the true servants of my Son will be persecuted, and many will die for the faith of Jesus-Christ.
A famine will reign at the same time.
After all these calamities have arrived, many will recognize the hand of God on them. They will convert, and do penance for their sins.
A great king will go up on the throne, and will reign many years. Religion will re-flourish and spread all over the world, and there will be a great abundance. The world, glad to be lacking nothing, will fall again into disorder, will give up God, and will return to its criminal passions.
[Among] God's ministers, and the Spouses of Jesus-Christ, there will be some who will go astray, and that will be the most terrible.
Lastly, hell will reign on earth. It will be then that the Antichrist will be born of a Sister, but woe to her! Many will believe in him, because he will claim to have come from heaven, woe to those who will believe in him!
That time is not far away, twice 50 years will not go by.
My child, you will not say what I have just said to you. (You will not say it to anybody, you will not say if you must say it one day, you will not say what that it concerns). Finally, you will say nothing more until I tell you to say it!
I pray to Our Holy Father the Pope to give me his holy blessing.
Mélanie Mathieu, Shepherdess of La Salette, Grenoble, July 6, 1851.
So should the later versions of the secret of La Salette also be considered as an authentic part of the message of La Salette, and not merely the personal invention of Melanie Calvat? It is not altogether impossible that Melanie wrote down a condensed version of the secret in 1851, which would later be expanded upon by the guidance of Our Lady herself. If we look at the appearances of Our Lady to Sr Lucia for example, we find that the apparitions continued throughout her life. Whilst the secrets of Fatima had been divulged to the children in 1917, the message of Fatima continued long after. It was in these later Pontevedra apparitions to Sr Lucia that we find elements now intrinsically linked to the message of Fatima itself, such as the the first Saturdays devotion.
This would explain Our Lady's words to Melanie above (in the 1851 version) that "If, when you say to the people what I have said to you so far, and what I will still ask you to say", which imply that there would be a continuation of the message at some point in the future.
Melanie is frequently cited by critics as an egocentric, disobedient figure, fallen from her original grace and influenced by anti-Catholic Protestant apocalypticism. However Melanie herself displayed supernatural phenomena associated with true mystics, such as displaying the stigmata after the secrets were first written down in 1851. Only truly holy individuals experience phenomena such as this. She also witnessed to the authenticity of her visions by receiving a religious vocation and entering a convent. Her conflicts with the later bishop of Grenoble (who it should be noted was opposed to the First Vatican Council's decisions concerning papal infallibility) may be attributed to political circumstances. As Melanie was a pro-Bourbon royalist, this immediately set her in opposition to Mgr. Jacques Ginoulhiac, the bishop of Grenoble from 1853, who apparently wished to curry favour with the Bonapartists and Napoleon III by obstructing the mission of the seer. Melanie's misfortunate relationship with her local ordinary recalls to mind the trials of St Padre Pio, who was also treated badly by some Church authorities.
So unless we are to discount Melanie as a complete fraud (which would mean we should also dismiss her original accounts of the apparitions at La Salette), we must seriously consider the possibility that the later versions of her secret also have validity.