Legends of the Blessed Virgin – Our Lady the Deliverer

Legends of the Blessed Virgin, by Jacques-Albin-Simon Collin de Plancy“Clement Virgin.”

The severe winter which ushered in the eighteenth century, advanced with such rude and tempestuous strides, that it seemed to prefigure to the minds of men the miseries, convulsions, and ruin, which that century of troubles carried in its womb. Calamities of divers kinds afflicted the earth; and the sea, swept by tempests, covered the shores with the sad wrecks of its fury.

But, in spite of unruly waves and boisterous winds, commerce, ever venturesome in pursuit of wealth, and which, according to the Dutch proverb, would go and scorch its sails in the flames of hell if it could hope to establish there a depot for its merchandise, was sending her ships over the seas of the world. A merchant ship from Havre, fatigued by its long course, heavily laden, and carrying many guns, was returning from Lisbon, on the 12th of February, 1700, through a most tempestuous sea, running many risks, but reckoning on her good equipment to reach the port in safety.

A Norman sailor, who was on board, could not avert his eyes from a point on the horizon, where he kept his sight fixed on a speck, which kept increasing as the ship neared.

“If our Lady the Deliverer comes not to our aid,” said he, at length, to a passenger, “we shall pass a terrible night.”

“What title is this you give to our Lady?” asked the passenger.

“You must certainly be a Portuguese, or a native of some outlandish place, not to have heard of this celebrated pilgrimage,” replied the sailor: “it takes its origin, they say, from the time of the first apostles of the country. For more than six hundred years, a miraculous image of our Lady had been venerated in the country between Caen and Bayeux, when the rude men of the north came and ravaged France. Although we are certainly descended from these Normans, I hope we bear no resemblance to them in impiety. The Church, at least as it formerly did, does not now pray to be delivered from us. Our Lady’s chapel was destroyed by these barbarians, and its sacred image buried beneath its ruins. The pilgrimage became a sad spot for those who remembered it, and who had often there invoked the assistance of our Lady the Deliverer, whose powerful aid was sought by distressed mariners at sea. Two centuries passed away.

“The remains of the chapel had been used in the erection of cottages, and the land had been cultivated, so that the precise spot on which it had stood was forgotten. Nobody had ever been able to discover the holy image. But now our dear Lady took compassion on the people who had become Christians. It was during the reign of Henry I of France, when our Duke William set out for the conquest of England. Thus has the circumstance been told me, “But see,” said the narrator, interrupting his discourse, “how the darkness increases. The sky seems covered with a black mantle. It is not yet mid-day, and we can scarce see before us.”

“And this February rain is most bitterly cold,” said the passenger, “it seems to me that our ship has got into a bad sea. We are running, as you will soon see, across the reefs of the isle of Ouessant.”

The sailor made the sign of the cross. The passenger did the same, with a sigh.

“May our Lady the Deliverer be our pilot!” continued the Norman, “we shall stand in great need of her assistance.”

“Well, I was telling you how she took compassion on the poor people, and wished to restore her pilgrimage. The shepherd of a neighbouring lord discovered a very singular occurrence. Every day he saw one of his sheep leave the flock, and wander abroad without any molestation on the part of the dogs. He found that the animal went into a small meadow, where the grass was finer and fresher than anywhere else; but, to his surprise, he saw that instead of browsing there, he turned up the earth with his feet. For several days this sheep took no nourishment, – which, however, did not prevent its being one of the fattest of the flock. When tired with its labour, the sheep lay down on the spot until evening, when it returned to the fold at the shepherd’s call. These facts were mentioned to Baudoin, the lord of the manor, who was much astonished, and came to the spot, accompanied by his friends, to ascertain the truth of the story. He then ordered his labourers to dig up the soil on the spot where the sheep had barely scratched to the depth of a foot; when, to the delight of all assembled, after an hour’s labour, they discovered the venerable image of our Lady the Deliverer. It was transported, amid the rejoicings of all the neighbouring people, to the great church at Bayeux. But what followed will doubtless appear more strange to you; for the next morning the statue had disappeared; and on seeking for it, it was found in the precise, spot where it had been discovered on the preceding day. This circumstance seemed to show that the ancient chapel had stood on this ground, and that it was our Lady’s desire that it should be rebuilt in the same place. This was accordingly done. Henceforth the pilgrimage was revived, and has continued uninterrupted to the present day. During which time, our Lady the Deliverer has worked many astonishing cures and wonders.”

At this moment, an order from the captain interrupted the narrative. The sailor was called to his work. The passengers themselves laboured at the pumps, for the ship was filling from several parts. Premature night brought an increase of the terrors with which a tempest at Cape Finisterre is ever attended. We might draw upon our imagination for a description of the storm, but we prefer not to interrupt the simple narrative of the legend by our own words.

The sailors had said their night prayers, and were chanting the “Ave Marts Stella” in their rough, but plaintive melody. The winds and the waves replied in sounds of fury. A long and terrible night ensued; no sun appeared on the next morning; but some faint gleams of light, which they were glad to call day, burst upon the shattered vessel; for, carried along by the raging waters, the ship had lost all her rigging and sails; her cannon, rudder, and compass, were gone. Hurried along by the winds, she was about to capsize, when the Norman sailor cried out, “We are all lost, unless we implore the all-powerful aid of our Lady the Deliverer!”

All the sailors instantly uncovered their heads, and kneeling, as well as they could, made a vow to make a pilgrimage to her sanctuary.

The passenger from Lisbon saw, with sadness, that the captain and his two brothers stood unmoved and uncovered during this outburst of religious feeling. Charles Ferret and his brothers were, alas! members of the cold sect of Calvin. Yet were these men possessed of some religious sentiments. Unhappy in being born of parents out of the Church of Christ, they were happy in the possession of good hearts and right understanding, untainted by the obstinacy of heresy. She, who 1 showers down such favours on the children of men, let fall some ray of light into the hearts of these men, darkened by an erroneous faith.

“If the holy Virgin can hear us,” said Charles Ferret, falling on his knees, “I also heartily invoke her aid.” His younger brother imitated his example. Instantly there came a calm; the winds subsided; every heart beat with emotion, while .the shattered vessel gained its position, and floated safely on the tranquil sea.

“O, Lady, our Deliverer! I am yours for ever,” cried the youngest brother.

The second brother, however, still remained unmoved. His senior reproaching him, he replied, “I see in what has happened the goodness of our God, who comes to our assistance; but I am not prepared to abjure my religion.”

“A Protestant who enters the Church renounces nothing,” said the Portuguese, “but detestable errors. They who formed the cold sect to which you belong, have taken from you every succour which the mercy of God has supplied to those in danger, and left you nothing in their place.”

“Behold with your own eyes, my unhappy brother,” cried out the captain; and he pointed to the top of the first mast, left uninjured, around which a soft light was seen to play, and in it the figure of a heavenly Virgin was distinctly seen. She held in her hands an infant, whose out-stretched hands extending over the ocean, seemed to call upon it to be calm. The second brother, touched by this marvel, could doubt no longer, but declared his belief in the intercession of Mary. Meanwhile the ship, though deprived of her principal powers of motion, calmly floated into the port of Havre.

The first act of the brothers on their landing was to proceed to the nearest church, and there abjure their errors. They afterwards placed themselves at the head of the pilgrimage of the ship’s crew and passengers to the chapel of our Lady the Deliverer, to thank her for her miraculous intervention, and to have masses of thanksgiving offered at her shrine.