There are countless reports of sightings of the Virgin Mary all throughout the world every year. Many of these are investigated, and if found to be credible, the bishop of the diocese where the sighting took place can formally declare it to be an approved apparition. Understandably, a church-approved apparition is a very rare event, with only 21 such sightings listed as fully approved on Wikipedia’s master list of Marian apparitions. Seven of these sightings have been endorsed by the Vatican, and I recently discovered that one of these Vatican-endorsed apparitions appeared right here in Paris. Naturally, I wanted to know more, so I paid a visit to the Chapel of Our Lady of the Miraculous Medal on Rue du Bac.
The Life of Catherine Labouré
The apparition in Paris appeared to a woman named Catherine Labouré, who was born in Burgundy on May 2nd, 1806. Her mother died when she was nine, and at the funeral, Catherine reportedly kissed a statue of the Virgin Mary, declaring, “Now you will be my mother.” She entered a convent in Paris at the age of 23, becoming a member of the Daughters of Charity of Saint Vincent de Paul. After taking her vows, she moved to the village of Rueilly and spent the next 46 years caring for the sick and elderly. Catherine died in 1876, and in 1947, she was canonized by the Catholic Church. She is now a patron saint of seniors.
The Apparition of Mary
Catherine claimed that the Virgin Mary appeared to her twice in 1830 at the convent in Paris. The first appearance was on July 19th, when a child’s voice woke Catherine in the night and brought her into the chapel. Once there, Mary appeared to Catherine and told her, “Times are evil in France and in the world.” Given that the July Revolution broke out a week later in Paris, I’d say that Mary’s warning was appropriate.
The second appearance took place on November 27th during evening meditations. Catherine reported that Mary revealed imagery that she then tasked Catherine with putting on medallions. Catherine did so, and these medallions became known as the Miraculous Medal. According to Mary, “All who wear them will receive great graces.” Today, millions of these medals are worn by Catholics throughout the world. If you do, you are said to receive Mary’s grace.
The Chapel of Our Lady of the Miraculous Medal
The chapel where Mary appeared to Catherine is located in the 7e arrondissement at 140 Rue du Bac. The chapel was originally built in 1813, but it has since been expanded and renovated. Its current design dates back to 1930, and it has remained unchanged since then. The chapel is free to visit, and mass and vespers are observed every day. On the day that I visited, we first watched a film about the history of Catherine and the Miraculous Medal. We then went into the chapel to attend mass and see the building itself, which was extraordinarily beautiful. You can also pay your respects to Catherine herself, as she rests in a reliquary located to the right of the main altar. Her body was discovered to be incorrupt after her death, which was one of the reasons why she was canonized by the Catholic Church.
You don’t have to be a Catholic to visit the Chapel of Our Lady of the Miraculous Medal. You also don’t have to believe Catherine’s story to appreciate the religious significance of the site. The chapel itself is beautiful to see, regardless of what you believe, and I loved my visit. Particularly the frescos of the main altar. If you find yourself on Rue du Bac during your time in Paris, I highly recommend you visit as well. Remember, there are only seven Vatican-endorsed apparitions of Mary in the world. One of them is in Paris, so why not take a look?
Laura Moore is a professional storyteller who loves history and the many stories that make Paris one of the most fascinating cities in the world. Join one of her signature tours to learn the story of a city.