On the evening of November 29, 1932, a group of five children aged 9 to 15 saw a luminous woman floating above the railroad bridge near their Catholic school. Afraid, they ran home.
On the next night, they saw her there again, but she vanished, reappearing on a hawthorn bush by the school’s garden gate. Glowing in white robes with blue highlights and a crown of rays, the woman didn’t speak until December 2, when the children asked what she wanted of them. “To be very good,” she said. She later asked for a chapel, for pilgrimages and prayers, and identified herself: “Je suis la Vierge Immaculée.” From December 29 until the last apparition, a golden heart showed on the Virgin’s breast. On January 3, 1933, witnesses saw a ball of fire crackle at the bush right before the children dropped to their knees in Our Lady’s presence. She spoke individually to each child; they all heard her say “Adieu.”
Unlike many apparitions, those of Beauraing did not occur in a gorgeous rural setting or leave untutored seers speaking in theological tongues. In this homeliest of miracle stories, the Immaculate appeared above an overpass and spoke tersely, in language the youngest child could understand.
The Virgin with the Heart of Gold got her wishes. In 1933, two million pilgrims arrived in the small town. Ten years later, the Bishop of Namur approved devotion to Our Lady of Beauraing, ratified by the Vatican in 1949. Two years later a statue of her was installed beneath the hawthorn, by then a tree. The chapel, begun soon after the war, was consecrated in 1954. Now some 400,000 pilgrims visit annually. The feast day of Notre Dame de Beauraing is celebrated August 22, formerly the feast of the Immaculate Heart of Mary (now moved to June). The shrine also celebrates the anniversary of the apparitions November 29.
Statue by local sculptor Aurélien Pierroux (from “Some Shrines of France,” www.catholictradition.org/Mary/shrines.htm).