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A visit to the Chapel of the Miraculous Medal

The Chapel of the Miraculous Medal, Paris (Jean-Louis Zimmermann/Flickr)

This piece was first published in the March 8, 1974 edition of the Catholic Herald

The Chapel of the Miraculous Medal, at 140 rue de Bac, Paris, attracts many visitors all bent on expressing their devotion to Our Lady. This is no architectural gem, no awe-inspiring masterpiece of design. It is a simple Convent chapel, beautiful despite its simplicity.

The history of the Miraculous Medal is known throughout the world. This fact alone tells of the wonder Our Lady created when she appeared in this little Chapel to Catherine Labouré in 1830.

The entrance to the Chapel in rue de Bac is unassuming; opposite one of Paris’s largest stores, it is easily missed on a first visit. A small arched entrance bears the street number, “140”, a no-parking notice and an insignificant name-plate “Chapelle de la Medal Miraculous”.

Above the arch, almost too high to notice, is a statue of Our Lady and the Child Jesus. Pass through that arch, along the narrow courtyard and enter the Chapel at the end. You are in another world, a world of silent devotion and love. A sense of being on holy ground will be most apparent.

For over a hundred years a steady stream of pilgrims have come to this sacred place in the very heart of Paris. It is the Convent Chapel of the Sisters of Charity and of their Mother House.

To quote the words of, now, St Catherine Labouré (she was canonised in 1947), describing the night of her first apparition on July 18-19, 1830: “At about half-past eleven, I heard myself called by my name. I looked in the direction of the voice and I drew the curtain. I saw a child of four or five years old dressed in white who said to me; ‘Come to the Chapel, the Blessed Virgin is waiting for you.’

“I hurriedly dressed and went to the side of the child … When we reached the Chapel . . . the candles were burning as at Midnight Mass … the child led me to the Sanctuary and I knelt down . . .

“Towards midnight the child said: ‘Here is the Blessed Virgin!’ I heard a noise like the rustle of a silk dress . . . a very beautiful lady sat down in Father Director’s chair. The child repeated in a strong voice; ‘Here is the Blessed Virgin.'”

The second apparition was at half-past five on the Saturday before the first Sunday of Advent, November 27, 1830. On this occasion Our Lady appeared at the side of the tribune dressed in white, her feet resting on a globe. Her hands, covered in jewels, held a smaller globe.

It was then that St. Catherine learned from Our Lady what was required of her concerning the Miraculous Medal.

The chair in which Our Lady sat during the first apparition is no longer in the Sanctuary but is placed for all to see and touch near the Chapel of the Apparitions just outside the Sanctuary on the Epistle side. This marks the spot of the second apparition and has a beautiful statue of Our Lady as she appeared, standing on a globe. Beneath, underneath the altar is the Shrine of St Catherine Labouré.

Further to the right is another side-chapel with a reliquary containing the heart of St. Vincent de Paul, to whom St. Catherine had such tremendous devotion. It was he who founded the Sisters of Charity to which Order St Catherine belonged. At another side-altar, to the left of the Sanctuary is the Shrine of St Louise de Mariflac, who played a large part in helping St Vincent de Paul in the early days of the Order’s formation.

There is much more to see and wonder at in this Chapel and the visitor, if it be his first visit, would be well advised to retrace his steps to the outside of the Chapel where he will find a large illustration giving details of all to be seen inside the Chapel.