Last year, I visited the shrine of Pellevoisin in France. Because the Eurostar Train was severely delayed, I was given a free ticket in compensation – but the condition was that I had to book a journey to Paris, Lille or Brussels within one year. So I decided to spend a few days in Brussels and visit some of the shrines of Belgium. On 5 March 2013, I took the train to Beauraing.
Pilgrimages are seldom straightforward and this one was no exception – I nearly found myself in the wrong half of a train that was splitting, and then there was a long wait for a rail-replacement bus from Jambes to Dinant. This meant that a connection was missed, but since the delay was long enough for a lunch stop, it was not wasted time! I finally made it to Beauraing at 3 p.m.!
80 years ago, Our Lady appeared in Belgium. Not once, but twice – and both occasions have the rare distinction of being recognised as genuine apparitions by the Vatican.
The first series of apparitions took place in the town of Beauraing, which at that time was already large enough to have its own railway connection. From 29 November 1932 until 3 January 1933, the Mother of God showed herself on 33 occasions to a group of 5 children, aged between 9 and 15. (The youngest, Gilberte Degeimbre, was still alive in March 2013.)
On the first day of the apparitions, the visionaries saw Our Lady in the air, as if walking along the railway line; on the third day, she changed position and in all the subsequent appearances she appeared close to a hawthorn tree in a garden below the viaduct. The photo, right, shows the railway viaduct in the background and a statue marking the place of apparitions close to the tree.
The visionaries said that the lady was dressed in a long white dress with a faint blue hue, her head covered with a long veil down to her shoulders. A ‘crown’ was formed by thin rays of light around Mary’s head; usually Mary’s hands would be joined together and she was smiling.
Although there were 33 apparitions, very few resulted in messages passed on by the children. They said that the Blessed Virgin asked them to “be good”, and on December 17th, Mary asked for “a Chapel”, six days later explaining she had appeared in Beauraing “so people come here on pilgrimage.”
On December 21st, when the children asked her to tell us her identity, she said: “I am the Immaculate Virgin.” From 29 December, as a sign of farewell, the children saw her heart, golden and shining, between her outstretched arms; for this reason Our Lady of Beauraing is also known as the “Virgin with the Golden Heart”; the plaque in French, left, declares that it was here, at this hawthorn tree, that the Virgin Mary manifested her Immaculate Heart.
During the final days of apparitions, Mary asked that those heeding her words should “Pray, pray much…” and “pray always.” On the very last day, 3 January 1933, she identified herself as the Mother of God and Queen of Heaven; she promised “I will convert sinners” and asked the children, if they love Jesus and herself, to “sacrifice yourselves for me.”
At Beauraing today, the place of apparitions has been developed as a compact campus for prayer. The statue at the hawthorn tree forms an intimate corner for prayer where the faithful can leave candles burning, but has also become the corner of an open-air chapel with covered altar.
Alongside this prayer space is a crypt, where a distinctive crucifix portrays the apparition with the five visionaries: Andrée and Gilberte Degeimbre and Fernande, Gilberte and Albert Voisin.
Beyond this prayer space another building (pictured below) serves as both an enclosed Blessed Sacrament Chapel, and as a covered altar for a second open-air Mass arena. Above the banked steps a two-tier building provides two enclosed chapels in case of inclement weather. Across the road, there is even an enclosed picnic room, as well as a small museum with personal possessions of some of the visionaries, and depictions of ways that various artists tried to render the children’s description of Our Lady into two- or three-dimensional artworks.
The message of Beauraing is very simple; in its focus on prayer and sacrifice, and in its manifestation of the Virgin Mary’s Immaculate Heart, it echoes the revelations given at Fatima. Children are taught that making voluntary acts of sacrifice is something precious in God’s eyes, and that God will honour that sacrifice by granting to some sinners the grace of conversion. Although Our Lady explicitly states that “I will convert sinners”, we understand that this can only happen by her prayerful partnership with her Son.
Our Lady of Beauraing asked that people go there on pilgrimage. If you wish to do so, you can consult the shrine’s official website; Beauraing is a three-hour journey from Brussels by rail, rail-replacement buses permitting!
Two days later I visited the second site graced by Our Lady in Belgium – Banneux.