Was Constance Mistaken for the Blessed Virgin at La Salette?

La Salette is a mountain near Grenoble in France. There on September 19th, 1846, the Virgin Mary, Mother of Jesus Christ who is God in Catholic dogma, allegedly appeared to Melanie Mathieu and Maximin Giraud when they were tending cows. This apparition was given the approval of the Church in 1851 (page 111, The Thunder of Justice).
In the interesting booklet, The Exaltation of the Virgin Mary, by Rev S.G. Poyntz, M.A., B.D. we read, “Clergy of nearby dioceses stated that the vision was an imposture by a lunatic named Constance Lamerliere, who had purchased the alleged dress in which the Virgin appeared.  The followers of La Salette argued that this was simply the story of a jealous party who were annoyed because their own shrines were doing bad business due to the decrease in pilgrims. This story persisted so much that the said Constance Lamerliere took the matter to a Court of Justice.
The Court decided the case against her and threw out the appeal. This vision must be pronounced a fake and a scandal” (page 25). So the civil court decided that the apparition was indeed a hoax and that this woman had indeed pretended to be the apparition. We should believe it rather than the Church court which declared that Mary had appeared. There were more witnesses to the evidence for fraud than witnesses to the vision. And the Church court was prejudiced for there was no real evidence that the visionaries saw Mary apart from a good guess as to her identity and the light surrounding the Lady. Fantasy and excitement can pollute the memory and add in exaggerated elements later. Moreover, the lies and fanaticism and the occasional insanity and hallucinations of Melanie are against the Church judgement that the visions were authentic.
Constance Lamerliere was born of rich parents in Grenoble. We must remember that nobody is likely to point the finger at the member of a wealthy and powerful family without reason. They had the money and power to cover up or retaliate. Why was she accused of pretending to be Mary when other people would have made safer choices?
She was the mistress of novices at the New Convent de la Providence which she joined in 1822. She was described as having a powerful imagination and was fond of mystical practices such as trying to hear the voice of God and experience miracles. She had a penchant for shrines of Jesus and Mary and wanted them established everywhere in the convent. She was an outstanding communicator and soon infected the novices with her fanaticism. The superior Madame Chantal took action to counteract this. She was put under surveillance and she hated this so much that she took rest from her labours. She became a recluse who never left her cell except to go to Church. One day she left the convent without permission and anybody knowing that she had gone. She went to several churches and told the priests that if they requested money in her name they would get it for improving their Churches. Of course any priest who took her seriously got nothing. At Marseilles, she tried to set up a congregation of religious devoted to the Holy Family. This lady was certainly capable of doing what she was accused of at La Salette.
The Catholic objection to the apparition being Constance Lamerliere is that this lady was in her fifties and heavy. The witnesses said the vision was slim and tall and didn't look that old.

But with pale makeup she would have looked younger and she was wearing robes that could have made her look slimmer. Light reflecting from bright clothes will also make a person look younger. However The Sceptical Occultist  indicates that the lady wasn’t very youthful when Melanie said she was a mad mother who would kill her children.
She was short and fat and in her fifties and didn't seem to one to get easily mistaken for the beautiful Virgin Mary. But people have mistaken all kinds of things for ghosts and apparitions.
After the vision, Maximin said, “Perhaps it is a great saint”. After they had claimed to have listened to the Lady saying she was the mother of Christ! They did not know who she was at all! They were not even sure if she was a saint! This surely suggests that there was a lot of exaggeration in their original story though they stuck to the public version of it and that Our Lady of La Salette was possibly some nut in fancy dress. Nobody denies that after the apparition the children did embellish their story but it is the original story that the Church believes.
The children came down the hill and Melanie said she was sure the Lady was a mad woman who would kill her children but she was less sure because she rose up into the air.
Melanie said, "If I hadn't seen her rise up into the air, I would have believed that it was some woman whose husband wanted to kill their children" (page 31, Encountering Mary).
A diocesan priest wrote two books against the apparition. The priest was in trouble with the Church and reconciled with it. He produced a third book against the apparition. It was called La Salette devant le pape.
This book claimed that a manically religious lady from St Marcellin,  Constance Lamerliere, was dressed the way the children described the Virgin. She had stopped where the children reported seeing Mary for she was on her way to the shrine of Our Lady of LeLaus. She walked into mist as she left them and nuns at a convent had seen her dressed as the children were to describe the Virgin. The whole thing had been mistaken identity.
He went to the trouble of giving names and dates to support his theory.
Witnesses subsequently appeared claiming that Constance was at St Marcellin at the time of the apparition. That was seventy-five miles away. Supporters of the Church would say that!
The man he claimed who drove her coach was named as Fortin. But Fortin was not employed at the time of the apparition as a coachman on that route. It would be three years later before that would happen. Was this a case of mistaken identity? Was Fortin a casual worker?
Encountering Mary, page 34, tells us that Maximin was prone to mistaking ordinary people for visions. "About three or four weeks after the apparition, Maximin and three or four other boys reportedly went to the mountain...they saw a woman in the distance dressed in black whom they thought must be one of the Sisters of Providence from Corps. When he returned to Corps, however, Maximin found that none of the sisters had been on the mountain that day, and this led him to conclude that he had seen no ordinary person but someone from 'the other world', perhaps his deceased mother".
None of the objections really prove that Constance Lamerliere was innocent.
The apparition could have been none other than poor mad Sister Constance Lamerliere in fancy dress!


Encountering Mary, Sandra Zimdars-Swartz, Avon, New York, 1991 

The main subject is why we have a picture of a peasant woman from before the apparition who looks like the reported lady.  This is consistent with the witnesses been given a picture and told to describe it when asked to recount the vision story.  It is a good trick for avoiding slip-ups when one is lying.  Or did our madwoman simply copy the dress sense of the lady in the picture?


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