Beauraing/Banneux (Belgium)(religion, spiritualism, and occult)
In the 1930s, two sets of Marian apparitions occurred in Belgium. Because of their temporal and geographical proximity, they are generally linked, although in fact they were independent events.
The Virgin was seen in Beauraing, in French-speaking Belgium, beginning in November 1932. The visionaries were five children of two nominal Catholic families named Voisin and Degeimbre. On the evening of November 29, 1932, the three girls, Fernande Voisin (15 years old), Gilberte Degeimbre (9 years old), and Gilberte Voisin, and two boys, Andrée Degeimbre (14 years old), and Albert Voisin (11 years old), initially saw the Virgin walking in the air above a grotto that had been constructed to represent Lourdes at a convent school they attended. She was dressed in white with her feet obscured by a cloud.
On subsequent evenings, they again saw the Lady standing by a hawthorn tree adjacent to the grotto. At the time they stood on the street just outside the convent walls, and slowly a crowd gathered to watch them. She answered positively to a query concerning her identity as the Immaculate Virgin. Her message to the children was simple: “Always be good.”
By December 8, traditionally celebrated as the feast day for the Immaculate Conception, some 15,000 people gathered at the convent. The children, lost in a state of ecstasy, were the only ones who saw the Virgin. Their ecstatic state was tested by observers who stuck pins into them and flashed lights in their eyes. The children returned each night, although the apparitions did not always occur.
On December 29, the Virgin appeared to Fernande with a heart of gold surrounded by rays. The next day, two more of the children saw the same heart. The next day the others also saw the heart. The message accompanying the heart vision was: “Pray always.”
Mary announced January 3 as the day of her last appearance. Some 30,000 people gathered for the event, at which she said she would speak to each of the five children individually. When she initially appeared on January 3, only four of the children saw her. Speaking to the four individually, she identified herself as the Mother of God, the Queen of Heaven, and said her task was the conversion of sinners.
Fernande, the oldest of the children, seemingly left out of the last apparition, remained at the site after the other four departed. Then she and some of the gathered crowd heard a loud noise and saw a ball of fire on the hawthorn tree. The Lady reappeared and asked if Fernande loved her and her son. Given an affirmative reply, she said, “Then sacrifice yourself for me.” She then disappeared for the last time.
The local bishop waited two years to appoint the standard commission to investigate the apparitions. It did not report for some time, and only in 1943 (in the midst of World War II and the German occupation of Belgium) were public devotions authorized. Further statements, including one on healing at the site, would await the end of the war.
Meanwhile, two weeks after the apparitions at Beauraing ceased, on January 15, 1933, a young girl named Mariette Beco, while looking out a window for her brother, saw a young lady in the yard. It was about seven o’clock in the evening. The Lady was wearing a white gown with a blue belt. An oval light surrounded her body. She had a rosary in her right hand, which was joined to the left in an attitude of prayer. A golden rose was on her right foot.
Two days later, for the first time in several months, Mariette attended mass and told the priest what had happened. She refuted the priest’s suggestion that she had merely seen a statue of the Virgin at Lourdes by noting that the Lady she had seen was more beautiful. On several occasions as she followed the Lady, she fell abruptly to the ground. On the third occasion, she knelt near a ditch and was told that the water had been reserved for the Virgin. On the following evening, Mary identified herself as “the Virgin of the Poor” and reiterated her designation of the water at the ditch: “This spring is reserved for all the nations—to relieve the sick.”
Over the next two months, Mary appeared on several occasions, during which she indicated her task of relieving suffering and called upon the faithful to pray. The last apparition occurred on March 2. An investigation of the apparitions to Mariette operated from 1935 to 1937. Devotion to Mary as the Virgin of the Poor was given preliminary approval in 1942.
The first healing related to the water from the spring (located some 300 feet from Mariette’s home) came several months after the last apparition. A small chapel was built in 1933 to accommodate pilgrims, but it soon proved to be insufficient. A large church has subsequently been erected. Meanwhile, the hawthorn tree at Beauraing became the object of the pilgrims’ attention, and here also many healings were reported. Today over one million people arrive each year.
The Belgian apparitions, while devoid of a startling theological revelation as at Lourdes or dramatic events as at Fatima, have become building blocks of contemporary Marian theological speculation. The visionaries remained out of the spotlight. As adults they married and tried to live normal lives.