One day in 1664, in southeastern France (60 miles southeast of Grenoble), a humble, unschooled, 17 year-old girl named Benoite or Benedicta Rencurel saw an incredibly beautiful Lady standing on a rock, holding a no less beautiful Child in her arms. The "dazzling" lady did not speak to Benedicta, but smiled in a very friendly way and after a few minutes she disappeared with her Child.
At the end of September 1664, the apparition revealed her identity—Mary the mother of Jesus—and then she asked Benedicta to organize a procession to honor her Son. She remained unseen until September 28th. Then she told Benedicta that she would no longer appear to her at the grotto, but in the village of Laus (pronounced "low"), in a small chapel, filled with a good-smelling odor. Benedicta soon hiked up the mountain to the little chapel of Our Lady of Good Encounter, Refuge of Sinners, and going in, she saw the Blessed Virgin above the high altar, on which stood her statue.
And the Virgin said: "On this spot I wish to have a church built—a privileged shrine, wherein many sinners will repent. Means will not be wanting, despite the poverty of the country people around."
Benedicta claimed other extraordinary phenomena: different visions (Christ covered in blood), diabolical abuse, miraculous communions, ecstasies, fragrant odors, participation in the Passion of Christ every Friday, etc. The news of these events soon spread; crowds came to the little chapel, which was soon much too small. So in early 1665, the vicar general of the Archdiocese gave permission for a church to be built over the little chapel. The first pilgrimages to Laus began in the spring of 1665. The faithful applied a little oil on their ailments, from the lamp hanging in the chapel.
Sixty-one miraculous cures were reported between April and December of that year. Although the diocesan clergy was divided, many priests were favorable. In 1666, Benedicta took the habit of a Tertiary Dominican. That year the construction of the new church started, which was completed in 1669. In December 1671, Bishop de Genlis, the head of the diocese, went to the shrine, along with Francis Grimaud, a district attorney in Grenoble, Brother Francis Aubin, Father Jean Peytieu, and Father Pierre Gaillard. These men questioned Benedicta and they all witnessed her ecstasies. The magistrate and the investigators were favorable. The bishop entrusted the pilgrimage and the shrine to a religious congregation.
Since there was very little money available with which to hire workmen, the villagers and neighboring peasants carried stones and built the walls—aided by the many in-coming pilgrims. Later, during an invasion by the Duke of Savoy in 1692, the church was partially destroyed, but the statue of Our Lady of Good Encounter was left standing and the church was quickly repaired. In 1716 a new statue of the Virgin was built and enshrined behind the main altar of the church. It is said that Benedicta wished the new statue to be named "Our Lady of Laus of Good Encounter."
Benedicta Rencurel died on December 28, 1718, and was buried in a vault in front of the altar of the church at Laus.
In January 1872, Benedicta Rencurel was declared venerable. In 1885, Pope Pius IX gave official recognition to the title of Our Lady of Laus of Good Encounter, when he ordered the new statue to be solemnly crowned. The decree on the writings was promulgated on July 7, 1896. On May 27, 1913, a preparatory committee met on the subject of Benedicta's virtues, but procedural difficulties prevented the continuation of the case. Finally, in July 1981, a decree establishing the resumption of the case was published.
The bishop of Gap, accompanied by numerous cardinals and archbishops from around the world, announced the official approval of the Church of the Marian apparitions to Benedicta between 1664 and 1718, at a solemn Mass celebrated at the Shrine of Laus on May 5, 2008:
"I recognize the supernatural origin of the apparitions and the events and words experienced and narrated by Benedicta Rencurel. I encourage all of the faithful to come and pray and seek spiritual renewal at this shrine," the bishop said.
Since the first preaching of Christ, the need for continual conversion has accompanied the journey of the Church in transit. Christians need to listen to this call regularly. The "grace of Laus" is to make the conversion process more conducive and complete, especially in regards to the sacrament of reconciliation. What the Blessed Virgin Mary taught Benedicta remains valid today—the sweetness of God's mercy encourages true conversion. The maternal presence of the Mother of God acts in this case with a tangible force. This is why she is called "Refuge of Sinners" in Le Laus and the Shrine of Our Lady of Laus is truly a refuge for all sinners.
The Shrine of Our Lady of Laus attracts some 120,000 pilgrims each year. The Catholic philosopher Jean Guitton called it "one of the most hidden and powerful shrines of Europe."
Comfortable accommodations are available all year round. The official website gives details in French about lodgings, Mass schedules, rosaries, reception and bookshop hours, hiking opportunities, etc.
Adapted from Le Laus in: LAURENTIN and SBALCHIERO, Dictionnaire encyclopédique des apparitions de la Vierge, Fayard, Paris 2007 and The Woman in Orbit, by Sister Manetta Lamberty, S.C.C., Lamberty Co. 1966.