When we think of Our Lady of Lourdes, whose feast day we celebrate on February 11th, we think first of the many miracles from the miraculous springs of water that Our Lady gave as a gift for healing the sick, both of body and heart. Many of these miracles have been studied by the Church and declared miraculous, that is, of heavenly origin. But still there are many other happenings that have not been pronounced as “miracles” but which still remain unexplained. The Battle of the Marne is one of these “happenings”.
Even the history books refer to this battle as a great “miracle” of World War I, The Miracle of the Marne. But because there is no official decision from the Church concerning the authenticity of this event, we are left to draw our own conclusions.
In September of 1914, the German Army was making its way towards Paris. They were advancing so quickly down the valley of the Marne River that they were convinced already of their victory over the French, and chanted among themselves, “In Paris in two days’ time!”
Paris itself was in total chaos. The French government had already left the capital for Bordeaux,and the panicking civilians were fleeing the city on foot, horseback, train, or any other means possible. Though the British had sent reinforcements to help their French allies, the Germans still far-outnumbered them. To make matters worse, the French Seventh Division, coming in from the frontier to join the Sixth Army in defending Paris, were unable to move because of the rail system, which was “choked” with fleeing civilians. The desperate situation prompted Gen. Joseph Gallieni, military governor of the French Army, to dispatch these emergency troop reinforcements by using a fleet of Parisian taxi cabs. In one night, some 600 taxis in all ferried approximately 6,000 French reserve infantry troops to the front.
This was on the 8th of September, feast day of the Nativity of the Blessed Virgin Mary. At the same time, the Bishop of Meaux in the Diocese of Paris, Cardinal Marbeau, made the promise to Our Lady that, should she spare their city, he would build a monument in her honor when the war was over. And all across France, people were on their knees, with Rosary in hand, humbly beseeching the Virgin to protect them in their great hour of need. We can believe, therefore, that for this reason, on that very same day, the inexplicable happened: the entire German army suddenly retreated, turning back from Paris.
It was later reported that some 100,000 German soldiers saw the Virgin Mary “pushing back” the German Army. Most of these men kept silent because they had been ordered “under pain of death” not to speak of the apparition to anyone. But a letter addressed to the Carmel of Pontoise recounts that: “On 3 January 1915, a German priest, wounded and taken prisoner during the Battle of the Marne, died in a French ambulance where he was cared for by some nuns. He said to them: ‘As a soldier I should keep silent, but as a priest, I must say what I have seen. During the Battle of the Marne, we were surprised to be pushed into retreat, because our numbers were legion compared to the French, and we expected very soon to arrive in Paris. But we saw the Virgin Mary, dressed all in white, with a blue belt, leaning her head toward Paris. She turned her back to us, and with her right hand seemed to push us away….I saw her myself and a good number of my companions also’.” (This description of Our Lady, “…dressed all in white, with a blue belt…” is the same description given by St. Bernadette at Lourdes, France in 1858.) About the same time, two German officers, also wounded and prisoners of war, were admitted into a French hospital run by the Red Cross. When they saw there a statue of Our Lady of Lourdes, a nurse (who could speak German) heard them exclaim: “Die Frau von der Marne!” “Oh, the Virgin of the Marne!” She asked them to speak about this, but they refused.1
The “Miracle” at the Battle of the Marne was reported in the newspapers all across France in January 1915, just one hundred years ago. When we recall that World War I continued through November 1918 and resulted in 16 million deaths, leaving 20 million wounded, we catch a glimpse of the sorrow our Blessed Mother must have had on our behalf. War is humanity’s great failure. Today, with wars and conflicts continuing throughout the world, we need to remind ourselves that Mary intercedes for both her faithful and her unfaithful children. What hope of mercy must have been given to both those spared in France as well as the soldiers who saw the vision and went on to suffer terrible battles for three more years!
The heart of the message of Our Lady given to St. Bernadette at Lourdes, stated simply, is a call to the sick of body and heart, that God loves us as we are, and is always calling us to conversion. Let us turn back to the Father, through Our Lady’s invitation, and as the Bishop of Meaux once pleaded with Our Lady to spare Paris, let us also plead with her to spare our countries from another world war, and to help us to find healing, not only of body but also of soul.v