by Evelyn Einhaeuser
Mary, the Heavenly Mother, is perceived in many religious traditions as one of the first saints and as a Mediatrix between God and humanity. Christianity venerates Mary since the beginning of the second century. She is understood as constantly meditating in God and as helping him in the salvation of mankind. The Blessed Virgin Mary gives her life to her son Jesus, she suffers with him under the cross and offers his sacrifice to God for the sake of the redemption of mankind. She is seen as a symbol of compassion, forgiveness, mercy and unconditional love. Mary holds a special position in many traditions because of her immaculate heart and her position between god and humanity.
During the Middle Ages, people saw reminders of Mary in the different forms of Mother Earth, especially in the flowers and healing herbs growing around them. The rosary that Catholics pray with symbolizes a garland of roses which was attributed to Mary. Between the 1500s and the 1800s many church reports in Europe reported that prayers to the Virgin Mary had overcome innummerous illnesses ranging from the recovery of sight and hearing to the use of arms and legs that had been broken through accidents. In some countries like Spain this led to a strong belief that praying to Mary was the most effective way to achieve medical miracles. During that time entire towns would pray to her for the end of a drought or other forms of help. In many cases the townspeople were absolutely certain that it was divine intervention by God through Mother Mary that brought rain and saved them from famine.
There are manifold places which are dedicated to the Virgin Mary and which are considered sacred sites throughout the world. Some of them are seen as especially conducive for healing. Banneux in Belgium is one of these places, a little village approximately 20 kilometers from Liège. In 1933, the town only had 325 inhabitants, most of them extremely poor.
In the winter of the same year, the “Virgin of the Poor”, as Mary addressed herself, appeared to an eleven-year-old girl named Mariette Beco eight times. Mary led the young girl to a spring and asked her to pray and plunge her hands into the water. She told the girl to pass on the message that the spring is reserved for the sick of all nations and that she would help alleviate suffering through prayer and the spring water.
Other people have also witnessed the apparitions in Banneux and a chapel was erected in the same year in the garden of the Beco’s house. The Catholic church officially recognized the apparitions in 1949, upon which more and more pilgrims started coming to Banneux. The spring is seen as a symbol for Christ, and Mary in her role as mediatrix has opened the pathway to God for us. The altar over the spring basin carries the Latin inscription: “Fons Unus Christus Jesus Hunc Alma Recludit” which translates to “ Jesus Christ is the only source to which the Virgin Mary opens access for us.”
Since the apparitions have occurred, the place has not just become important for Christians around the world, but has become a healing site for all sick people that want to alleviate their suffering and address the divine. A board with many gratitude messages of healed and helped persons from around the world adorns the way to the spring basin in which many people of all faiths plunge their hands every day.
Cardinal Daneels, the former cardinal of Brussels, explained the holy and healing site in the following way:
“For those who come to Banneux, there is a small pilgrimage to be made inside the Domain. Mary invites us there, and this little pilgrimage is in the image of our lives. We accomplish there, in miniature, what we live in a bigger way during our daily lives. Let us us see.
Mary tells us: Begin by sitting in front of the little chapel which I desired and which was built on the spot where the child saw me. Then, I will come myself, me the Virgin of the Poor. I will take each one of you by the hand, to make this little pilgrimage of one hundred meters, to my spring. The child has trod this path four times before you. It is always the children, who preceed and guide us.
On this pathway there are three white stones, which indicate the spots where the little visionary knelt each time. She hardly knew why. You, you know why: they are the three times you have fallen on the way of the cross of your lives. They are all the times that life overwhelmed us, all the times you have fallen, either in your body or in your soul. On the way to the spring, remember all your past. Do not go past these three stones. But do not delay there. The spring is much more important.
Push your hands into the water. It is a gesture of humility, of obedience, of confidence and abandonment. The spring is half way there: As a little further along there is the church: there are the sacraments, which are the veritable source of the resurrection; the living water which will cure you and give eternal life.”
The day we went to Banneux this november the sun was shining and there were only a few other people gathered who were praying. We saw a father who brought his handicapped son to the spring. The place felt light, peaceful and calm. Banneux is a place of prayer and one of serenity. We were lucky to be accompanied by good friends and their young son. And like Mariette Beco once ago, the child was happily running towards the spring and without him knowing, guiding us the way.