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Louise, he was attacked with small-pox, and died on the seventeenth of April, 1850.
He left behind him a widow and three daughters. The eldest, Rosine, was just three years old; the second, Adeline, a little more than two; the third, Louise, not quite three months. Nothing could be imagined more helpless and desolate than. the condition of this little household. The poor mother, who had been ill ever since the birth of Louise, was not yet able to leave her bed; Louise herself was already suffering from the malignant disease which had carried her father to the grave; and, to crown their misery, friends and neighbours all shrunk away, in terror, from the infected dwelling.
Little Rosine did all that a child could do. Passing back and forward between the sick bed of her mother and the cradle of her infant sister, she managed to bring to them, with her tiny hands, the absolute necessaries of life. Days passed by: the scanty resources of the labourer's cottage were soon exhausted, and hunger began to be felt. In this extremity, succour came at length from the hands of a good peasant, named François Delalieu. This worthy man, suspecting how matters must be, made his way into the house; twelve days after the father's death. Louise he found almost in a dying state, while the rest of the family were reduced to the last extreme of want. He sent at once for provisions, and relieved their most pressing necessities: nor did he cease, from that day, to watch over and assist them, until they were all restored to health and strength.
The mother's illness was grave and protracted and when, at the end of two years and a half, she had completely regained her former health, she found herself with scarcely any means of support except the little bit of ground on which the cottage stood, and which, in happier days, had been her own marriage portion. But she accepted her hard lot with a bold and courageous spirit. She resolved to struggle against poverty, and to keep herself independent. Evening and morning she devoted herself to the care of her children, and all day long she toiled for their daily bread. While she was away at her work, she had to leave them at home by themselves, putting the two younger under the charge of the elder. Poor little children, they had many privations to endure: they had to bear the cold of winter without a fire, and we are told that their food was more than frugal. Nevertheless, they grew up strong and healthy; and the time soon came when they were able to take their share of work.
At the age of eight, Louise was placed, for a short time, with a feeble old woman of the neighbourhood, who required
attendance while her son was absent at work. Later on, she was sent to school for five months. There she manifested good dispositions, learned her catechism, and made some progress in reading and writing. This was all the schooling she ever got. At eleven, she made her First Communion; and then went to live with her grand-aunt, at Manage. This good woman was seventy-eight years of age, and very infirm: she died two years afterwards; and Louise, who had served her, during that time, with rare zeal and devotion, went next into the service of a lady in Brussels.
Here she got ill; and was obliged to leave at the end of seven months. But her mistress has never ceased to regard her with affection; and still comes to see her, from time to time, at Bois d'Haine. In a few weeks, Louise was well again, and once more at work; having found a new engagement in the family of a small farmer at Manage. From this place she was, soon after, called back by her mother; and has since remained at home, devoting herself entirely to needlework and household duties.
Early in the year 1867, Louise, having reached a critical period of life, began to show signs of delicacy. Her appetite failed: the colour disappeared from her cheeks: and, later on, she suffered severely from neuralgic pains in all parts of her body. But, throughout that year, she was not regularly ill, and was able to continue her accustomed duties. In the following March, however, her malady reached a crisis: and for a whole month she scarcely ate or drank anything but the medicine prescribed by the doctor. To such a degree of weakness was she reduced, by the fifteenth of April, that her life was in danger, and she received the Last Sacraments. From this out she got better and so rapid was her recovery that, on the twenty-first of the same month, she walked to the Parish Church to Mass, and back again, a distance altogether of somewhat more than a mile. Since that time she has continued to enjoy unbroken good health.
Three days after she had given this signal proof of restoration to health, that is to say, on Friday the twenty-fourth of April, 1868, the first trace of the Stigmas appeared. She noticed that some blood flowed, on that day, from her left side. With her usual reserve she made no mention of it to any one, not even to her mother or sisters. On the next Friday, blood came again, from the same spot, and also from the upper surface of both feet. She now confided the matter to her spiritual director. The priest, though greatly struck by so extraordinary a phenomenon, wisely judged it expedient not to excite her imagination. He tried to restore her tranquillity, and told her to say nothing about it.
On the third Friday, May the eighth, blood flowed, during the night, from her left side, and her feet; and towards nine o'clock in the morning, it came also abundantly from the palms and backs of her hands. She passed, for the first time, into an Ecstasy, on Friday the seventeenth of July, in the same year: and two months later, on Friday, September the twentyfifth, the coronet of bleeding points appeared around her head. All these phenomena, from the time of their first appearance, have been repeated, on each successive Friday, with little or no interruption: the only exceptions being, that the bleeding coronet was occasionally wanting during the first year, and that the other Stigmas failed to bleed on two occasions.
From the time that blood began to issue from her hands, the extraordinary condition of Louise could no longer remain a secret. The news spread abroad. Crowds assembled weekly round her mother's house; and the excitement soon became so great that the ecclesiastical authorities felt it their duty to take some action in the matter. It was then that they asked Doctor Lefebvre to institute a scrutiny of the whole case, from a medical point of view. His attendance commenced on the thirtieth of August, 1868, and has continued down to the present time.
Louise Lateau is described as a person of simple upright character, and of a cheerful, kindly, unselfish, disposition. She is intelligent, without being brilliant or acute; and is wholly devoid of imagination. Downright common sense seems to be her distinguishing characteristic. Her piety, too, is practical and unobtrusive. Entirely free from affectation, she follows the beaten paths; but she follows them with fidelity. She loves solitude and retirement; and, except in obedience to her ecclesiastical superiors, she never speaks about the extraordinary phenomena of which she is the subject.
On this last point Doctor Lefebvre made very minute inquiries; and he assures us that, though she has some female friends of her own age, to whom she has been affectionately attached from her childhood, the question of her Ecstasies and her Stigmas is never spoken of between them. Nay, she maintains the same reserve even with her mother and her sisters and they, on their part, never introduce the subject in her presence.
Though her life is, for the most part, hidden and obscure, yet in times of sickness and affliction her beautiful character shines forth with a bright radiance, and she is then the good. angel, not of her own home only, but of the whole village.
Doctor Lefebvre, had special facilities for observing her conduct, under very trying circumstances, towards the close of the year 1868. Her eldest sister was attacked with typhoid fever, and during six weeks required the most assiduous care. At the same time, her mother was ill with inflammation of the lungs. The charge of both devolved upon Louise; for her second sister could not be spared from her work. Night and day she was on her feet; and for more than a month she scarcely ever slept. Some harsh words, too, she had to bear from the poor old mother, whose temper, none of the best even in sunny times, was now embittered by sickness and pain. "In the midst of these contradictions and fatigues," says Doctor Lefebvre, I found this young girl always the same; serene, calm, smiling."
Even before the Stigmas first appeared, her charity and devotion to the sick were strikingly manifested on a remarkable occasion. In 1866, the cholera, then prevalent in Belgium, made its appearance at Bois d'Haine. It broke out first in a workman's family, consisting of seven persons. Three were at once laid prostrate, father, mother, and daughter; while the four sons fled in terror from the plague-stricken house. The Curé, in this emergency, sent for Louise. With a fortitude beyond her years,-she was then but sixteen,— this brave girl took up her post in the infected and deserted dwelling. The father and mother died soon after, soothed to the last by her tender care; and she continued to watch over the surviving daughter, until she was removed to a more fitting asylum. Then, left alone with the dead, she prepared the bodies for burial, and calling in the aid of her sister Adeline, put them in their coffins, and left them outside of the house to be carried away to the grave yard. And so she went on with her pious work, from day to day, as long as the epidemic lasted; soothing the sufferings of the sick, and performing the last rites of charity for the dead. When the pestilence ceased to rage, she retired again into obscurity.
The mother of Louise is a straightforward religious woman, greatly esteemed by her neighbours. She has had much rough work to do in her time, and has been obliged to struggle hard against poverty; but she is nevertheless distinguished by a certain high spirit, and delicacy of feeling, not always to be found in her position. Though often in sore distress, she would never consent to sell her cottage, saying, she would not barter for money the home where her husband had lived, and where her children were born. And sometimes, of late, when a visitor would imprudently offer money to her, she not
only refused to accept his gift, but took care to let him see that she regarded it as an insult.
It is said she is of bilious temperament, and subject to fits of testy humour; which she discharges sometimes on her visitors, sometimes on her children. Nevertheless, she dearly loves Louise, and has often declared, with simple earnestness, that she never knew her to commit a fault, or to be guilty of the smallest disobedience.
The wonderful condition of her daughter she looks on, not so much as a favour, but rather as a trial sent by God, to which it is her duty to be resigned and she feels no small irritation and displeasure at the crowds that gather round her house from week to week. The Bishop of the diocese came from Tournay to pay her a visit in the year 1869. Before taking leave, he graciously wished to know if she had any favour to ask. In reply, she earnestly begged-and her daughters joined their prayer with hers--that his Lordship would be good enough to forbid all visits to her house in future, and let them live thenceforth in retirement and peace.
§ 3. THE STIGMAS.
The Stigmas have been often and carefully examined by Doctor Lefebvre, sometimes with the naked eye only, sometimes with the aid of a powerful magnifier: and he gives us a minute account of them, in his book, with all the deliberation and precision of exact science. Those on the back and palm of each hand are oval in shape: those on the upper and lower surface of each foot are described rather as oblong parallelograms, with rounded angles. When accurately measured, they are found to be not all of exactly the same size; but the difference is so slight as to be scarcely sensible to the eye. The average length may be roughly set down at about an inch; the average breadth, at something more than half an inch. Besides these, there is another stigmatic mark on the left side, circular in shape, and a little over half an inch in diameter.
All these nine Stigmas are permanent and indelible: but only on Friday do they bleed. During the rest of the week, they are distinguished by a bright red colour, and a certain glossy appearance. No fracture of the skin is observable, even when they are scrutinized through a magnifying glass. The forehead, on the other hand, shows no permanent marks; and on Fridays only is it possible to recognise the points from which the blood escapes.
The bleeding of the Stigmas usually sets in between twelve