Garabandal is a quaint hamlet of three hundred souls isolated in the gorgeous Cantabrian mountains of northwestern Spain. It lies about sixty miles southwest of the provincial capital and episcopal see of Santander. Some seventy solid rustic stone houses stand huddled together on a narrow strip of land overlooking the delightful wooded valley which stretches northward toward the plain below.
The story of Garabandal opens on June 18, 1961, on a Sunday at eight-thirty in the evening. Four simple, unsophisticated girls were playing in a sunken lane, called the calleja, at the southern extremity of the village. The sound of thunder was suddenly heard and later a brilliant angel appeared, first to Conchita (Maria Concepcion) Gonzalez and then almost immediately afterward to Loli (Maria Dolores) Mazon, Jacinta Gonzalez and Maria Cruz Gonzalez. Notwithstanding the identical family names, none of the girls were closely related. The first three girls were twelve years old and the other only eleven. However, because of the backward village environment, their mental and psychological age was considerably less. The angel came back eight more times during June.
Our Lady Comes
The first time he spoke was on July 1st. He said: “Do you know why I have come? It is to announce to you that tomorrow, Sunday, the Virgin Mary will appear to you as Our Lady of Mount Carmel.” The angel’s mission was to prepare the children for Our Lady’s coming and to be her messenger. He returned with her the next day but came back much less frequently after that. However, the Blessed Virgin began appearing almost every day and occasionally was accompanied by the Infant Jesus whom she carried in her arms.
A Mother and Her Children
The four girls talked with the Blessed Virgin with great simplicity. They talked about their everyday life, about going out to the fields to make hay and about getting bronzed by the sun. Our Lady delighted in their childish talk. A charming and almost disarming spontaneity marked the apparitions. In her Diary, Conchita mentions that the angel and Our Lady smiled profusely and that they laughed at some of their childish remarks. She says that several times the Blessed Virgin kissed them. On a few occasions when she came with the Infant Jesus, she allowed them to take him in their arms. They also did simple little things to amuse and please him, such as hiding pebbles in their sleeves and in the tresses of their hair. Once, Our Lady took the crown of small golden stars from her head and permitted them to hold it in their hands. Many have seen in all this an indication of the childlike attitude we should have in our relationship with Christ and his Blessed Mother.
First Formal Message
On July 4th, Our Lady gave the girls what has come to be known as the first message. This message affirmed that it was important to make many sacrifices, to perform much penance and to visit the Blessed Sacrament often. It said that first, people should lead good lives, and that if they did not do this, a chastisement would befall them. It warned that the cup was already filling up and that if men did not change, a very great chastisement would come. This message had been inscribed on a sign that had appeared under the angel’s feet in June, but the children had not understood the inscription at the time. Our Lady told the girls to announce the message publicly to the people on October 18th, which they did.
Second Formal Message
The second message was given much later toward the end of the apparitions. The Blessed Virgin told Conchita on January 1, 1965, that the archangel Saint Michael would appear on June 18th, and would deliver a message in her name. Through Saint Michael, Our Lady complained that her first message had not been complied with and warned that this message would be her last. She said that the cup which previously had been filling up was now flowing over. She stated that many priests, bishops and cardinals were on the road to perdition and taking many souls with them. She deplored the fact that less and less importance was being given to the Eucharist. She said that we should turn the wrath of God away from us by our efforts and that God would pardon us if we asked forgiveness with sincere hearts. She affirmed that if we asked with sincerity, our requests would be granted. Her final words were to exhort us to make more sacrifices and to reflect on the passion of Jesus.
Message Doctrinally Sound
Bishop Eugenio Beitia, one of the former bishops of Santander, issued a decree on July 8, 1965, in which he refused to recognize the supernatural character of the apparitions at Garabandal. However, in that same decree, he acknowledged the doctrinal integrity of the Garabandal message: “we point out, however, that we have not found anything deserving of ecclesiastical censorship or condemnation either in the doctrine or in the spiritual recommendations that have been publicized as having been addressed to the faithful, for these contain an exhortation to prayer and sacrifice, to Eucharistic devotion, to veneration of Our Lady in traditional praiseworthy ways, and to holy fear of God offended by our sins. They simply repeat the common doctrine of the Church in these matters.”