Tuesday, March 1, 2016

Josephology Appendix 1: Apparitions & Visitations

While not nearly as popular as the Blessed Virgin, St. Joseph or someone pretending to be him has indeed appeared to many Christians over the centuries. What follows is a brief overview of his many manifestations to the faithful.

Fairly Reputable

Mt. Bessillon – 1660

St. Joseph is said to have appeared to a young man named Gaspard Ricard on June 7, 1660. Ricard was herding his sheep on the eastern side of Mt. Bessillon in Cotignac, France. In the heat of the day, the young shepherd grew thirsty and rested on the rocky terrain. A tall, old man appeared, pointed to a large rock nearby and said, “I am Joseph. Lift the rock and you will drink.” Thinking the rock too heavy for even seven men to lift, Ricard tried it anyway, succeeded, and found a spring of fresh water underneath. When he looked up, the old man had vanished.

On this very day, Maria Theresa of Spain left her native country to marry King Louis XIV of France. Perhaps interpreting the miraculous spring as a sign, the very next year the Sun King decreed March 19 to be celebrated as the Feast of St. Joseph throughout his kingdom.

New Mexico – 1878

After the chapel for the Sisters of Loretto in Sante Fe was completed in the late 19th century, the Mother Superior was very perturbed that there was no good way to access the choir loft twenty-two feet above the ground floor. The sisters began a novena to St. Joseph to send them a carpenter who could build something better than a ladder, and on the ninth day a grey-haired man appeared with a donkey and a toolbox looking for work.

After three months, and using only a few humble tools, the staircase was finished, and the man disappeared without a trace. The sisters ran an ad in the newspaper asking him to return for his pay, but he never did. The stairs themselves are described as “mysterious” and “miraculous” due to their surprisingly superior construction and durable nature.

The sisters came to the conclusion that St. Joseph himself had come down from Heaven to build them a staircase, although it is not outside the realm of possibility that Joseph sent a local woodworker to do a good deed on his behalf. The chapel has since been deconsecrated and now operates as a private museum.

County Mayo – 1879

The Virgin Mary appeared silently with St. John the Apostle and St. Joseph on August 21, 1879 to fifteen people in the village of Knock, Ireland. One of the witnesses, Mary Byrne O’Connell, said of Joseph that “he looked old,” and other witnesses described his beard as being colored an “iron grey.” Very little happened during the apparition besides prayer.

Multiple popes have lent their support to the Knock apparition, including Pius XII, John XXIII, Paul VI, and (especially) John Paul II. The lack of a message being delivered from Heaven probably made the apparition much easier to approve.

Ourém Municipality – 1917

During the Miracle of the Sun (October 13, 1917) at Fátima, Portugal, Sr. Lúcia de Jesus Rosa Santos says that St. Joseph appeared next to Mary and holding the Child Jesus. This vision is strange in that she says Jesus and Joseph both “seemed to be blessing the world, making the sign of the Cross.” Since Joseph was no priest (Jewish or Christian), it is odd that he would appear to be giving a blessing. He soon vanished and only Mary remained in the sky, appearing now in the Carmelite habit.

Somewhat Less Reputable

Germany – 13th Century

During one of her mystical visions, St. Gertrude the Great (1256-1302) is said to have caught a glimpse of St. Joseph during the readings on the Vigil of the Annunciation. As one later religious of the Order of St. Benedict describes it: “At the name of St. Joseph, all the saints made a profound inclination to him, testifying, by the serenity and sweetness of their looks, that they rejoiced with him for his exalted dignity.”

I have been unable to find any such event described in an original source, but that may simply be because some of her works are not readily available in English.

Belgium – 16th Century

The devotion of the “Seven Sorrows and Joys of St. Joseph” is said to have been requested by the saint himself after rescuing two shipwrecked Franciscan priests off the coast of Flanders. Their ship destroyed, the priests had grabbed onto a large plank to keep from sinking. A radiant man appeared in answer to their prayers, and led them into safe harbor. After revealing himself as St. Joseph, he asked for the “Sorrows and Joys” devotion to be prayed in his honor.

Only a handful of sources claim this story as the origin of that particular devotion. In spite of this, most claimants say that this event is “never omitted by any historian of the saint,” which is clearly untrue.

The German Woods – 19th Century

In one of the folktales collected by the Grimm brothers Jacob and Wilhelm, “St. Joseph in the Forest,” the saint appears as an old man who lives in the forest and looks out for little girls who are lost or turned out of their homes. In this tale, he meets three sisters in succession, and rewards them each according to their virtue or lack thereof.

Another of the brothers’ tales is untitled, having been discovered in 1983 in a letter written by Wilhelm Grimm to a little girl in 1816. Published in 1988 as Dear Mili, this story is of another lost girl who is sent into the woods after her mother fears the approach of war. The elderly St. Joseph gives her shelter in his forest hut, and after three days sends her on her way with a rosebud. She returns to find that thirty years have passed, and she dies after finding her now-aged mother.

The Americas – 20th Century

The Americas have been home to quite a few visionaries who claim to have seen and heard from St. Joseph. Whereas previous apparitions proved him to be taciturn, the last century has apparently given him much to talk about.

In the late 1950s St. Joseph is reported to have spoken, and eventually appeared, to Sr. Mary Ephrem of the Congregation of the Precious Blood while in Indiana and Ohio, USA. He spoke at length about his sanctification in his mother’s womb “immediately after my conception,” and when he appeared visibly it was as a man “quite youthful.” These mystical experiences were a piece of the larger “Our Lady of America” devotion, so they have gained some purchase in the traddy world thanks in no small part to the approval of Cdl. Raymond Burke.

The 1960s saw the start of purported messages from St. Joseph and other saints given to a certain Frances Marie Klug (1921-2009) in Southern California. Mrs. Klug claimed to be passing on new revelations from God, including the novel idea that Joseph was the physical manifestation of the Holy Spirit. Klug’s visions and cult (St. Joseph’s Hill of Hope) were unambiguously condemned by a joint letter from three bishops—of Los Angeles, Orange, and San Bernardino—in 1981.

Since the mid-1990s Mary and Joseph have supposedly been appearing to Edson Glauber (b. 1972) in Itapiranga, Brazil with various messages. The visionary has some episcopal approval through the current archbishop, but the visions appear to be ongoing. He describes St. Joseph as “very young with an indescribable beauty,” but also as possessing “brilliant green eyes,” which I think would be very unusual for a Jewish man of his time. The main thrust of the Josephite devotion here is a call to venerate his Most Chaste Heart (also described as “most pure”) along with the Sacred Heart of Jesus and the Immaculate Heart of Mary.


  1. I had the "Dear Mili" book as a child with those illustrations. It's a sweet little tale born from the folklore of the German people. It's a nice thought that some saints wander the earth and help people who are in dire need.

    That last set of purported apparitions is terrifying.

  2. I thought devotion to Jospeh’s heart along those lines is suspect, along with being New Joseph-y.

    1. It is both of those, but the devotion has gained some traction in traditionalist circles thanks to Cdl. Burke. Official approval is not yet on the horizon, but that's never stopped devotionalists before.

    2. We need to get the cardiovascular craze under control. If we don't, devotions like this could emerge:
      The most Magnanimous Heart of John Paul the Great,
      The most Pure Heart of Maria Goretti,
      The most Tender Heart of Aloysious Gonzaga,
      The most Fiery Heart of Jean d'Arc,
      The most Penitent Heart of Augustine...

      I could go on, but I think I've made my point.

    3. Uggh. Those sound very unpleasant! I can see why the Easterners are full of suspicion of the devotions to Jesus' and Mary' Hearts.

    4. Well ... but haven't the Easterners been full of suspicion of such Western practices (or anything Western for that matter) for as long as they have been Easterners?

      I have always been suspicious of some of their Theology (when it does not agree with Western Theology... after all most, if not all, of the early heresies came from the East), and of some of their practices like the exclusive use of Icons.

      Some people see this exclusion of images as based on a conscious dislike of the Western use of images. Some others argue that it may be a vestigial element of the Iconoclastic heresy (sort of a compromise, we'll tolerate Icons, but not images) ... and some others would even argue that it could also be based on an influence from Islam (where no images are allowed at all)!

    5. Considering the history of their dealings with the Roman Church, I can't say I blame them.

    6. BTW, I believe you're wrong in your speculations about their exclusive use of icons. I would rather you go to the source.

    7. @latinmass1983
      By the "East" I take it you mean Byzantine Christianity, since the Coptics/Armenians/Syrians etc. never went through an iconoclastic phase?
      There is no distinction between "images" and "icons", at least not until the Renaissance. Even then, you should get a look at some of the extremely Baroque Russian churches from the 17th and 18th centuries. Iconoclasm had nothing to do with Byzantium's unique view on icons except to solidify their devotion to them.
      Can we also please not start a finger-pointing heresy game? While "the East" certainly had more heresies originate in the first millenia, the West was not without its own (Donatism, Pelagianism, a pope falling to Monotholetism and being condemned by an Ecumenical Council, and the fact that there were still Arians in the West three centuries after it had been defeated in the East). Furthermore, if we look at the second millenia with Modernism, Ultramontanism, Gallicanism, Febronianism, Lutheranism, Calvinism, etc. then the scales began to tip. It's just more feasible that heresy tends to emerge where the center of culture is.

    8. It is fair to point out that with one historical exception, Byzantine Christians did not go Protestant. I recall reading that a Patriarch of Constantinople was close to Calvinists in the early 17th century. I have heard about Byzantine Calvinists today, but I digress. The East’s heresies were all of the essence of Christianity, the Trinity. If we cannot get that right, the heresies of the economy, so of the church and of grace, don’t matter (the economy of salvation is important, but it depends on there being the God as revealed by himself to man). Also, Donatism did not die until the conquest of Islam, but it is worth noting that it was contained, unlike the Eastern heresies, which is why the Goths succumbed to Arianism, and the East had a mechanism for doing so: the patriarchal sees, and, although faulty, the emperor. The West did not have Roman primacy (although they were the keys to moving away from Cyprian and Hippolytus on the theology of the church) and had a weak emperor. Gallicanism and Ultramontanism are also, to an extent, something which can be worked around.

  3. Nowadays, I count episcopal approval as worth very little, unfortunately, at least concerning apparitions.

  4. My own mind is attracted to a notion of a holographic universe made of universal conscience and energy, and that matter is only an illusion. Don't ask me how, because I don't have scientific trainign in quantum theory. The universe would be a kind of "multiverse" comparable to a band of radio frequencies to which a single radio set can listen one at a time. Our experience as human beings represents only a very narrow segment of the whole. Another analogy is the narrow frequency width of light that we can see.

    In an "altered state of consciousness" a human being may experience something of another "frequency", very near our own, but not quite. Thus, what we descrive as heaven, hell and purgatory may be in the exact location of where we are, but on another "frequency". The same idea would extend to UFO's (I have never seen one) that would travel through the "frequencies" rather than through space in the fashion of an Apollo rocket sending three astronauts to the moon. This idea would revolutionise psychiatry, giving credit to those who are called psychotics and schizophrenics of an experience of voices, visions or "feelings" that no one can describe.

    Perhaps what I write seems crazy or sceptical in religious terms, but I see it as a way of escaping the usual dialectic between materialism or an infantile caricature of God. Thus I do believe that people have experiences with beings from other "dimensions" who identify with characters from our Christian scriptures. Perhaps more of us than would want to admit it have had some kind of experience that escapes materialism, but only exceptionamlly do people hear voices and see a transfigured Mary or one of the saints. I often wonder how such an experience would change my life!

    We seem to be on a track that can transcend the usual soul-destroying war between fundamentalists and atheists.

    1. I think that explaining these apparitions as either genuine, demonic, or fraudulent are the most reasonable options. Appealing to two-dimensional comic book multiverse theory is a bit over the top.